The unique humour and influence of Liverpool legend, Sir Ken Dodd, in the first major exhibition of a British comic in a national museum
A laughter-filled exhibition, celebrating one of the UK’s best-loved and most influential comedians, Sir Ken Dodd, opens at the Museum of Liverpool on 9 September (until 3 March 2024).
‘Happiness!’, the first major exhibition on a comedian in a national museum, is steeped in Doddy’s unique blend of whimsical, physical, surreal and theatrical humour, which transformed the UK comedy scene.
From the Diddymen to the Broken Biscuit Repair Works, Ken’s imagination was both endless and infectious. Through never-before-seen personal objects, film, photography, interactives and of course many, many jokes, this ‘tattyfilarious’ exhibition is guaranteed to raise a smile!
Karen O’Rourke, Curator (Sport, Music & Performance) said: “Sir Ken Dodd remains one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, so we’re very excited to be sharing his incredible career and achievements at Museum of Liverpool.
“‘Happiness!’ explores the two sides of the much-loved Doddy, from the larger than life, quick-witted performer we know best, to the deep-thinker and private man off stage, who diligently filled more than a thousand notebooks with his jokes, observations, and philosophy of comedy.
“An exhibition about Ken would be incomplete without trying to capture his irresistible spirit. Expect plenty of gags and some of his most memorable props and costumes, as we celebrate Ken’s humour and lifelong passion for spreading happiness and laughter.”
Many of the objects featured in ‘Happiness!’ have been kindly loaned to the museum by Ken’s wife, Anne, Lady Dodd. National Museums Liverpool is hugely grateful for her support and generosity towards the exhibition.
- Dating back to 1954, Ken began keeping meticulous notes on his comedy performances. Over his lifetime he filled more than 1,000 notebooks, which were private, and only ever intended to be seen by him. In fact in later life, Ken repeatedly made his wife, Anne, promise to burn them all ‘after I’m gone’. After much soul-searching, she decided that they were too culturally significant and needed to be saved. The notebooks will be kept largely private, but exclusively for this exhibition, Anne has agreed to share snippets from this important archive of a comedy genius and great philosopher.
- Iconic props that became synonymous with Ken’s act can be viewed up close from his much-loved Dicky Mint (the ventriloquist puppet he performed with on TV, and in some live shows), to the famous Tickling Sticks, Knotty Ash Great Drum and more.
- With his unruly hair and protruding teeth (the result of a childhood accident) Ken’s ‘look’ was integral to his act, which was very visual: “I wanted to be an original, so I capitalised on the teeth and the hair, and I used to say I’m the only one who can eat a tomato through a tennis racket” (Ken on ‘Michael Parkinson Show’, 1980). The exhibition features several of his eccentric costumes which added to his hilarious appearance, including the distinctive long red ‘Huury Furry Moggy Coat’, elements of his ‘Road to Mandalay’ military-style uniform and a large sombrero, worn during his parody of the song ‘Granada’.
- Theatre bills, programmes, and posters on display chart Ken’s remarkable career which spanned seven decades. Ken had an ambition to play every UK theatre. He didn’t quite reach his goal, but in trying, he often travelled over 100,000 miles to venues each year.
- Based on the notes he made about the hundreds of places where he performed, The Ken Dodd’s Giggle Map, created especially for the exhibition, is a new digital interactive, which explores the people and quirks Ken encountered across the UK. The map includes images, programmes, flyers and anecdotes, either from Ken or about him. An ongoing project, the map will continue to be developed with memories of visitors to the exhibition.
- It would be impossible to fully appreciate Ken’s style without showing him ‘in action’. The exhibition features dozens of clips, taken from the huge volume of footage that reveal a sparkling and unique entertainer. The exhibition includes exclusive interviews with comics, actors and performers such as Lee Mack, Miriam Margolyes and Sir Ian McKellen, who share their own memories of Ken and his influence. Among them is also a clip from a conversation with Paul O’Grady along with a tribute to the Birkenhead comic who sadly passed away in March 2023.
- National treasure and a local hero, Ken received numerous accolades during his lifetime. Nationally, he was honoured by the Variety Club of Great Britain in 1965 and received a British Comedy, Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. He was made an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1982 and became ‘Sir Ken’ when he received a Knighthood in 2017. Locally, he received Freedom of the City in 2001 and was recognised as the ‘Greatest Merseysider’ in a 2003 public vote. Ken also received several academic honours. Many of these accolades are included in the exhibition, from Ken’s Knighthood medal to the gold award for his single ‘Tears’, which sold over one million copies in the UK.
- Ken was also an accomplished actor. He had a deep love of Shakespeare and often referred to the playwright’s use of fools or court jesters in his own work. He played Yorick in a flashback scene alongside some of Hollywood’s finest in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Hamlet’ (1996). The exhibition includes the prop skull from the iconic ‘alas poor Yorick’ scene, easily identifiable as it features Ken’s own protruding teeth!
Tickets for ‘Happiness!’ are on sale now. Adult tickets cost £5, with concessions available – members of National Museums Liverpool visit for free. For further details and to book tickets, visit: www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/happiness