The Les Dawson Show: Floral Halls Theatre, Scarborough, 1974
Play: ‘Run For Your Wife’: Theatre Royal, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 1992
Les Dawson was one of the first ever comedians I saw live in concert. Whilst on a family holiday to Scarborough in 1974, he was starring in summer season at the Floral Halls Theatre. I remember the performance for two reasons. Firstly, Dawson was at the top of his game clearly enjoying himself. At the age of seven, I can remember the audience excitement waiting for him to appear on stage and then the thunderous applause as he walked down the stairwell to the microphone. Whilst he performed, it was the first time I ever saw everyone in the family (mum, dad. brother, grandma) laugh in tandem at the fantastic plethora of withering putdowns and one-liners to come of the great man’s mouth. To see everyone laughing together – family and audience – at one man on stage was a joy to behold. The second reason was the memorable encore of the show. Dawson came back on stage and let it be known that the chairwoman of the Scarborough Women’s Institute was in the audience tonight, today was her birthday and she is the grand old age of 111. He pointed to an old lady sitting very near to me who went very red. The audience applauded and Dawson started to play badly on the piano (as was the norm of his act) ‘Happy Birthday’ to which the entire audience joined in. With perfect timing and precision, he cut the audience short from the singing and yelled ‘what, what, oh!’ to an imaginary prompt in wings before turning back to the audience with the line ‘She’s not 111, she’s ill!’. He then winced at the audience who were all in hysterics laughing and applauding including the put upon lady sitting near me and the curtain came down to end the show.
My last encounter watching Dawson was the year before he died. He was starring in a revival of the Ray Cooney farce Run For Your Wife at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle in 1992. The audience for the Saturday matinee consisted of myself, a friend of mine and further along the row, a woman with a screaming baby. After Dawson appeared on stage at the start of the play with the other cast members, he noticed the baby screaming, stopped the show, climbed down from the stage, went up to mother and baby, looked at the baby and said ‘I don’t want this…’ and pulled his fingers downwards from his mouth to express sadness, ‘I’d like this!’ and pulled his fingers upwards from his mouth to express happiness. Immediately the baby stopped crying and Dawson went back to the stage, did a 10 minute gag routine and continued with the play. To witness this in such a small audience was magical. Soon after Dawson died, I met his second wife Tracy at a booking signing for Les Dawson’s Secret Notebooks (2007) and recounted my story to her. As she signed my book with tears in her eyes she smiled and said ‘That was Les’.
Les Dawson has made me laugh so much over the years. I was privileged to see him live and he remains a true comedy great.