“I can tell them you’re a respectable young journalist looking for a lady to share your interest in the theatre – and maybe more.”
For my best efforts to steer the conversation to his shows in Bournemouth tonight and Salisbury tomorrow, we spend the first five minutes of our chat talking about me.
He wants to check that I enjoy my job, where I’ve worked before and even whether I’m married or like to “mess around with girls”.
This is the reason Ken Dodd is celebrating 60 years at the top of the most cut-throat industry of them all.
He is outward looking. His fascination with people is earnest and his warmth and zest to keep people entertained infectious.
He throws his energy into every encounter. Today is no exception.
He laughs as I finally agree to let him appeal to his audience to find me a suitable woman, before mulling over why newspaper dating adverts so frequently end in the sinister-sounding words “and maybe more”.
“Seventy-eight year-old woman, enjoys knitting, seeks companionship – and maybe more. It’s probably best to stay well clear,” he warns.
Ken is now 86, but has lost none of his sparkle or enthusiasm for touring the country and revisiting the places where it all began.
Bournemouth is one of those. He recounts his memories of performing at the Pavilion for the first time in the 1950s and laments the loss of the Winter Gardens. He is looking forward to being back.
“Bournemouth audiences are always very diverse,” he says.
“During Easter it seems to attract people from all over the country. People from London come down and I always seem to bump into lots of Scots.”
Those attending will be treated to music, one-liners and perhaps even a little ventriloquism. For Ken is a variety act in the purest of senses.
“Young people think that variety is an old-fashioned word,” he adds.
But Ken insists at its best variety can still be gold. Each performance like a “one-man business”.
“A kaleidoscope of people come to watch my shows – young ones, teen sweethearts and of course more mature people too.”
His endurance is all the more admirable given how much comedy has changed since he started. He talks about the censorship comics faced in the ’50s and ’60s and how liberalism has not always had a positive impact on the quality of performances.
“Freedom is a beautiful word,” he philosophises.
“But with freedom comes great responsibility.
“You see stand-ups now come out shouting and swearing at their audience. I would never do that.”
The man who brought the Diddy Men to the fore and charmed the nation with his quick-fire jokes on the Royal Variety doesn’t need smut to keep his fans happy. His style is constant and that is why they love him. There is a side to him though, which when you see his goofy smile and feather dusters, that can be forgotten.
Singing. Serious singing. Ken has had 18 top 40 hits in the UK charts, including Tears – which sold 1.5million copies and remains in the top 20 biggest selling UK singles of all time.
When you listen to the timbre of his voice and sensitivity of his tone as he croons about love you will never forget, you are confronted with a very different Ken.
This is the first time in our conversation that the laughter stops. In misty-eyed tones he describes his father telling jokes and how the family would sing “all day long”.
“I have always loved singing. I was in the church choir and developed a real love for music.
“Comedians always used to finish their sets with a happy-go-lucky song. I finished mine with something different – something more serious, often a ballad.”
He says the crowds at Bournemouth might just hear a little more too – along with the gags and all the other variety.
But how much longer can he tour at such a rate?
“Journalists always ask me when I'm going to retire – and I always give them the same answer.”
There is a flicker of defiance in his voice that lets me know he means business. His answer is predictable, but I’m still pleased he responds, because it’s heart-warming and reassuring to hear.