Michael “Atters” Attree:
Mr. Dodd, are you a chap?
Yes, we’ve got a lot of Chaps on Merseyside; the Liverpool chap particularly has a great chuckle muscle. What I mean is they have a great sense of humour. From Liverpool we export comedians and prime ministers: Arthur Askey, Ted Ray, Rob Wilson, Tommy Handley; all these wonderful men, all coming from Liverpool, and I can explain to you later if you ask me, what the Merseyside or the Liverpool sense of humour is.
“What really irritates me is when I see top class politicians on television without a necktie. It’s okay when you’re 16 or 17, but the necktie and the suit is one of the last chances for a gentleman to look elegant. If you want to be seen as smart, elegant and intelligent then you should dress accordingly.”
I certainly would be interested to hear that later. But first, you made it into the Guinness Book of Records for prolonged joke telling?
Yes, that was a publicity stunt we did which, er, blossomed. We were going to do a Christmas show at a theatre here in Liverpool and you have to find something new for the press. So I came up with an idea: I thought, I’ll break the world’s joke telling record. It was one of those silly little things that made the news that day and it just caught on.
It got so much interest from the press, someone from television sent the heart specialists along, wired me up to a heart monitor; the man from the Guinness book of Records came. We had to make it authentic and we did five and a half hours.
Good lord, that’s a lot!
People have had a go since, but I did five and a half hours out of my head, no tip books or anything like that, no strips; just rattling them off one after the other.
But this was just a normal night for you, surely?
Oh no, not at all, the long show is a gimmick. At nearly all theatres you have to stop at midnight, otherwise you turn into a pumpkin. There is no such thing as overtime. We always finish at twelve. But it’s a good story, it brings people to the theatre and it enables me to do another half hour, threatening them about how I’m going to…
When you come to see the show, it’s not just a show, it’s an experience; when you leave here, you will fully understand what a hostage situation is.
When you do a solo act you have to create situations. Those double acts like Laurel and Hardy, Canon and Ball; it’s a readymade situation because you have the straight bloke and the comic. When you’re on your own you haven’t got a straight man, so you have to use the audience as a sounding board. You feed off the audience’s reactions.
You ask them what their name is, where they’re from, are they married, what their job is, and that provides you with a good plank then to build on. It’s what posh actors call ‘establishing rrrapport’. I call it building a bridge, between you, the performer and the audience and I think that the audience is the most beautiful thing in the world. It beats all your radio, television – a live show is the best show, where you don’t just watch it, you’re in it!
Did you ever meet the great Terry-Thomas? I always ask this question.
I met him a long time ago; of all places we did a television show together in Great Yarmouth. Yes, he was a nice man. Coincidentally, there was another man from the Midlands who was his double. Completely and utterly his double! He used to go around now and then, standing in for him. What was his name now? Oh God…
“I met Terry-Thomas a long time ago; we did a television show together in Great Yarmouth. Yes, he was a nice man. Coincidentally, there was another man from the Midlands who was his double”
I’d love to know his name.
He’s passed away now. He’s gone. [asks someone in another room “What was the name of that man…?”] I think it was Dennis Kirkland. He was a businessman. He actually looked like Terry-Thomas and he enjoyed the reputation. He used to give little speeches and Terry-Thomas was aware of him. The thing about Terry-Thomas is that he was a great, wonderful personality, a very good actor and had a very, very tragic end.
Absolutely, I remember this, it was terrible. I interviewed Richard Briers just before Richard passed away, and he talked a lot of Terry because Terry was his second cousin.
Oh I didn’t know that. Oh what a fantastic, a fabulous actor! I played a very, very tiny part in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet and there was a scene in which Richard Briers was the old man, and he acted everybody else off the screen. He was absolutely wonderful.
Now I was going to ask about this, because you have been in a number of things as a thespian…
I chose to do these jobs as an adventure. I was asked to play Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Playhouse theatre, and it was wonderful to play as part of a team. People have said to me “Oh Dodd, you’re the solo comedian, you’ll never stick to the script,” talking about me like I’m a nutter or something. My discipline was enormous but it was only an experience. Nothing could compare with being a solo comedian. What we used to call in variety – not a stand up, that’s a horrible new name – but a front cloth comedian. He’d go on and they’d drop a cloth behind him, and he’d have about 3 or 4 feet of stage to work on, while behind they’re clearing up from the Liberty Horses or before the magicians begins.
The word ‘variety’ is often misused. People think, Œoh it’s just an old fashioned show, but the word ‘variety’ means a variety of skills. Bear in mind that the artist and performers who are invited are all little one-man businesses, and these people have spent a lifetime making their contribution to the show, be it fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, no matter how long it is they’ve spent a lifetime burnishing and polishing, editing and making it as fine a piece as it can be, jewel material, so you’re seeing people at their best. That’s why variety show is one of the best forms of entertainment.
Was there a particular reason why you never had a cameo role in the Carry On films, like so many of your comedy contemporaries?
Well I would like to have done… I suppose I was always so busy. When you’ve got a successful variety theatre career schedule you can’t just say, ‘Right I’m not doing that, I’m off to do a film instead’, because you’re booked twelve months ahead, so you have to honour your contract.
How tickled are you to have a statue erected of yourself in Liverpool, and also an airline named after you?
Very honoured you know, everyone sees it here at Lime Street Station… It’s very popular with the pidgins. That’s the second time I’ve been done, between that and Madame Tussauds… The one in Blackpool is so lifelike and standing beside it gives you a very strange feeling.
I’ve seen some early photographs of you in a natty suit with (I think) cream shoes, and a paisley tie?
Oh I like nice clothes. I’m very Chap. What really irritates me is when I see grown men, even top class politicians on television, without a necktie. It’s okay when you’re 16 or 17, but when you’re a mature man, a supposedly an intelligent man, the necktie and the suit is one of the last chances for a gentleman to look elegant. If you want to be seen as smart, and elegant and intelligent, then you should dress accordingly.
Hear, hear! And I notice you wear hats.
Well there are a lot of beautiful clothes you can wear, so make the most of it! There used to be a slogan didn’t there, ‘If you want to get ahead, wear a hat.’ I’ve always like trilbies and things like that.
Now your finely groomed hair is one of your visual signatures…
Well, the reason my hair is all over the place is that as I child I had a yearning for curly hair, and I even waved it. I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to wave wavy hair.
Have you ever experimented with your facial hair at all?
I’ve never tried a beard, no, though I did grow sideboards once, when I was at the palladium one time, and they asked me to do Housewives’ Choice. I remember staggering to the hotel room one night at about 5 or 6 am. I was having a quick shave and shaved one of them off accidentally. And then had to go through the day, it was so ridiculous. So I’ve never tried again.
Do you use tailors at all, or are you an off-the-peg person?
We used to have marvellous tailors here on Merseyside; they’ve gone now. There was a wonderful man; he must have married an English girl because he was an Italian. Of all the towns to be in, Rochdale. And he made the most beautiful, fantastic suits you could ever imagine, in great British mohair, a cloth called tonic and Cossack.
These are sartorial details we like, Mr. Dodd!
I got suits off him for about twenty years in the 60s, then one day he shut and said he’s going back to Italy.
Well I must admit I love some of your 60s suits.
Around Liverpool you can’t get a made-to-measure suit. I’ve found a place in North Wales: Martin of Vaughan Davies. In a place called Mold. Terrific gentlemen’s outfitters. Whatever you want, that’s the way he’ll do it.
Now, what, if any, expensive luxuries do you indulge in, be it fast cars and food or dodo feather tickle sticks?
I enjoy my lager. I love ice cream.
Have you ever seen an Unidentified Flying Object?
There was once an Unidentified Flying Object in the air over Liverpool, but it turned out it was the Sun.
So, what’s your favourite part of your body, if I may ask a personal question?
My mind. We are all blessed with a phenomenally magnificent machine, we inhabit a beautiful machine, which has been given to us, and you should look after it because it is a magnificent piece of engineering. If you misuse it, it’s your own fault.