The rain came down and formed a puddle of tears outside Liverpool Cathedral.
But for the thousands who had come to say a final goodbye, there was not enough water in the Mersey to wash away the happiness Sir Ken Dodd’s life had represented.
His loyalty to the city he had never left was rewarded by an outpouring of affection on a scale usually afforded only to football teams.
“I’m pleased for Ken there’s yet another full house,” said fellow Liverpudlian Jimmy Tarbuck, as he addressed the crowd of 2,700 inside the Anglican cathedral and another one watching outside on a giant screen.
As the funeral cortege arrived, applause broke out from within and without.
“What a perfect venue for our city’s hero – perhaps our city’s greatest hero,” Tarbuck said.
He had met Sir Ken 57 years ago, he added, and “just fell in love with him”.
“He sang Happiness because he gave happiness. He set a standard which no one has remotely approached since.
“He never got giggle laughter, never little titters, there were roars of laughter like you’ve never heard. I’ve never seen anybody get laughs like him.”
It was a sentiment echoed by every other comic in the house – and there were plenty.
Jimmy Cricket, who gave a reading from St John’s gospel, described Sir Ken as “one of the most different, original, innovative and gifted comedians”.
He said: “We enjoyed him on the radio and the television but the live shows were special. From the moment he went on with his tickling sticks he created magic.”
He added: “Ken always said his gift, his talents, were from God – and comedians like Ken, they only come once in a lifetime. We thank God today that he came during our lifetime.”
Ken Dodd’s final curtain, at age 90, came down two weeks ago. His death triggered a wave of sorrow that showed no sign of abating yesterday.
A horse-drawn carriage bore his wooden casket, with a bouquet of yellow sunflowers an top and a floral tribute in the shape of Dicky Mint, one of Dodd’s Diddymen and his cod ventriloquist’s dummy.
A band played melancholy ragtime jazz before six pall bearers carried the coffin inside the cathedral. The service therein was over in an hour and three-quarters – barely the length of Dodd’s opening act in the theatre.
There was more applause as the coffin was carried away, followed by Diddymen, to a private interment.
The tributes were not confined to the area around Upper Parliament Street, where the older of Liverpool’s two cathedrals stands. At the Pier Head, the statue of The Beatles had been decorated with tickling sticks. The wall outside Sir Ken’s house in the suburb of Knotty Ash disappeared behind bouquets.
He would have been “so pleased, and probably humbled too” by the tributes in his home city and far beyond, said the acting dean of Liverpool, Canon Myles Davies, in an address.
He added: “What a wonderful tribute to someone who has spent his life persuading us all to exercise our chuckle muscles.”
The Yorkshire comedian, Roy Chubby Brown, speaking before the service, observed: “I’ve been all over the world in my 50 years and I don’t know anyone who didn’t admire Ken Dodd.”
Sir Ken’s friend, the producer John Fisher, described him as a “joking, jumping, singing, skipping, verbal, visual whirlwind of laughter”.
He said: “Ken Dodd was, no contest, the complete comedian, our greatest entertainer. But he was more. He was a life-enhancing force of nature. The lights are dimmed on his wonderful world of variety.”
Tributes were also paid by his great-nephew and godson Alex Otley and friend Peter Rogan.
Prayers were led by Rev Julia Jesson, vicar of St John’s in Knotty Ash, where Sir Ken was a member of the congregation, and the commendation was given by Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev Paul Bayes.