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Life Out Of True

Inside The Mind of Ken Dodd

When I was freelancing for Radio One in Manchester in the mid 1990s the office secretary was a woman called Pat, a no nonsense seen it all Geordie not long off retirement. She had an unflappable personality and generally hid her light under a bushel while the day to day creative bustle went on around her. One afternoon, apropos of whatever idling conversation us freelancers were having in downtime I mentioned that I had once seen Harry Worth walking up Park Street in Bristol. This was in the mid 1970s when I was doing my degree and Harry I suspect would have been doing panto at the Hippodrome. Most of the conversation revolved around just how utterly unmistakeably Harry Worth he looked and whether or not I did the extended arm and leg thing in the shop window as he approached. (I seriously thought about it but resisted.) The tone was light hearted and jocular but Pat punctured that in a pulsebeat. “I went to Harry’s funeral” she said in that unaffected sing song voice of hers.

Pat, as I soon discovered had an address book to die for, and not long later, as I was sketching out ideas for a comedy package I was putting together for the Radio 2 Arts Show, Pat asked if I might like Ken Dodd to contribute. The idealist in me immediately went wow yes please, the pragmatist in me thought how will this short 15-minute package accommodate a man whose shows sometimes over ran by as long as some people’s shows run full stop? But I did the best I could - in as much as anyone can ‘accommodate’ Ken Dodd. I spoke to John Thompson, Dave Spikey, Caroline Ahern, Henry Normal, Hattie Hayridge, and the great man himself for a package that ended up much stronger on generalities than specifics.

Dodd, as far as I can remember only provided three or four quotes to the piece. Ridiculous really. A bit like inviting Pavarotti along to the Gang Show and saying could you just join in with the occasional chorus. But there he was waiting when I got to the BBC Merseyside foyer, greeting all and sundry with that familiar happiness, the greatest gift that we possess, and being feted by secretaries and big wigs alike as one of their own, which he indisputably was of course. I was allotted 45 minutes. I asked my first question and about ten minutes later I got to ask my second one.

I began by misquoting the famous Freud never played the Glasgow Empire comment of his, which in hindsight was the best thing I could have done. Had I got off smoothly he might just have riffed away blithely, but the fact that I stumbled through the old adage gave Dodd immediate carte blanch to correct me and to offer a forensic-analysis of where I went wrong and how comedy works. Which is pretty much what he did for 45 minutes. I went for a contribution for a Radio Two arts show package. I received a masterclass.

KD: Well, you got it near enough. But if you ask me about the technique of comedy, I'll tell you where you misfired. My father had a great theory. If you want to know anything, go to the library. And we had a magnificent library here in Liverpool, the Central Library, it's wonderful. So I looked up the word “laughter”. I looked up the words “comedy”, “humour”, “jokes.” And gradually I worked my way through lots of tomes by great intellectuals, everybody from Aristotle who said that the essence of the comic was a buckled mill wheel, meaning it’s life out of true. Schopenhauer who said that it all came down to incongruity, Kant, Bergsen and, of course, Fred Freud. Freud said that the essence of the comic is I think, the conservation of psychic energy. But then, Freud never played second house Friday night at Glasgow Empire.

All the little details were there you see, conservation of psychic energy builds up the straight line, … I don’t know whether he actually said it quite as pompously as that, but it sounds terribly twee and terribly pseudo-intellectual. And then you get the line about “the trouble with…” Now, here you have a professional crackpot from Knotty Ash daring to cross swords with the great Sigmund, so the little man comes out. Also in the gag is “the trouble with Freud, he never played…” The idea of Freud playing Glasgow Empire second house Friday night, which was the notorious one. I mean, anybody can get through Saturday night but Friday night, second house, that was the one. I played Glasgow many times, six or seven times. You have one thing in your favour when you play Glasgow if you work hard. They like anybody who works hard.

But on the Monday morning when we did the band call at 11 o’ clock, Mr. Mathie, the manager, said “right, who are the comics?” and three of us stepped forward out of the company. I think there was myself, probably Stan Stennett, and a man called Geoffrey Lenner, or Jim Dale it might have been. He said “right, no football gags, and you get the bird on Friday night. Don’t mention Celtic or Rangers. No football gags because we need the seats.” And on Friday night, all English comics get the bird. It’s not just you, it’s all English comics get the slow handclap. And so, Friday night I tottered onto the stage, with my hair all over the place. And in those days my opening line, to a Glasgow audience mind you, was “Aye aye. I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve sent for you.” It wasn’t the most tactful thing. And a man sort of uncoiled himself, slowly got to his feet on the fourth row, clutching half a bottle of whiskey in his hand and he looked at me wild-eyed and said [strong Glaswegian accent] “cripes, what a horrible sight!” and fell, slumped back into his seat. That was my first big laugh. The audience hooted, they loved to see a comic, particularly an English comic in discomfort. And that was my big laugh. Probably my only laugh. But I found out that the secret to playing to a Glasgow audience is you’ve got to keep it snappy. They don’t like long, drawn-out tall stories. They like wisecracks. They like the one-liner or the two-liner.

But it is my hobby, yes, the sort of thinking about laughter, and thinking about humour, and the creation of humour, and the techniques of comedy have occupied my mind for many, many years. Ever since, ooh, since I first sort of watched comedians on the musical halls and the variety theatres. My father was a great variety fan, and he used to take my brother, my sister and myself, and my mum, to theatres all over Merseyside, in fact all over the north-west, anywhere where there was a variety bill, my dad took us. He loved all the old comedians, so I was brought up on comicing and laughter. We had a house full of laugher. Everyone laughed in our house. We laughed. We sang a lot too because there was no lock on the bathroom door.

That buckled mill wheel, life out of true quote has stayed with me ever since. I’d read Aristotle’s Poetics almost exactly 20 years earlier during the first weeks of my degree course, but had retained little memory of those founding principles. A buckled mill wheel however I could relate to. That in essence is what comedy is. It looks like a wheel, it ostensibly acts like a wheel, but then it veers off in another direction entirely. If you don’t get that analogy then you probably don’t get comedy. Comedy is an amoral zone. The rules are different there. It isn’t intended to be a security blanket or a smug affirmation of your world view. If anything it serves to pull the rug from underneath you.

RC: In the early days when you were learning your craft, what were the hardest engagements to play? You mentioned Glasgow. Were there other notorious places that were difficult?

KD: Oh yes. Lots of people ask me over the years, “have you ever died? Have you ever flopped?” Course you do. Probably a couple of shows this year haven’t exactly bene runaway successes. An audience can vary. They change nightly, the same theatre. The first house can be easy, and the second house can be terribly hard. It’s nothing to do with geography. There’s lots of different variables, different permutations of situation. It can be the weather. It’s a marvellous thing to stand on the stage in Blackpool, that giant opera house there, three thousand five hundred people, and it’s been raining all afternoon, really pouring down, a good old British summer’s day. And you can actually see a cloud hovering about six feet about them. A cloud of dampness. And they can be affected by current events, or if there’s a major financial upheaval in the country, or a political upheaval.

RC: One comedian told me one of the worst gigs he had to play was after a bomb scare. When everyone got taken out into the street.

KD: I did a very funny one of those at the Palladium once. It was a Saturday matinee, the manager came round and said “We had a phone call about a bomb. We don’t know if it was a hoax or not but would you ask everybody to look under their seats?” And I did and they all laughed. I said “no, honestly.yeah, very good Ken. Get on with the act.” I must have said it about six or seven times. All I got was roars of laughter. In the end I just looked to the side of the stage and said “somebody else will have to come on and ask them, because they won’t take any notice of me. I’m a professional idiot.”

But hard audiences, there’s no such thing as a hard audience, only bad artists. You’ve got to understand what happens when a comedian starts his act. First of all, posh actors they call it [posh voice] “establishing rapport.” Gracie Fields used to say it was an invisible thread that went from the artist, the entertainer, to the audience. I prefer to call it “building a bridge.” You really have to get their trust and confidence, particularly with comedy, because they are trusting you with their sense of humour. And people are very proud of their sense of humour, they don’t give it easily.

But if you earn their trust and their friendship early on, and you’ve got to do it within the first minute I would think, then they’ll go along with you. They’ll imagine fantasies the same as you will. You start by talking about the most important thing in the world, themselves. Then you talk about the place, and gradually ease them into this playtime mood. Because that’s what it is really, it’s “here we are folks, let’s all have a good laugh.” And later on you can talk about all sorts of strange, weird things like “don’t men’s legs get terribly lonely when they’re in their trousers all day in the dark?” But you have to gain their trust first, and then they’ll go along with you.

RC: There’s a slight variation on that, I’ve noticed. As a punter sometimes, when the comic first comes on..

KD:  We’re all punters, Rob. I’ll go anywhere to watch a comedian, particularly a British comedian, but I’ll go and watch that comedian anywhere in the world, because I think it’s a fascinating art. And it’s fascinating to see what happens to peoples’ minds when the catalyst, the comedian, stands up and says “hey folks, how about this? How about if we all walked round upside down? How about if we did this? How about if we did that? Have you noticed how you always get a trolley that pulls to the left in the supermarket?” All those things. And it’s amazing to see the way that communication… so we’re all punters. I’m a punter as well. I listen to comedians, I watch comedians avidly.

RC: Okay, so tell me this. I think when you’re in an audience, that for the first couple of minutes, there’s a lot of goodwill invested in a comedian.

KD: Yes. Yes, that's true.

RC: There's a wonderful moment when the curtains open, he's on stage…

KD: Yes. Provided they are laughter lovers. Provided they have come to watch a comedian, yes.

RC: Yes. And you will often laugh for the first two or three minutes, just because of the fact they're there. And it seems to me after a few minutes you get that second breath, and the audience gets its second wind.

KD: Oh, that’s up to the comedian. Better keep it rolling. Having once got them the skill is then, to keep it rolling, and to make sure you move it higher and elevate and elevate until you get the audience to a really good comic pitch. Because you can, you’re quite right, there is a novelty value as soon as you step on the stage, and a surprise value. That’s why a lot of comics, when they go to do a cabaret at a nightclub or one of these corporate functions, very often the people who have booked you say “of course you’ll have the meal,”, but I say “No.” And they’re quite offended. “Why?” I say well, because once they’ve had a good look at you and seen you slurping your soup and wrestling with the roast beef the novelty’s gone. Some of the goodwill has dissipated. No, you want them fresh.

I intervene here just to say that barely 5-10 minutes into our conversation things had gone completely off script and my intended line of questioning had gone totally awry. I mention this because the next question I asked only bore the faintest resemblance to the one I meant to ask. I’d seen one or two comics in the early 90s in Manchester, Sean Hughes was one, Eddie Izzard another, where the rapport with the audience was so good you wanted it to go on all night. I imagined the house lights coming up and the comedian, all pretence at persona gone, was just chatting informally to us all. Bamboozled by Ken Dodd’s rapid fire responses and digressions it didn’t quite come out like that when I asked the question, and Ken wasn’t having it anyway.

RC: The opposite of that, this is my own feeling, about the end of a night when you have seen a great show you’re actually quite happy just for the comedian to be there. You think “I don’t even care if you’re funny anymore”, you know. “Let’s all convene down to the chip shop now and just carry on the conversation.”

KD: I wouldn’t like to risk that. Particularly in Glasgow. Oh no, you have to have the product. You have to have the goods to deliver. You have to have the stuff on the shelves to be able to serve the customers. They’ve come there to laugh and they know it’s all the gags and that a lot of it is rehearsed and has been prepared for them. Nevertheless, they want good material. Oh no you can’t get away with just saying “it’s a nice place, isn’t it? They’ve decorated it nice, you know. And these are nice carpets.” Oh no, you won’t get away with that.

Bear in mind that I’m asking this to a man whose shows regularly ran for that long. An engineer at the BBC at the time of the interview told me of the time they had to virtually force Dodd off the stage at a live BBC recording. Coach parties of elderly people were in the audience, ‘some with stronger bladders than other’, and coaches were waiting outside engines running. Even when all the studio lights went on Dodd still didn’t take the hint, which makes the next exchange interesting to say the least.

RC: Not even after three hours of the audience eating out of your hand?

KD: I shouldn’t think so, no, no, no, no. When they’ve eaten out of your hand they want studies in your leg next. An audience is like a big dog. If you show you’re afraid, they’ll eat you. But if you’ve confidence and say “good boy, good lad, haha, come on son, walkies”, an audience will do anything you want them to do. But you mustn’t abuse your position. I remember doing Parkinson once and a person was on before me.  They were supposed to be on for seventeen minutes, and they were only on for eleven. And then he said “now, it’s Ken Dodd.” And I’m on. And it went quite well. Later on they give you the glass of wine and the BBC sausage roll. I think you call it hostility, don’t you? The hostility room. And I went into the hostility room and said “why did you do that? She was down for seventeen minutes and she did eleven”. “Well”, he said, “did you notice she started talking about her children and her family. And once they start doing that, a glassy look comes over their eyes and you know they’re not going to say anything else interesting. And so the idea is to get them off as quick as possible.” So no, audiences don’t want to hear chatty bits about their husbands and wives, how they did their own built-in kitchen cupboards. Oh no. I think that’s more akin to showing your holiday snapshots, that, no. It’s good for about thirty seconds and that’s it.

Where Terry Wogan was very good, if you came prepared, if he knew you had some stuff, if he knew you had the ammunition there, he would let you have your head. He wouldn’t sort of butt in all the time, he would let you do what you’ve come to do. And then just when you seem to be running out of steam, he might prod you a bit more and try to get a bit more out of you. But a lot of chat show hosts, they just dive in. And you can see the fellow’s sitting there dying to say something, and he’s brought all these wisecracks with him and he’s just not getting a chance.

RC: TV is so different to live performance isn’t it? One time I was watching you on TV, well the TV was on in the corner. I wasn’t really watching it, I was doing other things. And you were going through your life in comedy with Terry Wogan and I was only half-listening. And then you suddenly got to a bit, probably about twenty minutes in where you started talking about the landladies in the B & B’s when you’re touring around. And I was in stitches. I was virtually on the floor. This was after taking virtually no notice whatsoever. It was only afterwards I thought I’ve got as much admiration for a comic who can do that in a situation where…I wasn’t at a live performance. I hadn’t even entered into a contract with you to laugh, do you know what I mean? And then after you’d done that I was back to thinking “oh, I’d better do that washing up now” and everything. In a way I’ve got as much admiration for that in a comic because it was involuntary, and the laughter was spontaneous.

KD: Well, when a comic’s on a roll, when you actually have a piece of material that’s been honed and polished round the various engagements, you generally get it, there will be twenty or thirty gags. Really rather like a singer, you know, singing one of his best songs. And it’s very hard to resist a comic when he’s in command and knows what he’s doing. Not me, I’m talking about any comic. When they really know what they’re doing and they’re doing a piece of material that they know the value of, it’s very difficult to resist that because he’s using every trick on the book on you there. He’ll have practiced every…probably not consciously practiced, it’s probably just come from intuition over the months or years he’s been doing it. It will be facial expressions, inflections in the voice, all sorts of timing.

A joke is a beautiful thing. A joke is like a watch, a very good watch. It has lovely movements in it and rhythms. They reckon you shouldn’t dissect a joke, you shouldn’t really pull it to bits, it’s like taking the wings off a butterfly. But if you did examine a joke for what it is, a really good one, and a joke that a comedian is confident with, he has told this joke for quite a while and he knows by taking words out, putting words in, there’s a rhythm, there are inflections to the voice where you raise the voice and lower the voice, where you emphasise, where you underline certain words. And gradually you get as far as the tagline. And the tagline is the final thrust, it has to be delivered with absolute meticulous timing. There’s an oomph of daylight between the structure of the gag you’ve built up and just as you slip it in or push it in or stab it in or fire the gun. Any use of metaphor you want, any picture you like to use, it’s there. The fact is that the tagline has to be delivered with great finesse and great timing. And if you examine a gag like that, you’ll realise how delicate it is, how beautiful it is. It’s almost like a little play on its own, a little sort of one-act play.

RC: Do you think you can over-polish a gag?

KD: Oh yes. You can mess about with it. Who’s the American that said “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” That is an old comedian’s maxim, that, never mess about. Once you’ve got it right, leave it. And you tell the gag for quite a while and you’ll get your big laughs and then you must leave it alone for a while, you must take it out of the routine. Take it completely out and give it a rest. Like a field needs a rest, like a horse needs a rest. Take it out and leave it alone for perhaps a few months, then you can bring it back again. And it comes out fresh again. I’ve started telling a gag now just this last week, with the VE Day victory celebrations, a joke that I was telling, oh, I must have been telling it twenty years ago. Then I revived it the last time I was at the Palladium because it fitted well in with the Road to Mandalay routine with all the army stuff and all that, it fitted beautifully. Then I left it a long while. Then somebody reminded me this week. They said “what about that joke about the little boy and his granddad in the war?”  And I’ve told it about three or four times this week. And it goes like a rocket.

At this point in proceedings things get a little darker. Although we were now five years on from his high-profile court case for tax evasion, and the topic never arose directly either in my questioning or his responses, there were moments where Dodd himself made indirect allusions, not just to the recent past, but also more tragic events in his life, the death of his girlfriend Anita from a brain tumour in 1977 for instance. The allusions were detectable in the altered cadence of his voice, an occasional wavering, the briefest of pauses, a hint of ironic emphasis. It doesn’t come across in a tape transcript but it did in his regretful tone. The entirety of the next exchange is suffused with a palpable tone of loss and regret

RC: To make people laugh seems to me to be one of the greatest gifts. It’s the reason I enjoy interviewing comedians most, because I’m respecter of that as a craft perhaps more than any other craft. But a lot of comedians in the rest of their life can be very intense and serious and sometimes deeply unhappy people. There’s the old joke about Grock the Clown.  (I am unhappy/Go and see Grock/but I am Grock) Or someone like Hancock, Kenneth Williams used to say “well, the trouble with Anthony was he always used to think there was something else there other than just the joke.” Williams dismissed this in that offhand way of his. But then when Kenneth Williams died you read his diaries and it was obvious he was quite an unhappy man. It seems to be a characteristic of some comics. Why do you think that is?

KD: Well, I think as you grow older you grow aware of the fact that most of us have very sad times in our lives. Everybody, everybody, whether you’re a comedian or a BBC interviewer or whether you’re a presenter. Particularly if you work for the BBC. [laughs] No, that’s a joke. Everyone in their lives has times of anguish, times of sadness, times of stress. I don’t think it’s confined to comedians. I think it’s more noticeable when it’s a person who’s supposed to be a jester and they’re walking around with a long face, particularly if it isn’t part of the act.

But you’re quite right when you said it is a gift. It’s nothing to do with the person. I think everyone is given certain talents. Some people have a talent for playing the saxophone or the piano, some people are sportsmen. And it is, it’s a gift. Everybody has a talent given to them. A comedian, a humourist, has this strange quirky little gift of being able to create laughter. And if you’re a clever person, or if you’re a grateful person, you develop that gift to the stage where you become a professional comedian.

But I don’t think comedians are any more sad than anybody else. I think a clown’s mask is a clown’s mask. It very often conceals all sorts of things that are going on behind the mask, and I think everybody in their life has times where they’re desperately unhappy. But as the comedian you should, or you’re supposed to, go on and do your stuff. [funny voice] “By Jove. Haha. How tickled we are.” And it’s quite easy sometimes to almost anesthetise yourself when you go on and forget. In fact, sometimes it’s a relief to go on the stage. You go on the stage for a bit of a mental holiday. I believe, you see, that in the human mind, there are all kinds of rooms. Your mind is like a house. And when you look through, you go into a certain room, look through the window, you attitude on life will be a certain way. And if you go into another room, there’ll be another way.

But that’s the way I look at it anyway, and I find it easier to understand myself if I do that. And so when you put your comedian’s uniform on, sometimes it’s quite easy to forget everything else. People say “oh, you remember to post that letter?” “What? Oh yeah, yeah. Well, I will.” “You mean you forgot?” “Well, I was on stage and I forgot all about it.” You can really forget things that are very important. You become two different people. I know I’m two different people. There’s the Ken Dodd that’s sitting here stammering his way through the interview, and there’s another fellow that goes on the stage and says [lively voice] “Happiness! By Jove, what a beautiful day! What a beautiful day for ramming a brush stave up Nigel Mansell’s trousers and saying ‘how’s this for pole position?’” It’s two different fellows.

RC: Do you think comedy has changed over the years?

(Dodd is thinking out loud here. There’s lots of throat clearing, literally and metaphorically. The words tumble out slightly ahead of his thoughts. I detect also that after half an hour on a roll he’s beginning to get a little tired.)

KD: Comedy and humour is ever-changing. Let’s try and get, what I call the sort of technical words. “Comedian” is the man who does it, the performer, the entertainer. Comedy is the technique of how you convey, how you transmit humour. Humour is the actual essence of what it is. Humour is the little nub of the joke, the timing, the build-up. We’ve moving more onto comedy technique there, but humour is the essence, the nub of it, the thing that is indefinable. When Aristotle said it is a buckled mill wheel, that is getting close to it, to the actual heart of humour. Comedy is more the technique. It has changed.

RC: Is it material that has changed or technique?

KD: Both. But mainly the material. Humour reflects the lives we live. The life that we are living now in 1995. Humour reflects our lifestyles and there will be all sorts of things happening that can never, and couldn’t happen before, because all the details are different. Different permutation of people, different permutation of ways of life, lifestyles. Comedy, the actual performing of it, yes, it’s changed because there’s aren’t the great pantomimes now, long runs that ran from Christmas to May. I’ve actually given Easter eggs out on the stage in pantomimes. There aren’t the great long summer seasons now. We used to start summer seasons in Blackpool on Whit Sunday, and go right through till the first or second week in November.

There are comedy clubs now where people can go specifically to laugh. There’s hardly any variety on television which is a shame. So it doesn’t really give many comedians a chance to air their acts and their washing on TV. There’s quite a bit of radio still to do, and radio I think is really seizing the opportunity. Where TV is missing out on comedy I think radio is stepping in and they could very cleverly corner the market in comedy if they really wanted to.

At this point without me raising the subject Dodd brings up “the new style comedians or as they have been called and labelled, and don’t like being labelled, “alternative.” The dreaded “alternative.” He then goes into a surprisingly acerbic finale.

KD: What happened about twenty or thirty years ago, comedy suddenly became very respectable. Not that it was ever vulgar. (sarcastic voice) Good gracious no. No, it was. Music hall comedy was very sort of red-nosed and get on there and let ‘em have it.

Then all of a sudden, a lot of highly intelligent students, people like that, sort of took it up like they would take up playing the accordion or rock climbing or motorcycle racing. They all of a sudden said “by Jove, there’s a thing here called comedy and it’s very funny. Let’s have a go at it.” And they did. And now it has become a very respectable art form. Comedy really is becoming very, very organised. But to be a comedian, a lot of your comedy has got to be based on experience, the various misfortunates and clangers of life. I think Mark Twain said all comedy is based on misfortune. I won’t go along with that, but certainly a lot of it is based on misfortune. Other peoples, that is. And they haven’t had a lot of misfortune in their lives because bless them some of them are only seventeen and eighteen.

So they really fell back on the major emotional crisis of their life, which was potty training. Potty training was one of the biggest peaks they ever climbed. So that’s why there’s so many potty jokes and why there’s so many below the belt jokes, so many jokes about bodily functions, which is fascinating. There are a tremendous amount of jokes among young people about sex because they’ve only just discovered it. It’s marvellous. They find it unbelievable that it’s been going on for years. But they’re fascinated. And why not? It’s a wonderful thing. Sex is absolutely marvellous and great to have jokes about it because it’s quite incongruous, it’s quite a strange little play itself, isn’t it? A strange little pantomime, the whole business of it. And the end result is hilarious. [laughs] Hilarious. There’s nothing very beautiful about it for sure. But it’s very satisfying. And they’ve discovered sex, and they’ve discovered vulgarity and they’ve discovered bodily functions. It more or less ends there. And there’s quite a few jokes too about money, because they’re fairly greedy little beggars. They love swearing because when they came home from school and shouted knickers their Mum gave them a clout round the ear and now they can shout knickers whenever they like because they’re over 18 now.

So what I’m saying is a lot of the new wave comedy is immature. It isn’t seasoned by the vinegar of sadness and anguish, bereavements, brushes with the law, all the sorts of things that gradually wear all the corners off and gradually you become a wrinkly old philosopher and you join the club with George Burns and me and the others who have lasted the course.

And at that point the interview concluded. Or rather it didn’t. I turned my tape off and we headed for the studio exit. All this time Ken continued a running commentary on what he thought of this particularly comedian or that one. All good journalistic instincts will caution you against turning the tape off when the interview formally ends. Conversation, anecdotes and asides will often continue to flow and so it was with Ken Dodd.

By the time we reached the door I realised I had missed a trick, and a story or two. I’d mentioned something Hattie Hayridge had said to me about future plans. “She could be the new Dora Bryan” said Dodd, revealing just how much attention he paid to the new breed of comics, despite his apparent disdain.

There were also snippets about Ted Ray and Tommy Cooper which I’ve long forgotten. Always leave the tape running. You never know when they’ve finished.

I said my goodbyes in the BBC Merseyside foyer, and left Ken Dodd merrily chatting to the girl at reception.

Ken Dodd went on talking for another 23 years. That’s a lot of buckled mill wheels.

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