Kenneth Arthur Dodd was born on 8 November 1927 in
Knotty Ash, a suburb of
 in the former farmhouse to Arthur Dodd and Sarah (née Gray);
 where his parents lived. He had an elder brother, William and a younger sister, June.
 He went to the Knotty Ash School, and sang in the local church choir of
St John's Church, Knotty Ash. He was to live in Knotty Ash all his life, dying in the house in which he was born, and often referred to the area – as well as its mythical "
jam butty mines" and "
black pudding plantations" – in his act.
He then attended
Holt High School, a
grammar school in
Childwall, Liverpool, but left at the age of 14 to work for his father, a coal merchant.
 Around this time he became interested in
show business after seeing an advert in a
comic: "Fool your teachers, amaze your friends—send
6d in stamps and become a ventriloquist!"
 and sending off for the book. Not long after, his father bought him a ventriloquist's dummy and Ken called it Charlie Brown. He started entertaining at the local orphanage, then at various other local community functions. His distinctive bucked teeth were the result of a cycling accident after a group of schoolfriends dared him to ride a bicycle with his eyes closed.
 Aged 18, he began working as a travelling salesman, and used his work van to travel to comedy clubs in the evenings.
He gained his big break at age 26 when, in September 1954, he made his professional show-business debut as Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty, Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter at the
Nottingham Empire. He later said, "Well at least they didn't boo me off".
 He continued to perform, and in 1955 he appeared at
Blackpool, where, in the following year, he had a part in Let's Have Fun. His performance at the
Central Pier was part of a comedy revue with
Jimmy James and Company. Also on the same bill were
Jimmy Clitheroe and
 Dodd first gained top billing at Blackpool in 1958.