Lanning at Large… A hair raising experience!
Dave Lanning meets Ken Dodd in 1967
When it comes to hair raising, Ken Dodd is in a class of his own. Doesn’t need a comb. Or lacquer. Or even chewing gum. Just a finger twirl through his lank, black locks and presto! Uprightness. Spikiness. A cross between the Statue of Liberty and a petrified gollywog.
It’s all very impressive and I’m beginning to think my hair has let me down. We try combing it. And back-combing it. Even Doddy’s magic fingers — which worked wonders on him — can’t make my hair stand on end. Can’t do a thing with it. And it wasn’t washed last night, either!
“Never mind,” says Doddy, brightly. “Let it settle a mo. We’ll attack it at intervals, when it’s unsuspecting. Maybe that will work.”
Now exactly why I should want my hair to stand erect after it has behaved itself like any decent English hair for years is rather a mystery. It’s just that with comedians, I always seem to get so involved. And end up in a whacky situation.
And they don’t come much whackier than sitting high above London’s fashionable Park Lane in an hotel executive suite, attempting … well … high coiffeur with Ken Dodd. But that’s Doddy for you: the most conventional conversation turns into a chuckle, a giggle, or a downright belly laugh.
Right now Doddy’s Music Box master is in London for cabaret. Such sessions, in between television, radio and recordings, mean high pressure living for Ken. You’d think he’d be all on edge. Go, go, go … gag, gag, gag. But no. He’s relaxed. That electric energy that powers his stage act rarely overlaps into his private life.
“It’s the reason I keep going, I suppose,” he says, quietly, with just a whisper of his native Knotty Ash dialect. “I don’t panic. Not any more. I’m able to relax. I’m a placid type.”
And he proceeds to show just how placid by attacking my skull from the back, rummaging like a housewife at a jumble sale! Ahem, I’d forgotten about his hair threat. But not to worry. Mine continues to lie doggo.
“But I have found a couple of little curls here,” says Ken. “And that’s a start.” Well, thank heaven for little curls …
That’s the trouble with Doddy. Just when you think you’ve got him talking seriously … BANG, something daft happens. It’s most discumknockerating.
Gosh, Doddy’s even got me at it now! But with Ken there’s always some little item, some link between the real life Kenneth Arthur Dodd and the man who tickles the fancy of the nation.
Look at his smart, well-tailored, but unobtrusive suit. What every go-ahead young business man is wearing this season.
But you can bet that somewhere in a pocket, there’s a scrap of paper on which Ken has jotted down a new gag, a new comedy routine.
“There’s one now,” he admits, delving deep into his wallet pocket. “On this envelope. It says ‘Knotty Ash Crown Jewels.’ Now that ties up with that silversmiths I passed this afternoon. Never done anything on that, and it lends itself. It’s daft enough.”
The Dodd comedy brain rarely stops working. And he must have quite a brain as hair like his would need something pretty sensational to take root in!
Still reads comics; never stops looking for the opportunity to slip in the quick ad lib.
“I work hard,” he says. “And eat three regular meals a day. Try to get a decent sleep each night, too. When I wake up in the morning, I exercise. Up, down. Up, down. Then the other eyelid!”
He has the master touch of leading into a gag casually, so you are completely unsuspecting. I throw back my head to guffaw and that is a mistake. Gives Ken a perfect chance to try again to get my hair to emulate his tonsorial acrobatics (that’s his explanation, by the way).
No go again. You can’t catch my hair by surprise. “But you’ve got a couple of grey hairs here,” observes Ken. “You’re getting a bit thin on top, too, if you’ll pardon the bald statement!”
H’mmm, back to the interview. Ken doesn’t smoke; thinks it is a “mug’s game.” Lives in a splendid 18th-century Georgian farmhouse in Knotty Ash. It’s packed with all the gear his abounding talents might require; piano, recording equipment, tapes, film, projector, Ken Dodd is the ultimate professional.
Makes a deep, philosophical study of humour; the breakdown of a gag, what exactly makes people laugh at it. Cheerfully admits there is no general rule — or if there is, he hasn’t found it. Says his hobby is “just chatting to ordinary people.” He’s 37, done the lot professionally. Could afford to sit back a bit, but still drives on. Looking forward to a new stage presentation at the Palladium; to a film; to his Doddy’s Music Box each week.
“Great mixing with these pop people,” he says. “They’re such good sports. I’m enjoying the shows greatly: you could call it a nice blend of pop and com.”
Well, it was his line, not mine.
And we’ve been talking almost an hour and his hair is still spiralling upwards. It’s incredible. I never want to see the Indian rope trick now. “Discovered my hair years ago,” he says. “It was on my head! But one night in my dressing room as I heaved off my pullover, my hair just stayed upright.”
And mine won’t. Ken makes a final attack and comes to a (sorry, but it’s catching) hairline decision.
“You haven’t upright hair,” he says, sadly. “You’re a case for the Diddy people.”
Oh yes, diddy people. We haven’t mentioned them. How did they begin? “It was my Uncle Jack,” says Ken, arching an eyebrow. “Years ago. He was a diddy man. Very small, quaint, red-faced, lovable, puckish. All the kids down our way called him diddy.”
Well, the hair doesn’t work. I am a dead loss at that. At my height (6ft. 2in.) I hardly qualify as a diddy man. Haven’t Ken and I something in common?
So what’s the Doddy-word for someone big, large, over six feet?
“Hoozey,” says Ken, quick as a shot.
Well, here goes. This week it’s Lanning At … Hoozey?
It just doesn’t seem me, somehow!