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on 6 May 2015
A well written insight into the life of one of my favourite comics. How any of the comedians of his era kept going, with the treatment they got in the northern clubs and digs beats me. The modern variety wouldn't last long. I observed it first hand in the 70's, when I drove a coachload of footballers from Staines to Osset for a match. The evening we arrived saw us going to Batley Variety Club. I watched in awe as, halfway through Colin Cromptons' act, the bingo started. Apparently it was nothing unusual. Les Dawson fought his way through that era, with its dirt, smog and poverty, and became a top flight entertainer. You have to read bits of it twice, to fully understand what he went through. A very good read, and a lesson in perseverance.
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on 25 January 2015
Mr Barfes indepth insight into les Dawson and his life gives added ingredients to how he got into the business. Dawson was born in the wrong era to accept his humour. He was more than a presenter of blankety blank and needs more coverage so his humour is not lost.
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on 7 February 2013
As is often written I really couldn't put this book down. The author provides a vehicle for the voices of les' contemporaries rather than imposing his own views and allows a fascinating picture of the comedian to emerge. As a northerner myself I understand the pressures and mores that shaped les and admire the work and perseverance it took to achieve what he did as well as recognizing the wealth of material, working class Manchester provided him with, coming as I did some 10 miles from there. Though a secondary picture the view of the north is accurately drawn and awoke long forgotten memories. I also appreciated that the author realized that " warts n all " are part of the formation of a great comedian.
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on 27 April 2017
Superb if you want everything in great detail.
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on 9 April 2017
The first half of the book was interesting, but the second half was just listings of shows that he did and who was in them - just reference stuff really, so I feel a bit cheated really
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on 9 March 2014
Excellent book which reveals a lot about one of my favourite comedians, I guess you wont be disappointed by this book
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on 7 February 2012
An excellent read about a genuine warm man of the people. Louis Barfe has conducted extensive interviews with Dawson's collaborators to produce an excellent account of his ascent to the top of show business that combines pathos with humour and takes us back to the lost world of TV variety and clubland.

There are also detailed accounts of Dawson's little known serious fiction which serve as a constant reminder that Dawson was a highly intelligent man deeply in love with painting pictures with words.

Whether he is as well remembered as the book makes out I'm not sure. If you say the words "Les Dawson" to anyone over 40 and I would imagine their first reaction is to smile - which is as much a legacy as any comedian may wish for. But his tragically early death (relatively speaking) means that for anyone under 30, he is probably someone their parents watched than anything else.

I would heartily recommend this book though as a reminder of how genuinely funny Les Dawson was and to confirm that he was as down to earth off screen as he appeared on it - Cheers Les!
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on 19 May 2016
One of the most uninspiring stories leave ever tried to drag myself through
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 February 2012
Louis Barfe's in depth well-researched biography of Les Dawson is a tribute to its subject as well as its author. Humble upbringing in Collyhurst, Manchester, taking jobs wherever they came, national service, learning piano and trying singing, life deposited him in civvy street. His early round of the venues saw him as a frustrated filler in of comedy.

Aged 25, he pondered on his future. Johnny Ball worked on the same circuit and describes Les as being 'one of the lads' on stage and off, as funny in the bar as not (apparently if he was not buying). The big break was 'Opportunity Knocks' in 1967 (aged 36 and a veteran of the clubs). A huge hit, within 2 years 'Sez Les' was peaktime television. Loved by the public and fellow artists (John Cleese loved him, Bernard Manning did not,says a lot). Les Dawson played his infamous mother-in-law jokes, facial contortions as Ada but was much more (Mr Guerner, boxing jaw-broken dramatic). Barfe's biographical portrayal of Les Dawson is unusual in that there is not any bone of contention that he was anything other than 'a nice bloke'. No contoversy. No Sunday paper exploits. He had none of the obvious life-slides (up and down) affecting Milligan, Cooper, Hancock, Cleese etc (all brilliant), although a heavy smoker and a user of whisky (doing 'Blankety Blank', what else, 'I'm not going out there to face that lot without').

His loyalty to his wife Meg and family are described in the context of his career. Also his second marriage to Tracy Roper are set in his short life (died aged 62). The meat and bones of Les Dawson are here. His talent is undeniable and it is a privilege to have been there and reap his legacy. A fitting reminder of the man and his life. His droll persona is reminiscent of Ken Platt (for olders), but not copied and far more recently we see his dryness in interpretation with Jack Dee. A worthy read about a man who kept scripts (Tommy Cooper did the same). Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 26 December 2012
Anyone familiar with Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, or Larry Parks's portrayal of Al Jolson in The Jolson Story, will find this biography of Les Dawson a refreshing change. This portrayal of a man whose personality on the stage was a reflection of his life off it was marred only by his lack of appreciation of what was important in life. For Dawson money talked but only to say goodbye as he made up for his childhood years of deprivation in Manchester. Whereas another Manchester comedian, Bernard Manning, would boast about his achievements but couldn't wait to get back to his home turf, Dawson enjoyed the experience of traveling and working. Unlike Manning he was never motivated by a desire to look after number one. He was generous with his time and saw the comedian as part of a team who all benefited if the show was a success. And success it was, thanks largely to Dawson's representation of 'the phlegmatic, resigned, sarcastic, glorious British attitude to life' and his personal philosophy 'Be kind'.

Dawson's imagination enabled him to tell stories which were plausible without necessarily being accurate. As a child he learned he had a talent for writing and an ability to make his contemporaries laugh. He found humour in the comedy of Norman Evans, Frank Randle and Jimmy James who unwittingly provided material for his own work. For my generation it's impossible to see Dawson and Roy Barraclough as Ada Shufflebotham and Cissie Braithwaite without remembering Evans's 'Over The Garden Wall' which inspired it. Dawson's gurning became part of Ada's physical appearance and his portrayal of Cosmo Smallpiece whose serious approach to car engines collapsed when he started talking about its 'big end'. Dawson discovered his musical talent by accident. While in the army he picked out tunes by ear and became sufficiently proficient to entertain his associates and as a way of visiting Manchester pubs. The BBC were not impressed. Dawson agreed with them until one night in Hull, when filled with drink, he started telling depreciating jokes about himself and Hull receiving raucous laughter by way of reward. The singer had become a comedian.

Dawson combined his semi-pro work in clubs with regular work as a salesman for over a decade but was on the verge of giving up when his wife suggested he try his luck on Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks. He passed the audition and in the contest itself won the audience over with jokes such as 'I toyed with the idea of playing Ravel's Pavane Pour Un Defunct but I can't remember if it is a tune or a Latin prescription for piles'. He won but continued as a semi-pro in case nothing further came his way. He need not have worried. He appeared in theatre and on television and radio making useful contacts and converting people who didn't like Northern comics into fans. His routine included traditional mother-in-law and 'the wife' brand of humour combined with off-key piano playing. Like many entertainers he had a long apprenticeship to become an overnight success. His driving ambition meant he neglected his wife and children to the extent that he feared his wife was having an affair. In fact, he was being set-up for an appearance on This Is Your Life.

Dawson was a scriptwriters dream, lacking delusions of grandeur and sticking to the scripts presented to him, respecting the effort that went into the writing. The writers included Alan Plater, David Nobbs, Galton and Simpson, Andy Hamilton and Barry Cryer, and provided him with a combination of florid monologues and double entendres which had been the mainstay of the British Music Hall tradition. Dawson also wrote his first novel, A Card For the Clubs', which drew its inspiration from his clubland experience. It was not a biography but a fictional composite of various characters he had met over the years. His references to the temptations presented by touring with talented women may well have been based on fact, although his habit of mixing fact with fiction makes the reality uncertain. The certainty came from his addiction to nicotine and fondness for alcohol both of which contributed to his death at the early age of 62.

Dawson's weaknesses was his tendency to take the easy way out. It was not cowardice but a hatred of confrontation. With the possible exception of Bernard Manning, Dawson never made enemies. Being less temperamental than many entertainers he was perhaps more easily swayed into believing everything was for the best. It was not in his nature to force his views on people. Whatever escapades Dawson got up to he remained loyal to his wife Meg whose loyalty and firmness underpinned his work. When she died his agent at the time said, 'There wouldn't be a Les Dawson as we know him today if it hadn't been for her'. Although he said he would never re-marry, the woman who would become his second wife moved into his home four months after Meg's death in 1986 (not the eighteen months Dawson wanted people to believe). Tracy Roper was, in fact, still married to her first husband and it was three years before she and Dawson married. Although Dawson was worried his fans might look askance at the seventeen year age gap his popularity never waned and in 1992 he became the proud father of Charlotte. He was determined not to make the same mistake he had with Meg's children by being an absent parent but within nine months he was dead.

Whether the book needed to go into as much detail about Dawson's writings is moot but they could hardly be discussed in a separate volume. Indeed, it can be argued that they are essential to an understanding of the man himself. There was no side to Les Dawson. What you saw was what you got and what we got were barrels of laughter and, hopefully, a new roof from the Council. Five Stars.
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