The Ghost of Sid James

Les and Sid

An extract from Haunted Liverpool 24 by Tom Slemen

Another ghost of a comedian has been seen at the Liverpool Empire, and this is the apparition of one Les Dawson, who passed away in 1993 at the age of 62. In the grand cavalcade of Lancashire comedians we have performers such as Ken Dodd, a postmodernist merry andrew type of clown who has earned the rare distinction of becoming a legend within his own lifetime, but closely behind Ken I would personally place Les Dawson, forever associated with droll deadpan delivery of surreal mother-in-law and wife jokes, the deliberate bad playing of the piano and the Cissie and Ada “over the garden wall” characters. But there was a deeper, hidden side to the Lancashire comic. Like that other TV clown Tony Hancock, Dawson had a longstanding interest in philosophy, metaphysics and the paranormal – and some who knew Les said he was psychic. In 1972, Dawson was living in a large bungalow in Bury when he saw his 4-year-old daughter talking to the hallway wall. The child said she was addressing the Grey Lady, a distinguished kind-faced woman who walked with a limp. Dawson also saw this figure on several occasions, and his wife went to see a psychic who told her there was a presence in the Dawson home – “a lame lady” in 18th century clothes. Then, in December 1980 Dawson came to Liverpool, a town he was very fond of, and he appeared at the Empire in the Babes in the Wood pantomime. While sitting in his dressing room alone he saw a tiny child’s index finger trace the numerals “13” on a mirror. Then came the sound of a little girl singing Ring a Ring o’Roses as she skipped past him. Dawson was naturally unnerved by the ghostly girl (who has haunted the Empire for around a century) and he had a bad feeling about the number 13; he wondered if it meant ‘13 years of life left’ – and it’s probably a coincidence, but Les Dawson died after a medical check-up at a hospital 13 years later – in 1993. That phantom girl still haunts the Liverpool Empire today – of that I am 100 per cent sure. Years after this, Dawson had another supernatural encounter, again in the dressing room of a major theatre during the festive period; this time it was the Sunderland Empire in 1989. Les was appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk with the Liverpudlian comedian Ted Robbins, and Dawson had expressed misgivings about this booking, not only because it wasn’t the easiest venue to play for a non-Geordie, but because of a few ‘premonitions’. Dawson had had eerie feelings about appearing at the Sunderland Empire for a few weeks, but being professional, he accepted the booking. During the run of Jack and the Beanstalk, Dawson was sitting before the dressing room mirror, when he heard a rather familiar staccato laugh to his left. He saw the ghost reflected in the mirror, and felt a stabbing pain in his chest. It was Sid James – who had died (aged 62) from a heart attack whilst performing in a farce at the theatre in 1976 – and he looked “ghastly”. He wore some type of white shroud, and there was an aroma of whisky hanging in the air. The apparition’s face was pale and clammy looking, and the eyes were almost black and lifeless. The ghost shouted something (which I will never put into print) then vanished. Dawson almost died from shock and vowed he’d never work again at the Sunderland Empire – and he never did. Ironically, Dawson’s ghost has been seen many times at the Liverpool Empire and also at several other theatres and clubs where he performed. A former television cameraman told me how he once saw Dawson’s ghost in the Kirkstall Road studios of Yorkshire Television in Leeds, where the late comedian recorded his show Sez Les. The most bizarre, out-of-place location Les has haunted is the Albert Dock, close to the building where Granada TV once had their local offices. Several tourists near the dockside Pumphouse pub saw Dawson in 2003, ten years after the comic had died of a heart attack, and one female tourist, not realising she was speaking to a ghost, requested an autograph, until her husband told her: ‘He can’t be Les Dawson, he died, didn’t he?’ And thinking the ghost was some flesh and blood impostor or tribute act, the couple went to walk away, when the portly figure vanished into thin air. I was besieged with emails and telephone calls at BBC Radio Merseyside regarding this incident, but I was unable to explain the haunting because of the tenuous links Dawson had with the city, and I am still unable to explain the paranormal occurrence to this day. On 1 June 2013, Les Dawson returned to television as an electronic ghost when a show he had recorded shortly before his death was finally broadcast – with Dawson as a hologram. Some regarded the controversial gimmicky show, entitled: Les Dawson: An Audience With That Never Was - as morbid, and many viewers felt unnerved seeing Dawson ‘perform’ on stage twenty years after his death, with one television critic likening the act to a comedian cracking jokes at his own funeral.

Haunted Liverpool 24 (Paperback)

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Copyright Tom Slemen 2014. All rights reserved.