PERFORMERS: LES DAWSON

Born: February 2 1931 or 1933 (depending on your source)
Died: June 10 1993

by PETER TATCHELL (copyright 2012)

For a quarter of a century he was one of Britain’s most cherished comedians, a man who not only said funny things and said things “funny” but, on occasion, looked funny while he was saying them. Les Dawson was perhaps the last bastion of the British music hall, relying on clever wordplays, facial expressions and outlandish appearance in pursuit of a solid belly laugh.

Starting out as a singer, Manchester-born Les soon realized his short chubby looks were more suited to making people laugh than swoon, but by his mid-thirties (with success eluding him and a family to support) he was on the brink of admitting defeat and getting a day job.

But national exposure on Opportunity Knocks in 1967 proved the catalyst and by decade’s end Dawson had his own series Sez Les on Yorkshire Television and was a regular participant in the company’s new Jokers Wild gagfest. The following year he began a long association with BBC radio and was heard in such shows as Our Les and Listen to Les.

Les wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill joke teller … he was a talented musician who knew how to play the piano excruciatingly badly, he had a lugubrious expression oft-times resembling “a sack of spanners” (to use his own words) and was more than adept at appearing gormless in a variety of guises.

His shows were also enlivened by a gallery of regular Dawson characters: most notable being dumpy housewife Ada (inspired by, and a tribute to, the revered Northern comic Norman Evans). With Roy Barraclough as gossipy neighbour Cissie, the Dawson talent for facial distortion and vocal meandering came into full play. John Cleese was also a regular participant in the early years, being an unashamed fan of the newcomer.

After ten years as Yorkshire’s chief funnyman, Les was lured to BBC Television in 1978 (at a time when Morecambe and Wise had deserted them for ITV company Thames). But unlike the legendary double act, his popularity wasn’t affected by the switch.

The 1980s was a turbulent time for British comedians of the old school … their schoolyard was rapidly being taken over by crowds of “alternative” playmates who decreed that mothers-in-law and busty blondes were no longer to be included in the syllabus and the most popular new subject was to be political correctness.

Les knew what he was good at and, thanks to the BBC, he was allowed to keep doing it. Each year saw new seasons of his BBC1 and Radio 2 offerings, but by the middle of the decade the latter stages of his wife’s terminal illness forced him to lessen his workload.

In late 1984 he took over from Terry Wogan as host of the game show Blankety Blank, and would make it his personal plaything for six years, relegating the panel of celebrities to a glittering gaggle of straightmen (sorry, “straightpersons”). And his love of the English language continued to find expression in an array of humorous novels and (eventually) two volumes of autobiography.

In 1990, Dawson fronted a revived version of Opportunity Knocks and the following year a frustratingly mediocre game show called Fast Friends. Les could also be seen in the lead role of the bizarre play Nona on BBC2 and was the standout performer at that year’s Royal Variety Show. But now his own health was becoming a problem and he had to contend himself with being guest on other people’s chat shows and a recurring character part in the Griff Rhys Jones/Martin Clunes drama series, Demob. His final TV appearance was on Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise.

Les Dawson was felled by a fatal heart attack in June 1993 (ironically whilst visiting hospital for a checkup). Twenty years later he is still fondly remembered as a very funny man, and sadly missed.

Radio

COMEDY PARADE
Series 1: Light Thursday 8-00pm October 1 1964
GOING PLACES starring Les Dawson, Ray Fell
Series 3: R2 Sunday 2-30pm February 21 1971
OUR LES starring Les Dawson, Joe Gladwin

LES DAWSON – MAN OF FICTION
R4 (North) Thursday 12-25pm February 26 to April 2 1970
with Les Dawson, Robert Dorning, Joe Gladwin, Sandra Gough, Daphne Oxenford

OUR LES (pilot in COMEDY PARADE)
Series 1: R2 Wednesday 8-00pm December 8 1971 to January 26 1972
Series 2: R2 Sunday 2-30pm December 31 1972 to February 25 1973
episodes 3 and 9 are in BBC Archives
with Les Dawson

LISTEN TO LES
Series 1: R2 Sundays 2-00pm July 7 to August 25 1974
episode 6 is in BBC Archives
Series 2: R2 Sundays 2-00pm June 8 to July 27 1975
episode 3 is in BBC Archives
*** MIKE YARWOOD IN THE LES DAWSON SHOW
R2 Monday 1-00pm August 25 1975 (50 min)
held in BBC Archives
Series 3: R2 Sunday 2-00pm October 17 to December 5 1976
episode 1 is in BBC Archives
Series 4: R2 Sunday 2-00pm August 7 to September 25 1977
episode 3 is in BBC Archives
Series 5: R2 Sunday 10-30pm October 1 to November 19 1978
episode 1 is in BBC Archives
Series 6: R2 Sunday 1-30pm November 18 1979 to January 6 1980
episode 1 is in BBC Archives
Series 7: R2 Sunday 1-30pm December 7 1980 to January 25 1981
all episodes are in BBC Archives
Series 8: R2 Sunday 1-30pm January 10 to March 28 1982
all episodes (except show 3) are in BBC Archives
Series 9: R2 Sunday 1-30pm July 10 to September 25 1983
episodes 1 to 3 and 10 to 12 are in BBC Archives
Series 10: R2 Sunday 4-00pm January 20 to March 24 1985
all episodes are in BBC Archives
with Les Dawson, Colin Edwynn, Daphne Oxenford, Roy Barraclough (series 9)

THE CHRISTMAS LAUGHALONG
R2 Friday 11-00pm December 24 1982 (60 min)
with Les Dawson, Roy Castle, Eli Woods, Daphne Oxenford 

MARRIOTT’S MONOLOGUES
R2 Thursday 9-45pm September 5 1991 (15 min): Les Dawson

NEVER GIVE A SUCKER AN EVEN BREAK – tribute to W.C. Fields
R4 Wednesday 4-05pm March 30 1977
hosted by Les Dawson

IT MAKES ME LAUGH
*** R4 Thursday 6-30pm December 31 1981: Les Dawson

IT’S A FUNNY BUSINESS
Series 5: R2 Wednesday 10-00pm January 22 1986: Les Dawson

tributes

SAID LES – tribute to Les Dawson
R2 Saturday 4-00pm August 28 1993 (60 min)

TURNS OF THE CENTURY
Series 1: R3 Friday 4-20pm June 16 1995 (10 min): Les Dawson

HOW TICKLED AM I?
Series 1: R4 Tuesday 11-30am April 20 1999:  Les Dawson 

THERE’LL NEVER BE ANOTHER
R2 Tuesday 9-00pm August 22 2000 (60 min): Les Dawson
hosted by Graeme Garden

 

Television

COMEDY PLAYHOUSE: State of the Union (BBC1 April 26 1968)

JOKERS WILD
(Les Dawson is featured in most editions)
series 1: ITV/Yorkshire July 9 to November 12 1969
series 2: ITV/Yorkshire July 4 to September 26 1970
series 3: ITV/Yorkshire December 12 1970 to January 23 1971
series 4: ITV/Yorkshire July 24 to September 4 1972
series 5: ITV/Yorkshire October 19 1972 to March 22 1973
series 6: ITV/Yorkshire May 17 to September 13 1973
series 7: ITV/Yorkshire November 19 1973 to June 24 1975
series 8: ITV/Yorkshire September 25 to November 20 1975

SEZ LES
series 1: Yorkshire April 30 to June 18 1969
series 2: Yorkshire September 10 to November 19 1969
series 3: Yorkshire August 16 to September 6 1971
series 4: Yorkshire January 13 to February 17 1972
series 5: Yorkshire July 29 to September 9 1972 (45 min)
series 6 (titled LES SEZ): Yorkshire October 40 to December 4 1972
series 7: Yorkshire July 28 to September 8 1973 (45 min)
and Christmas special December 26 1973 (60 min)
series 8: Yorkshire January 25 to March 8 1974
series 9: Yorkshire June 28 to August 9 1974
special: Yorkshire January 2 1976 (60 min)
series 10: Yorkshire February 25 to March 10 1976 (60 min)
series 11: Yorkshire October 19 to December 6 1976
(short segments were also featured in the Christmas Day All-Star Comedy Carnival programmes of 1971, 1972 and 1973

HOLIDAY WITH STRINGS: Yorkshire August 26 1974 (35 min)

SOUNDS LIKE LES DAWSON:Yorkshire December 4 1974 (60 min)

LES DAWSON’S CHRISTMAS BOX
special 1: Yorkshire December 21 1974 (60 min)
special 2: Yorkshire December 26 1975 (60 min)

DAWSON’S ELECTRIC CINEMA: Yorkshire April 3 1975 (60 min)

THE LONER: Yorkshire May 7 to 21 1975
Dawson’s Complaint
Dawson’s Connection
Dawson’s Encounter

DAWSON’S WEEKLY: Yorkshire June 12 to July 29 1975
Les Miserables
Where There’s a Will
Stage-Struck
Accident Prone
All Pools Day
The Clerical Error

THE LES DAWSON SHOW: Yorkshire September 10 1975 (60 min)

DAWSON AND FRIENDS: Yorkshire (60 min)
special 1: April 20 1977
special 2: May 25 1977
special 3: June 15 1977
special 4: June 29 1977

THE LES DAWSON SHOW
series 1: BBC1 January 21 to April 1 1978

THE DAWSON WATCH
series 1: BBC1 February 23 to April 6 1979
series 2: BBC1 November 22 to December 27 1979
series 3: BBC1 October 17 to November 28 1980
special: BBC1 December 23 1980

THE LES DAWSON SHOW
special: BBC1 May 25 1981 (45 min)
series 2: BBC1 January 30 to March 5 1982
series 3: BBC1 January 15 to February 19 1983
series 4: BBC1 January 21 to February 25 1984
special: BBC1 December 28 1987 (50 min)
series 5: BBC1 October 19 to November 23 1989

MUSSOLINI WITH KNICKERS: BBC1 October 18 1981

BLANKETY BLANK
Les took over the game show (previously hosted by Terry Wogan) and compered nearly a hundred editions between September 7 1984 and March 12 1990.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS (BBC1 March 31 to June 2 1990)

FAST FRIENDS (BBC1 March 30 – June 28 1991)

NONA (special, BBC2 October 19 1991)

DEMOB (episodes 3 and 6)

 tributes

COMIC ROOTS (BBC1 August 2 1982)

THE LAST LAUGH – A TRIBUTE TO LES DAWSON (BBC1 July 5 1993)

A TRIBUTE TO LES DAWSON (ITV December 26 1993)

LES DAWSON – THE ENTERTAINER (BBC1 October 2, 17 and 24 1994)

HEROES OF COMEDY (CH4 April 16 1997)

THE BEST OF LES DAWSON (BBC1 May 17, 24 and 31 and June 20 1997)

UNFORGETTABLE (ITV December 11 2000)

LES DAWSON’S FINEST HOUR (CH4 December 30 2000)

THE MANY FACES OF LES DAWSON (BBC2 December  2011)

 

Recordings 

Send Her Roses / I’m Just Another Sweetheart
Chapter one 45rpm CH 106

Promise Me / How Small We Are, How Little We Know
Decca 45rpm L 13287

Spread It Around / She’s Gone
Ocean Nashville OCS 204

AN EVENING WITH LES DAWSON
Phonogram/Contour LP 2870 516 (1976)
Our Love Story
For Me and My Gal
My Blue Heaven
I Can’t Control Myself
Jeremiah Fisher Frog
Show Me the Way to Go Home
Goodbye (from White Horse Inn)
Bye Bye Blackbird 

LAUGH WITH LES
BBC LP REB 346 (1979)
Soundtrack extracts from THE DAWSON WATCH
or LISTEN TO LES (*)
Opening – An Appeal
Transport – Mission Impossible
Cissie and Ada – Getting About
Dissertation – The Barnsley Dracula *
Leisure – The Alien Evil
Cissie and Ada – Time Off
Dissertation – A Strange Experience
Money – The Sin of Mankind
Cissie and Ada – Making Ends Meet
Dissertation – The Holiday * 

LISTEN TO LES
Volume 1 (ZBBC 1437)
contents unknown
Volume 2 (ZBBC 1711)
contents unknown

DVDs

SEZ LES
volume 1: all of series 3 and 4 (Network 2-DVD)
volume 2: all of series 5 and 6 (Network 3-DVD)
volume 3: all of series 7 and 8, plus the 1973 Christmas show (Network 3-DVD)

DAWSON’S WEEKLY
includes all 6 episodes, plus the 1974 Holiday With Strings special (Network)

LES DAWSON – THE ITV SPECIALS
2 editions of Les Dawson’s Christmas Box, 4 of Dawson And Friends, Sounds Like Les Dawson, The Les Dawson Show (1975), Dawson’s Electric Cinema, plus two guest appearances (Network 3-DVD)

THE BEST OF LES DAWSON
85 minutes of highlights from his BBC series (BBC DVD)

MASTERS OF COMEDY
54 minutes of highlights (ITV DVD)

COMEDY HEROES
65 minutes of highlights (ITV DVD)

Books

fiction

A CARD FOR THE CLUBS
by Les Dawson (Sphere Books, London. 1974)
THE SPY WHO CAME …
by Les Dawson
THE COSMO SMALLPIECE GUIDE TO MALE LIBERATION
by Les Dawson (Star / W.H. Allen paperback, London. 1979)
THE MALADY LINGERS ON AND OTHER GREAT BROANERS
by Les Dawson (Arrow / Hutchinson paperback, London. 1982)
THE AMY PLUCKETT LETTERS
by Les Dawson (Robson, London. 1982)
HITLER WAS MY MOTHER-IN-LAW
by Les Dawson
COME BACK WITH THE WIND
by Les Dawson (Robson, London. 1990)
WELL FARED, MY LOVELY
by Les Dawson (Robson, London. 1991)

biographical

LES DAWSON’S LANCASHIRE
by Les Dawson (Elm Tree Books, London. 1983)
A CLOWN TOO MANY
by Les Dawson (Elm Tree Books, London. 1985)
NO TEARS FOR THE CLOWN
by Les Dawson (Robson, London. 1992)
LES DAWSON – WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
by Mick Middles (Andre Deutsch / Chameleon, London. 1999)
LES DAWSON’S SECRET NOTEBOOKS
compiled by Tracy Dawson (JR Books, 2007)

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