Les Dawson was born in Manchester in 1934 and rose to fame with jokes insulting his wife and the mother-in-law, a staple, if rather un-PC, type of British humour. He left the Army after his National Service and as he had had a short story published he moved to Paris to become a writer. What in fact happened was he started to play the piano in a brothel to pay the bills (although for weeks he thought it was nothing more than a cabaret club!)
His act was bright and breezy and went down well with most audiences (although there was always one or two where he died on stage, one time being when he had to follow two minutes silence in respect of the recently deceased club chairman!), but the act really turned the corner when he was engaged at a Hull club, and after a whole week of performances, he got drubk at before the last, and came on bemoaning life, and slumped over the piano. 'I don't have to do this for a living, I just do it for the luxuries like bread and shoes'. On this his new act was born, but it didn't make too much difference until he entered Opportunity Knocks! in 1967 and won. He never really looked back.
His ITV series Sez Lez followed and then in 1971 a Royal Variety Performance - his favourite memory. Since then he went on to have various series, both on ITV and the BBC, and hosted Blankety Blank after Terry Wogan. Not being content with just TV, he also made radio shows, and wrote several novels - harking back to his original intentions. He also wrote two volumes of biography, and they are well worth a read - I certainly didn't want to put them down, and in places I just 'filled up'.
In 1993 we lost one of the greats of comedy when Les died, but thankfully there are many recordings of his around so the legend can live on. Two of these have recently hit the shops. In Ocotober, the BBC released another in their series, COMEDY GREATS, and this video runs for nearly and hour and a half and includes many of Les's greatest performances. Whilst I always thought his ITV series with Cosmo Smallpiece was far better than the later ones on the BBC, he I still brilliant, and this tape is worth buying for the clips of the monologues from Blankety Blank. When he took over the show in 1984, I never missed an episode. His style suited the show perfectly, putting down the BBC over the prizes, and generally giving the impression that he was only there for the money, so what was our excuse. In my mind, this was his golden hour. Priced at £12.99, the value is good as well, but my only gripe is that Auntie has seen fit to number the tapes in the series, and it always annoys me to have a volume missing.
Auntie doesn't have a monopoly on Les's work though, and at roughly the same time, VCI released a video, LAUGH OUT LOUD WITH LES DAWSON, of his Yorkshire TV work. It is a shame that this is only an hour long and priced £10.99, it works out less value for money than the BBC release, but contains Cosmo, and is brilliant. Cissy and Ada are there, and there is even an appearance from Humphrey Littleton on the piano. Like many of the VCI releases of late, there is extra footage never seen on video before on this release, and this makes it very worthwhile.
When You're Smiling - The illustrated biography of Les Dawson
There are also many books available either written by Les or about him. The latest of these is published by Andre Deutsch and is more of a candid biography than most. It is very clear that the author has taken the trouble to find out something about Les (which doesn't seem to be the case for most books these day, always having and angle!) and truly loves him as a comic. This endeared the book to me straight away. It is not as comprehensive as the two volumes that Les wrote himself, but this is not a distraction. The main points in Les's career are covered and it charts his rise to fame, and partial decline before his untimely death. Les was not an overnight success as some would beleive, he had been workign the circuits for many years before making it on Opportunity Knocks, and this books tells of the struggles and his doubts even after he became famous. To add to this there is a remarkable collection of photos.