Jonathan Schofield is bemused and amused by new Royal Court Theatre plans
St George’s Hall has been called the finest neo-Greek building in the world. Ex-Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman said he’d die to defend it. The late Ken Dodd said: ‘Do I believe in safe sex? Of course, I do. I have a handrail around the bed.”
The joke is contained in the planning application for an extension to the Royal Court Theatre from architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM). This may be the first planning document in history with jokes.
None but the happy will be allowed in, there will be contentment checks at the door
Even funnier is an idea for what might sit outside the new extension.
The maximum height of this new part of the theatre will be 38.1m (125ft). That’s sensible. The bit that seems as silly as anything Ken Dodd said or did is the inclusion of a massive tickle stick that appears to be at least 30m (100ft) tall sitting in close proximity to the Playhouse but also close to ‘the finest neo-Greek building in the world’.
The Victorian Society isn’t going to be happy especially as the appearance of the Ken Dodd tickle stick resembles a huge toilet brush. Or a kebab rotisserie.
Aside from the you-cannot-be-serious tickle stick the other parts of the application will help modernise the grimly impressive power station-like Royal Court Theatre from 1938 by Henry Summer. This has a splendid art deco interior of course and, trivia warning, it was apparently the place were Richard Burton made his first professional appearance in 1943.
The plan for the extension is to get rid of the existing and undistinguished Courtyard Bar, off Roe Street, to deliver a permanent exhibition space about Sir Ken Dodd who died aged 90 in 2018. There will also be a workshop area to serve the Royal Court Theatre plus a restaurant with 111 covers and a bar area for 150 people.
The main colour palette for the building will echo the red brick of the 1938 building using anodised aluminium. The elevation facing Lime Street will be crowned by a cut-away element resembling a smile. Under plans lodged by Liverpool’s Royal Court and Lady Anne Dodd the title of the extension will be the Sir Ken Dodd Happiness Centre.
That sounds a bit cultish, doesn't it? None but the happy will be allowed in, there will be contentment checks at the door, smiles will be measured and laughter lines assessed. The person with the best joke on the night will win a meal for two, perhaps a version of a McDonalds’ Happy Meal.
The good news about the proposal is the architects are the excellent Stirling Prize-winning AHMM practice which has worked with the Royal Court Theatre since about 2008. Paul Monaghan is one quarter of AHMM and was appointed by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram as the city region’s first design champion in 2018.
Back to the tickling stick. In Lime Street Station a thoroughly alarming Ken Dodd statue threatens visitors to Liverpool with his aggressive comedy accoutrement. Does the city need to flaunt two tickle sticks in close proximity with one 100ft high?
For more detail search for reference number 23F/2966 on Liverpool City Council’s planning portal.
Sir Ken Dodd
Then planning application does include this section. It's good fun.
The legendary Liverpudlian comedian Sir Ken Dodd was a star of stage and screen for more than 70 years. Famed for his tickling sticks, wild hair and buck teeth, he was an entertainer in the music hall tradition, with some of his live shows going on for hours after their supposed finishing time. A master of the one-liner, he was also a successful singer. Dodd worked his beloved Knotty Ash into his routines, telling stories about the Diddymen and the jam-butty mines. Ken became Sir Ken when he was made a Knight in the 2017 New Year’s Honours list. He passed away aged 90 on March 11 2018, just two days after he married his beloved Anne.
Here are some of the comedian’s best jokes.
“My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’”
“I love my girlfriend, my girlfriend loves me. She loves my hair, she loves my eyes, she loves my teeth. She loves my teeth because I’m the only person that can peel an orange through a tennis racket.”
“I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law for 18 months. I don’t like to interrupt her.”
“The man who invented cats’ eyes got the idea when he saw the eyes of a cat in his headlights. If the cat had been going the other way, he would have invented the pencil sharpener.”
On his marathon live shows: “You think you can get away, but you can’t. I’ll follow you home and I’ll shout jokes through your letterbox.”
“Do I believe in safe sex? Of course I do. I have a handrail around the bed.”
“I’m a sex symbol - I am a sex symbol for women who don’t care.”
“I did 25 minutes running on the spot this morning - I had my braces caught in the banister.”
At the Royal Variety Performance: “This audience tonight represents the creme de la creme. That’s French for evaporated milk.”
On approaching his 80th birthday: “Age doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”
“I wanted to take the dog to obedience class but it wouldn’t go.”
“Did you hear about the shrimp that went to the prawn’s cocktail party? He pulled a mussel.”
“So it turns out that if you bang two halves of a horse together, it doesn’t make the sound of a coconut.”
“I used to think I was marvellous in bed until I discovered that all my girl friends suffered from asthma.”