On this day in history : 10th June 1993 – The death of comedian, actor, presenter and writer Les Dawson – known for his deadpan comedy and for his deliberate playing of the piano off-key….
It is probably safe to say Les did not set out to become an entertainer and there must have been many a time when he nearly gave up altogether – as success did not come easily for him….
He was born in Collyhurst, Manchester on the 2nd of February 1931, to an Irish mother, Julia Nolan and English father, Leslie Dawson Sr, who was a low-paid labourer…. It was a close, loving family – but poor…. Les moved schools frequently as the family would often have to do a moonlight flit to avoid the rent man…. From an early age Les showed a natural talent for writing and enjoyed composing poetry – but he kept his passion quiet as he thought he would be teased by his classmates….
On leaving school at the age of 14 he found employment with the Manchester Co-op – and then later became an apprentice to an electrician…. However, this wasn’t something he particularly enjoyed and when he was called up to do his National Service it probably came as quite a relief….
After National Service he returned to Manchester with the idea of becoming a serious writer…. He submitted his poetry and essays to various magazines and publications – but with no success…. Feeling despondent and thinking a change of scenery might help he decided to move to Paris….
Les was an accomplished piano player and managed to land a job playing in a Parisian bar…. However, he couldn’t understand why there were never any customers…. It took a while for the penny to drop that the bar was actually a smoke screen for a brothel…. To amuse himself he began to play familiar classic tunes in an off-key comical way – and soon built himself a regular little fan club…. But the money he earned was not enough to survive on, so after four months he packed his bags and returned to Manchester….
Buoyed by his brief success as a comic pianist he decided to enter a talent contest – but his act fell flat on its face…. So Les got a job as a door-to-door salesman, selling vacuum cleaners – only to soon realise he wasn’t cut out for this kind of work…. Next he tried his hand at journalism, working for the Bury Times – but this didn’t suit him either….
Still hankering after a showbiz life he started to perform in working men’s clubs across the North…. His audiences were not always the most appreciative – but it was a good learning curve for him and slowly but surely he was beginning to come to the attention of those in ‘the business’…. It was also on the club circuit that he was to meet his first wife, Meg….with whom he was to have 3 children…. It was Meg who encouraged him to enter ‘Opportunity Knocks’ in 1965 – and although he didn’t win he certainly made an impression and was subsequently booked for the ITV show ‘Blackpool Night Out’…. Les Dawson, with his rubbery face contortions, mother-in-law jokes and comical piano playing had finally successfully launched his career as a comedian….
By the end of the 1960s he was a household name…. He now had his own series ‘Sez Les’ on Yorkshire TV – and from that came the two memorable characters of Cissie Braithwaite (played by Roy Baraclough) and Ada Shufflebottom…. The show ran for 11 series between 1969-1976 and then Les went on to do ‘Dawson’s Weekly’ before in 1978 being signed with the BBC for ‘The Les Dawson Show’ – which ran until 1989…. He became the presenter of the game show ‘Blankety Blank’ in 1984 after taking over from Terry Wogan….
In April 1986 Meg died from cancer and Les withdrew from public life to look after their children…. Being a heavy smoker and drinker he wasn’t in the best of health himself – and this was to lead to a heart attack….
Les remarried in May 1989 – and he and his wife, Tracy, were to have a daughter…. After another serious heart attack in 1992 his doctors advised him to stop working – but he was having none of it…. The 23rd of December 1992 saw him as the subject of ‘This Is Your Life’ – it was to be one of his last TV appearances….
On the 10th of June 1993 he was at hospital, waiting for his test results after having had a check-up, when he suffered another heart attack…. This time it was fatal….