Qdos’ Nick Thomas: Ken Dodd inspired my career in showbusiness
Unbeknown to Kenneth Arthur Dodd, during the summer of 1970 he changed the life of a 10-year-old boy forever.
Having been taken to see the Ken Dodd summer show at Scarborough’s Futurist Theatre once, I must have seen it another 10 times, driving my parents bonkers for ticket money.
I can remember every moment and even the smell of that show. Doddy in his bright yellow suit singing Call Me Mr Sunshine, the giant blow-up marrows bouncing around the audience, the Tiller Girls, Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, the juggler Ugo Garrido, the timbre of a full pit orchestra, and of course the Diddymen, one of whom was Sandra, whom I married 15 years later.
Ken’s magic flowed across the footlights and into my young veins and, from that moment, I was hooked. Shortly after seeing Doddy, I went to stay with my brother in Southport, where he worked at Oldfield’s Garage. Just behind the garage lived Roger Stevenson, who made and operated the Ken Dodd Diddymen puppets for the TV show. I was thrilled to meet Roger, Dicky Mint and the gang, and my fate was sealed; I was determined to get into showbusiness.
I got my break entering a talent contest in Scarborough as a comic, with my Doddy impression of course. Then, when I didn’t win, I started my puppet act, Tommer Puppets, playing at kids’ parties in the local area. I went on New Faces with my Diddymen-inspired puppet act in February 1975. I won, and my career took off.
I never worked as a support act to Ken, but after I turned summer show producer in 1981, he was my first star hiring at the Opera House Scarborough for spring bank holiday week of 1982. I got to know Ken well, and probably drove him mad asking questions in his dressing room. I also got to know his agent Dave Forrester, who coined the phrase “Was there a pound in your pocket at the end of the week?”
Sadly, Ken’s wonderful pantomime days were before my time, but I vividly recall Sinbad the Sailor at Wimbledon Theatre in 1983, and several visits to see him after the show. I think the show ran fore more than three hours!
Over the subsequent 47 years, I have attributed or blamed my career on Ken Dodd in conversation with him many times, during happy hours in dressing rooms chewing the fat over a lager. Ken was a star attraction at my HQ Theatres from 2006, always playing to packed houses, and always keeping the audience in raptures until midnight. Woe betide anyone who left for the last bus, and if I timidly suggested we might be finished by 11.15pm, he would call me a “non-believer”.
Ken was a human machine-gun of gags on stage and a thoughtful man off stage who was happy to talk politics, theology and all of life, as well as his first love and specialist subject: comedians and comedy in all its forms. What he didn’t know about this topic wasn’t worth knowing.
In October 2014, I was involved in the organisation of Encore Blackpool, a reunion for showbusiness people who worked in Blackpool, and a celebration of Ken’s 60 years in entertainment. That night, aged 87, Ken was our guest of honour. He was among the last to leave the venue Viva at 2.45am. I helped him and his partner Annie pack the car, and when I said to Ken, “How do you manage to do this?”, his reply was: “Because I love staying up late and being Ken Dodd.”
There was no equal to Ken Dodd, and though his passing leaves a void that can never be filled, the echoes of past laughter will be with us forever.
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