By Hilary Porter

IT was a day many of us could never imagine – the day the curtain finally fell on the Ken Dodd Happiness Show.

The self-confessed “stage struck” comic entertainer famed for five-hour marathon shows, had vowed he would never retire and just days after cancelling his annual Easter visit to Bournemouth Pavilion he died at the Knotty Ash home he had been born in with his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, by his side.

Even as he cancelled last week he passed on a message to Daily Echo readers thanking them for their kind messages and saying he hoped to return. At the same time he finally married Anne.

Doddy was a legend but he was also the loveliest, kindest and most generous of men.

I really got to know Ken over a period of about 25 years. It started with me asking for an interview to be told this wasn’t possible. Ken was at that time deeply distrustful of the press following the media coverage of his tax evasion court case (for which he was famously acquitted). But he did finally agree to an interview by fax! I sent the questions and the answers came back one by one!

The following year Ken agreed to a telephone interview but his agent told me very firmly don’t mention the court case. I never did. He was so thrilled with the positive feature I’d written he invited me backstage at Bournemouth Pavilion. For many years I was one of just a handful of journalists he would talk to.

I’d review his show every year and go backstage every Easter, usually in the interval. I’d pack food, knowing the shows could last over five hours and every year I gave Ken an Easter egg to thank him for making me laugh more than anyone in my entire life.

Anne – who use to perform as Sybie Jones, would make sure there was plenty of wine and larger. Rather than taking the opportunity to rest Ken would continue to entertain me with showbiz tales. He was the most intelligent, well-read person and loved to talk about politics too. He always asked about the family and every single person I took to meet him was made to feel like a million dollars as he took such a huge interest in every person he met.

After chatting about music hall entertainment with my mother- in -law he sent her a book on the topic. When she was ill he sent her a tickling stick and videos.

Last year after my last interview with Ken I came home to see a huge bouquet of the most exotic lilies and roses on my doorstep – he had sent them thanking me for my support.

He was a charming man and a real gentleman who called me ‘Lady Hilary’ and referred to my husband as ‘the gaffer’.

It was a real joy to see him finally receive his knighthood last year in his 90th birthday year for his services to entertainment and also for charity – he had quietly supported over 100 charities too whilst tirelessly touring and entertaining people his whole life. He seldom took a holiday.

It truly is the end of an era and a very sad day for entertainment and all who knew him .