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Comic with toothless grin takes his last gurn

A DOZEN clowns in full dress uniform provided one of the less dignified guards of honour in the history of Westminster Abbey. But, despite the painted lips, arched eyebrows and hastily stuck-on red noses, none had a face as instantly humorous as the man they were there to honour, writes Jim White.

Les Dawson's absurd toothless gurn - he described his face as resembling a bulldog's after it had just sucked piss off a nettle - was one of the great comic assets of the 20th century.

Yesterday, six months after his death at 60, the full-house notices were up once more as 2,000 guests, invited by his wife, Tracy, to celebrate rather than to mourn, were shoe-horned into the Abbey.

The congregation would have made an ideal panel for Dawson's television quiz Blankety Blank. Little and Large were there, so was Jim Davidson, Michael Aspel and, in tears, Paul Daniels.

As Edward Woodward, who gave an address, pointed out, the show's compere would have appreciated such a turnout in such surroundings, and would not have failed to make a gag.

'He would be saying 'Edward the Confessor, Bruce Forsyth, The Roly Polys and Rudyard Kipling. What a fantastic line-up,' Woodward said. 'And that's not to mention Bobby Davro.'

Woodward revealed himself a fine mimic of the great comic's style, recounting their first meeting in fluent Dawsonian. The actor had made it clear what an admirer of Dawson he was. 'And I'm a great admirer of yours,' came back the reply. 'As was my father and my grandfather before me.'

There are two types of comedian: men who tell funny stories and funny men who tell stories. There was no doubt to which category Dawson belonged. He seldom required a script to raise a laugh, preferring instead to revel in the fecund linguistic absurdities of northern dialect.

Indeed, Professor Anthony Clare, who interviewed him for BBC Radio 4's In The Psychiatrist's Chair just before he died, said in his address that he thought of recommending to patients tapes of the talk: his verbal tour de force would 'have done more for them than a ton of tranquillisers'.

Outside the Abbey afterwards, as the guests, mingling with Dawson fans and confused tourists, swapped Les stories and creaking mother-in-law jokes, you sensed Clare was absolutely right. Les Dawson vs prozac: no contest.

(Photograph omitted)