English comedian, born in Manchester. After a long apprenticeship in working men's clubs and similar venues, he gained popularity on television, first in his own long-running series Sez Les and especially as host of the quiz show Blankety Blank. In mining a vein of determinedly glum humour, full of derogatory references to wives and mothers-in-law, Dawson was a natural successor to bygone exponents of northern working-class comedy. However, his best routines possessed qualities of verbal elaboration and near-surreal fantasy.
Career Dawson gradually gained stardom on the variety theatre circuit and progressed to television, after winning Opportunity Knocks in 1967. Although regarded by some as being a purveyor of cheap mother-in-law jokes, carrying misogynistic appeal, Dawson was most at home with his mock-Victorian word-spinning. He invested much thought, preparation, and scholarship in his best monologues. Besides his series, he appeared in TV plays and was also the author of 12 books. These include an autobiography, One Clown Too Many (1986), as well as several novels.
Early life Dawson had early literary ambitions but left school at 14 to work at various jobs, including selling vacuum cleaners, washing dishes, and playing the piano in the bar of a Parisian bordello. Later, back in England, he would throw in an occasional joke during his appearances as a pianist and singer in northern pubs and clubs. This met with little success until one evening in Hull, when he got drunk, forgot his scripted material, and improvised a stream of repartee at the expense of himself, his audience and life in general; this proved so popular that it set him on a new tack.