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Classic TV Revisited: Sez Les

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Sez Lez, which ran from 1969 to 1974, showcased the many talents of Les Dawson.

Les Dawson?
Deadpan, pessimistic stand-up who did mother-in-law jokes. Could also contort his face to look like a toothless charwoman and played piano very badly.

Couldn’t play?
He was actually an accomplished jazz pianist.

Dawson’s dawning?
He was discovered on talent show Opportunity Knocks after an impoverished childhood and an angst ridden few years finding himself.

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How come?
Born into a poor family in Collyhurst, Manchester, he had a spell in the Army but harboured ambitions of writing and spent time in Paris — playing the piano in a brothel.

Turning point?
He got a job as an entertainer in Hull. Dying on stage, he resorted to a deadpan act.

Dawson’s humour?
With his face a study in melancholy, he’d unleash a language of caressing, mostly self-mocking narration.

Mother-in-law jokes?
“The wife’s mother said, ‘When you’re dead I’ll dance on your grave.’ I said, ‘Good, I’m being buried at sea.’”

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Sense some issues with his mother-in-law?
The old dear must certainly have been thick-skinned because they are said to have got on. “Never stop telling jokes about me,” she’s reported to have commented. Les, not standing behind her with a gun, added: “It’s all done with affection. Let’s face it, they have the ultimate power.”

More jokes?
“My wife is a sex object — every time I ask for sex she objects.”

“Marriage is an institution and that’s where a couple finish up.”

So what did Les Sez?
He unleashed characters such as seedy pervert Cosmo Smallpiece who would blurt, “Knickers, knackers, knockers.”

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Charming!
He’s better remembered for the gossiping housewives Cissie and Ada, whom he performed with Roy Barraclough (Alec Gilroy in Corrie).

Pair of stunners?
Hardly. Dawson contorted his face, which he said was “like a sack of spanners”, and shoved at his bust while tittle-tattling.

Fate of Sez Les?
Over seven years, Les starred in more than 70 editions. John Cleese also did a stint.

But?
Having established himself as one of the country’s biggest comics, and not just in his girth, Les went on to other things.

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Such as?
Snaffled up by the BBC, he had The Les Dawson Show and replaced Terry Wogan as the host of Blankety Blank. With his career going full circle, he also hosted Opportunity Knocks on ITV.

Les’s fate?
He died on June 10, 1993, aged 60, while filming a cameo for ITV drama Demobbed.

Acting?
Les long harboured ambitions to be taken seriously and in the last years of his life succeeded with an acclaimed performance as a 100-year-old woman in heavyweight BBC2 drama, Nona.

Do say:
“Knickers, knackers, knockers”, “the mother-in-law”, “Trees scraping like fingers of harlots across the sky.”

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Don’t say?
“Have you heard of the Atkins diet, Mr Dawson?” “As the founder of the Mother-in-law Appreciation society, I object to your puerile stabs at humour.”

Not to be confused with?
Des res, Les Battersby, Les Dennis, Dawson’s Creek and darts player Jocky Wilson.


Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.

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