Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Chapter 128: An Audience with Ken Dodd

Photo: Paul Lippiatt

“So what’s a lovely girl like you wanting with a custard pie in your face then?” 

I was stumped for an answer, this moment had been a long time coming but I hadn’t really thought it through. “Why do you want Ken Dodd to chuck a custard pie at you?” would have been a lot easier to answer. Ken Dodd is comedy royalty, able to make fun of others, much to their delight, and never at their expense. These qualities were being recognised that evening where he was being presented with an award for being an Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend. I grew up on a diet of Doddie - in the Royal Variety shows, in his own series "The Ken Dodd Laughter Show", and quite frankly there is no-one else I would trust with a custard pie in their hands. Also, he strikes me as a generous soul - his overruns are legendary, he is the performer that never stops giving. So how lovely that five minutes before curtain up, with all the pressure of time and a long evening ahead, he should invite a complete random stranger into his dressing room who has this lunatic request, and give me a chance to explain myself. And what did he find? A mother of three With a figure like that? Ha! A real clown. And do your kids know you’re here? We-ll they know I’m meeting you… And your parents? Er, no. No, no! Ha! I bet they don’t!  The thing is, I told him, just the absurdity of the idea made one of my dearest girlfriends roar with laughter, and I'm a fool for laugh.

Ken Dodd: Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend
Next, and this I didn’t mention, I had to find someone to go with me. Much as my friend Carolyn was with me in spirit, there was no way she could get to Bristol on a Monday night, though she did see me off at the train station! And while my husband was completely supportive, in terms of looking after the kids, he had no desire to see his wife pelted with whipped cream and custard - he grew up in Switzerland, you see, in the clean, fresh mountain air, and this sense of humour is alien to him. While he is beginning to get it now, he was stuck at home with a broken leg anyway when, in our own piece of quality slapstick, he took a tumble after kissing me while skating at the Tower of London (see Clowning On Ice). My fault, off with her head!

So I contacted a few Bristol-based circus performers I thought might be up for it. It seems so easy now, but at the time it is a pretty big leap of faith to email someone out of the blue that you’ve only met once (and in one case not at all) and ask for their company. Especially the guys, I mean I saw that episode of Billie Piper in “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” - would they think it was some sort of Doddgey fetish? Or here’s to you Mrs Robinson?! But I’m a pretty good judge of character and the risk paid off. You see, I could have gone on my own, but with comedy and showbiz, it’s all about the audience. 

I am hugely grateful for the build-up beforehand. I was chuckling all the way up on the train that morning listening to Dodd wax lyrical in Radio 4’s Museum of Curiosities (click here). And it was a joy to see Bristol in the daytime (having last been up for an evening of Women in Circus - click here), being introduced to The Island circus training space, wandering through the streets lined with sandstone Georgian architecture, that reminded me of the Edinburgh Fringe. I was in holiday spirit again, and it was an adventure in its own right. 

And as for the pie itself, well, despite waiting for it for over several months now, I can honestly say that thanks to Ken Dodd’s genius and timing, it came as a complete surprise:

Postscriptjust back from the school run, and the kids have just seen the video. They erupted into giggles, chuffed to be mentioned, saying it was the funniest thing ever, and it was a pure joy to see. Later that night, Ken Dodd talked about the spontaneity of children being the highest form of laughter there is, and once again, he was spot on target. 

Meanwhile I rang my parents first thing in the morning. After carefully establishing that it didn’t involve yours truly chucking a pie at Mr Dodd, Mum thought it was hilarious and couldn’t wait to tell my father. They can’t access emailed videos on their computer, but I’ll be seeing them for lunch soon on my 40th birthday. Mum is cooking, and I’m bringing the just desserts.


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this tale. Ken will too. I'm positive. It will be memorable for him. April 1, 1986 I was in the tech rafters with George Carl as his contract had ended the night before. We were up there to watch the fellow filling in. I said to him "Happy April Fool's Day George" his reply "Thanks Ira. No one has wished me a Happy April Fool's in over 20 years". Everything olde is new again. Ken Dodd is the living legacy from Tarlton, Kemp, Armin. He's deeply in touch with the Source and shares that in every encouter and every performance. Now that you're back.... there is a fab interview documentary with Dodd circa 2012 and it's on youtube. x Ira

  2. Thank you Ira, that is a wonderful story. 1st April is my father's birthday (he will be 94 years young this year), so we have a long-standing tradition in our family celebrating of April Fools! As one of my friend's on Monday night observed, seeing Ken Dodd was like being in the presence of a Hollywood legend, and what stories! He is a truly wise and kind soul, and above all achingly funny. I will see if I can find that interview, loved the Museum of Curiosities radio show, thanks again, Lucy x


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