Interview by Graham Chalmers
Harrogate is one of veteran comedian Ken Dodd’s favourite places, so why wouldn’t he chat to the Harrogate Advertiser?
What I didn’t expect speaking to the 85-year-old Liverpudlian entertainer down the phone was that he would make me the offer of one of his famous ‘tickling sticks’ when he comes to town shortly in a Royal Hall restoration fundraiser.
Then, Dodd has been defying convention ever since he made his professional debut in showbusiness in 1954.
At one point in the 1960s, one of his records, Tears, even outsold The Beatles whom he was friends with ever since they appeared on one of his bills at Maghull near Sefton in Merseyside in 1957 as spotty teenagers.
“It was a charity show of mine at the Albany cinema. There were four kids on stage; one of them was playing a packing case. They weren’t very good but I remember John Lennon was brave enough to come up to me afterwards and give me his card.”
At an age when most of us would look on the idea of a brisk stroll as a bit on the ambitious side, the inexhaustible Dodd still plays hundreds of shows a year.
It’s fair to say he must have appeared at every venue in the UK, from the Glasgow Pavilion to the London Palladium.
And he hasn’t lost any of his zest for life, joking with me that he’s a fan of my ‘aunt’, the veteran TV presenter Judith Chalmers!
“I did a corker of a show last night at The Grand in Blackpool.
“I love being an entertainer. I have the best job in the world. I only get to see people when they’re smiling.”
Dodd has already played the Royal Hall many times over the years but he says his latest visit, next Thursday, October 31, will be a particularly special one.
Ken Dodd’s association with Harrogate’s Royal Hall goes back at least to 1975
The octogenarian comedian has appeared on its stage dozens of times and he now considers it the finest theatre in the country.
“It’s absolutely beautiful. There are many fine venues I love, including the Blackpool Grand and the Gaiety Theatre on the Isle of Man but the Royal Hall is the nicest in Britain.”
Coming from Dodd, this is no idle claim. The much-loved entertainer is well aware who designed Harrogate’s gem of a venue - renowned theatre architect, Frank Matcham.
“The Royal Hall has a marvellous pedigree. It’s a very special place. It’s a privilege and an honour to play there.”
As a result of his vast experience on stage, he’s a bit of a connoisseur of venues - and he really rates the Royal Hall.
“Every town needs a theatre. It’s the hub of a town’s life. It reflects the character of the people who live there.
“I love the Royal Hall and I want everyone to get ready to have their chuckle muscles tickled at next week’s show.”
Will he ever consider giving it all up, I ask him, though I know what the answer will be.
“I’m in love with the stage. As long as I can do it, I will do it. I’m a recycled teenager, basically.”
The lines continue to come thick and fast down the line, those distinctive, wonderfully daft one-liners involving the mythical Knotty Ash and his fictitious midget chums, the Diddymen.
“A joke is like a very expensive watch. You take the back off it and you can see its beautiful mechanism, the balance, the timing.”
Renowned for his epic performances, this national treasure promises next week’s show at the Royal Hall will be a “proper show” with a full programme.
He then goes on to reveal the names of the performers on the bill. They all turn out to be rather unusual names.
Who knows if they are real or not?
Thankfully, it’s always been impossible to take Ken Dodd seriously.