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By Jove! It’s Ken Dodd!

Photographs by Stephen Shakeshaft

8 November 2013 to 21 April 2014

Please note that this exhibition has now closed

Ken Dodd on stage

© Stephen Shakeshaft/
Liverpool Echo and Post

Ken Dodd was Liverpool's best-loved entertainer and one of Britain's greatest ever comedians. This exhibition celebrated the life of the comedy legend through the lens of award-winning photographer Stephen Shakeshaft.  

Doddy tickled our chuckle muscles for more than 60 years. In the year of this exhibition alone he played around 100 shows and was still 'packing them in'. At 86 years old his love of performing shone as bright as ever

Stephen Shakeshaft began his career with the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo in 1962. One of his earliest assignments was to capture the 'Squire of Knotty Ash'. A friendship blossomed and in a career spanning 50 years Ken Dodd became one of his most photographed and favourite subjects. A bond of mutual respect and trust has allowed Shakeshaft to become an intimate observer - to stand in the wings and watch.

With photographs that were poignant, affectionate and amusing, 'By Jove! It's Ken Dodd!' celebrated Doddy the virtuoso showman and offered a rare and candid glimpse into the backstage world of this comic genius.

When Doddy met Stephen 

Watch a series of short videos in which Stephen Shakeshaft talks to Ken Dodd about his career in comedy, in an interview that was recorded specially for the exhibition.

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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 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 an 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-atidded 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'. 
  • 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 bestowed upon him: "It came from the people who live in Merseyside and love it as much as I do." 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 status of himself and fellow Liverpudlian Bessie Braddock in Liverpool's Lime Street Station.

Stephen Shakeshaft

stephen-shakeshaft-portrait

Stephen Shakeshaft started his career as a copy boy in 1962, running typed stories from the sub-editors' desk to the print room for the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Later he was accepted as an apprentice there, learning his trade and his art. He rose to become chief photographer and picture editor of both papers.

To say that he has seen it all is a cliché, but Stephen has seen most of it during his career. He has photographed the rise and break-up of The Beatles, the rivalry between Catterick's Everton and Shankly's Liverpool, the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster and so much more.

One of Stephen's earliest assignments at the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo was to photograph 'Doddy'. A friendship blossomed between the pair, and a bond of mutual respect and trust has allowed him to become an intimate observer of Ken Dodd’s career.

"Stephen has been taking photographs of local icons throughout his career, but having seen the honesty and warmth captured in his shots of Ken, it’s quite clear they have developed a particularly special relationship, that has enabled Stephen to portray a rarely-seen side of Ken Dodd.

His personal archive of images showing Ken as both the entertainer and the man is absolutely fantastic. As a curator, it’s been a gift to have so many images to work with. The only difficult part has been choosing which photographs could make it into the exhibition, as sadly we don’t have space to display the hundreds that Stephen has of Ken." 
Paul Gallagher, exhibition curator

"This exhibition is not just about how people see Ken Dodd as a comedian but what Ken Dodd is like when he’s preparing for a show and what he’s like on stage  - to stand in the wings and watch." 
Stephen Shakeshaft

Ken Dodd and Stephen Shakeshaft were interviewed by the press at the opening of the exhibition - an event which naturally involved tickling sticks, refreshments from the legendary jam butty mines of Knotty Ash, and plenty of laughter. See photos from the event in our Ken Dodd Flickr album.

Blogs

Fern Britton

When Fern met Ken

11 December

We were very lucky to have a special visitor to the Museum of Liverpool a few weeks ago, when the lovely Fern Britton came to film in our Ken Dodd exhibition as part of her series ‘Fern Britton Meets…’. Read more about When Fern met Ken

Ken Dodd tickling Stephen with a tickling stick

By jove! Our members were tickled by tales of Ken Dodd!

4 December

Members enjoyed a really tattyfilarious event last night at the Museum of Liverpool. It was an evening which tantalised members with a fascinating insight into ‘The King of Knotty Ash’- Ken Dodd, to accompany the great new exhibition By Jove! It’s Ken Dodd! Photographs by Stephen Shakeshaft. Read more about By jove! Our members were tickled by tales of Ken Dodd!

Home Bargains logo

This exhibition was in the Museum of Liverpool's Skylight gallery. Home Bargains sponsored the Skylight gallery for a two year period from 2012 to 2014, enabling the space to be used for exhibitions and associated community programmes.