Sir Ken Dodd had a 'soft spot' for Sunderland and its 'beautiful' theatre
Comedy fans in Sunderland have been mourning the loss of Sir Ken Dodd, a performer who loved his visits to the city as much as audiences did.
The comedian, who has died aged 90, was a regular visitor to the Sunderland Empire and was much-loved in the North East.
And in our last full interview with the comedy legend, he said the feeling was mutual.
“I have a huge soft spot for the Sunderland Empire, it was one of the first big theatres I played when I started in September 1954. I spent a whole week debating who had the better football team -–Sunderland or Liverpool,” he told the Echo in 2013, ahead of bringing his Happiness Show to the city.“They do appreciate you there, they love a good laugh. It’s a place with a heritage of great comics, people like Bobby Thompson. There are two cities in Britain – Liverpool and Sunderland – who produce more funnymen than anywhere else.
“The Empire’s a beautiful theatre and a big credit to the people who preserve it and take good care of it. Those slipper seats they have on the side, that look like a helter skelter, those are quite unique.”
We asked Sir Ken what made his shows so popular in Sunderland.
“People all over the world are searching for happiness,” he told us. "It’s what being alive is about: being happy.
"I have the best job in the world because I only ever see happy people. I only see them when they are laughing or have a smile on their face.
“In theatre terms I’m stage-struck. I just love it, getting up on stage is the best feeling in life.”
Remembering his first show in Sunderland
“I remember being absolutely terrified before appearing at Sunderland,” said Sir Ken Dodd.
“My name was right at the bottom of the bill – not even as big as that of the printer!
“My dressing room was at the top of the Empire and there was a notice on the wall, saying that in 1898 a comedian had been fined by Sunderland magistrates for using vulgar language.
“I felt that the notice was an insult to proper comedians. If you don’t know what the audience wants, you shouldn’t be on stage. Humour is all about making people smile and be happy.
“I was very nervous waiting in the wings after that, but once I was on stage I started getting laughs, so I did OK. At least they didn’t boo me off!”