Great Fictional Gentlemen - JOHN SHUTTLEWORTH


For the last 21 years I've been slightly obsessed with John Shuttleworth. It all started one Saturday night whilst watching the Channel 4 alternative variety show, Saturday Zoo. Jonathan Ross introduced a versatile singer songwriter from Sheffield, Yorkshire. His name was John Shuttleworth, he sang an upbeat little number called My Wife Died In 1970, and I was hooked.

I came back every week for more John Shuttleworth (although he was actually on fortnightly, but y'know, just in case). He'd share the most bizarre hilarious songs and also offer words of wisdom to the audience. Take for example John's acting class on how to answer a phone, it's pure genius...

The thing about John Shuttleworth is he's not intentionally funny, he's just an eccentric middle aged man doing his best to entertain. His stories are just the kind of stories your Uncle might tell, talking about his neighbours and offering his advice. Never has everyday life appeared so funny.

John firmly believes that one day he will become the next big pop star. He's a decent man, but painfully unaware of his lack of musical talent. He never gives up, and is always writing new material for that breakthrough hit, and in doing so he has created dozens of songs that frequently get played on my iPod.

The TV series 500 Bus Stops followed soon. In it John set off on a UK national tour accompanied by his sole agent and next door neighbour, Ken Worthington (TV's Mr. Clarinet Man). Unfortunately John's Austin Ambassador Y Reg broke down so they continued by public transport. Performing in Iceland (the shop not the country), a run down garden centre and various other mundane places, John remained optimistic throughout, he was sure he was chartbound.

To coincide with 500 Bus Stops, John's first real album was released. Entitled The Yamaha Years, it's an essential collection of 20 of his finest tunes including The Man Who Lives On The M62, Up And Down Like A Bride's Nightie, Have You Seen My Wife and Y Reg.

Then came Europigeon, when John attempted to get his song Pigeons In Flight into the Eurovision Song Contest. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the show ended with the most amazing rendition of John's best song to date, sung by former Eurovision winners including Brotherhood of Man, Katrina (minus the Waves), Johnny Logan, Clodagh Rodgers and Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz.

John found his natural home on Radio 4. Across numerous series' of The Shuttleworth's, Radio Shuttleworth and John Shuttleworth's Open Mind, we were introduced to John's family and friends. As well as Ken next door we met John's (2nd) wife Mary, their two teenage children Darren and Karen, and Mary's friend Joan Chitty.

Each episode usually featured a guest star who would often accompany John in song. Highlights included the Barbara Dickson duet on Who Will Buy My Cabin Bed? and Sir Patrick Moore playing the xylophone on Blatherwycke.

John has made two movies, It's Nice Up North (2004) and Southern Softies (2009). In the first he tests his theory that British people are nicer the further north you venture, and then in the follow up he traveled to the Channel Islands to discover whether people are softer the further south you go. Here's the trailer for Southern Softies.

John's most recent album,The Dolby Decades, features such classics as Life Is Like A Salad Bar, Two Margarine's On The Go and She Lives In Hope (But She Used To Live In Barnsley). It also saw the release of a single, the excellent I Can't Go Back To Savoury Now.

I think the thing I love most about John Shuttlewroth is his sincerity. He acknowledges aspects of everyday life that you can totally associate with, but you've probably not considered. He is funny but never crude. He is more clever and philosophical.

Of course, John Shuttleworth doesn't exist. He is the fictional creation of Graham Fellows, who back in the 1970s was better known as Jilted John. You might remember his 'one hit wonder' which featured the lyric 'Gordon is a moron'. John came about in the mid 80s as a joke demo tape he sent to his agent, mimicking the kind of recordings that were being submitted at the time.

It has to be said that Graham Fellows is an amazing songwriter and musician. Not only are many of the songs laugh out loud funny, but more often than not they are quite moving and thought provoking. Fellows writes and performs all the songs himself, as well as voicing all the additional characters heard on the radio shows.

Ken Worthington

When it comes to the radio shows, each programme is improvised, recorded and edited using multitrack recording, something Fellows does himself. The first series was recorded in his garden shed on a four-track cassette, but now the programmes are produced in his own digital recording studio. He has described the process as a labour of love, and the love certainly shines through because John is one of the most 'real' fictional characters I've ever encountered.

If you don't already have it then I urge you to visit the John Shuttleworth official website where you can download for free the brilliant Seven Songs By Sunset album, which includes one of my favourites - Romeo O.A.P.

After getting to know John you'll never be able to look the same way at men sitting in the front of a van, you'll check inside every time you open a Bounty bar, you might just start noticing the majesty of the common pigeon, and the sight of a single Tangerine may bring a tear to your eye.


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