Phil: I can’t claim to have been one of the late Sir Ken Dodd’s showbiz friends, but I did meet him a couple of times while working at a local theatre.
Once, while minding the stage door at some time past midnight, he came off stage and pointed at my shoes.
“Crikey”, he said, “Those are fine feet, are you a policeman?”
I replied that I wasn’t to which he added, “Well, you know what they say about blokes with big feet…” and then swept off to his dressing room with a chuckle.
The amazing thing about Ken (never Mr Dodd) was that he’d arrive at the venue looking every bit of his 80 years. A small, quiet old man.
Yet the moment he got on stage, he came alive. The Ken in my anecdote was buzzing, almost as though there was electricity flying off him. This was after a 6-hour show too.
So, lesson 1 – If you are doing something you really love, you’ll never feel better or more alive.
In all the tributes, it’s been said by many people who you never knew when a Ken Dodd show would finish. The rumour was that every night management would have to haul him off the stage so the staff could go home.
This is a good story, but not strictly accurate. Yes, the performances would go on a long while. No other act gave a longer show, but the staff knew when he would finish. Usually 1am on the first night, 12:30 on the second. Hidden from the audience in the wings was a clock which Ken kept an eye on.
Lesson 2 – If you want to be good at something, you need a professional attitude.
Ken didn’t just hang around telling jokes until he got bored. He honed his act through the study of comedy. Learning to play an audience, he only kept the jokes that got a laugh. Yes, material stayed in the act for many, many years – but only if the audience enjoyed it. In many ways, this is just like editing a novel. You take out anything that doesn’t add to the reader’s enjoyment. After a while, you are left with pure gold.
Legend is an over-used term, but it’s appropriate here. There will never be another Doddy, but if you aspire to his status, you better put the work in like he did.