A memory of Ken Dodd as Malvolio at Liverpool Playhouse.

Sir Ken Dodd played Malvolio at Liverpool Playhouse in 1971

I worked as an acting/assistant stage manager at Liverpool Playhouse in 1971, my first job after Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Ken Dodd was playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night. It was an entrancing performance that skillfully enfolded his sad-clown persona with the puritan pomposity of Olivia’s steward. Offstage he had the retiring demeanor of a gentle but distracted professor, who was fascinated by human behavior. I had to deliver one of the props to his dressing room before each performance. One night, I came in to find his manager and his manager’s girlfriend in the middle of a loud argument. Dodd was standing quietly at the other end of the room, agog. He pointed to them and whispered to me: “Watch. People are fascinating aren’t they?” There was no sarcasm in his voice, but rather I saw that he was fascinated with the rhythm and beat of the verbal interaction.

Onstage he was totally focused on perfecting his work. He had a great piece of schtick, or more literally ‘stick’. Retreating from Olivia’s presence with much bowing, Dodd would flash obsequious toothy smiles until Malvolio’s staff of office ended up, perchance, jammed into his crotch.

It was a house pleaser, and often I would rush up to the wings to watch him. One evening, however, the house was silent. He came offstage, and saw me standing there. “What happened? Why didn’t they laugh?” A deer caught in the headlights, I fumbled out. “As one actor in a show you can’t control an audience in the same way you can during stand up. The previous scenes can set the mood.” He looked at me thoughtfully. He was a master of his art, and I have no doubt that he knew this already. “Huh, you’re right. You’re right.” Nodding, he exited to the green room and left me standing in awe.

He was a gracious man with an open mind, always listening and always learning. He will be missed.