The Opera House reaches its 80th anniversary this year, and to celebrate we will be looking back at some of the greatest performers who’ve graced its splendid stage. Beginning with comedian, actor and singer-songwriter Sir Kenneth Arthur Dodd OBE, who blessed the theatre with a very fair share of happiness.
In fact Ken Dodd described the Opera House as 'the best theatre he had ever worked in’.
2019 also marks the first anniversary of the passing of the loveable Liverpudlian from Knotty Ash, who was famous for his Diddy Men, tickling stick, frizzy hair, buck teeth, and of course his catchphrases.
His relationship with Blackpool was a long and happy one, so much so that the tattifilarious star was invited to open the Comedy Carpet in 2011.
It’s reported that Ken Dodd appeared in Blackpool around 2000 times over 60 plus years. At the Winter Gardens, he frequently starred in the Harold Fielding Sunday evening concerts, and notched up six summer season shows at the Opera House, including ‘The Ken Dodd Laughter Spectacular 1971’.
The high-spirited music hall entertainer was so popular he found himself top of the bill in George and Alfred Black’s summer season show ‘The Big Show of 1962’, alongside the Kaye Sisters and trumpeter Eddie Calvert, returning to headline for the 1964 summer season.
It was at the end of the second house performance in July 1964 that, for once, Ken was not asked to wind up his act, but to carry on. A Rolling Stones concert in the adjacent Empress Ballroom had ended in a riot and the management didn’t want both audiences to meet in the Floral Hall!
His last headline summer season at the Opera House was ‘Laughter Spectacular ‘81’, for which he was rewarded with a place on the Opera House Roll of Honour that hangs proudly in the Winter Gardens Church Street entrance.
During the latter part of his career Ken appeared on the Opera House stage during the annual Magicians Conventions in his capacity of the Honorary Life President of the Blackpool Magicians Club.
It was at the grand old age of 90 that Britain’s beloved funnyman died at home after suffering a chest infection - just two days after marrying his long-term partner Anne Jones, and a year after being knighted in the 2017 New Years Honours list for his services to entertainment and charity.
Sir Ken Dodd was quoted as saying: “A man retires to stop doing what he doesn’t want to do and start doing what he does want to do. I’m doing what I want to do!”
How tickled we all are that he did.
With thanks to the Winter Gardens Trust for information used in this article, and to Blackpool Council for the programme and photograph which shows Ken Dodd, Jimmy Jewel and Bernard Delfont, taken when the Opera House Roll of Honour was unveiled in 1989 for the 50th anniversary of the present Opera House. Jimmy and his cousin and comedy partner Ben Warriss performed in many summer season shows at the Opera House in the 1940s and 1950s, and Jimmy later went on to star on TV with Hylda Baker in Nearest and Dearest.