Ken Dodd becomes a museum piece | Major exhibition to comedian opens this autumn © Peter Rogan

Ken Dodd becomes a museum piece

Major exhibition to comedian opens this autumn

A new exhibition celebrating Ken Dodd is to open at the Museum of Liverpool this autumn.

Happiness! is billed as the first major exhibition on a comedian in a national museum – although London’s V&A put several items from Tommy Cooper’s personal archive on display in 2016.

The new exhibition includes never-before-seen personal objects, films, photographs and interactive displays, many of which are on loan from Ken’s widow, Anne.

Museum worker with tickling stick

Curator Karen O’Rourke said: ‘Sir Ken Dodd remains one of Liverpool’s most famous sons, so we’re very excited to be sharing his incredible career and achievements at Museum of Liverpool.

‘Happiness! explores the two sides of the much-loved Doddy, from the larger than life, quick-witted performer we know best, to the deep-thinker and private man off stage, who diligently filled more than a thousand notebooks with his jokes, observations, and philosophy of comedy.

‘An exhibition about Ken would be incomplete without trying to capture his irresistible spirit. Expect plenty of gags and some of his most memorable props and costumes, as we celebrate Ken’s humour and lifelong passion for spreading happiness and laughter.’

Highlights include

  • Dodd’s meticulous notes on his comedy performances dating back to 1954. Over his lifetime he filled more than 1,000 notebooks, which were private, and only ever intended to be seen by him. In later life, Ken repeatedly made Anne promise to burn them all ‘after I’m gone’. But she decided that they were too culturally significant and needed to be saved. The notebooks will be kept largely private, but  Anne has agreed to share snippets for this exhibition,.
  • Props including tickling sicks, the Knotty Ash Great Drum  Dicky Mint, his ventriloquist puppet, and more.
    Dod with Dicky Mint
    Drum of Knotty Ash
  • Several of his eccentric costumes which added to his hilarious appearance, including the distinctive long red ‘Huury Furry Moggy Coat’, elements of his Road To Mandalay military-style uniform and a large sombrero, worn during his parody of the song Granada. With his unruly hair and protruding teeth - the result of a childhood accident - Ken’s appearance was integral to his act.: ‘I wanted to be an original, so I capitalised on the teeth and the hair, and I used to say I’m the only one who can eat a tomato through a tennis racket’, he said once the  Michael Parkinson Show.
    In Moggy Coat
  • Theatre bills, programmes, and posters charting his seven-decade career. Dodd had an ambition to play every UK theatre. He didn’t quite reach his goal, but in trying, he often travelled over 100,000 miles to venues each year. 
  • Ken Dodd’s Giggle Map, created especially for the exhibition, a digital interactive exhibit based on his extensive notes about the people and quirks Ken encountered across the UK. The map includes images, programmes, flyers and anecdotes, either from Ken or about him. An ongoing project, the map will continue to be developed with memories of visitors to the exhibition.
  • Dozens of clips of him at work, plus exclusive interviews with comics, actors and performers such as Lee Mack, Miriam Margolyes, Paul O’Grady and Sir Ian McKellen, who share their memories of Ken and his influence.
  • Many of the accolades he won, including his knighthood medal.
  • The prop skull from the ‘Alas poor Yorick’ scene in Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 Hamlet, which was based on Dodd - who had appeared as the jester as a flashback scene. The skull is easily identifiable as it features Ken’s own protruding teeth.

Happiness!  will run from September 9 to March 3, and tickets are on sale now, priced £5 here.

A diddy man

• Pictures of the exhibits being prepared © Gareth Jones

Published: 20 Jul 2023

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