Liverpool's laughter makers
By Paul Coslett

Some of Merseyside's greatest comedians are celebrated by Ken Dodd in a special Capital of Culture show.

As his contribution to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture, Ken Dodd, is playing tribute to Merseyside’s great comedians in two sold out shows at St George’s Hall.

The performances of Ken Dodd’s Laughter Makers on 1 and 2 April will celebrate some of the stars of music hall and radio including Arthur Askey, Tommy Handley, Rob Wilton and Deryck Guyler.

The Knotty Ash comedian has been researching the background of some of the comics who he grew up with.

Ken Dodd has researched the comedians backgrounds.
Liverpool has a long tradition of providing some of the UK’s biggest entertainment stars dating back to the earliest days of radio and music hall.

One of Merseyside’s first radio and televison comedians was Everton’s Rob Wilton, a great influence on Ken Dodd he spoke in a dry Lancashire accent.

In Pictures: Liverpool laughter makers >
Paul McCartney recalls getting his autograph while John Lennon attended his shows at the Liverpool Empire.

Famous for playing incompetent authority figures in a world weary fashion, one of his best remembered sketches centred around The Day That War Broke Out where his character when questioned by his wife as to what contribution he’ll make to the war effort settles on joining the Home Guard to defend the country against Hitler.

“She said, "Do you know this Hitler?... have you ever met him?

“I said, "Do I... of course I don't!

“She said, "Well how are you going to know which is him if they do land?

“I said, "Well, I've got a tongue in my head, haven't I?"

Exquisite foolery
During the dark days of the Second World War Britain was kept amused by another Liverpool comedian, Aigburth’s Tommy Handley in the hit radio show ‘It’s That Man Again’ or ITMA.

Handley was born in 13 Threlfall Street on 17 January, 1892, the son of a cow keeper. He took his first showbiz steps on stage at St Michael’s School and at Toxteth Congregational Church where he sang in the choir.

ITMA, a forerunner of The Goon Shoe and Monty Python, drew strongly on Handley’s observations of Liverpool characters and life.

It launched a raft of characters and catchphrases including Mrs Mopp – “Can I do you know sir”, Mona Lott “It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going” and Handley himself “Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs”.

A selection of ITMA catchphrases >
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Another character the diver Deepend Dan’s catchphrase “Don’t forget the Diver” was inspired by Handley’s childhood memories of day trips to New Brighton and the cry of a one legged diver who would plunge into the Mersey as the Liverpool ferry docked at New Brighton.

The last ITMA was broadcast in January 1949, three days later on 9 January, Tommy Handley died.

Tommy Handley star of ITMA
He was honoured with a memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral where the Bishop of London paid tribute saying, “The flame of his genius transmuted the copper of our common experience into the gold of exquisite foolery.”

One of Handley’s sidekicks in ITMA was Wallasey’s Deryck Guyler, after Handley’s death Guyler went on to star in TV sitcoms like Please Sir! And Sykes where he played PC Corky.

Ted Ray, born in Wigan in 1905, moved to Liverpool with his parents days after his birth and made his name in a weekly radio show Ray’s A Laugh, which ran for 12 years form 1949.

A keen golfer he also played roles in many British films including Carry on Teacher, while his radio show was a breeding ground for a new crop of comedians including Peter Sellers, Kenneth Connor and Graham Stark.

Robb Wilton
In the later years of his career Ray appeared on a panel show Does The Team Think? alongside one of Britain’s and Liverpool’s best loved comedians, Arthur Askey.

‘Big-hearted Arthur’, a Liverpool Institute boy born in Moses Street in Toxteth’s ‘Holyland’, became famous for his catchphrases, many of which drew on his Liverpool background and experience, “Aye thank yew” was taken from the shout of Liverpool tram conductors.

He starred in the pre-war radio comedy ‘Band Waggon’ and recorded musical numbers including ‘The Bee Song and his theme tune ‘Big-hearted Arthur’.

In his autobiography he recalled a visit back to Liverpool “They’ve put a plaque on the wall of the house where I was born.

“It says condemned.”

Often playing a straight role to Askey’s characters was former Tiller Girl, Liverpool born Avril Angers.

She cut her performing teeth during World War Two in the forces entertainment unit ENSA and in peacetime landed various televison roles including Are You Being Served?, Dads Army and All Creatures Great and Small.

She was the first female comedian to have her own British TV series 1950’s ‘Dear Dotty’.

last updated: 27/03/2008 at 17:25
created: 27/03/2008