ONE of my most pleasant brief encounters tickled my emotions in a way that was totally unexpected.
Exactly 24 years ago, while working as a news reporter for a weekly newspaper in North Wales, I was asked to attend the opening of a new charity shop in Llandudno.
It was also a labour of love because I had been working as a media advisor for the charity concerned: the St David’s Hospice Appeal.
The new shop was being opened by the king of Notty Ash, veteran comedian, singer and entertainer Ken Dodd.
Until that day I never had much time for the buck toothed comic.
The year previously he had been charged with Tax evasion. The subsequent trial revealed that he had very little money in his bank account, having £336,000 in cash stashed in suitcases in his attic. When asked by the judge, “What does a hundred thousand pounds in a suitcase feel like?”, Ken Dodd made his now famous reply: “The notes are very light, M’Lord.”
Dodd was represented by the top QC George Carmen, who in court famously quipped: “Some accountants are comedians, but comedians are never accountants.” The trial lasted three weeks and Ken Dodd was acquitted.
So when he opened the charity shop in North Wales he was rebuilding his reputation at the age of 62.
He had made his career on quick one liners and his bizarre appearance. By 1990 his 1960s stage act was already dated and his humour appeared constantly childish.
So I puzzled why he had been chosen to open the shop. I then discovered that he had recently lost his long-time partner to cancer. He had personally nursed her until the end.
So larger than life, the tatty haired comic appeared. The shop was mobbed by charity workers, fans and local shoppers.
Ken Dodd was impressive. Talking without any notes he held the audience spellbound with quips about his court case and a secret suitcase he has stashed at the back of the shop. Soon ripples of giggles turned to belly laughter before he moved on to the seriousness of the occasion: the need for a dedicated hospice for the terminally ill and dying in North Wales. His demeanour changed as he talked about love and loss and the initial task of raising £300,000.
At the end of his 15 minute talk I found myself applauding with the rest.
Next I asked for a five minute interview for my paper. With a faint smile he agreed immediately and we moved to the back of the shop to talk.
He was modest, gentle and deadly serious as he answered my questions, maintaining eye contact throughout. At the end of the interview he shook my hand warmly and gave me a personally signed copy of his single Footprints in the Sand.
It remains with me today as a memory of thoroughly nice man.