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Ken Dodd exhibition extended due to incredible success

4 weeks ago

By The Guide Liverpool

‘Happiness!’, the first major exhibition on a comedian in a national museum, celebrates one of the UK’s best-loved and most influential comedians, Sir Ken Dodd. 

Much like the man himself who was renowned for the length of his performances, Happiness! will now be giving visitors to the Museum of Liverpool an extra four months of laughter, closing to the public on 7 July 2024.

Ken’s marathon shows were legendary. He even earned a place in The Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours (7.14 jokes per minute). The fundraising “Marathon Mirthquake” was undertaken at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, in 1974 where audiences entered the show in shifts.

When challenged, Ken would say: “I don’t do long shows, I just give good value – and don’t worry about the dark, you’ll always go home in the daylight.”

Les Dennis at Happiness! Credit: Peter Carr / NML
Les Dennis at Happiness! Credit: Peter Carr / NML

Les Dennis, presenter, actor, and comedian said: 

“Apart from pantomime, my first theatrical memory was seeing The Ken Dodd Laughter Show at the Royal Court Theatre in the early 60s. The gales of laughter from the audience as they watched Doddy in action were intoxicating and I was immediately hooked. I knew there and then that a life in show business was what I wanted to pursue.  

“Walking round the amazing Doddy exhibition brought back all the wonderful memories I have of the extraordinary career of one of the true greats of live theatre and comedy. If you haven’t yet visited, treat yourself and go. How tickled you’ll be and you’ll come out saying ‘By Jove, I needed that!'”

The ‘Happiness!’ exhibition is a laughter-filled experience, 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’ show has already raised thousands of smiles and with this extension it is hoped there are many more to come.

Lady Anne Dodd. Credit: Mark McNulty
Lady Anne Dodd. Credit: Mark McNulty

Lady Anne Dodd said: 

“When you are so closely involved with the development of an exhibition as I have been over the last few years, it is difficult to be objective about how others will see it. I knew that I loved what the talented team at the Museum of Liverpool had put together but until it opened, I wasn’t sure what others would think.

“However, it has been so wonderful to stand in the museum and hear visitors rocking with laughter and sharing some of Ken’s favourite jokes with each other. It’s been a delight to read their memories of Ken in the visitor’s book and discover their first-hand stories about seeing him at some of the many theatres we visited around the country on Ken’s Giggle Map. 

“It was a difficult decision to include some pages of Ken’s private notebooks, but the overwhelmingly positive response has reassured me that Ken’s hard-earned experience in the entertainment industry is one that many want to hear and read about.”

Many of the objects featured in ‘Happiness!’ are 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.

Happiness! Credit: Peter Carr / NML
Happiness! Credit: Peter Carr / NML

Karen O’Rourke, Curator (Sport, Music & Performance) said: 

“The response to our exhibition, ‘Happiness!’ has been overwhelming and really reflects the love people have for Doddy.

“Of course, he’s well known and much-loved in Liverpool, but it’s been wonderful to also welcome visitors who have made the journey from all corners of the UK just to see the exhibition.

“We expected plenty of laughter, but it’s also been very moving to hear such touching memories of Ken, what he meant to people and how fondly they remember him.”

Among the unmissable highlights of the exhibition are a small selection of notebooks from the more than 1,000 Ken used to keep meticulous notes about his performance. These were intended to be private, 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. Exclusively for this exhibition, Anne agreed to share extracts from this important archive of a comedy genius and great philosopher.

Ken Dodd Happiness - Museums o Liverpool - The Guide Liverpool.
Picture by Gareth Jones

The extension allows visitors more time to indulge in the nostalgia of getting up close to the iconic props and costumes that became so synonymous with Ken’s act. 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 the Huury Furry Moggy Coat, the exhibition brings back many happy memories.

During the exhibition’s run so far, The Ken Dodd’s Giggle Map, a digital interactive created especially for it, has grown. With contributions from visitors added frequently, the map includes images, programmes, flyers, and wonderful anecdotes from the hundreds of theatres where Doddy performed.

The exhibition also features dozens of clips, taken from the huge volume of footage that reveals a sparkling and unique entertainer. Exclusive interviews with comics, actors and performers such as Lee Mack, Miriam Margolyes, Sir Ian McKellen and Paul O’Grady pay homage to the influence Ken had and the esteem in which he was held.

Spread happiness and bring a friend to the exhibition for free. Museum of Liverpool is taking part in the National Lottery’s #OpenWeek offer, with Happiness! tickets available at two for one between 9-17 March 2024.  

‘Happiness!’ runs at Museum of Liverpool until 7 July 2024. Tickets are £5 (concessions available) and under 17s go free – Book now here.  For the latest news in Liverpool click here.

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