Ken Dodd: How Tickled I Am!: London Palladium, London, 1994
Dick Whittington (Pantomime): Opera House, Manchester, 1994
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show: Lyceum Theatre, Crewe, 1997
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show: The Sands Centre, Carlisle, 2006
An Evening with Ken Dodd and Friends: London Palladium, London, 2008
The Ken Dodd Laughter Show: New Wimbledon Theatre, London, 2014
Ken Dodd had been treading the boards for an incredible 64 years. He was an enduring comedian of legendary status, an icon loved by the British public especially in his home city of Liverpool and he is truly the last great variety comedian still playing live to sell-out audiences. It had been said that he has played every theatre in Britain and he has a comedy map of the country so that he could judge which jokes work best in which city. The length of his laughter shows ran to some six hours or longer with audiences leaving in the small hours. Dodd’s dishevelled shock of hair, his buck teeth and trademark tickling stick combined with an endless supply of jokes have made him one of Britain’s most distinctive entertainers.
I have been fortunate enough to see Ken Dodd live on many occasions. I first saw him live in 1994 at the London Palladium in the show How Tickled I am! He was on the comeback trail after being involved in a long tax dodging case of which he was eventually cleared of all charges. To watch this whirlwind of a comedian get everyone laughing was amazing. Dodd was a master of the craft with expert timing and delivery and a joy to watch that night. He was firmly back with a sell out six week run at the London Palladium. The same year in 1994 I went to see him in the pantomime Dick Whittington at the Opera House, Manchester. This was notable for the length of time that the children’s show ran. At the time fast approaching 11pm, the children in the front row were asleep while the parents were still appreciating the great man’s jokes after being on stage for so long. A few years later in 1997 I saw Dodd again in The Ken Dodd Happiness Show at the Lyceum Theatre, Crewe. I went with a friend who was not a fan but was willing to give the comic a go. The first half was okay but not great. We got to the interval and persuaded my friend to stay for the second half. Ken began the second half with a routine about newspapers and asked what at the time was Crewe’s most popular newspaper? Having recently moved to Crewe to work at the time, I yelled out from the audience ‘The Chronicle!’. Immediately behind me an old lady yelled out ‘No, no, it’s the Mail!’. I was instance and said ‘No, it’s the Chronicle!’ This went on for some time and laughing, Dodd interjected and asked where I was from? Carlisle I said. He said ‘I’ll see you Sunday and Crewe’s favourite paper is apparently The Crewe Mail!’ From then on, the show went up a gear as Dodd had found a foil in the audience – me! At the end of the show as Ken took his bow and including me in many of his wild joke scenarios, Dodd gave me a thumbs-up as if to say thanks for being the stooge and it was the first time I had ever taken part in audience participation.
Once again in 2006, I saw him live with his Ken Dodd Laughter Show in my home city of Carlisle. Playing the Sands Centre, the friends who I went to the show with unassumingly left the theatre at 1030pm and after seeing Dodd play three hours, they thought the show was over but it was the interval! I left with them and went for a drink in the city. At the end of the evening, I was walking home past the theatre and the lights were still on. I walked into the theatre at something like 1230am, walked up to my vacant seat, sat down and watched, with the rest of the still-engaging audience, Dodd play another hour or so on stage.
In 2008, I returned to the London Palladium to see An Evening with Ken Dodd and Friends. The charity show played to Dodd’s strengths and although the friends – up-coming comedians and singers – were okay, when Dodd was on stage, his star quality shone.
The last time I saw Dodd live was at the New Wimbledon Theatre, London once more for The Ken Dodd Laughter Show in 2014 with my brother. My brother had to leave at the interval. But I stayed and yet again marvelled at the enthusiasm and staying power of the extraordinary performer. He walked on stage that night and told the audience that if he survived this show he wanted to play the Palladium at the grand old age of 100. However this was not to be as Dodd very sadly passed away at the age of 90 in 2018. Dodd was widely regarded as the last great music hall comedian and when he died, it felt like the end of an era. He was a master of comedy and will be greatly missed.