Les Dawson, 1931 – 1993
Thirty years ago today we lost one of the all time greats: Les Dawson.
Les was one of Britain’s best loved comics, master of the monologue, nobody could tell a Mother In Law joke quite like Les Dawson. Most importantly Les Dawson was not just a comic, he was the original all rounder: a talented pianist, comic, game show host and author.
Born 2nd February 1932, in Collyhurst, Manchester, Les Dawson was the son of a bricklayer. His schooldays were spent trying to keep the bullies at bay with humour. It was during an incident at school that his jaw was broken by one boy. This left Dawson with the fortunately comedic ability to pull his chin over his nose, an ability he would use to great comedic effect over his career.
After leaving school Dawson worked in the drapery department of the local Co-op and became a reporter for the Bury Times in order to persue his aspirations as a writer. Unfortunately his reporting carer was short lived, he was sacked after two weeks. Next stop Paris, where he played piano in a brothel. Although he was an accomplished pianist, he would deliberately play off key as part of a comic routine. On his return to England he worked as a vacuum cleaner salesman and began to perform on the Manchester club circuit.
He married his first wife Margaret (Meg) on 25 June 1960, they had three children, Julie, Pamela and Stuart. Margaret died in April 1986 from cancer, leaving Les heartbroken. It was whilst frequenting a local country club that he met Tracy, she was working behind the bar, having lost her Mother to cancer they provided comfort to each other and before long Les plucked up the courage to ask Tracy for a date. Having found happiness again Les proposed and despite worries that his showbusiness contemporaries and the public would object, as she was 17 years younger Les married Tracy on 6 May 1989, They had a daughter, Charlotte, who was born on 3 October 1992.
On 10 June 1993, during a check-up at a routine check up at a hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, Les Dawson suffered a fatal heart attack and died suddenly. A Memorial Service was held at Westminster Abbey on 24 February 1994 attended by many comedians and other celebrities.
Les Dawson’s first television appearance was on Saturday Bandbox in 1962. In 1967 he auditioned for the talent show Opportunity Knocks. From there he never looked back. Appearing on many variety shows.
He made his acting debut in the Comedy Playhouse ‘State of the Union’ in 1968. A year later he had his own long-running series Sez Les, full of his trademark northern pessimism. This was the show that would propel him on to become a household name developing his popular characters; the frustrated Cosmo Smallpiece and, assisted by Roy Barraclough, gossipy housewives Cissie and Ada. Throughout the 1970’s and eighties there was his popular Radio2 show Listen With Les. He was aregular on the panel show Joker’sWild.
In 1974 the Galton and Simpson written comedy Holiday with Strings spawned the seven-part sitcom Dawson’s Weekly in 1975. The same year, he starred in the one-hour special, set in a 1920s flea-pit – Dawson’s Electric Cinema, and in The Loner, a series of three plays written by Alan Plater.
Switching to the BBC, he produced the successful Les Dawson Show and The Dawson Watch where each week’s sketches and jokes based around a single theme. In 1984 he took over from Terry Wogan, presenting Blankety Blank on which he quickly stamped his persona, forever ridiculing it and its awful prizes.
It was full circle in 1990 when he took over from Bob Monkhouse presenting the revamped Opportunity Knocks for the BBC and he was well-received as the greedy 100 year old grandmother in Roberto Costa’s black comedy Nona in 1991. In 1992 he became one of the very few people to appear on This Is Your Life for a second time (his first was 21 years earlier). His final screen appearance seems to be much in debate there was a cameo role in the 1993 comedy drama Demob and an appearance was on the LWT series Surprise, Surprise presented by Cilla Black, when he sang a comical rendition of “I Got You Babe” with a woman from the audience who wanted to fulfill a wish to sing with him.
Les Dawson loved Panto and appeared regularly as a Dame in Pantos up and down the country.
Still Going Strong
Twenty years after his death and Les is still amusing us with his joke books and in June of 2013 to commemorate twenty years since his death – An Audience With That Never Was.
Just prior to his untimely death Les had been due to record that famous Audience With. Everything was ready, but two weeks before he was due to record it he sadly died. However using his best material and the miracle of modern technology that is the hologram Les finally got to present his Audience with.Disclaimer: although every effort is made to represent Les’ story accurately, we used a wide variety of media to compile this posting and it is possible therefore some inaccuracies may occur.