My sister came from Paris to stay for the week which was supposed to be My Operation Week but since the op was postponed we spent the time doing ordinary sisterly things like going to the cinema, shopping, etc. One of our outings was to the National Portrait Gallery and in the basement café, while waiting in line, who should I spot but Ken Dodd. Now some of you non-Brits (like my sister) may not have heard of our Ken but let me tell you, he is a very big celebrity over here, an institution - like tea or fish and chips or the Queen. I smiled at him and he acknowledged my recognition with a friendly wave of the hand. We went to sit out of sight in the bookshop area of the café but then, on second thought, I decided to go back and ask for Ken's autograph. He and his companion (Gladys) were drinking their tea when I sidled up with my little brown notebook and, having ascertained my name, Doddy graciously gave me the memento you see here on the left.
We chatted for a few minutes and he said he had come to the gallery to look at his portrait. I asked if he liked it and Ken's furrowed brow furrowed a bit more. "It's...um...interesting", he said. I mentioned (I would, wouldn't I?) that I am an artist and he asked: "Do you reveal the inner self?" I said: "Sometimes it works , sometimes it doesn't." (Yes it did cross my mind that I would love to be asked to paint his portrait and that it would be more than "interesting" and I did mention that I have a website). The charming Gladys said that Ken too has a website and I resolved to look it up as soon as I got home. As I left I handed Ken Dodd my card and invited him and Gladys to visit my cyber home. Maybe they already have?
After tea, Annie and I went upstairs and found the portrait of Ken Dodd by David Cobley . I could see why Ken's verdict was hesitant: it is only an "interesting" portrait - one of the better ones in what is, in my opinion, a very poor collection of contemporary portraiture (likenesses: yes. Good paintings: mostly not). It captures the anything-but-funny exhaustion and sadness of the long-running, driven comic but it misses his warmth and humanity - the qualities that have made him so popular for so long. With my French/Russian/South American background I must admit that I didn't really get Ken Dodd's humour in the past: Diddy Men, tickling stick, chuckabutties - what was that all about? But I do recognise that he has something unique - not a satirist, not an innovator, but a hard-working man, a craftsman who has built his comic style like an old-time cobbler fashions a pair of shoes. He concentrates on what he does best, regardless of changing tastes and trends, works overtime, loves his audience and stays approachable. "Innocent surrealism" is how Andrew Martin (in an article I've linked to above) describes what he does and that's exactly right. My chance meeting in the N.P.G café was such a pleasure because Ken Dodd seemed like a loved and eccentric old friend.MORE