More images and visitors responses here.
‘Happiness!’, the first major exhibition on a comedian in a national museum, celebrates one of the UK’s best-loved and most influential comedians, Sir Ken Dodd.
Much like the man himself who was renowned for the length of his performances, the exhibition will now be giving visitors to the Museum of Liverpool an extra four months of laughter, closing to the public on 7 July 2024.
Ken’s marathon shows were legendary. He even earned a place in The Guinness Book of Records for the world's longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours (7.14 jokes per minute). The fundraising “Marathon Mirthquake” was undertaken at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, in 1974 where audiences entered the show in shifts.
When challenged, Ken would say: “I don’t do long shows, I just give good value - and don’t worry about the dark, you’ll always go home in the daylight.”
Les Dennis, presenter, actor, and comedian said:
Apart from pantomime, my first theatrical memory was seeing The Ken Dodd Laughter Show at the Royal Court Theatre in the early 60s. The gales of laughter from the audience as they watched Doddy in action were intoxicating and I was immediately hooked. I knew there and then that a life in showbusiness was what I wanted to pursue.
Walking round the amazing Doddy exhibition brought back all the wonderful memories I have of the extraordinary career of one of the true greats of live theatre and comedy. If you haven’t yet visited, treat yourself and go. How tickled you’ll be and you’ll come out saying 'By Jove, I needed that!'
The ‘Happiness!’ exhibition is a laughter-filled experience, steeped in Doddy’s unique blend of whimsical, physical, surreal and theatrical humour, which transformed the UK comedy scene.
From the Diddymen to the Broken Biscuit Repair Works, Ken’s imagination was both endless and infectious. Through never-before-seen personal objects, film, photography, interactives and of course many, many jokes, this ‘tattyfilarious’ show has already raised thousands of smiles and with this extension it is hoped there are many more to come.
Anne, Lady Dodd said:
When you are so closely involved with the development of an exhibition as I have been over the last few years, it is difficult to be objective about how others will see it. I knew that I loved what the talented team at the Museum of Liverpool had put together but until it opened, I wasn’t sure what others would think. However, it has been so wonderful to stand in the museum and hear visitors rocking with laughter and sharing some of Ken’s favourite jokes with each other. It’s been a delight to read their memories of Ken in the visitor’s book and discover their first-hand stories about seeing him at some of the many theatres we visited around the country on Ken’s Giggle Map.
It was a difficult decision to include some pages of Ken’s private notebooks, but the overwhelmingly positive response has reassured me that Ken’s hard-earned experience in the entertainment industry is one that many want to hear and read about.
Many of the objects featured in ‘Happiness!’ are kindly loaned to the museum by Ken’s wife, Anne, Lady Dodd. National Museums Liverpool is hugely grateful for her support and generosity towards the exhibition.
Karen O’Rourke, Curator (Sport, Music & Performance) said
The response to our exhibition, Happiness! has been overwhelming and really reflects the love people have for Doddy. Of course, he’s well known and much-loved in Liverpool, but it’s been wonderful to also welcome visitors who have made the journey from all corners of the UK just to see the exhibition. We expected plenty of laughter, but it’s also been very moving to hear such touching memories of Ken, what he meant to people and how fondly they remember him.
Among the unmissable highlights of the exhibition are a small selection of notebooks from the more than 1,000 Ken used to keep meticulous notes about his performance. These were intended to be private, in fact in later life, Ken repeatedly made his wife, Anne, promise to burn them all ‘after I’m gone’. After much soul-searching, she decided that they were too culturally significant and needed to be saved. Exclusively for this exhibition, Anne agreed to share extracts from this important archive of a comedy genius and great philosopher.
The extension allows visitors more time to indulge in the nostalgia of getting up close to the iconic props and costumes that became so synonymous with Ken’s act. From his much-loved Dicky Mint (the ventriloquist puppet he performed with on TV, and in some live shows), to the famous Tickling Sticks, Knotty Ash Great Drum and the Huury Furry Moggy Coat, the exhibition brings back many happy memories.
During the exhibition’s run so far, The Ken Dodd’s Giggle Map, a digital interactive created especially for it, has grown. With contributions from visitors added frequently, the map includes images, programmes, flyers, and wonderful anecdotes from the hundreds of theatres where Doddy performed.
The exhibition also features dozens of clips, taken from the huge volume of footage that reveals a sparkling and unique entertainer. Exclusive interviews with comics, actors and performers such as Lee Mack, Miriam Margolyes, Sir Ian McKellen and Paul O’Grady pay homage to the influence Ken had and the esteem in which he was held.
‘Happiness!’ runs at Museum of Liverpool until 7 July 2024. Tickets are £5 (concessions available) and under 17s go free. Book now here.
Spread happiness and bring a friend to the exhibition for free. Museum of Liverpool is taking part in the National Lottery’s #ThanksToYou offer, with Happiness! tickets available at two for one between 9-17 March 2024.
Sir Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE (8 November 1927 – 11 March 2018) was an English comedian, singer, and acclaimed actor. He performed on radio and television but was primarily known for his live stand-up performances, described as "the last great music hall entertainer".
A lifelong resident of Knotty Ash in Liverpool, Ken's career as an entertainer started in the 1950s.
Theatre was his first love and as a young performer he often worked unpaid in variety shows, wherever he had an audience. September 1954 saw his professional debut at the Nottingham Empire. Within a year, he was topping the bill in Warrington. By 1958, he was the star act in Blackpool, the spiritual home of variety in the north. After Ken’s initial record-breaking run at the London Palladium in 1965, he returned for another blockbuster season in 1967. He played there many times over the years, including several Royal Variety performances.
Ken also had several hit singles primarily as a ballad singer in the 1960s. 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. Ken’s successful music career saw him awarded platinum, gold and silver discs.
National treasure and a local hero, Ken received numerous accolades during his lifetime. Nationally, he was honoured by the Variety Club of Great Britain in 1965 and received a British Comedy, Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. He was made an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1982 and became ‘Sir Ken’ when he received a Knighthood in 2017. Locally, he received Freedom of the City in 2001 and was recognised as the ‘Greatest Merseysider’ in a 2003 public vote. Ken also received several academic honours.
Ken died aged 90 on 11 March 2018 at his home in Knotty Ash, the same home in which he was born and raised. Numerous stars paid tribute, including fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney. At his funeral thousands of fans joined the cortege which passed from his Knotty Ash home to Liverpool Cathedral.