Many years ago I took my mum to see Ken Dodd at the Tameside Hippodrome and we were lucky to get a corner seat at the back upstairs (stifling and uncomfortable.) He must have been in his seventies then and did about four hours punctuated by a woman playing a trumpet. As a seasoned performer he didn’t appear high on nerves and kept pushing his hair up to maintain the zany look. I wish he’d done more interviews as you seemed to get a serious studied man who didn’t put on a veneer. Here I am at his home in Knotty Ash where he was born, lived and died - also at his grave in Allerton Cemetery.
The house is on a road of leafy fields, a church, houses and apartment blocks. It not far from the centre of Knotty Ash. He was born here in this former farmhouse into a loving family. There was an older brother and a younger sister. His bucked teeth came from school friends daring him to ride a bicycle with his eyes closed but he fell off. He was aged about 14 when he became interested in comedy after seeing an advert in a comic telling you how to become a ventriloquist. At this time he was a bright lad and attending grammar school but left to work for his father, selling coal door to door. By 18 he was working as a travelling salesman and used the works van to perform in the comedy clubs in the evenings. He was 26 by the time he made his big break at the Nottingham Empire. He’d go on to work in the business for six decades. He’s probably the last of the musical hall stars. He’s in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours performed at a Liverpool theatre in the 1960s (audiences were brought into the show in shifts so as not to get tired.)
Over his life there were two long-term relationships and no children. He was 28 when he started a relationship with Anita Boutin. She underwent many rounds of IVF treatment in an attempt to start a family. She died of a brain tumour aged just 45. Afterwards he started a relationship with Anne Jones which lasted up to his death (he married her two days before his death, avoiding about £2 million of death duties.) He was still touring in 2017 when he was knighted for services to entertainment and charity but died in this house the following year aged 90 after recently being hospitalised for six weeks with a chest infection. I can remember seeing him on the news as he left hospital in a wheelchair. He looked drawn enough to retire but I expected him to live for a few more years. He must have known the chest infection was as deep down as the knowledge that he was at the end.
I didn’t stay by the house for long as it was getting dark and I had another grave to find. There was a narrow front garden and large back garden. Ken’s folks bought him a Punch & Judy Show and he’d put on shows in the back garden. It was to this home that Ken returned after most performances in his Mercedez. If he stopped away he’d stay in Travelodges as they welcomed dogs. His black poodle went everywhere with him. In this house were Ken 20,000 books and his files on how jokes faired in different regions. Was there any cash left in there? At the famous court case it emerged he had £336,000 in cash kept in suitcases in the attic. He was a patron of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society,
Along from Ken’s home is a church and I had a stroll around it looking for war graves. I’d heard (wrongly) he was buried in there with his mum and dad. I got talking to a woman who was walking her dog but the moment I mentioned Ken she grimaced and said, “All that money and he never gave a penny of it on charity. He wouldn’t give a door a bang if it cost him somat!” She wasn’t a fan but I read Ken quietly funded over a hundred charities. If you’ve made the money you can be buried with it in a gold coffin if that’s your preference. I read he was worth about £10 million. When he was tried in court for tax evasion it emerged he had over 20 bank accounts in tax-exile Jersey.
Ken joined his parents in the family grave in Allerton Cemetery which is about five miles away. I was preparing for a long search and had a coffee and a sandwich in the car before getting out to trawl thousands of headstones. It’s sprawling cemetery, with 75,000 bodies covering 150 acres so no football field of a thing. Thankfully I had a plot number and a plan of the cemetery and found it in about fifteen minutes. You wouldn’t know he’s there but for the small gold plaque. I’ll go back in a year or two to see if his name has been added.
If you turn right out of Ken’s home you see the church next door. I thought (wrong) he was buried in the cemetery…
A coffee and a sandwich in the car before looking…