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folded arms

Les Dawson

Les Dawson (born 2 February 1931 in Collyhurst, Manchester, Lancashire, England died 10 June 1993) was a popular English comedian, known for his deadpan style and curmudgeonly persona, and famous for jokes about his mother-in-law and wife.

Life and career

Raised in the Collyhurst district of Manchester, Dawson began his entertainment career as a club pianist ("I finally heard some applause from a bald man and said 'thank you for clapping me' and he said 'I'm not clapping - I'm slapping me head to keep awake.'"); but found that he got more laughs by playing wrong notes and complaining to the audience.

He made his television debut in the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and was seldom absent from British television screens in the years that followed.

His best-known routines featured Roy Barraclough and Dawson as two elderly women, Cissie Braithwaite and Ada Shufflebotham. Cissie had pretensions of refinement and often corrected Ada's malapropisms or vulgar expressions. As authentic characters of their day, they spoke some words aloud but only mouthed others, particularly those pertaining to bodily functions and sex. No respectable woman would have said, for instance, "She's having a hysterectomy." Instead they would have mouthed, "She's having women's troubles."(Dawson's character, of course, mistakenly said "hysterical rectomy.") These female characters were based on those Les Dawson knew in real life. He explained that this mouthing of words was a habit of millworkers trying to communicate over the tremendous racket of the looms, and then resorted to in daily life for indelicate subjects. To further portray the reality of northern, working-class women, Cissie and Ada would sit with folded arms, occasionally adjusting their bosoms by a hoist of the forearms. Many of the Cissie and Ada sketches were written by Terry Ravenscroft. This was also typical of pantomime dame style, an act copied faithfully from his hero, Norman Evans, who had made famous his act Over The Garden Wall.

Les Dawson was of portly build and often dressed in the traditional 'John Bull' of England costume. He introduced to his BBC TV shows a dancing group of very fat ladies called the Roly Polys. He loved to undercut his own fondness for high culture. For example, he was a talented pianist but developed a gag where he would begin to play a familiar piece such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. After he had established the identity of the piece being performed, Dawson would introduce hideously wrong notes without appearing to realise that he had done so, meanwhile smiling unctuously and apparently relishing the accuracy and soul of his own performance. He also used a grand piano in a series of sketches where it became animated, for example, trying to walk away from him across the stage, collapsing or shutting its lid etc.

Dawson's style as a comic performer was world-weary, lugubrious and earthy. He was as popular with female as with male audiences, and genuinely loved by the British public. A news reporter from The Sun looking for him after a show to interview him found him joking with and making some cleaning women laugh backstage.

Before his fame Dawson wrote poetry and kept it secret. It was not expected that someone of his working class background should harbour literary ambitions. In a BBC TV documentary about his life, he spoke about his love for some canonical figures in English literature, in particular Charles Lamb, whose somewhat florid style influenced Dawson's own.

His love of language influenced many of his comedy routines - for example one otherwise fairly routine joke began with the line "I was vouchsafed this vision by a pockmarked Lascar in the arms of a frump in a Huddersfield bordello...". He was also a master of painting a beautiful word picture and then letting the audience down with a bump: "The other day I was gazing up at the night sky, a purple vault fretted with a myriad points of light twinkling in wondrous formation, while shooting stars streaked across the heavens, and I thought: I really must repair the roof on this toilet."

Dawson wrote many novels but was always regarded solely as an entertainer in the public imagination, and this saddened him. He told this second wife, Tracey, "Always remind them - I was a writer too."

Having broken his jaw in a boxing match, Dawson was able to pull grotesque faces by pulling his jaw over his upper lip. This incident is described in the first volume of Dawson's autobiography A Clown Too Many.

His first wife, Margaret, died on 15 April 1986 from cancer. They had had three children ; Julie, Pamela and Stuart. He later married Tracy on 6 May 1989, despite worries that his showbusiness contemporaries and the public would object, as she was 17 years younger. They eventually had a daughter, Charlotte who was born on 3 October 1992.

Dawson starred in a radio sketch show Listen to Les, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 during the 1970s and 1980s. Television series in which he appeared included Sez Les, "The Dawson Watch", written by Andy Hamilton and Terry Ravenscroft, The Les Dawson Show, written by Terry Ravenscroft, Dawson's Weekly, Joker's Wild and the quiz show Blankety Blank, which he presented for some years. His final TV appearance was on the LWT Series Surprise Surprise hosted by Cilla Black, when he sang a comical rendition of "I Got You Babe" with a woman from the audience who wanted to fulfill a wish to sing with him.

Les lived with his second wife Tracy, for many years, in Lytham, Lancashire, where there are now plans to erect a commemorative statue of him.

Death

On 10th June 1993, during a check-up at a hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, Les Dawson died suddenly after suffering a heart attack. Many comedians and other celebrities attended a memorial service for him at Westminster Abbey.

Trivia

  • In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
  • In 1989 Dawson, in a state of obvious distress, left his dressing room at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, vowing never to work in the building again. He never gave a reason why nor revealed what had caused him to panic; however, the building is reputedly haunted by the ghost of actor Sid James.

Books

  • A Clown Too Many (autobiography, 1986)
  • No Tears for the Clown (autobiography, 1992)
  • Hitler Was My Mother-in-Law
  • Well Fared, My Lovely
  • Come Back with the Wind
  • The Spy Who Came
  • The Blade and the Passion
  • Card for the Clubs
  • The Amy Pluckett Letters
  • Malady Lingers on and Other Great Groaners
  • Les Dawson's Lancashire
  • A Time Before Genesis
  • Les Dawson Gives Up
  • The Les Dawson Joke Book
  • Cosmo Smallpiece Guide to Male Liberation
  • Les Dawson's Secret Notebooks

External links

  • Tribute website Run by his widow Tracy Dawson, and their good friend and colleague Mo Moreland
  • Fan website including quotes from Les Dawson.

References

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