Comedian with an endless desire to make people laugh known for his tickling sticks, Diddymen and marathon stage performances
The last great “front-cloth” comic of our times, and the last standing true vaudevillian, Ken Dodd, who has died aged 90, was even more than that – a force of nature, a whirlwind, an ambulant torrent of surreal invention, physical and verbal, whose Liverpudlian cheek masked the melancholy of an authentic clown. “This isn’t television, missus,” he’d say to the front stalls, “you can’t turn me off.” And then he would embark on an odyssey of gag-spinning that, over five hours, would beat an audience into submission, often literally, banging a huge drum and declaring that if we did not like the jokes he would follow us home and shout them through the letter-box.
He entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1974 with a marathon mirth-quake at the Royal Court Liverpool lasting three hours, 30 minutes and six seconds. But his solo shows, in which he would perform three 90-minute-plus sets between magic acts, or a female trumpeter (the formidable Joan Hinde), or a pianist playing country music (his partner Anne Jones), frequently lasted much longer. One good thing, he would say, was that you always went home in the daylight. “And the sooner you laugh at the jokes,” he would say, “the sooner you can go home,” as if we were in school. He admitted that his was an educational show – when you did get home you would think: “That taught me a lesson!”