Look At It This Way - January 9, 2015

Legendary comic Ken Dodd.
Legendary comic Ken Dodd.
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I should call it the tickle factor. As in tickling stick – and shtick. It’s that moment you realise you’re in the presence of a living, breathing legend.

Most journalists are iconoclasts. They are uniquely placed to meet their heroes – not always a good idea. My heroes were authors, playwrights, Old Labour war horses, Liverpool football legends, classical musicians. Not royals, stars, celebrities or entertainers.

But I’d put the great and gracious Doddy up there with seeing Rudolf Nureyev dance – fleet of foot and light of spirit during an off-camera moment on the set of Valentino in the resort.

Or when I was captivated – never having been a fan – by the sheer stage presence of Shirley Bassey at the Opera House. Or when I took my mum to see Al Martino at the Grand, and both arrived and cast the years aside with each song and round of applause.

Doddy deserves more than a medal for making us laugh. He’s the last court jester. In any era he would have been an entertainer. The magic’s timeless. You haven’t lived until you have seen him live.

There’s been chance enough, he played virtually every venue in 61 years. My parents, courting, caught him at The Shakey in Liverpool. He played Blackpool in 1955.

When we’ll next see him locally remains to be seen. He was last here in November.

He used to play the Marine Hall every New Year because the venue held true to him during more, er, taxing times.

I haven’t risked a return there myself since Alfie Boe graced the stage for a thank-you concert to family, friends and fellow churchgoers. My mum and I, both keen opera fans, sat right in the thick of the family clan.

And I died a thousand deaths when my mum asked, with almost theatrical flourish, after Alfie had sung solo and with his brother and others, “when is the PROPER opera singer coming on?”

Talk about cringe. Russell Watson thought it was a hoot when I shared it with him at Lytham Proms.

Jonathan Antoine is at the new-look Lytham Festival in summer. The One With The Hair. Who Used To Sing With The Girl. He’s good. And he’s only 19.

Mr Dodd, of course, is brilliant. And he sings. His version of La Donna e Mobile includes the line “Women are fickle, give them a tickle, do it quite lightly, do it twice nightly.”

He brings the house down and gets the electricity bills up.

Elderly audiences, breathless from laughter, limp off to car parks hoping authorities have extended hours for the Doddy factor. He must be the patron saint of clampers – and cabbies. The cognoscenti arrive with surgical stockings, rings to sit upon, flasks and sarnies. In it for the long haul. Those who nod off are nudged to ensure they haven’t died. There are worse ways to go.

For reviewers who don’t fall under Ken’s thrall it must be purgatory, an extra ring of Doddy’s Inferno created for the joyless, the cynical… and the taxman.

He’s 88 – although he’ll never admit it – this year and still bringing happiness to theatre audiences the length and breadth of Britain.

Just why am I telling you all this?

Joan Collins became a Dame at 81 in the New Year Honours List, along with Kristin Scott Thomas, broadcaster Esther Rantzen, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and fashionista Mary Quant. John Hurt was knighted. OBEs went to Emily Watson, James Corden and Sheridan Smith, who appeared together in TV sitcom Gavin and Stacey.

Ken Dodd was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1982 – seven years before he was charged and acquitted of tax evasion, defended by Blackpool’s own George Carman.

Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE has missed out on a long overdue knighthood yet again.

There are many offended on his behalf. An online petition bears their names.

If there was any justice he should have been Sir Ken of Knotty Ash long ago.

There’s nothing wrong in laughing all the way to the bank – when you make others laugh with you. Even HMRC must have chuckled when Doddy claimed to have invented self-assessment.

His return on laughter is incalculable. It pays the sort of dividend we all want. He is a tonic.

Ken calls his OBE One Boiled Egg. It’s time we gave him the works, the full English, Sir.

Up which track has magic of rail travel departed?

I met my nephew at Blackpool North the other day – and thought what a pale shadow of its former self it now is. The station that is, not my nephew...

It’s clean and functional, but where’s the atmosphere, excitement, the sense of being on an adventure, an excursion?

I used to love the old Coliseum coach station because of the bustle and buzz of the place. We’d meet my Liverpool gran there and pile onto a tram back to Norbreck, agog with excitement at it all.

My other gran used to come in from Wigan Wallgate, once a rail gateway to Britain. Blackpool Central was my favourite station –the one Dr Beeching wanted to keep open. I’m old enough to remember thinking steam engines were dragons.

Blackpool North had its own style and grandeur. The other day I tried to glimpse the platforms, and summon some memories back. It was only when I looked at the timetables that I felt that familiar tug to be on the next train out.

We used to get runabouts when I was a kid, go as far as we could in order to explore and return. We travelled by train on our very first proper holiday – to Cornwall.

And it’s still, far and away, the best way of seeing Britain, as I aim to rediscover this year. But I’ll be boarding at Poulton – in order to keep that magic.