Hang on, a bit faint this line. Can you just hang on? I’ll jiggle this thing a bit. We’re having trouble with the phone here...”
The line goes dead.
Then a click: ‘Please hold the line while we try to connect...
“Oh dear,” he sighs.
Can you hear me?
“No, it’s very faint.”
HOW ABOUT IF I SHOUT!?
“I can hear you now.”
And we’re off.
“That’ll be Simon, is it? Thank you very much for your time calling me. Greetings from Knotty Ash and stuff like that. We’re dong very well here. The jam buttie miner has struck a new marmalade seam.”
Now he’s off.
We have spoken in the past as Ken Dodd is a regular to Nottinghamshire, be it at the Mansfield or Newark Palace theatres or for his annual Christmas show at the Royal Concert Hall. Which nearly didn’t happen this year.
The new boss of the venue pulled the pencilled date earlier this year resulting in national headlines and Ken vowing not to play the city again.
Bowing to public pressure, the venue rebooked his Christmas Happiness Show as per usual.
“All the problems have been resolved” says Ken, keen not to stir things up.
“Put it that way.”
He has other ways.
“Least said soonest mended. It’s all water under the bridge. We don’t want to rock any boats...”
“We are all, management and the show, looking forward to a full house.”
He adds: “It’s my best Christmas present, coming back to Nottingham, where I started.
“In this part of my career, in this part of my life, I like to go to places where I’m made welcome. And I’ve always been made welcome in Nottingham. They’re a fabulous audience.”
Aside from tickets for the show on December 30, fans could well be waking up Christmas morning to find Ken in their stocking, in book form.
“You could call it a scrapbook I suppose,” he says of the picture led 200-page hardback Look At It My Way.
“It’s a book of photographs by a photographer who used to be the picture editor at the (Liverpool) Echo, called Stephen Shakeshaft. That’s a good name isn’t it?
“He had a collection of photographs and I said ‘why not add some from my collection?’ So between us we have a collection of photographs going way back to when I first started.”
Sadly not from his very first professional appearance, which was at Nottingham’s Empire Theatre (where the Royal Centre now stands) in September 1954.
“My hand would have been shaking too much in those days,” he quips.
“I came by train,” recalls Ken.
“I got in a taxi and he took me round the big square where I saw that beautiful building with the dome on top. I said’ that’s a beautiful thing, the town hall’. And he said ‘no, that’s the Council House’. ‘Oh, put my name down for one of those.’
“I remember it was in the days when Nottingham was all being rebuilt. The whole town was a seething mass of building sites. Consequentially all of the digs were occupied by bricklayers and plasterers so I couldn’t get in anywhere to stay. The only place I could find was two or three miles out in a commercial hotel. Which was fine except all the commercial travellers decamped at 6.30 in the morning, which are not an entertainer’s hours. But I had to get up with them.
“I’d stagger down to The Empire in a daze, go to my little dressing room and lay down on the dressing table.
“In those days the dressing rooms had a three-legged chair and cracked mirror. Especially for those on the bottom of the bill. My name was smaller than the printers in those days.
“I’d hear the cleaners outside muttering ‘he’s crackers this fella.’
“That was my introduction to Nottingham.”
His week long run at the Empire was an opening 12 minute slot. Can he remember any of it?
“There was one line I did back then. I’d totter on to the stage with my hair sticking up, my shirt hanging out and my bow tie all over the place. I looked at the audience and said ‘ I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve sent for you.’
“That was my first big laugh and I went on from there.”
His influences were the likes of Arthur Askey, Ted Ray and Rod Wilton. Doddy was to also to become a fan of contemporaries Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Danny La Rue and Bob Monkhouse.
“I was lucky enough to work with every one of them either on stage or television or radio. It’s a wonderful feeling to have worked with the gagfathers of British comedy. They were all my heroes.”
The Nottingham Empire bill included trumpeter Kenny Baker and his Baker’s Half Dozen, singer Tony Brent, comedy double act Sid and Paul Kay and singing group The Kordites.
Ken, now 82, may have been the weakest draw at the time but 55 years on he’s the only survivor.
“I turned pro in 1954 and I’ve played a date somewhere in Nottingham ever since. Be it The Empire, the Concert Hall, The Commodore, the Theatre Royal... I actually opened the Theatre Royal. Mine was the first show in when it reopened. We did three weeks there.
“For more than 50 years I’ve played a date in Nottingham somewhere so it’s a great date for me.”
He bills his stand-up as The Happiness Show, a traditional variety performance that will include other acts. But he’s not sure who at this stage.
“I’ll be coming anyway,” he laughs.
“One of our guest stars will be a wonderful man called Dickie Mint. He’s the foreman of the Jam Buttie Miners. He’s heard a rumour that somewhere near Beeston there’s a treacle well. So he’ll be coming along to do a bit of surveying.”
Dickie Mint, one of his Diddymen, and the tickling sticks are staples of a Doddy show. As is the length. They are notorious for being epic events, running in to the early hours of the morning. So will he be doing that again when he comes to Nottingham later this month?
“Oh no, no, no.”
You always say that.
“No, we’ve put a curfew on it. We’ll definitely finish at the right time.”
The right time? That’s 12.45am isn’t it?
“Never. That’s an ugly rumour. No, the show will definitely finish on time.”
Ken Dodd’s Christmas Happiness Show, Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday December 30, 7pm
Tickets: £15.50-£18.50, 0115 989 5555. Ken Dodd: Look At It My Way, RRP £16.99, is available now.
... on Britain’s Got Talent
“I don’t say three cheers for it. The talent contest concept has been with us for over 100 years. And they had one thing in common: They gave the artist a wonderful platform to work on. And it wasn’t judgemental. Now they deliberately put someone on who is absolutely useless to make them look ridiculous. That’s a terrible thing to do to someone. It goes back to the pillory and the stocks. It’d be very nice if the three judges, whoever they are, had a bit of experience themselves.They’ve never been a variety artist so how dare they judge somebody else.”
... on his autobiography
“I’m going to try and do it next year. I’ve started collecting anecdotes. I would love it to be an entertaining book. I want it to make people chuckle, smile or think ‘oh I didn’t know that’. And pieces of philosophy, lIke ‘never put off until tomorrow, what you can do today. Because if you do it today and you like it, you can do it again tomorrow.’”
... on comedy
“I watch all comedy shows on the telly. The Thin Blue Line, Blackadder, Fraser... I think they’re wonderful.”
... on regrets
“If I had my time over again I would have liked to have had some formal drama training. I would have liked to have gone to RADA.”