With the announced of the death of Ken Dodd on the 12th March 2018 I sat thinking, over my morning coffee, about the time I met him back in the November of 1987.
I was never a fan if his type of humour and accepted that perhaps, I was either too old or too young at the time of his performing height so when we were notified that he was going to be our after dinner speaker, for conference attendees, my toes probable curled inside my shoes. Dinner had been booked so there was little choice, especially as I was at conference with company’s Managing Director and good friend. After a full day a little entertainment with dinner, accompanied by about four hundred other business Senior Managers and Directors, was probably a good way to relax before the following day’s arduous task of sitting on my backside listening to a plethora of technical papers.
Dinner was as always, acceptable, with the beer and wine was flowing like a river in spate. Ken was not to prove to be our after dinner speaker as he arrived two hours late. By this time general conversation with good humour had taken over with little interest in our supposed VIP guest. As an apology Ken decided he would run through his normal stage act which would take an hour or so. If he only knew!
Lights down, stage lit up and on marched Ken with his shaggy long coat, silly hat and tickle stick. Normal attire for his standard stage act I suppose. “How’re you doing misses?” he throws out and in return receives silence. Again he continues down his normal repertoire until some gent gets up to go to the bar. Ken heckles him. Oh dear, mistake number one; how was he supposed to know. Retorts from the main body of the room were of a superior quality and the audience received them as they proved to be a great laugh. So our Ken carries on in his true inimitable style until another couple headed to the bar whereupon he tried another heckle towards those gents. Oh dear, mistake number two. It was the responses from the room that has all in stitches at Ken’s expense.
Finding the need to recover his act Ken requested all the lights in the room to be put on. His face was a picture; was it embarrassment, shock or horror, or even a combination of all? There is front of him were four hundred or so men sat round tables of ten, all in business suits. “Oh, expletive” issues our entertainer and exits the stage at a rush. In less than sixty seconds he returns without the silly hat, tickle stick and furry coat, in slacks and jacket. Proffering apologies to all a request goes out for a pint and soon he is sat on a stool beer in hand and he is ready.
What a fantastic show we got, bawdy, blue and rude but not crude. He was on stage for three hours, if I remember correctly.
Ken joined us all in bar later and when John, the organiser, came to pay for his services he asked for half in cash and the remainder by cheque. I personally assumed he was trying his normal tax avoiding scam with the cash aspect. To my discomfit, after John had the venue cash one cheque, Ken put all of that cash behind the bar for those of us who stayed to join him for a drink. The night went on in to the morning with optics singing as they emptied, bottles clinking as the wine was imbibed in quantity as by then the establishment had run out of beer. Jokes abounded across the lounge with all our amateur comedians competing with the master, doing quite well in the process in fact. Friends and colleagues holding stomachs, through pain of laughter encourage our Ken even more. Where his stage act, for us specifically, was superb the bar session surpassed it considerably.
The clock struck four in the morning it was time for yours truly to make his way to the hotel bed, leaving in his wake others still listening and laughing to their hearts content.
That morning I was proud of all who made it to the conference first paper. Dressed according in suit and tie looking as expected but I knew differently, as I felt like hell underneath this façade, recognising the pain inside those other bodies settling into their seats.
Ken Dodd, thank you for a most fantastic, evening, night and morning.