Sir Ken Dodd, who has died at 90, had a unique gift for spreading laughter and happiness, purveying a manic yet kindly brand of humour that struck a chord with the very young, very old and more or less everyone in between.
Hands on hip and in full command of his audience, he would demand: “Do you give in?” and later say of a particularly successful show: “By heck, we took no prisoners that night.”
He continued to perform right through to his later years, bringing the energy and stamina of a man half his age to extended routines in theatres up and down the land. There was no let-up in his astonishing ability to reel off joke after joke, with the rapidity of a machine gun for literally hours on end.
Even when he was taken to hospital for a “minor operation” on New Year’s Eve in 2007, it came just hours after completing a four-hour sell-out gig at Liverpoool’s Philharmonic Hall.
But behind the hair, teeth and offbeat humour dwelt a mass of contradictions and insecurities.
Spending almost the entirety of his life based at his childhood home, a rambling mansion in Knotty Ash in Liverpool, his carefully-guarded private life received an unwelcome airing in 1989 when he endured a five-week trial accused of tax fraud. He was acquitted.
After 35 years in show-business, he told the court: “Since I am stripped naked in this court, I might as well tell you the lot.”
He explained: “I am not mean, but I am nervous of money, nervous of having it, nervous of not having it,” and described money as a yardstick of success - “important only because I have nothing else”.
Dodd would later joke publicly about the case, but it was far from being a laughing matter at the time.
He was known by colleagues for being careful with cash and when he was earning up to £10,000 per month, he told accountants that he lived on annual expenses of just £3,500, had not bought a new suit for two or three years and never had a holiday until he was 51.
He had made his professional debut in 1954 at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, as Professor Chuckabutty, and within two years he was topping the bill at Blackpool, with jokes about the Diddy Men, the Broken Biscuit Repair Works, the Jam Butty Mines, the Moggy Ranch and the Treacle Wells.
This was followed by TV series, including The Ken Dodd Show and Ken Dodd’s Laughter Show, but he did not truly hit the big time until his record-breaking 1965 run at the London Palladium.
Also a gifted singer, in 1964 he released his first single, Happiness, followed by the number one hit, Tears, the following year, and then Promises.
Dodd married his partner of 40 years, the former dancer Anne Jones, last Friday. His first fiancée, Anita Boutin, died of a brain tumour in 1977 aged 45 after 24 years together.
He was awarded an OBE in 1982 and was dubbed a knight by the Duke of Cambridge in 2017 - the year of his 90th birthday, in recognition of both his comedic legacy and his charity work.
A Freeman of Liverpool, he said: “Knotty Ash is my home - it’s the centre of my life and always has been. My family are still here with me in memories. I had the most wonderful family - fabulous mother and father, and wonderful brother and sister.”
A few days earlier, he had shared a few showmanship techniques. “You’re like a gladiator,” he said. “You buckle on your sword and helmet and you have to take on the audience.
“You have to do a show with an audience and structure the act so that you start with the ‘hello’ gags, then the topicals, then the surreal stuff... Eventually, you can go wherever you want and say whatever comes into your head: ‘How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? I don’t know. It’s never been done’.”
Asked whether he ever would retire, he said: “I can’t let the British public down, as long as they keep turning up – I’ll be there to give back the enormous happiness they’ve given me.”