ColumnLes Dennis: Shanks inspired me and Kenny let me drink out of the FA Cup!

By Les Dennis


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Actor and entertainer Les Dennis is a lifelong Liverpool FC fan, and in this guest column he explains his love for the club and why he owes his stellar career to a stirring encounter with a Reds legend…

It’s been an emotional time at Liverpool, hasn’t it? I watched Jürgen’s last game on telly and the performance by the team was great but afterwards it was just incredible. The fans did him proud and the singing was typical of the Kop. He didn’t want to leave the pitch at the end! I’d like to think that even Evertonians loved his passion, secretly. Personally I’ve always wanted both teams to do well because it’s good for the city.

I’ve not been to Anfield recently because I’m away touring a lot on Saturdays and Sundays but I’ve got a lovely friend, [film producer] Colin McKeown, who invites me whenever I can go. There’s him and [actor] Ricky Tomlinson and [scriptwriter] Jimmy McGovern and it’s lovely to be with those guys and enjoy the game… although Jimmy never believes we’re going to win, he always says he’s got a bad feeling!

I’ve always been a Red and one of my most treasured possessions is my dad’s playing contract with Liverpool from 1935. He was on the club’s books but didn’t play for the first team. He was also a massive Everton fan, to the point that he was there in the Goodison Park boys’ pen when Dixie Dean scored his record 60th goal of the season [in 1927-28].

My earliest footballing memory is when Liverpool beat Leeds in the FA Cup final in 1965 with that wonderful header by Ian St John. Afterwards I was outside with my younger brother Ken, kicking a ball against the wall, and I went back in and said, ‘Dad, I’m a Liverpool fan now’ and he said, ‘You’re a bloody turncoat!’ My favourite player from that ’60s era was Peter Thompson. I loved the way he’d dribble past players. Luis Diaz reminds me of him – just going for it totally.

Back then as kids you used to be able to go to Melwood and watch the players train, go in and stand right outside the pavilion as they came out. I remember Ron Yeats walking out one time – he was such a tall, handsome, imposing guy – and he was singing, ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’. I’ve always loved that song because of Big Ron.

My mum was actually a Manchester United supporter and to this day Ken has a soft spot for them as well as Scotland because of Denis Law – and therein lies a tale. My birth name is Les Heseltine but when I’d be doing the working men’s clubs they’d always misspell it, so my mum came up with the idea of ‘Les Dennis’ because she said it was a bit like Denis Law backwards. It was even a question on the old TV gameshow Blockbusters: ‘Which D follows Les and comes before Law?’

I was honoured to be chosen for an episode of This Is Your Life [in 1997] and Denis Law came along, it was thrilling to have him there. Sadly my mum and dad weren’t around anymore but my brother Ken could hardly speak, he was beside himself. Ken was a really good player himself in the local leagues. I used to listen to BBC Radio Merseyside when they were giving out the football results on a Sunday evening and it was, ‘Kenny Heseltine, hat-trick’…

My dad always loved watching our Ken. I was never that good but I went to school [Quarry Bank, John Lennon’s alma mater] with Steve Coppell, who went on to play for United, and Brian Barwick, who edited Match of the Day and was at the FA for a while. In the end I decided to please my mum by being an entertainer.

When I was starting out in the early ’70s I was doing a gig at what was called The Police Club in Liverpool and Bill Shankly was there to do a presentation. The compere – Tex, who was an ex-docker, a real character – said to me, ‘Do you want to meet the big man?’ I said, ‘Yes please!’ I’d done the gig but it hadn’t gone particularly well so I said, ‘It’s nice to meet you, Mr Shankly, I’m sorry I wasn’t very good tonight.’ Straight away he said to me: ‘I can see you have the talent and the passion, so just keep going and believe – you’ll be fine.’ It’s always stuck with me and it really did inspire me.

I’m playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Prescot this month and there’s a famous line he reads out: ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’. Bill most definitely achieved greatness.

Bill Shankly's final season: 1973-74 ends with silverware at Wembley

FeatureBill Shankly's final season: 1973-74 ends with silverware at WembleyOur season-long retelling of Bill Shankly’s final campaign as Liverpool manager brings us to May – and the club’s high point of 1973-74.

When Shankly’s second great team won the FA Cup final in 1974 I was doing a week at the Shakespeare Theatre Club [one of Liverpool’s most famous music halls] just off London Road. I was on the bill with Tommy Cooper and on the Wednesday I got married to my first wife, Lynne.

So that week is massive in my memory because all the wedding guests came to watch me supporting Tommy, and on the Saturday after the cup final, Pete Price, who was the compere back then, sang You’ll Never Walk Alone and people were up on the tables waving the red tablecloths. What a day.

Afterwards Tommy invited me for a drink and I think I gave up around three in the morning. I always remember him saying to me, ‘Don’t get too funny!’

The day that Shanks announced his retirement I would’ve been away touring the clubs. But it was devastating because he was a father figure not just to the fans but the whole city, and I felt that real sense of loss like everybody else. That same year, 1974, I was on New Faces [the original TV talent show] with Victoria Wood and we both lost in the big final!

Five years later my son Phillip was born and we had his christening in the back garden. [Comedian] Stan Boardman was one of the guests and he rang me and said, ‘Les, is it alright if I bring some of the lads with me? We’ve been playing football this afternoon.’ I said, ‘I don’t know about that, Stan, a whole football team?’ ‘Just a couple of the lads,’ he said.

He turned up with Ron Yeats and Ian St John. They’d all been playing in a charity match and I was thrilled because I could tell my son when he grew up that these two legends were in our garden. Ever after, Ron used to say, ‘I’m sorry about that day we gatecrashed the christening!’ I’d always tell him he didn’t realise what a wonderful day that was for me.

Then there was Ronnie Moran. In December 1985 I was doing panto in Southport with my old comedy partner Dustin Gee and during rehearsals I injured my foot. I dropped something on it and was limping pretty badly so they sent me to Melwood for some physio and it was Ronnie who treated me. It happened to coincide with a testimonial lunch for Sammy Lee and I can vividly remember Sammy saying, ‘Here you are, lad, have a sandwich – there’s some nice butties over there.’

I’ve always felt really welcomed at Liverpool, especially during the Kenny Dalglish days. I also recall going to Wembley with [fellow entertainer] Russ Abbot to the FA Cup final in 1988 when we lost to Wimbledon. Before the match we were on the TV with Des Lynam who asked, ‘Les, what’s your prediction?’ I said 3-1.

After the match we were invited back to the players’ lounge where everyone was pretty down, obviously, and Ronnie Moran glared at me and said, ‘Three bloody one…’ He was lovely, though, and the next year when we won it, me and Russ went to Stringfellows [nightclub] in London where the team were celebrating and Kenny let me drink out of the FA Cup!

• Les is appearing at the Shakespeare North Playhouse until June 29. He was speaking to David Cottrell for



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This article has been automatically translated and, while all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, some errors in translation are possible. Please refer to the original English-language version of the article for the official version.