It is with deep sadness that I heard of the death of Ken Dodd,
Eric and Ken in Liverpool
because without Ken Dodd there would never have been any international illusionist “ZEE & CO.” Ken Dodd gave me my break, my first chance as an illusionist. In fact, he gave me everything! He told John Redgrave, who was the producer of the show at the time during rehearsals, “Whatever he wants give him!”, and he did.
I’m happy to say that I worked with Ken for almost a year and enjoyed every moment of it. I got to know both Ken and Anne really well. All this was in 1968/69. He was to me a very kind gentleman and a brilliantly ‘clean’ comic who I used to watch nightly when he was doing the first nightly show of two. He was generous in every possible way (except where money was concerned!), but that’s another story. As you know by now, I can’t make a story short! I am inclined to go round my ‘arse to get to my elbow’ as the poet says!
Being with Ken for nearly a year gave me all the time to perfect and hone and polish the act. Within 2 years we, “Zee & Co”, were at the London Palladium, and during all this time Angie was with me. In fact, she was with me for nearly two years earlier whilst we were trying to sort out the act. My beloved Angie who, God willing, I will be seeing later this year in New York.
How It All Happened
I had already done a gala show at the Adelphi Theatre in London where I had a load of photos taken. They looked really good and impressive.
My Agent at the time, Anne Zahl, had booked me a TV appearance on “The Good Old Days” at the Theatre Royal in Leeds. The theatre ran a variety show all through the week and televised “The Good Old Days” live on a Sunday. Each act had just one hour to set up and rehearse. That is impossible for an illusion act! Add to that that having to perform live in the evening show, and you have a recipe for disaster!
It was terrifying! The Leeds Theatre Royal was the oldest music hall in England and had the worst stage rake (a slope or incline) on any stage. Of course, Anne had forgotten to tell me this, and all my illusions were on wheels! No brakes!!! So no sooner had we got on stage than everything started rolling into the audience. We didn’t know how to stop them. In fact, we couldn’t! Well to cut a long story short, it was a disaster! Fortunately, they cut me out of the show, and quite rightly so. Well, going back to Ken, Ann Zahl told me that I should go and see him. Ken, who was playing in a summer season in Scarborough, Yorkshire, at the time, loved magic. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t contact him herself. Maybe she had seen the “Good Old Days”!
I was very dubious about going all the way to Scarborough without an appointment and waiting outside the stage door when he might not even see me. It was not really me! It was definitely not really me at all! But then again? Thinks…….!! Oh fuck it! I decided I’d go, and thank God I did!
After waiting at the stage door for an eternity, he saw me. He was intrigued with my past history as an actor, owner of the Casino de Paris and my photos. He told me that he was reopening The Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, which had been closed for years, for Christmas 1968. The show would run for eight weeks and he would give me a contract for the whole run of the show at the princely sum of £135 a week for the act, which included Me, Ray, Angie, two boy assistants, my leopard Scorpio, Suki the Chinchilla Cat and all the Illusions. He said, “Either you are very, very good or very bad!” If the truth be told, I would have done it for nothing!
Whilst waiting to start rehearsals, Ken phoned me to tell me that a few magicians had told him that my act was terrible, so bad that it had been cut it out of the “Good Old Days”. He was a little worried, understandably, and thought that although he felt right about me, he would like to give me a two week trial. I told him that if it had been my choice I would have done exactly the same. So two weeks it was going to be.
When we finally opened, it proved to be an enormous success because I was presented properly and Ken let me close the first half of the Show. Even so, all this time I was worrying about the two weeks trial. Would he keep me or wouldn’t he?
Ken never said a word during the whole two weeks, and I wouldn’t ask for fear that he would say I had to go. Everybody I spoke to said of course I was staying on, but Ken himself hadn’t told me anything. So, on the Friday night before my two weeks was up I finally plucked up the courage and I knocked on his dressing room door and asked him whether we were staying.
“Of course laddie,” he said. “Whatever made you think you weren’t?”
What a load off my mind that was. (Magicians eat your hearts out!)
So to you, Sir Ken Dodd, I thank you a million times for your kindness and generosity of what you gave to me. Ken Dodd, you were a great man! You gave me everything that was good for “Zee & Co.” I bow my head to you. May you always stay ‘tickling’ them up in Heaven!
“God Rest Your Soul”.
Lady Anne Dodd, nee Jones, and Ken. Thank God he married her! She deserves it, and may she stay Blessed Always.
Eric x x x