New biography reveals 'the other Ken Dodd'

Sir Ken Dodd was a national institution.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 3:45 pm

He worked tirelessly as one of Britain’s most popular comedians for a staggering seven decades.

And many of those shows, which spanned his whole career, took place right here in Blackpool.

His five-hour stage shows were legendary and he was still performing these hilarious theatrical marathons right up to the age of 90.

Sir Ken Dodd

Now, his widow Lady Anne Dodd, and lifelong fan, TV producer Tony Nicholson, have penned his biography, bringing many fans the first ever in-depth account of his astonishing story, unravelling ‘the other Ken Dodd’, the fascinating, kind and complicated private man with whom Lady Anne spent her life.

Ken was the comedian’s comedian.

Fellow pros idolised him and looked up to him as the guv’nor.

He was also a talented ballad singer, and enjoyed a hugely successful chart-topping career in the 1960s.

Squire of Knotty Ash book cover

In fact his was the only name, apart from The Beatles, to appear in the top five best-selling singles of that iconic pop music decade.

But despite his nationwide fame and his crazy, larger-than-life stage persona, he was actually a very private person, away from the limelight.

A quiet, well-read, deeply religious thinker, he consciously separated ‘the two Ken Dodds’, as he referred to them, and always declined to cooperate with biographers, in order to keep the private Ken Dodd just that – private.

In Blackpool he was instrumental in Friends of The Grand, who worked tirelessly in the 1970s to campaign and eventually save The Grand Theatre from almost certain demolition.

Sir Ken switches on Blackpool Illuminations in 1982

As an honorary member of The Magic Circle, he was also very proud to be elected President of the Blackpool Magicians Club, which hosts the International Magic Convention every year.

Ken would go on the final day, buying props and yet more books from the magic dealers.

He would then host the Gala Show, presenting magic awards and entertaining the many professional and amateur magicians who attended.

Lady Anne said: “I find it difficult to encapsulate what I know Ken felt about Blackpool in a couple of sentences as I am trying to describe the man who topped the bill in long season shows from the late fifties through to 1981.

Sir Ken and Lady Anne with their pet poodle

“It was mainly at the 3,000 seater Opera House twice nightly, and thereafter several one-nighters each and every year till 2017 at either the Opera House or for the last 25 years at the glorious Grand theatre.

“He prided himself on playing Blackpool at one venue or another every single year of his professional life, which was 63 years since he turned fully professional in 1954.

“Of course he loved Blackpool – Blackpool was absolutely packed with visitors.

“He used to say there were 14 live shows at one stage in the fifties and sixties, all vying with each other for business - that’s why the standard was so high. He described his feelings at the reaction of a packed Opera House - when on a fast roll of gags – on the pay off gag at the end the whole audience rocked back and forth with explosions of laughter.

“It was a memorable sight, as if they were moving towards him!

“But you had to keep on your toes and work hard every moment you were on stage to keep the audience up there on the ‘high’.

Lady Anne with Painting of Sir Ken Dodd by David Cobley. Photo: Ron Davies

“Yes he loved those Blackpool shows.”

Tony Nicholson, who worked with Lady Anne to put book together, started his showbiz career in the 1970s as a comedy scriptwriter, writing jokes for no less than The Two Ronnies.

He then became a television producer, making entertainment programmes for all the major channels, and earning him a highly-prized BAFTA Award.

Tony has been a lifelong Ken Dodd fan.

He has written the affectionate and candid biography with Lady Dodd, not just as a showbusiness insider, who worked with Ken in the 1980s, but also as a genuine fan of Ken’s work.

He said: “I was born in 1952 and can remember being a big fan of Ken Dodd when I was just seven or eight years old, so I must have seen him on early TV appearances.

“I loved comedy and variety shows - The Billy Cotton Band Show, The Good Old Days, Sunday Night At The London Palladium, etc. I can remember doing a handful of impressions during a ‘show’ in our garden for my grandparents, and one of those was Ken Dodd! “I remained a dedicated fan throughout my life. My son Matt, who is now 31, became a big fan and we used to regularly travel together to see the full hilarious 5 hour stage show marathon.

“My wife and I even went to see Ken’s summer show on our honeymoon in Scarborough in August 1979!

“I had the good fortune to work extensively with Ken in the 1980s when I was working for the BBC in Manchester.

“So, yes, it was a real privilege to be welcomed into ‘Oak House’ in Knotty Ash by Lady Anne - and also welcomed into the lives of The Squire Of Knotty Ash and His Lady.

“I have learned so much about a real comedy hero, and I’m so glad that Anne has allowed me to share it with Ken’s multitude of other fans.

“I’m very proud of the book, and I hope it gives the deepest insight possible into the private man behind the larger-than-life comedy legend.”

Lady Anne, who had her own showbusiness career before she even met Ken, added: “He was going to write his biography and was on the point of starting it but, of course, he kept doing live theatre shows until December 2017, a couple of months before he passed away.

“I have done my best and enjoyed working with Tony over a couple of years on this biography and I hope his fans and supporters, as he liked to call them, will enjoy our reminiscences.”

Anne still lives in Ken’s childhood home in Knotty Ash with their poodle Rufus.

The Squire of Knotty Ash… and his Lady – An intimate biography of Sir Ken Dodd by Tony Nicholson with Anne, Lady Dodd, is published by Great Northern Books. It is hardback and priced £17.99 https://www.gnbooks.co.uk/