My Comedy Hero: Justin Moorhouse on Les Dawson
- Brian Donaldson
- 8 February 2019
As the seasoned comic, actor, radio presenter and podcaster hits the road cunningly disguised as the Northern Joker, he tells all about his comedy icon
My comedy hero is Les Dawson. I wish I was half the comic he was. I loved him before I became a comedian and was delighted to choose him as my specialist subject on Mastermind. He is, in my opinion, the father of modern comedy, especially the comedy that lazily gets lumped as 'northern'. He was simply a master of mirth and a duke of duplicity.
To the idiotic some, he was your archetypal 70s comedian, a frilly-shirted rotund bloke doing gags about his mother-in-law just like the rest of them. But he invented that character, he created that persona, and that mother-in-law wasn't real. She was a Hogarthian monster he designed perhaps to expose his own inadequacies. He was incredibly self-deprecating.
Born and formed in Collyhurst, a rain-sodden north Manchester slum, Les always looked outward. He left school at 14, dreaming of becoming a writer. Instead, he worked in the parcels' department of the Co-op. I too left school without qualifications and spent most of my 'career' in the transport industry. For a short time, Les worked on The Bury Times but his funeral report that began: 'On a rain-swept plateau the mourners huddled together as the cold, grey mist embraced them in its clammy shroud … ' soon put paid to these ambitions.
He sold vacuum cleaners, did National Service and at one time got by playing piano in a Parisian bordello. Typical northern working-class comedian! His jokes were tightly formed and perfectly constructed. Though that doesn't mean he was obsessed with keeping the word-count low; far from it. The florid passages were so perfectly written that they're a delight just to read, never mind hear.
He was a giant of comedy, a titan of panto, a brilliant writer, a droll deadpan. When he left us early in 1993, Nick Smurthwaite's obituary in The Independent summed him up brilliantly as 'the most original and unexpected of stand-up comics, combining the coolness and command of Jack Benny with the studied misanthropy of WC Fields, his hero.' He was the best.
Justin Moorhouse: Northern Joker is on tour until Sunday 9 June