Les DAWSON (1931-1993)

Les Dawson
related pages...

Les Dawson

first tribute

Life Second Time Around

The definitive list of the 42 people who have been surprised more than once!

It’s a Funny Old Life

It's all about the comedy

Patrick Mower

Eric Sykes

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Les Dawson, comedian and writer, was surprised by Michael Aspel at the curtain call of the pantomime Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth.

Les made his television debut on the ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1967, and with his deadpan style and jokes about his mother-in-law and wife, became a popular and prominent comedian.

He starred in his own television series such as Sez Les and Dawson's Weekly, and hosted the BBC comedy game show Blankety Blank between 1984-1990.

Les was previously honoured by This Is Your Life in 1971.

“It's not me. What? Bloody hell!”

Screenshots of Les Dawson This Is Your Life

Les Dawson's biography

In his biography of Les Dawson, writer Louis Barfe recalls this edition of This Is Your Life, reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

Although he had no current BBC commitments, the Corporation claimed him as their own in a trade advertisement after he won Variety Performer of the Year at the 1992 British Comedy Awards. His acceptance speech at the ceremony gave him a chance to remind younger producers in the audience of his abilities, although the producer of the event already knew him well, being Michael Hurll, who'd booked him on Cilla twenty-four years earlier. The award was a welcome fillip as he prepared to go into Dick Whittington at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth with his old friend Peter Goodwright. After the medical trouble that had caused him to pull out of pantomime the previous year, Dawson was pleased to be asked to do the show, and with his new-found enthusiasm for moderation and exercise, was in a far better condition to perform than in previous years.

So it was that the run passed without incident, apart from the night that a mysterious figure walked on stage while Dawson was dressed as Britannia and interrupted his flow. The audience knew who the man was, the cast knew too. Only Dawson was incredulous when Michael Aspel indicated his red book and told Dawson that he was being "Lifed" for a second time. "Not me. What? Bloody hell," he spluttered. The pantomime set was then redressed as the This Is Your Life set and Dawson returned in a suit, clearly mouthng 'Bastards' with a slightly shell-shocked twinkle in his eye at Goodwright and fellow cast member Patrick Mower, who had both been keeping the big secret. Baby Charlotte is present at the start of the show, but is soon taken away to sleep by a nanny. The look of concern as Dawson clearly fears he won't get a chance to kiss her goodnight is very affecting.

As, in their way, were the tributes from friends and colleagues, most of them mock-insulting. John Nettles, detained in Stratford, regretted that he couldn't 'be there to lend a cultured gloss to the vulgar proceedings', while Bruce Forsyth - also on tape, in an empty studio ('I hope business is better in Plymouth") - told Dawson, "If ever I do a piano duet with you, our friendship may have to end." Speaking from Budapest, Rula Lenska and Dennis Waterman wished Dawson the best, with Waterman reminding his then-wife that "You've worked with him twice. He's tried to ruin my career hundreds of times."

It was only natural that Roy Barraclough should break his commitments to be there in person, and he remembered the early days of the Cissie and Ada characters. "He'd long been an admirer of Norman Evans, as indeed was I," Barraclough related. "In those days we used to pre-record loads of sketches without an audience, and you had to hang around for a long time, and people used to get bored, so Les used to amuse all the crew and the technicians and go into this routine, and I joined in." The anecdote is followed by the pair lapsing into gossip with a discussion about a local spiritualist:

CISSIE: Mrs Scattergood, she gets all the spirits through her. They come through her weegee.

ADA: Does she ever get cramp?

Not many of the guests from Dawson's first Life had survived the intervening twenty-one years, but Betty Lawrence, his friend and mentor from the fifties London interlude was present, at which Dawson became genuinely very emotional. Rather lighter in tone was the story of the Duke of Edinburgh and the black puddings, which Dawson was prevailed upon to relate. This was followed by a shot of the communication on Buckingham Palace notepaper saying simply 'Fried!!!, Philip".

The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book

Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...

Les Dawson's lugubrious features have brightened many a Royal Variety occasion.

But when we surprised him onstage at his 1992 Christmas panto in Plymouth, it was the Duke of Edinburgh who had the last word: and I do mean word.

Researcher Mandy Nixon (daughter of the late star magician David) discovered Les and the Duke had an on-going dispute centred on - of all things - the correct method of cooking a black pudding. Lancashire-born Les was adamant: the only way to serve that county's delicacy is boiled. His Highness totally disagreed. He sent us a letter, on Buckingham Palace notepaper, and requested that Michael read it on the programme.

It contained one word: 'Fried!' Signed, Philip.

Sadly, Les died of a heart attack on 10 June 1993. Michael Aspel had known him since Crackerjack days in 1968. In a tribute Michael wrote, 'There was an honesty in his work that reflected his way of life. He was an unsentimental man, except where his father was concerned - and that, in the end, meant more to him than anything else.'

programme details...

  • Edition No: 849
  • Subject No: second timer
  • Broadcast date: Wed 23 Dec 1992
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Recorded: Fri 18 Dec 1992
  • Venue: Theatre Royal, Plymouth
  • Series: 33
  • Edition: 13
  • Code Name: Ada

on the guest list...

  • Ellis Ward
  • Peter Goodwright
  • Michele Dotrice
  • Patrick Mower
  • Tracy - wife
  • Charlotte - daughter
  • Julie - daughter
  • Pamela - daughter
  • Stuart - son
  • Richard - stepson
  • Samantha - stepdaughter
  • Betty Lawrence
  • Norman Collier
  • Roy Barraclough
  • Norman Murray
  • Anne Chudleigh
  • letter from HRH Prince Philip
  • Lavinia Loughridge
  • Filmed tributes:
  • Russ Abbot
  • Michael Barrymore
  • Maureen Moreland
  • Roly Polys
  • Valerie Leyland
  • Roger Stevenson
  • Harry Stuart
  • Jimmy Tarbuck
  • John Nettles
  • Rula Lenska
  • Dennis Waterman
  • Bruce Forsyth
  • Eric Sykes

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher: Mandy Nixon
  • Writer: Roy Bottomley
  • Directors: Brian Klein, Malcolm Morris
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
  • Associate Producer: John Graham
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
Series 33 subjects: Barbara Windsor > Dickie Bird > Frazer Hines > Pat Kerr > Juliet Mills > William Tarmey > Ellen Pollock > Tessa Sanderson > Peter Saunders > Anthony Newley > Bert Weedon > Glen Murphy > Les Dawson > John Surtees > Shirley Bassey > Albert and Michel Roux > Anthony Jones > Lynda Bellingham > Frank Bruno > Johnnie Hamp > Honor Blackman > Sister Aquinas > Roddy McDowall > Jimmy White > Peggy Spencer > Jackie Collins > Derek Fowlds > Nat Lofthouse > Ann Miller > George Melly