Norfolk memories of Sir Ken Dodd who has died aged 90
PUBLISHED: 08:19 12 March 2018 | UPDATED: 20:00 12 March 2018
Sir Ken Dodd who tickled thousands of comedy fans for decades, including many in East Anglia, has died.
The veteran performer, known for touring the country with his Diddy Men and the tickling stick, died yesterday aged 90 in the home he was born in at Knotty Ash, Liverpool.
He had married his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, on Friday - also in his home.
Sir Ken, who visited many East Anglian venues during his nationwide stand-up tours, had recently been released from hospital after six weeks of treatment for a chest infection.
The Happiness and Tears star made his debut performance at the Pavilion Theatre on Cromer Pier in 2009.
Other venues he performed his famously-long shows at in East Anglia included Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre, Potters Resort at Hopton, Norwich Theatre Royal, King’s Lynn Corn Exchange, the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton and the Regent Theatre in Ipswich.
Following the news of Sir Ken’s show on Cromer Pier, a stampede of fans snapped up the 500 tickets.
At the time he was aged 81 and pier bosses tried to organise a second show for the veteran comedian and singer, such was his popularity.
He spoke to Archant’s Let’s Talk magazine in 2015, before he brought his Happiness Show to Norwich Theatre Royal and the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton.
The comedian said: “Young people look at the word ‘variety’ and think ‘oh, it’s old-fashioned’. What it really means is it’s a variety of skills.
“Each variety act is a precious jewel of skill and they have done the very, very best they can. That’s why variety is probably the best form of showbusiness entertainment. Everybody is doing their very, very best to make people happy. It’s not a bad job in life, that.
“I’ll be there and I’ll have other people with me – singers, magicians, musical acts, all sorts of things.”
Speaking about his memories of Norfolk, he added: “I played in Norfolk for the first time, in the old Carlton cinema… in Norwich. It was a lovely experience playing Norwich for the first time.
“I went back there a few times since. Many times I’ve played the Theatre Royal which is a beautiful theatre – very, very well run.
“I’m what they call a gigster – I do gigs, one night stands – one night is all they can stand! You can identify, at one time, well you still can, various cities and towns by their aroma – the towns that are worthy of a good sniff.
“There was an all-pervading air of chocolate. In those days Norfolk used to have a beautiful aroma of chocolate. There was a big chocolate factory – I think it was Caley’s…
“Being a gigster, I go up and down the motorways like a human yo-yo. It’s wonderful because you see Britain…beautiful, beautiful Britain. It’s absolutely wonderful in Norfolk, of course, with your lovely Broads there. And the men are nice too!”
He said he absolutely loved showbusiness.
“I absolutely adore it. I just love going on the stage and seeing people laugh. Hearing laughter is the most beautiful sound in the world – better than any symphony concert. I’m an optimistic comedian. I need to talk about good times.”
As part of his dedication to the comedy art form, the performer created his own giggle map of Britain, having noted down which jokes work best in which part of the country.
Sir Ken got his big break at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, in 1954 when he made his £75-a-week debut as Professor Chuckabutty.
Within two years he was topping the bill at Blackpool, with bits such as the famous Diddy Men, the Broken Biscuit Repair Works, the Jam Butty Mines, the Moggy Ranch and the Treacle Wells.
This was followed by countless BBC series, including The Ken Dodd Show, Beyond Our Ken and Ken Dodd’s Laughter Show, and he entered the big time in 1965 with the longest-ever run at the London Palladium (42 weeks).
In 1964 he released his first single, Happiness, followed by smash hit, Tears, the following year, and then Promises.
Over the 1960s, Sir Ken entered the Guinness Book of Records for the longest joke-telling session ever - 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours.
He was awarded an OBE in 1982 and was dubbed a knight by the Duke of Cambridge in 2017 - the year of his 90th birthday - in recognition of both his comedic legacy and his charity work.
For the milestone birthday on November 8, he was honoured by the Knotty Ash community with a party serving up jam butties and Diddy pies at Liverpool Town Hall.
Sir Ken had a scrape with controversy in 1989 after being charged with eight counts of tax fraud spanning 15 years.
But he was acquitted following a 23-day trial.
Scores of comedians and television stars have paid tribute to Sir Ken.
His publicist Robert Holmes told the Press Association: “To my mind, he was one of the last music hall greats.
“He passed away in the home that he was born in over 90 years ago. He’s never lived anywhere else. It’s absolutely amazing.
“With Ken gone, the lights have been turned out in the world of variety.
“He was a comedy legend and genius.”
He added: “He asked Anne if she wanted to marry. They got the registrar and were married in the house on Friday.
“He died two days later on Mother’s Day. Anne is obviously very upset. They had been together for 40 years.
“It’s a love story to beat them all.”
What are your memories of Sir Ken? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Bayfield, King’s Lynn Corn Exchange theatre manager, who used to manage the Princess Theatre in Hunstanton, said: “He used to come to Hunstanton on his holidays and he would book two shows within that week to perform at the Princess.
“He was such a lovely genuine guy who treated everyone the same. His shows always went on until after midnight and never a bad word was said about him.
“He even sent me and my ex-wife a lovely letter when our son was born prematurely to let us know he was thinking of us and his best wishes.
“He’ll be missed he was a true showman.”
Gemma Parsons, box office marketing manager for the Princes Theatre, said: “The last time Sir Ken came to Hunstanton was in May 2015. We were very privileged. He always came here because he loved the venue and Hunstanton. We had a waiting list of people who wanted to see him if he came back.”
John Potter, managing director of Potters Resort in Hopton, had fond memories of Sir Ken performing his lengthy shows at the venue.
He said: “He came here to Potters every year for every year that I can remember. He was just phenomenal. He was a legend on the stage but a lovely man off it and he had time for everyone. They broke the mould with Ken Dodd.”
A Norwich Theatre Royal spokesman said: “All of us at Norwich Theatre Royal were sad to hear the news of Ken Dodd’s passing.
“The Knotty Ash resident had show business running through his veins and was a regular visitor here entertaining audiences with his blend of wit, repartee and quick-fire jokes
“At his core was an ability to make everyone smile which was a skill honed through his decades as a variety entertainer. His live shows were a testament to that and even though they frequently ran through to the early hours, his energy showed no sign of abating. “Off-stage too, Ken was a force of nature. He never switched off and any conversation with him was punctuated with lots of jokes and humour plus an immense charm and genuine interest in everyone he met which are enviable traits. “Our thoughts are with his wife Anne who played such a key role in his life professionally as well as personally.
“Ken’s regular visits to us were much anticipated by audiences and our team alike, and we will miss him greatly.”
A Cromer Pier Pavilion Theatre spokesman said: “The Pavilion theatre is proud to say comedic legend Ken Dodd played at the venue in 2009. His performance will be remembered as one of the hottest tickets ever at the Pier , with all tickets sold out in a matter of hours and an unprecedented demand of over 400 on the waiting list forcing a second performance.
“How tickled we are that Ken Dodd will always be a part of our history.”
Lee Henderson, chief executive of the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft, said: “A real comedy legend – we are proud to have hosted Sir Ken many times at the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft – the last being a sold out show in June 2013 when, as usual, he kept his audience entertained well into the ‘wee small hours’.
“He was always a real pleasure to work with and we are all deeply saddened to hear the news of his death.”
A selection of Sir Ken’s best jokes
■“I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for 18 months. I don’t like to interrupt her.”
■“Men’s legs have a terribly lonely life - standing in the dark in your trousers all day.”
■“It’s ten years since I went out of my mind. I’d never go back.”
■“The trouble with Freud is that he never played the Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night after Rangers and Celtic had both lost.”
■“You think you can get away, but you can’t. I’ll follow you home and I’ll shout jokes through your letterbox” - when he was still going strong at a show as it approached midnight.
■“Do I believe in safe sex? Of course I do. I have a handrail around the bed.”
■“It’s a privilege to be asked to play here tonight on what is a very special anniversary. It is 100 years to the night since that balcony collapsed” - Addressing people in The Gods at a provincial theatre.
■“The French didn’t object to British beef in 1940.”
■“Honolulu: it’s got everything: sand for the children, sun for the wife, sharks for the wife’s mother.”
■“Age doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese”, on approaching his 80th birthday.
■“Doctor, ‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m approaching 50.’ ‘From which direction?”’
■“How do you make a blonde laugh on a Sunday? Tell her a joke on a Wednesday.”
■“How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? Nobody knows. It’s never been tried.”
■“Fifty-five years in show business, ladies and gentlemen. That’s a hell of a long time to wait for a laugh.”
■“Tonight when you get home, put a handful of ice cubes down your wife’s nightie and say: ‘There’s the chest freezer you always wanted’.”
■“My act is very educational. I heard a man leaving the other night, saying: ‘Well, that taught me a lesson’.”
■“Love makes the world go round, or it does if you are a man over 50.”
■“My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’.”
■“So this fellow tells the doctor, ‘Every time I sneeze I feel very sexy.’ The doctor asks, ‘What do you take?’ ‘Pepper’.”
■“An official went to ask my big Auntie Nellie to come off the beach because the tide was waiting to come in.”
■“The man who invented cats’ eyes got the idea when he saw the eyes of a cat in his headlights. If the cat had been going the other way, he would have invented the pencil sharpener.”