Blackpool and Ken Dodd’s love affair: “I feel at home in theatres like this – we are around the same age”

Ken Dodd  on Blackpool Tower in the early 1970s.
Ken Dodd on Blackpool Tower in the early 1970s.

Much-loved and highly popular, Ken Dodd, who died on Sunday, was thought to have made around 2,000 appearances in the resort over a career spanning more than half a century.

He first trod the boards at the Old Queens Theatre in 1954.

A large crowd of fans and a large jam butty (freshly caught in the Irish Sea) greeted comedian Ken Dodd when he arrived in Blackpool yesterday afternoon. Ken was here for the official opening of a new cafe, the Chuck Wagon in Deansgate, owned by Gerard Naprous and his partner Tina, in March 1974

A large crowd of fans and a large jam butty (freshly caught in the Irish Sea) greeted comedian Ken Dodd when he arrived in Blackpool yesterday afternoon. Ken was here for the official opening of a new cafe, the Chuck Wagon in Deansgate, owned by Gerard Naprous and his partner Tina, in March 1974

His love of Blackpool was well known, but less known might be one of the somewhat unorthodox methods he started using in his early days to make sure his comedy was hitting the mark.

It could be argued it was the 1950s equivalent of today’s comedians watching video footage of themselves on-stage back for analysis.

Back in 1957, he told The Gazette’s John Barber about his “big ledger”.

According to Barber, “every page is covered with scribbled hieroglyphics”.

Who else but the Diddymen would join Ken Dodd for this smiling line up in the late 1970s

Who else but the Diddymen would join Ken Dodd for this smiling line up in the late 1970s

He wrote: “Every big laugh he gets scores a VG plus. Or the reaction to a joke may be marked S-L-O-W. A real roar of laughter gets square box sign. A feeble titter draws a firm X.

“Ken Dodd is fighting his way to comic stardom by slide-rule methods. His fiancée, Anita Boutin, who used to be a nurse, notes all he does on-stage in these books.

“Every joke. Every show. Both houses. Plus times, summaries, and outspoken comments. Dodd has a record of the reaction to everything he has done on the stage since he started two years ago.

“The result: He tops music hall bills all over Britain. From Brighton to Glasgow, from Newcastle to Bristol – where he is this week – they are falling for the Scientific New Comic.

“One reason: He can tell how he ‘went’ last time in a town. So he can adjust his material for the first day – while other comics are still setting down.”

Doddy told The Gazette: “In Scotland, they want quickie laughs – one liners. North England, they are cynics. Aggressive, poker-faced comedy for them. In the Midlands they love singing: Harry Secombe began there. In the south, they want lovable clowns. Fun is gentler. That’s where Sid Field struck gold.”

In a 1971 interview with The Gazette, he said: “I love every minute of it. It’s a hobby as well as a business to me.

“Every time I go out there I aim at sending them home not just saying ‘that’s a good show’ but ‘that’s the best show I’ve ever seen’. I love giving them a holiday for their minds in a fanciful world of zany ideas. You can’t do it early in the show. So I lead them up to a point where they can indulge in some crackpottery with me.”

He added: “You are only as good as your last show.”

He revealed he was hoping to branch out into TV.

“I’d like to get up there alongside the big TV comedians – and we have a lot of first class comics in British TV. People like the two Ronnies (Corbett and Barker).

“I have done more television than usual this year but I want to do event more – with some big shows.”

In 1987, he told how he intended to keep going for as long as he could.

“I intend trying to do a George Burns – he’s booked the Palladium for his 100th birthday! Alright, so I’d have to stand still a bit more, but like he says, if I’ve got work, I’ll be there!”

He told The Gazette: “The alternative to comedy is tragedy. A lot of them are desperately short of creatively funny material, so fall back on shock, outrage and obscenity.

“There is a huge difference between the more risqué Music Hall comedian and obscenity. I was fortunate in that I had such great, legendary peers to look up to.”

He spoke of his love of Blackpool in many Gazette interviews, saying in 1988: “Blackpool is my home. No town in the world has ever made great stars like this town.

“It was Blackpool that started it all for me. The people of Blackpool, the audiences, the theatres – they are the best.”