Les Dawson

Les Dawson

Date of birth: 02-02-1931
Date of death: 10-06-1993
Les Dawson is a legend of British comedy, best known for his deadpan one-liners, long rambling monologues, and gags about his mother-in-law and his wife. His popularity spanned a 25-year career as a comic on television, radio, and several Royal Variety performances, and he remained a much-loved public figure until his sudden death in 1993.

Dawson was born February 1931 into an impoverished community of working class families in Manchester. He had originally wanted to be a writer, but ultimately preferred performing in working men’s clubs. Despite a BBC audition in 1954 deeming him vocally out of tune and consequently not worth broadcasting, he became an overnight success after his television debut in 1967 on Opportunity Knocks.

  Dawson was soon given his own sketch show, Les Sez, in 1969 on ITV. This became the platform for some of his most memorable performances, such as the Cissie & Ada sketches, where Dawson and friend and comic actor Roy Barraclough performed a routine in drag, discussing ‘women’s problems’ and drawing laughs from innuendo and miscommunication. The show featured guest appearances from John Cleese, David Jason, and the Roly Polys, a group of big-boned tap dancers who soon became a regular feature.

Dawson was not only a comedian; he was a talented pianist, but he kept that under wraps – as deliberately playing pieces such as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata badly was a lot more amusing than playing them correctly. Dawson was also a master of language, poetry and subtle wordplay, often using Latin in his monologues and undercutting the momentum with punch lines which deliberately brought the audience back to earth.

Despite his passing from a heart attack in 1993, Dawson remains part of the public British consciousness in the same league as Tommy Cooper and Morecambe & Wise. He is also frequently mentioned on countdowns of British comedians, where in 2010 on Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand Ups he was rated number 24, and on 2004’s BBC programme The Comedian’s Comedian, he was rated number 37, showing how 17 years after his death his back catalogue of material still manages to still entertain.

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Rare Les Dawson footage to be aired

As ITV pays tribute this Christmas

ITV is to pay tribute to Les Dawson in two hour-long shows this Christmas.

Les Dawson Forever will include some previously unseen material, including what is believed to be the oldest surviving audio of his act.

The tape is from a Blackpool show in 1967, the year he shot to fame on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks.

The first of the tribute shows, which will air at 9pm on ITV3 on Wednesday December 21, will feature Les's youngest daughter Charlotte in 1993, listening to the tape.

Ex On The Beach star Charlotte, who was only 18 months old when her dad died, also meets Opportunity Knocks director Royston Mayoh to hear about how he auditioned for the show.

The programme also features Les's comedy partner Roy Barraclough reminiscing about how the pair's famous characters Cissie and Ada came to life after a producer overheard them mucking about on the studio floor between takes in recording.

Although Les was keen to try out the characters on television, Roy was not so sure, saying 'I don't think the public are ready to watch two fat men in frocks.'

Roy speaks about how he and Les would try to make each other laugh during the sketches. Les would often throw in ad-libbed funny names while Roy would try and crack up his comedy partner with imaginatively named confectionery.

In another segment, Barry Cryer returns to Yorkshire Television, the home of filming for Sez Les - Les Dawson's first TV series to look through personal memorabilia that Les kept from his time on the show.

The second instalment of Les Dawson Forever, which goes out the following night, shows former Sez Les director David Mallet watching footage from tapes recorded at Yorkshire Television's studios in Leeds, that have lain untouched for nearly 50 years.

It also features Les's wife Tracy revealing her favourite clip of Les's career: performing Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe with karaoke superfan Penny Morgan on Cilla Black's Surprise Surprise. It was to be Les's last TV appearance, and was only shown after his death in 1993.

Les Dawson Forever also features interviews with Ken Dodd, Johnny Vegas, Johnny Ball, Andy Hamilton and dance troupe the Roly Polys.

• Radio 4 is to pay tribute to Ronnie Corbett in a show going out on New Year's Eve. Liza Tarbuck fronts the show which will feature Barry Bryer, Harry Hill and Michael Palin. Corbett died at the age of 85 in March.

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Published: 5 Dec 2016

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