Shuttleworth on his way

JON WELCH Versatile singer-songwriter and amateur philosopher John Shuttleworth is on his way to the region. Jon Welch caught up with his creator, Graham Fellows, in between shows.

JON WELCH

John Shuttleworth, retired security guard and aspiring singer-songwriter, is a national treasure, and his creator Graham Fellows a comedy genius.

When I catch up with Fellows, however, he's a distracted, mildly tetchy comedy genius.

He's speaking on a mobile phone as he is being driven to Middlesbrough, midway through the first leg of a gruelling national tour that brings him to Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday.

I guess he'd rather not be answering more questions from yet another journalist. “It'll only take 10 minutes or so, won't it?” he asks.

Musician and actor Fellows first found fame in 1978 as spoof punk Jilted John, achieving a top 10 hit with the single Gordon is a Moron.

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He went on to appear in Coronation Street twice, as two different characters, and has a host of stage and TV appearances to his name, but more recently he's been best known as John Shuttleworth.

John's an ordinary, middle-aged, working-class bloke from Sheffield who writes and performs his own songs and dreams of pop stardom.

His children, Darren and Karen, have left home and his wife Mary is soon to retire as a school dinner lady.

His affairs are still managed by his next-door neighbour and sole agent Ken Worthington – “He's alright as a neighbour, but frankly, rubbish as an agent.”

Fellows is at a service station when I call and our interview is punctuated by distractions, for which he apologises.

It's also hot and he's struggling with the volume control on his mobile phone, which makes for a disjointed conversation. At one point he shouts: “Oh my God! Sorry, there's a nutter in a van in front of us!”

Fellows, 46, created John Shuttleworth 20 years ago. It seems amazing that a 25-year-old was able to come up with such a credible middle-aged character.

“I based him a bit on my dad, and I used to work behind the bar at a working men's club, so I got some ideas there,” says Fellows.

“And I used to breed mice, so some of the old guys that used to do that feed into the John character – his innocence, his sincerity and his northernness.”

John's naïve manner and fascination with the banalities of life have won him a cult following, but there are signs that Fellows is weary of him.

“I don't want to be doing John all my life, but there's still such a lot of affection for, and interest in, the character,” he says.

“Eventually you get a bit tired of doing the same thing. It happens all the time, I guess. Then you miss it when it's not happening.”

Not surprisingly, there are hints of John's mannerisms in Fellows' speech, but he bristles slightly when asked if he ever finds himself lapsing into character at home.

“There's always that risk, isn't there? Occasionally I will do that but it's not a big issue.

“It's just a job. I always know that I'm not him and I can separate the two. I'm sure Barry Humphries is able to separate himself from Dame Edna.”

Later I ask if he is becoming more like John as he gets older – it would be natural, after all – but again he sounds mildly irritated.

“I'm not really – it's a red herring, mate. A lot of journalists want to connect me and John but I'm an actor and he's just a character I play. I'm more likely to turn into Dave Tordoff.”

Ah yes, that'll be one of Fellows' other characters, then – more about him in a moment.

“I wouldn't want to turn into John – although there are far worse people,” he continues.

“I created him when I was 25, 26 and the irony and the fun was stronger then. I'm now the age John was when I started doing him.”

Fellows has tried giving John a break, but then got involved in other projects, including a film called It's Nice Up North, shot in the Shetland Islands.

“This film could take him in another direction. I can't see that I'll be touring him again for a while.”

He's working on a John Shuttleworth cartoon, but can't say much more about it.

The aforementioned Dave Tordoff will also be appearing on the current tour.

“He's a concreter who wants to be an after-dinner speaker,” explains Fellows.

Tordoff specialises in something called laser screeding, and lives near Goole in East Yorkshire. A self-made man, he loves to flaunt his wealth.

“Dave is based on a few people, including someone I met a few years ago at a school reunion,” says Fellows.

“He said, 'I'm doing very well – I'm on £28K' and started boasting how much his house was worth.

“Then he took out a photo of his daughter and said 'She's gorgeous, isn't she? She's a model – she's going to be in Hollyoaks.'

“There's lots of material there – it feels like it's very now. The UK, I think, is ready for Dave.”

John Shuttleworth in Fawn Again! is at Bury Theatre Royal on Tuesday, June 14, at 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £8 to £16.50 are available from the box office on 01284 769505 or by emailing booking@theatreroyal.org.

He will also be appearing at The Broadway Theatre, Peterborough, on Friday September 30. Telephone 01733 316100.

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