How tickled we are at Doddy’s diamond jubilee

Ken Dodd, apperaing at Blackpool Opera House season show, join in the fun at the  annual garden party of Park School, Whitegate Drive in 1981
Ken Dodd, apperaing at Blackpool Opera House season show, join in the fun at the annual garden party of Park School, Whitegate Drive in 1981
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As the king of the Diddy Men, he is hailed as the squire of Knotty Ash, but Ken Dodd is as much a part of Blackpool as The Tower, the Golden Mile and donkeys on the sands.

His role in the resort’s showbiz history was set in stone, literally, when he was called on to cut the ribbon at the Comedy Carpet three years ago.

And while comedian Ken’s catchphrases are among those captured in time on the modern day landmark, his act remains as traditional as it was in Blackpool’s glory days.

This year, he’s celebrating his Diamond Jubilee of 60 years in showbusiness – having played Blackpool each and every year since he turned professional, an accolade which must make him our longest standing star.

“One of my first dates was in Blackpool, out of season – which was when all the landladies had flown out for the winter, and we were left to keep the place warm; there were eight taxi drivers, two stage door keepers, a dog and a cat,” he said. “There must have been more people in the band than the audience.

“It’s wonderful to be touring still. Every day is a good day, and every theatre is wonderful to play, new ones as well as the old favourites like the Grand which is probably the most beautiful in the country and is a credit to the people who saved it and restored it.

“Blackpool is my favourite town, it’s the showbiz temple of the UK – anybody who’s everybody has played Blackpool.

“The audience there is wonderful, people come along and want to laugh, so they are 50 per cent there already and I just have to deliver.

“Some of the happiest times of my life have been at the theatres here.”

And for someone whose career has been built around his own “Happiness Show”, that’s surely a keen tribute to the resort. Ken returned to the Grand Theatre on Sunday, with a show which runs each Sunday until November 2.

Ken first played Blackpool in 1954, in the Queen’s Theatre, then recalls returning in 1955, 1956 and 1958 to Central Pier, and the Hippodrome in 1957.

“Back then there were 23 theatres from Fleetwood to Lytham St Annes, employing about 3,000 people,” he said.

“That’s changed, of course, but it’s still the greatest show town in the world.

“I’ve been to one or other venue every years since 1954, and during that time have played to millions - people used to go to Blackpool just for the shows.

“I’m probably the longest running act now.

“To be playing every Sunday in October is still quite a record, most places I go to it’s for one night a year if you’re lucky.”

With Blackpool once the home of UK variety shows, the Ken Dodd Happiness Show harps back to the good old days.

The audiences might be becoming reacquainted to ‘variety’ thanks to Britain’s Got Talent, but Ken thinks the term is misused now.

“The Happiness Show is a variety show,” he said. “‘Variety’ is a lovely word, which people use in different ways but it means to have a variety of skills.

“The people we have in the show have taken years to polish and perfect their acts.”

On Ken’s books for the Blackpool shows are musicians Andy Eastwood, Sibie Jones and Andante, juggler Steve Arnold, and magic acts Amethyst and Paul Derek.

“We all look forward to Blackpool, no other theatre at the British seaside is still selling big shows into November,” he added.

Looking back over the years, Ken remembers plenty of shows with fond memories at the resort’s venues – even stopping potential deaths in the Winter Gardens.

“The Opera House is a huge place, and we used to fill it twice nightly with 3,500 people – you knew you were doing very well if you could do that, and I think I still hold the record.

“Somehow time and me don’t always see eye to eye. People say I do long shows, I don’t; I give good value.

“One night I was taking my last bow at the Opera House and it was 10, 11 o’clock. I came off to the side of the stage, and the boss Mr Crabtree asked me to stay on a bit longer.

“I was amazed and couldn’t stop laughing.

“I went back to the centre of the stage and the band were looking at me very puzzled and hooted with laughter when I said Mr Crabtree had asked me to do a bit longer.

“What had happened, in the Winter Gardens’ ballroom, next door, was the Rolling Stones were doing a gig.

“It was during Scots week and apparently there had been a bit of a fracas; an enthusiastic Scotsman had grabbed Mick Jagger’s foot, and he had kicked him which started an altercation, which started a fight, that became a bigger fight until the whole ballroom was spilling into the foyer where the Opera House stage door is.

“Security knew all these fighting Scots were going to meet those exiting the Opera House and someone would have been killed, no doubt about it, so they had to keep people in the theatre.”

While he may not be up to playing security guard these days, Ken will turn 87 next month, he has no plans to hang up his tickling stick.

“A man retires when he stops doing what he doesn’t want to do,” he said, somewhat philosophically.

“I’m doing what I love to do. I’m completely stage struck and the sound of an audience’s laughter is better than a symphony orchestra.

“Of course, things have changed radically in 60 years, but I don’t think the changes are for the worse – showbiz is a lovely profession to be in.

“There’s more freedom of expression than 60 years ago, but that’s in all walks of life. But what’s stayed the same is that when you go on stage, your life is in the audience’s hands.

“My audience has gotten older; people who love to laugh live longer and hopefully that’s my secret too.”