How Ken Dodd was found not guilty of cheating the taxman after hiring top lawyer

When Dodd, late as ever, took to the stage of the Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno on June 7, 1988, the 1,100-strong audience were even more pleased than usual to see him

When Dodd, late as ever, took to the stage of the Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno on June 7, 1988, the 1,100-strong audience were even more pleased than usual to see him

When Dodd, late as ever, took to the stage of the Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno on June 7, 1988, the 1,100-strong audience were even more pleased than usual to see him

During the making of a TV documentary in 2007 about his life and career, Ken Dodd made a telling remark. 

‘There are only two things you need to know about me,’ he told his interviewer. ‘I’m afraid of women, and I’m obsessed with money.’

The first statement may or may not have been true – certainly the comedian’s two long-term relationships involved strong partners. 

But about the second there can be no doubt: Dodd’s bizarre relationship with money – his single-mindedness in acquiring it and his reluctance to spend it – spanned his entire life.

For those who knew him well, the clues had always been there. The comedy writer David Nobbs recalled how, one night after a radio recording in Central London, Dodd turned up at a pub nearby just as last orders were being taken and announced that he was getting a round in.

He returned from the bar with a pale ale for himself and nothing for anyone else, telling his thirsty colleagues that the barman was closing up and had let him have one only because he’d arrived after the rest of the party.

The same attitude extended to his clothes shopping, according to actor and writer Dave Dutton, who penned scripts for Dodd for a decade. 

He tells how, when he was working with the comedian during the 1970s, Dodd had admired one of his shirts, which he had bought for a bargain price.

‘Because my mother worked at a cotton mill she could get shirts with no labels on them cheap,’ remembers Dutton. 

‘I think they were about five shillings. Doddy saw one on me and he said, ‘That’s a nice shirt. Where did you get it from?’

‘I told him I got it for five shillings from the mill. So he had a word with her and gave my mother 30 bob. Next time he came she gave him half a dozen shirts with the labels out. And this is a multi-millionaire who could have had the best bloody tailored shirts anywhere.’

Dodd, after all, was one of the most astoundingly successful comic turns ever seen on the British stage. With his wild hair, protruding front teeth and manic energy, he was not merely a regular presence on television but a genius who could fill any theatre in the land with paying customers, often for marathon five-hour shows.

By the time he died last year at the age of 90, Sir Ken Dodd OBE was a part of national life and had been so for decades, yet his tight-fisted view of money was almost as famous as the trademark ‘tickling stick’ he carried as a prop.

Dodd had been cleared. Rarely lost for words, he could only whisper 'thank you', while Anne, unable to contain her emotion, had fainted. The couple left the court to the wild applause of several hundred people

Dodd had been cleared. Rarely lost for words, he could only whisper 'thank you', while Anne, unable to contain her emotion, had fainted. The couple left the court to the wild applause of several hundred people

Dodd had been cleared. Rarely lost for words, he could only whisper ‘thank you’, while Anne, unable to contain her emotion, had fainted. The couple left the court to the wild applause of several hundred people

In 1983, more than 20 years after recording a chat show with his fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles, Dodd astonished TV contacts by phoning to demand payment when a clip from the interview was used in a programme about the Fab Four.

‘I made a documentary called The Early Beatles,’ says Johnnie Hamp, who had made the original recording and was by then Granada TV’s head of entertainment. ‘I included a clip of that interview, and got a phone call from Doddy. ‘I’m in this film,’ he said. ‘I’m due for some spondulicks. I want some cash.’

‘I’d asked George, Paul and Ringo and they didn’t want any payment. I didn’t think about Doddy.

‘I said, ‘Yeah, OK. I’ll sort it out for you.’ I rang him back and said, ‘I’ve looked up your old contract. You got 12 quid. So repeat fee, you’re due for six quid.’ I sent £100, actually. So sharp, though.’

Stories such as this are common among Dodd’s friends and acquaintances. But only in the summer of 1989 would the whole world find out exactly how great the comedian’s self-confessed obsession with money was – and the immense risks to his career and even his liberty he had been prepared to take in order to hang on to it.

When Dodd, late as ever, took to the stage of the Arcadia Theatre in Llandudno on June 7, 1988, the 1,100-strong audience were even more pleased than usual to see him. 

There had been questions as to whether the show would go on at all that night, with his legendary tardiness only fuelling further speculation.

The doubts had been prompted by the headlines in that morning’s papers. ‘Ken Dodd on tax fraud charge,’ read one. ‘Diddymen comic accused.’ 

It reported that the following morning the Inland Revenue were to put 18 charges of tax evasion before Liverpool magistrates’ court. Relating to three of Dodd’s companies, they dated back to 1973 and involved ‘more than £900,000’.

In Llandudno that night, Dodd broke from his usual barrage of gags to open up in front of loyal punters. ‘Hand on my heart, I haven’t done anything wrong,’ he is said to have told them. 

‘I haven’t hurt anybody. I haven’t burgled anybody. I haven’t stolen anything. The full story will come out.’

The case was adjourned, but when it resumed the Inland Revenue had added a further nine charges. David Hartnett, the inspector who was heading the investigation, said it was ‘much more serious’ than originally thought. 

Dodd’s trial was due to begin on June 5, 1989. The night before, along with Liverpool entertainers Cilla Black, Jimmy Tarbuck and Freddie Starr, he appeared on stage in support of the families affected by the Hillsborough tragedy two months previously. 

The following morning, however, he failed to appear for his trial, having been diagnosed with a cardiac arrhythmia. 

The court was told that ‘his life would be in danger if he were to become too excited’ – a statement seemingly belied by Dodd’s frenetic on-stage manner over the previous 35 years, not to mention his activities the evening before.

When proceedings finally began on June 9, the comedian arrived in good form, joking with reporters about being unable to get a seat.

Brian Leveson QC, who was later to conduct the phone-hacking inquiry of 2011-12, laid out the case against him: seven charges of being a common-law cheat and four of false accounting.

According to Leveson, investigators had found one account in Jersey and six accounts on the Isle of Man into which Dodd had deposited £406,000, a sum that had grown to £777,453 with interest, which he had failed to mention either to his accountants or to the Inland Revenue. 

It was suggested that Dodd had taken the cash to the Isle of Man himself, travelling by air.

Leveson went on to describe occasions on which Dodd would be paid two fees after an appearance. One would be settled with a cheque and put through the books. The other would be in cash and not declared.

Leveson went on to allege that Dodd had continued this sharp practice even throughout the period when he was being investigated.

It was a devastating case and Dodd, knowing how much was at stake, had decided not to make false economies when it came to choosing his defence barrister.

Only the best would do, and in the early months of 1989, George Carman QC, a grand inquisitor with a knack for a memorable and funny line and a fearsome reputation for coming up trumps when the odds seemed stacked against him, secured the job. 

From the moment he got to his feet for Dodd, Carman delivered fully on his reputation. 

It soon became clear that a significant part of his strategy was to cast doubt on the abilities and professionalism of Dodd’s former accountant Reginald Hunter, as well as on the advice given to the entertainer by the London-based accountancy firm Grant Thornton, which had carried out an audit of his finances.

Had Grant Thornton thought to warn Dodd, as a non-expert, about the danger of a criminal prosecution if he failed to declare all his assets? asked Carman. Paul Marshall, one of the firm’s tax managers, said he could not remember doing so. 

Carman pressed further, asking Marshall if he’d ‘accept that it was your duty to give him such advice’? Marshall said he’d ‘warned Dodd how vital it was’ but couldn’t ‘remember using the words criminal prosecution’.

The QC went on to ask Marshall whether he now accepted that such specific advice ‘is a prudent thing to do when you have a client who is a layman’. Marshall said yes.

Carman also expressed bafflement that the Inland Revenue had not interviewed Hunter as part of their investigation. It was, he asserted, ‘to put on Hamlet without the Prince’. His three-pronged attack would prove masterful.

Later in the trial, Dodd himself indicated that there had been a significant breakdown in relations between him and Grant Thornton and the Inland Revenue. The accountants ‘were not friendly’, he told the court. 

‘They certainly were not very patient. They were quite brusque. I think they thought they were rather superior.’

Gordon Hope, the head of the firm’s team, he described as ‘very aloof’, while another member, Anthony Brown, was ‘very haw, haw, haw’. The Inland Revenue inspectors, meanwhile, he accused of using ‘Gestapo’ tactics.

Dodd’s strong reaction to both is, perhaps, an indication of his lifelong need for control of any given situation. For the first time in his life he had not been able to charm or joke his way out of trouble.

‘Ken was very frightened to spend money outside Liverpool,’ says his friend David McKellar. ‘He didn’t trust anyone outside Liverpool with money.’

This decidedly quirky attitude possibly helps explain why Dodd persisted with the locally based Hunter for so long, despite it being obvious that the accountant was, at best, out of his depth.

As the trial progressed, details emerged, many of them volunteered by Dodd himself, about his strange relationship with money. 

The tax inspectors told the court that the comedian had admitted to keeping more than £330,000 in cash in the attic of his beloved home at Thomas Lane, Knotty Ash, a suburb of Liverpool.

There was also money stowed away in the house next door, which he owned, and at another property belonging to the brother of his former fiancee Anita Boutin. 

The reason given for this hoarding was that Dodd thought ‘the whole economy was going wrong’. ‘I thought we were going to have civil war in this country,’ he told the court.

Later he admitted during questioning that, apart from fearing the collapse of the banking system, keeping large amounts of cash close at hand made him feel like a star, with a ‘feeling of security and accomplishment’.

Dodd’s friend David Hamilton suspects this was a sincere summary of the comedian’s attitude.

Bike smash at ten created his ‘wonky’ teeth

By the age of ten, Ken Dodd already had one of the great comic props for which he’d become renowned – his wonky teeth.

‘I wanted to try and ride my bike with my eyes shut, and you can,’ he said during a radio interview. 

‘For about six yards. Then boom, the kerb, over the handlebars.’ 

And so the most famous set of teeth in showbusiness came into being. 

‘I could have had them straightened,’ he once said, adding that his agent had nearly had a heart attack at the prospect. 

It was, however, the teasing about his teeth at school that sent Dodd as a schoolboy to one of Liverpool’s renowned institutions, the Picton Reading Room, to seek solace in the works of such humorists as P. G. Wodehouse and James Thurber.

‘I made a study of their various techniques, trying to evolve a visual and oral style suited to my unorthodox appearance,’ he said. 

In Dodd’s later years his real wayward teeth – which the BBC reported in 1998 were insured for £4 million – were replaced with a far less unruly false set.

But it is a tribute to the skill of his dentists and to the enduring memory of the originals that the difference was barely noticeable.

‘I think there was a thing among those old pros, that they all had the same thing, that terrible insecurity, they’d seen it happen to other people before them,’ he said. 

‘They could go out of fashion. And particularly with the comedians, they might wake up one day and just not be funny any more. I think what Ken did, he stuffed all the money under the bed and that was his security.’

This revelation stands in marked contrast to what Dodd told Professor Anthony Clare when he was the subject of In The Psychiatrist’s Chair on BBC Radio 4. Dodd admitted cheerfully to being ‘a hoarder of anything, magazines, newspapers’, but when Clare asked if he was also a ‘hoarder of money’, Dodd replied in the negative. 

He went on to describe himself as ‘a businessman’ and noted that ‘a lot of entertainers, particularly light entertainment people, are absolutely abysmal when it comes to handling money. They’re absolutely dreadful and that’s why they’re always in trouble,’ he continued. 

‘They’re always bankrupt or they let other people look after their money, and I won’t do this.’

The interview with Clare was transmitted in August 1987, nearly three years into the Inland Revenue’s investigation into Dodd’s finances and two years before the court case. 

Presenting himself publicly as shrewd and in control of his money was, however, very much at odds with the image of vulnerability on which his defence now depended.

Throughout his career, Dodd had done his best to give away as little information about his private life as possible. However, in his eagerness to prove his innocence, he felt it necessary to reveal some very personal details.

Carman, having forced Grant Thornton’s accountants to admit that they should have tried harder to impress on Dodd the significance of a set of documents they had asked him to sign, claimed that Dodd had signed them at a time of great fatigue and anguish, related to his and his second fiancee Anne Jones’s attempts to have a child.

The day before Dodd was due to sign the declarations, on October 3, 1986, he was in Hunstanton in Norfolk with Anne, where he was performing two shows at the Princess Theatre. At the time, Anne was receiving a fertility treatment that required sexual intercourse to occur within 30 hours.

Without going into details, he admitted that there were problems in achieving this, and said that he had driven Anne back overnight to Liverpool. 

Normally, the driving would have been shared, but this was impossible ‘on medical advice’ and so he arrived home ‘shattered’ and signed the documents in this fragile state.

When Anne herself was called to give evidence, she corroborated Dodd’s stories of their attempts to conceive a child, going on to paint a picture of a man who lived in a state of permanent chaos.

On moving in with Dodd at Thomas Lane, following the death of Anita in 1977, she found that the wiring was so old and dilapidated that lights routinely went off with a bang as soon as they were switched on, while most of the rooms were stuffed with old props brought home by the ‘vanload’ and offloaded at the end of a season. As soon as a room was full, it would be shut and locked.

She explained she had noticed how confused Dodd got with accounting and that she had begun to help him keep track of everything, despite admitting that she had failed O-level maths. 

On the same day as Anne gave evidence, several of Dodd’s showbusiness associates were called as character witnesses, including comedians Roy Hudd and Eric Sykes, TV producer John Fisher and general secretary of the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, Reg Swinson.

Hudd said he had always felt a special affection for Dodd, as it was through him that he had been given one of his earliest bookings. 

Sykes, meanwhile, spoke of the ‘great debt’ the nation owed to someone who brought so much pleasure, adding that he’d seen audience members leaving to catch last buses backing up the aisles gingerly so they missed as little of his shows as possible.

The jury retired at 11.30am on Thursday, July 20. A tense 24 hours later, they began delivering their verdicts on the eight charges. On the four charges of false accounting and one of the charges of cheating the Inland Revenue, the answers were unanimously not guilty. On the remaining three charges, majority verdicts of not guilty came forth.

Dodd had been cleared. Rarely lost for words, he could only whisper ‘thank you’, while Anne, unable to contain her emotion, had fainted. The couple left the court to the wild applause of several hundred people.

Thirty years on it is fair to ask, did Dodd get away with the crime of the century? 

Comic who had to be in complete control

When once asked what part of his job he enjoyed most, Dodd replied: ‘The control it gives me over people.’

‘Control. That’s the thing with Doddy,’ says his friend Dave Dutton. ‘He manipulated people. He manipulated the audience. He manipulated the writers.

‘He controlled the audience on stage, and I think he continued it off stage because he studied psychology in his spare time.

‘And that enabled him to inflict his personality on people.’

The importance of control to Dodd sheds light on many of his relationships – not least those with women.

He was engaged to Anita Boutin for 22 years until her death in 1977 without ever marrying her, and his engagement to Anne Jones lasted four decades until he finally married her two days before he died. 

Dodd needed the security of those loving relationships, just as he felt he needed the security of the BBC in an insecure business – but at the same time, he seemingly felt the need to regard himself as free from commitments from either on paper.

In 1987 he told Professor Anthony Clare that he had never married because he’d been too busy, just as he claimed his trademark of sticking his hair up on end had been a by-product of being too busy to get his hair cut.

Clare found these claims ‘somewhat unconvincing to say the least’, suggesting to the comedian that he always seemed to find the time for things he really wanted to do.

Clare concluded that his ‘desire to retain control of his life and circumstances proved too strong’.

There is a strong possibility that without the services of George Carman this story could have had a very different ending, with the great entertainer living out his final years in disgrace.

‘One element that undoubtedly worked in Dodd’s favour was being tried on his home turf,’ wrote the journalist John Sweeney at the time, quoting the comedian’s friend David Hamilton as saying: ‘Liverpudlians adored Ken Dodd and were probably not too fond of the Inland Revenue.’

In a 2012 Radio 3 interview, Dodd said of Merseyside audiences: ‘They love jokes about the come-uppance of people in control, when it happens to them – the downfall of dignity, the downfall of authority.’

On Saturday, March 10, 2018, it was announced that all Dodd’s forthcoming shows up to June had been cancelled. The official line was that he needed time to convalesce from a serious chest infection.

But in reality the end was near. The day before, on March 9, a registrar had visited Thomas Lane where Dodd and Anne, who had been together for 40 years, were married in the presence of close friends and the local vicar.

On Sunday, March 11, Dodd died peacefully, aged 90, in the home he’d lived in since childhood.

As a result of his marriage and the rules which state that no inheritance tax is payable by a spouse, not one penny of his vast fortune, revealed in February this year to be £27.7million, would go to his old foe, the Inland Revenue. Ever the showman, he had had the last laugh.

© Louis Barfe, 2019

Happiness And Tears: The Ken Dodd Story, by Louis Barfe, is published by Apollo on Thursday, priced £20. Offer price £16 (20 per cent discount) until December 10, 2019. To order call 01603 648155 or go to


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