KEN Dodd is in a joyous mood for our interview.

“The sun is shining in Knotty Ash and the black pudding bushes are in bloom," he said over the telephone, from the kitchen of his Georgian farmhouse.

He was watching his beloved poodle snoozing away in his basket.

“I'm coming to Blackpool for one date — it’s like the hors d'oeuvres — then I'm back in October for the lights,” he said.

“I love Blackpool — I can remember when the Golden Mile was the Golden Mile. When I started in my very first summer season in 1954 on Central Pier there were 23 shows from Fleetwood to Lytham. In those days we competed not for who got the most money but for who had the best singers, the funniest comedian, the biggest fountain.”

Doddy is a celebrating his 55th anniversary as an entertainer, having made his professional debut at the Empire Theatre, Nottingham, in September 1954.

He is a crusader on behalf of live theatre and his famous Happiness Show takes him on a virtual non-stop tour of the UK — clocking up over 100,000 miles annually.

"I am a live theatre performer. That's what I do and what I love," he said. "I'm completely and utterly stagestruck."

Doddy is as famous for the length of his shows as he is his tickling sticks and protruding teeth (the result of a childhood cycling accident). His show's generally go on for at least four hours, with the audience finally being released after midnight.

But he is, he claims, planning to take things a little easier.

"We're going to start putting a curfew on it," he said. "I'm slowing down, but just a teeny bit. I don't do long shows, I just give good value for money. It's just that I want to please people. I love to see people laughing and once we've got the party swinging I get very fond of my audience. I don't like to say goodbye to them."

Doddy has lived in Merseyside his whole life. In fact, he still lives in the house he was born in, where he was raised the son of a coal merchant.

"There are things in this house that have been here for years and years," he said. " If you open a drawer you never know what you're doing to find. You lift the lid to the freezer and some little old man who's been there since Christmas pops out.

"In the attic I've got two gold discs for Tears, a platinum disc for the LP and two or three silver discs for Happiness. And I try to keep as many posters and box office cards as I can. I've got souvenirs from when I first played the Palladium in 1965 and the first time I played the Opera House. I've got a house full of memories."

Doddy's love of showbiz began when he saw an advert for a ventriloquist’s doll in a magazine. His parents bought it for him and he christened it "Charlie Brown".

He worked on a semi-professional basis for many years to supplement his earnings as a salesman "on the knocker" in Liverpool.

"I had a mobile hardware shop, selling soap powders and that sort of thing, and that's how I learned to talk to an audience, knocking on doors saying 'Good morning madam, could I interest you in a bucket?'"

At 81, Doddy shows no signs of wanting to retire. He is the last great showman and it's clear he will continue for as long as possible.

"A live show is the best kind of showbiz experience you can have because you don't just watch the show, you're in it," he said.

"I have never done the same show twice because no two audiences are the same — they're like fingerprints. While I can still do it, I will do it."

l See Ken Dodd at Manchester Palace Theatre on Saturday, June 13 (box office: 0844 847 2328), and at Blackpool Grand Theatre on Sunday, June 14 (box office: 01253 290190).