A lifetime in showbusiness

Ken Dodd laughing, reflected in a dressing room mirror with light bulbs round it  

© Stephen Shakeshaft/
Liverpool Echo and Post

Ken Dodd always lived in the same house in which he was born – a listed Georgian farmhouse in the Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash.

He was a crusader on behalf of live theatre, and in 2014, the year that his exhibition opened at the Museumof Liverpool, he celebrated 60 years of entertaining audiences up and down the country. His famous Ken Dodd 'Happiness Show' took him on a virtual non-stop tour of the UK, clocking up thousands of miles annually. 

A born entertainer

His late father, Arthur, was a coal merchant who ran his business from the family home.  Ken used to help deliver the coal with his brother, Billy.

His father and late mother, Sarah, bought Ken his first 'Punch & Judy Show' when he was a child, and he used to put on shows in the back garden. Later he began his charitable fundraising activities by making appearances in local shows and garden fetes.

He and his sister, June, had dancing lessons together and would give their parents impromptu shows.

His famous protruding teeth were caused by a childhood cycling accident and were once insured for one million pounds!

Showbusiness, sausage knotting and Shakespeare

Ken’s love of 'showbiz' began when he saw an advert for a ventriloquist’s doll in a local paper. His parents bought it for him and he christened it 'Charlie Brown'.

He worked on a semi-professional basis for many years to supplement his earnings as a salesman 'on the knocker' in Liverpool. He had his own van and sold household goods around Liverpool housing estates.

He made his professional debut at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham in September 1954 and right from the start loved 'daft' billing! Early in his career he was described on show bills as 'Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty – Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter'!

In complete contrast, he made his Shakespearean debut as Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool in 1971.

He created his famous Diddymen and they have featured in his stage and television shows, as well as in comics and even board games. Characters like Dickie Mint, Mick The Marmaliser and The Hon Nigel Ponsonby Smallpiece are among the mythical Diddymen who work in the legendary Knotty Ash snuff quarries, black pudding plantations and broken-biscuit repair works!

His ventriloquial pal, Dickie Mint, remained a popular and endearing part of Ken's shows throughout his career.

"He is a comedy genius who is so funny that he should be available on the NHS. He’s a Chippendale in a room full of MFI." Eric Sykes

Some Ken Dodd facts

  • He became a major recording star in the 1960s with huge hits like 'Tears', 'Love Is Like A Violin' and 'Happiness', which became his signature tune. 
  • He's in The Guinness Book of Records for telling 1500 jokes in three and a half hours.
  • He made his debut at the London Palladium in 1965 and enjoyed an unprecedented 42 week sell-out season which earned him a Variety Club Award. 25 years later, in 1990, his highly acclaimed  six week Palladium season was another sell-out success.
  • He has his own 'Giggle Map' of Britain which tells him what makes people laugh in different parts of the country.
  • His famous tickling sticks are made specially for him and he got through hundreds every year.
  • He's in the prestigious 'Who's Who' and was awarded the OBE in 1982 for his services to show business and his tireless work on behalf of many charitable causes.
  • His critically acclaimed 'An Audience With Ken Dodd' for ITV confirmed his status as Britain’s funniest comedian. It produced a five minute standing ovation from its star-studded audience and has become one of the highest rating light entertainment shows of all time. 
  • He made his film debut in 1997 as the non-speaking court jester Yorick in Kenneth Branagh's 'Hamlet'. The cast included Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills, Robin Williams, Charlton Heston, Brian Blessed and Julie Christie.
  • In 2001 he was honoured to be made a Freeman Of The City of Liverpool.
  • He was made the first ever member of the TV Times 'Hall Of Fame' in 2002 to recognise his long and distinguished career in show business.
  • In 2003 he was named by the people of his native Merseyside as the 'Greatest Merseysider' of all time – an honour he regards as the most meaningful ever to be bestowed upon him. "It came from the people who live in Merseyside and love it as much as I do", he said.  Runners-up were John Lennon and Paul McCartney. 
  • In 2005 he gave a 'talk' on Shakespeare and Humour for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was appropriately billed with a line from Hamlet as 'A fellow of infinite jest'. 
  • In 2009 he was honoured with a statue of himself and fellow Liverpudlian Bessie Braddock in Liverpool's Lime Street Station.