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|Born||Leslie Dawson, Jr.
2 February 1931
Collyhurst, Manchester, England
|Died||10 June 1993
Whalley Range, Manchester, England
Cause of death
|Occupation||Comedian and novelist|
|Years active||1959 – 1993|
|Known for||Comedy and stage|
|Spouse(s)||Margaret Dawson (m. 1960; until her death in 1986)
Tracey Dawson (m. 1989; until his death in 1993)
Life and career
||This section's order may be confusing or unclear to readers. (March 2012)|
He was born in Collyhurst, Manchester, to Leslie Dawson, Sr. and Julia Nolan, who was of Irish descent. His first job was in the parcels department of the Manchester Co-op. He worked briefly as a journalist on the Bury Times.
Dawson claimed in his entertaining but unreliable autobiography that he began entertaining as a pianist in a Parisian brothel. Making a living as a pianist evolved into comedy when he got laughs by playing wrong notes and complaining to the audience. He made his television debut on the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and became a prominent comic on British television for the rest of his life.
His characteristic routines featured Roy Barraclough and Dawson as elderly women, Cissie Braithwaite and Ada Shufflebotham. Cissie had pretensions of refinement and corrected Ada's malapropisms or vulgar expressions. As authentic characters of their day, they spoke some words aloud but mouthed others, particularly those pertaining to bodily functions and sex. The characters were based on those Les Dawson knew in real life. He explained that this mouthing of words (or "mee-mawing") was a habit of Lancashire millworkers trying to communicate over the racket of looms, then resorted to in daily life for indelicate subjects. To further portray the reality of northern, working class women, Cissie and Ada would sit with folded arms, occasionally adjusting their bosoms by a hoist of the forearms. Many Cissie and Ada sketches were written by Terry Ravenscroft. This was also typical of pantomime dame style, an act copied from his hero, Norman Evans and his act Over the Garden Wall.
Les Dawson was portly and often dressed in John Bull costume. He introduced to his BBC television shows a dancing group of fat ladies called the Roly Polys.
He undercut his fondness for culture. He was a talented pianist but developed a gag in which he played a familiar piece such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and then introduced hideously wrong notes (yet not destroying the tune) without appearing to realise, smiling unctuously and relishing the accuracy and soul of his own performance.
Dawson's style as a comic was world-weary, lugubrious and earthy. He was as popular with female as with male audiences. A reporter from The Sun found him backstage joking with cleaning women and making them laugh.
Before his fame Dawson wrote poetry and kept it secret. It was not expected that someone of his working class background would have literary ambitions. In a BBC TV documentary, he spoke of his love for canonical figures in English literature, in particular the 19th century essayist Charles Lamb, whose florid style influenced Dawson's.
Having broken his jaw in a boxing match, he could pull grotesque faces by pulling his jaw over his upper lip. This is described in the first volume of Dawson's autobiography A Clown Too Many.
Dawson was a heavy smoker and drinker. When not working he often drank a bottle of whisky and smoke 50 cigarettes a day.
Dawson nearly died in 1985 from a failing prostate gland, complicated by blood poisoning. He had a heart attack in 1988, and would have had another at the beginning of 1992 caused by his lungs being filled with fluid, had it not been for the emergency team attending the Wimbledon theatre that night.
He was married to Margaret from 25 June 1960 until her death on 15 April 1986 from cancer. They had three children: Julie, Pamela and Stuart. He married Tracy on 6 May 1989, despite worries that his showbusiness contemporaries and the public would object, as she was 17 years younger. They had a daughter, Charlotte, who was born on 3 October 1992.
Dawson starred in Listen to Les on BBC Radio 2 in the 1970s and 1980s. Television series in which he appeared included Sez Les for Yorkshire Television, The Dawson Watch for the BBC, written by Andy Hamilton and Terry Ravenscroft, The Les Dawson Show, written by Terry Ravenscroft, Dawson's Weekly, Jokers Wild (1969–73) and the quiz show Blankety Blank, which he presented for some years. His final TV appearance was on the LWT series Surprise, Surprise hosted by Cilla Black, in which he sang a comic rendition of "I Got You Babe" with a woman from the audience who wanted to sing with him.
Dawson was the subject of This Is Your Life on two occasions, in December 1971 when Eamonn Andrews surprised him on Opportunity Knocks, and again 21 years later, in what would be one of his last television appearances, when he was surprised by Michael Aspel on stage at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, at the curtain call of the pantomime Dick Whittington in December 1992.
On 10 June 1993, at a hospital in Whalley Range, Manchester, Les Dawson had just finished a check for insurance cover for a film role and was waiting for the results with his wife when he died of a heart attack. Many comedians and other celebrities attended a memorial service for him at Westminster Abbey on 24 February 1994.
On 23 October 2008, 15 years after his death, a bronze statue by Graham Ibbeson was unveiled by his widow Tracy and daughter Charlotte in the ornamental gardens next to the pier in St Anne's-on-Sea, Lancashire, where Dawson lived for many years.
In the Comedians' Comedian, a three-hour programme on UK's Channel 4 on 1 January 2005. Dawson was 37th in the top 50 comedians of all time, voted by fellow comedians and business insiders.
The BBC broadcast, on BBC Two, The Many Faces of Les Dawson, a retrospective, on Christmas Eve 2011.
1 June 2013 ITV broadcast Les Dawson: An Audience With That Never Was. The programme featured a Pepper's ghost projection of Dawson, presenting content for a 1993 edition of An Audience with... to be hosted by Dawson but unused due to his death two weeks before recording. The show served as a tribute and featured celebrities including Bruce Forsyth, Cilla Black, Terry Wogan and Ken Dodd. Also among the audience were Dawson's wife Tracy and daughter Charlotte (who was only eight months old when he died).
- A Clown Too Many (autobiography, 1986)
- No Tears for the Clown (autobiography, 1992)
- Hitler Was My Mother-in-Law
- Well Fared, My Lovely
- Come Back with the Wind
- The Spy Who Came
- The Blade and the Passion
- Card for the Clubs
- The Amy Pluckett Letters
- Malady Lingers on and Other Great Groaners
- Les Dawson's Lancashire
- A Time Before Genesis
- Les Dawson Gives Up
- The Les Dawson Joke Book
- Cosmo Smallpiece Guide to Male Liberation
- Les Dawson's Secret Notebooks
- On 10 February 2014, the BBC reported that Dawson's daughter Charlotte had found a 110-page "unpublished story of love and mystery, titled An Echo of Shadows, [that] was written under the name Maria Brett-Cooper...".
- Smurthwaite, Nick (11 June 1993). "Obituary: Les Dawson". The Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- Stephenson, John-Paul (12 September 2013). "Interview: Steve Nallon #1 – "A celebration of Les"". Giggle Beats.
- Dipper, Andrew (9 September 2013). "Ray Peacock’s tribute to Les Dawson". Giggle Beats. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- McGrath, Nick (29 September 2012). "Looking after Les Dawson's legacy". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- "Dawson statue unveiled by family". bbc.co.uk. 23 October 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2008.
- Logan, Brian (31 May 2013). "Can a hologram Les Dawson tell 'em like he used to?". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 September 2013.
- "Les Dawson wrote secret romantic novel in woman's name" at BBC News, accessed 13 September 2014.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Les Dawson|
- Les Dawson at the Internet Movie Database
- Les Dawson's appearance on This Is Your Life 1971
- Les Dawson's appearance on This Is Your Life 1992
|Host of Blankety Blank
1984 – 1990