It’s always odd to hear a familiar voice on a different programme, playing an alternative role. They never sound quite as comfortable behind the mike, as if they are wearing clothes that don’t quite fit. The voice has a different timbre, as it did on Sunday when Garry Richardson, who since 1981 has been keeping Today listeners updated on all the latest sports news, revealed his other passion. Since he was ten, when he was first taken to see the man from Knotty Ash at Blackpool in 1967, he’s been a fan of that extraordinarily tenacious star of the entertainment world, Ken Dodd. In Sir Ken Dodd: What a Beautiful Day! (produced by Peter McHugh), Richardson gave us an insight into why audiences are still paying to see a 90-year-old (Dodd’s significant birthday was on Wednesday) with wild hair, a high-pitched creaky voice and a relentless optimism, firing off a stream of comic gags for three or sometimes four hours, taking hold of his audiences and refusing to let them go home until they’ve laughed themselves weak.
I confess I never could understand Dodd’s popularity. The endless stream of jokes, the Diddymen, those corny songs ‘Tears for Souvenirs’ and ‘Happiness’. But I tuned into Radio 4 Extra after reading an interview with Dodd by the Guardian critic Michael Billington, which had me creasing up with laughter at the breakfast table. I had no idea Dodd could be so funny. You need to hear his quick-fire lines, building one upon another, for the comedy to work. He’s so off-the-wall, yet at the same time down-to-earth, picking up on the way our minds work if we let them go free-range. There’s no smut, nothing scatological, just a hint of Donald McGill. Dodd has no need to rely on cheap jokes or satire to make us laugh.