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Ken Dodd

© David Cobley / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Ken Dodd

by David Cobley
oil on canvas, 2004
30 in. x 36 in. (762 mm x 914 mm)
Purchased, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6702

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The portrait was worked up from preparatory drawings and oil sketches made on the basis of several meetings with the subject. Cobley, who describes his picture as 'an affectionate tribute', shows Dodd backstage. Though out of costume and make up, he suggests the experience of viewing him on stage, through the performative gesture reflected in the mirror both in front and behind him. Cobley emphasises Dodd's features; known for his gigantic smile and trademark teeth, he was once described as capable of conveying 'every expression available to the human face'. The portrait however reveals the vulnerability of the weary-looking comic. The complex relationship between on and off stage persona is also suggested by the pink tickling stick in the bottom right corner of the painting and the flash of hot pink shirt visible in the mirror though not actually seen in the dressing room. The portrait was shortlisted for the 2004 Holburne Portrait Prize.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Nairne, Sandy; Howgate, Sarah, The Portrait Now, 2006, p. 121 Read entry

    Cobley's portrait captures the underlying eccentricity of comedian and entertainer, Ken Dodd. Known for his manic hairstyle and protruding teeth, Dodd developed a loyal following over the years with his off-beat comic routine. A self-professed fan of Dodd, Cobley describes Dodd's performance, 'Between the frenetic madness of tickling sticks, big bass drums and up to six jokes a minute, he sings a beautifully poignant lullaby to his wooden doll Dickie Mint.' The portrait is unusually composed, with Dodd's splayed hand as the focal point. The retreating succession of mirrored images creates a slightly unreal environment, with a strong emphasis on being off-stage.

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Current affairs

Armed robbers raid the Northern Bank in Belfast, stealing £26.5 million. Gunmen entered the homes of two bank officials, kidnapping their families and forcing them to let them into the bank, before loading cash into vans and driving away. Police and the British and Irish governments claimed that the Provisional IRA was responsible and several of the people arrested had PIRA, Real IRA and Sinn Féin connections.

Art and science

A fire at Charles Saatchi's art warehouse destroys some of the icons of Brit Art. Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With and The Hut by Tracey Emin and works by Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili, Sarah Lucas, Gavin Hume and Rachel Whiteread were among the casualties.


An earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day causes a tsunami that kills nearly 230,000 people when it hit the coasts of Southeast Asia. The earthquake itself was the second most powerful ever recorded on a seismograph and waves from the tsunami - the most devastating in history - were up to 30 metres high.

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