Graham Fellows aging with John Shuttleworth

Graham Fellows. Pic: Comp
Graham Fellows. Pic: Comp
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OFFT! From Nottingham to Hebden Bridge, Inverness to Orkney, where he can be found playing his trusty Yamaha organ in the Town Hall on Good Friday, John Shuttleworth fairly gets around.

He’s even starring in a night at London’s famous Palladium in June.

He’s not real, of course, as those with tickets to see John Shuttleworth at the Queen’s Hall on Friday, already know.

The Sheffield singer/songwriter is the comic creation of actor, singer and writer Graham Fellows, still known to a generation as Jilted John, who reached No 4 in the charts in 1978 with Gordon Is A Moron.

However, Friday’s show is likely to be one of the last chances to see Fellows’ cult character up close and personal, as the performer concedes that touring is a young man’s game.

“This tour is battering me. Far too many dates,” he offers. “But I’m really looking forward to doing the Scottish leg. I do enjoy it a lot when I’m on stage, and I’ve started coming out after the shows to sign and say hello - I’ve got some lovely fans. But this is certainly the last big UK tour.”

After 30 years he has had enough, he reveals.

“I’ve got other things I want to do. I don’t want to be doing John Shuttleworth all my life.”

Not that the funnyman intends to lay his most popular creation to rest. An animated version of The Shuttleworths, featuring wife Mary and Ken Worthington, his next door neighbour and sole agent, is in the pipeline.

“It does make me think he needs to be moved into another sphere. By that I am hinting at the animation project we are trying to get off the ground.

“Kevin Baldwin, who has done a lot of animation for me over the years, and I have worked on an animation of The Shuttleworths. It’s nearly finished and would be a great way to immortalise John.”

John Shuttleworth was born in June 1985. Just turned 26 when he first played him, Fellows reflects the character has changed over the decades as, he admits, has he.

“I decided there would be a 20- year age gap between me and John. I was 26, he was 46. But now I’m 55, there is no way that John is 75. So I’m catching up with him.

“Although I don’t actually specify how old he is, I guess he’s around about 60 - I can’t break through the 60 barrier.” He laughs, “And I’m starting to struggle with his kids. I don’t want to make them grow up, so they are indeterminately in their late teens. And his Scottie dog, well, he would now be the oldest dog in the world.”

As he gets older, Fellows admits he finds it easier to slip into character.

“I think my outlook has changed quite a bit, I now find I’m in the skin of his character a lot more, I guess because I’m closer to his age. I did a video recently and was flabbergasted to see a man heading towards old age - it’s a bit scary really.

“When I look at old YouTube footage from 1992 on Saturday Zoo and stuff, I look a lot younger, clearly a guy dressing up... I don’t think it looks so much like a bloke dressing up now as it does a real bloke.”

Thinking more like his character, means Fellows doesn’t have to prepare in quite the same way for gigs.

As an example, he reveals, “Last night, I had a bit of a coughing fit. I just took a Locket out and sucked it... and we waited for about 30 seconds while I sucked it, just trusting that people would go along with it, and they did. They laughed and thought it was funny.”

A stalwart of Radio 4, where he has spools of series to his credit, Shuttleworth remains a popular character on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

“Yes, and I get £19 per show. Not very much, but I’m pleased they’re going out because it’s a vote of confidence that it’s comedy with a bit of longevity,” Fellows chips in.

However, unlike that other character comedian, Count Arthur Strong, who recently made the transition from radio to TV, Fellows is candid about the chances of seeing him do the same.

“I’m not terribly interested in telly,” he says. “We did go down that road and tried to work up ideas. But I found the people I was working with were morons.

“I was having to jump through so many hoops I just went off and made my own film for a few hundred quid. That was It’s Nice Up North - it’s done pretty well really.”

It’s about the freedom to do what he wants says Fellows, which is exactly what he’ll have at the Queen’s Hall, on Friday.

In the new show, A Wee Ken To Remember, Shuttleworth has a dilemma: he wanted to tell the audience all about his most memorable weekends... but Ken has thwarted his plans by cocking up the artwork of the show’s poster.

‘Weekend’ has become ‘Wee Ken’ and there’s nothing John can do about it. He is now duty-bound to steer the evening towards a celebration of the diminutive impresario’s life in A Wee Ken To Remember.

“As ever there is a bad pun in the title,” he laughs. “Ken always cocks up the title of the shows. In the past there was A Pillock of the Community, instead of Pillar, and A Man With No More Rolls, instead of Morals - instead of talking about morality I had to talk about bakers who had run out of bread and stuff.

“So in this one, John feels morally obliged to talk about Ken’s life. He’s a bit peeved about that. Of course, it’s just a little vehicle to hang the show on. Essentially it’s a song, chat, another song, chat, flash the lights, punch the air...”

The popularity of Shuttleworth, who has out-shone Fellows other creations rock musicologist Brian Appleton, and Goole builder Dave Tordoff, is down largely to his musical interludes, believes the performer.

“Largely, people like the songs, which work on a couple of levels - they are humorous, but sad and touching as well. The character takes them into a world that is perhaps gentler than the one we live in now. It harks back to the past. People find the domestic detail comforting. And also the total lack of swear words. Am I a bit of a prude? Not really, I just don’t like sweary comedy.”

All of which means that on Friday, you can feel free to make it a family night out.

John Shuttleworth: A Wee Ken To Remember, Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, Friday, 8pm, £15, 0131-668 2019