Taking a break from Leo, Donald, the weather and the other odds and ends that catch his attention, PAUL HEALY casts a nostalgic eye on a great entertainment era and pays tribute to a comedy icon…
“My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’”
“I went outside the house and there was this man with his head sticking out the pavement. I said: ‘Are you from the gas board?’ He said: ‘No, my parachute didn’t open’”
“This lady stopped me the other day. She said, ‘Hello handsome, can you tell me the way to the optician’s?’”
He was easily my favourite British comedian of all time.
I watched him for a half an hour or so on Monday night, not knowing he was dead.
Then, the dreaded image and caption at the closing credits: ‘In memory of the late Ken Dodd (1927-2018)’.
My heart sank.
It had been a normal Monday night’s viewing. Switching from Claire to Matt and Ivan, I got bored with the latter, Mr. Yates being prone to bombastic outbursts (I still quite like him as a broadcaster).
I channel-hopped and ‘landed’ on BBC 1. I was surprised to see Ken Dodd in full flow, but thought it must be a documentary on the great comedian.
It was only when the programme ended and the credits rolled that the realisation dawned: another laugh-shaped part of our youth had died some hours earlier.
Straight to Google…for the news that I had missed: ‘Comedy legend Sir Ken Dodd dies, aged 90’.
The greatest of them all, gone.
Of course we judge these important matters, to some extent at least, through the lens of our youth, through memories that may be faded or ‘rose-tinted.’ So be it. And I am conscious that some of the showbiz stars of the 1970s and ‘80s may not have dated that well, their material, that is. Watch a clip from a comedian of that era now and it can sometimes seem dated and unsophisticated and less than hilarious. We won’t even get into the rampant sexism and racism that underpinned much of the comedy of the time.
But, but…but…some of the comedy we grew up on really does stand up well after all these years. I would go further: some of the comedy of the 1970s and ‘80s was much better (and often much less offensive) than today’s.
Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies, the great Tommy Cooper, the unique Spike Milligan, our own Dave Allen, Billy Connolly, Kenny Everett, Bob Monkhouse and countless sit-coms more than make up for the mediocre stuff or for the material which we hailed then but which we would now admit was racist/just unfunny. There was some rubbish, but there was a lot of gold.
In Ireland, we were enormously influenced by British television. Up to 1978, we only had one channel here (RTE). In my book, ‘Nothing About Sheep Stealing’, I reminisced about a typical evening’s schedule on RTE.
From a Tuesday in August 1970:
7.50 pm: Mart and Market; 7.55: An Nuacht; 8 pm: Cineclub (Part 1); 10 o’clock: The News; 10.25: Cineclub (Part 2); 11.05: News headlines; 11.07: Outlook (followed by end of transmission).
The RTE schedule was a bit better at the weekends (Andy Williams/Get Smart/Skippy!) but it’s little wonder that those of us who could access British channels embraced them with such joy and excitement.
I was beside myself with excitement when I got to see ‘The Big Match’ (with Brian Moore) on a Sunday, and of course Match of the Day (with Jimmy Hill) on a Saturday night, and the light entertainment/comedy content was simply a world away from what we had been used to on RTE.
Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game was unmissable on a Saturday evening, Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies eagerly awaited too, particularly the former’s Christmas Special.
This was good, really good; this wasn’t Quicksilver. (To be fair, RTE produced ‘The Live Mike’ from somewhere, and it was very special).
When it comes to the great British comedians of that era, one man whose name I would mention in the same breath as Ken Dodd is Les Dawson. Dawson was brilliant, absolutely lovable, a master of timing and delivery.
But Ken Dodd was the king.
Don’t mind the social media skewered polls – honestly, some of those people haven’t a clue – Dodd was a gift from the comedy Gods. You cannot take this poll-a-day era seriously. (A few years ago, The Vicar of Dibley ‘beat’ Fawlty Towers in some stupid poll, at which point I lost faith in them!).
Back to Mr. Dodd. Maybe some of his material doesn’t date too well, but he was exceptional for several reasons. He was famous for the incredible duration of his live performances; often, gigs would last for five hours. He told one-liners at great speed; he even made the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session.
And he was funny!
Dodd adored his work; indeed he was a comedy connoisseur who studied the history of comedy and researched just what ingredients were needed to successfully create laughter. In recent weeks, in his 91st year, he was still touring, still entertaining.
It was innocent humour from a different time, and while there is sadness at the great man’s passing this week, the tributes are also no doubt tinged with nostalgia for a golden era, for the
music hall/vaudeville tradition that is fading further into history.
I like and admire many of today’s comedians, but sometimes when I see Jimmy Carr and others resort to extreme vulgarity and unnecessary offensiveness, I wonder if they’re just taking an easy way out. Some of today’s unfunny – indeed tiresome – ‘comics’ would not hold a candle to the comedians (and brilliant writers) who actually worked on creating clever punchlines, as opposed to relying on shock tactics and meandering ‘stream of consciousness’ observations on their fascinating lives!
Ken Dodd belonged to a different craft, a different world. Pass little heed on the spontaneous and largely pointless polls of the social media era – for millions of people, for generations of families, for over sixty years, Ken was the greatest.
He was a comedy genius, who spread happiness at every turn.
Who’s that man?
As Tiger Woods deftly and brilliantly chipped to within a foot of the hole from a difficult lie off the green, I thought I’d inform Matthew, our seven-year-old son, of just who that man on the screen was.
As the ball settled those few inches from the hole and the fans applauded, I said my piece.
“That” I said, with a combination of nostalgia and admiration for Tiger’s amazing return to form in recent weeks, “is the greatest
Matthew looked interested, then confused.
“That guy that just missed?”