Apparently, 2004 will be Ken Dodd's "50th showbiz year of entertainment and laughter". It will also, by my reckoning, be the year of his 75th birthday. Recently he was crowned "The Greatest Merseysider" (the Beatles were runners-up), and a woman who had stalked him came before the courts. He was also presented with the British Comedy Society's first ever "Living Legend Award", and I have just made one of my regular applications to interview him.
What you must do, if you want to interview Dodd, is write to him at his home in Knotty Ash, a suburb of Liverpool, which, given the way he has mythologised the place, is a bit like writing to Santa Claus care of the North Pole. What happens next is nothing. At least that's what happens in my case, although during a surreal interlude at a party, a well-known writer once told me that he'd bumped into Dodd at the Savoy Hotel, and that the comedian had said: "Do you know Andrew Martin? Please pass on my apologies to him for not replying." At first I was delighted by this, but then began to suspect it wasn't true. The writer knew I'd approached Dodd, and he might just have been trying to let me down gently. The writer was acquainted with Dodd, but I couldn't imagine Dodd at the Savoy Hotel.
Even though a "Ken Dodd" is cockney rhyming slang for a "wad" of money, I can imagine Dodd only in the provinces. In his act, he mentions places like Tadcaster, and he is clearly au fait with the approach roads to Filey. Just look at the forthcoming dates on his never-ending tour. On Friday 28 November, he's at the Sands Centre, Carlisle; on Saturday he's at the Tameside Hippodrome, Ashton-under-Lyne; in early December he's in Middlesbrough, Bedworth, Wolverhampton, St Helen's. The last time I saw him was at the Empire Theatre, Sunderland. Two hours before the start of the show, central Sunderland went very quiet. In retrospect, I can see that this was because everyone in town was getting ready to go and see him. Half an hour before showtime, there was a mass convergence upon the Empire Theatre, in which I joined.
The show lasted five hours (I remember Dodd embarking on a ventriloquial turn at about midnight) and was one of the funniest I've ever seen, hence my requests to interview him. But Dodd won't be interviewed a) because he doesn't need the publicity and b) because he was so badly turned over during his trial for tax-dodging in 1989. His shows sell themselves, and the worst that can be thrown at him has already been chucked, so he is in effect journalist-proof. His manager is a perfectly amiable man based in Staffordshire, but when I call he tends to say, "You people always give him such a hard time." It is futile to protest.