A comic character
created and performed by Graham Fellows
John is a middle-aged, versatile singer/songwriter who lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire with his wife Mary, son Darren and daughter Karen. Mary is a dinnerlady at a local primary school, Darren works late nights at Victoria Wine and Karen is still at school. The other major person in his life is his next-door neighbour and sole agent Ken Worthington, known as TV's Clarinet Man due to his appearance on New Faces in '73 with his ex-wife Rhiannon playing the harp. He came last in the contest and the show's presenter Tony Hatch gave him a good dressing down, forcing him to go bright red - obvious to John even though he was watching on a black and white television.
John's music is best described as being a parody of crap, mainly using his Yamaha keyboard with auto-accompaniment and occasionally getting back-up help from Karen with her recorder. Expect twee drumbeats and a host of pre-programmed instruments that sound only vaguely like those they're supposed to represent. Likewise, his lyrics are a mix of silly and innocent but with great word play - who in the world could get away with lyrics like "You're like Manchester, you've got Strangeways", "She lives in hope, but she used to live in Barnsley, she took bereavement calmly and decided to relocate" or "You surf on the Internet and I'll surf into Nettos"? In short - it's funny, heart-warming (see: How To Be Happy In A Sad, Sad World) and often surreal. As far as comedy concepts go, it's kind of in the same spirit as Reeves and Mortimer's Mulligan & O'Hare - except perhaps not quite as scary.
Like most characters in British comedy the humour of John Shuttleworth comes largely from trying in vain to succeed against a wall of gentle failure. The British are a pessimistic crowd, that's the kind of stuff we like. I mean, look at The Royle Family and Steve Coogan. :) The fact is that John really has confidence and believes in attaining rock and roll glory despite the fact that he's under the wing of an inept agent (who similarly sees himself as being bigger than he actually is) and is churning out these, basically, crappy little songs on an electronic organ that would cost around sixty quid from any branch of Dixons. He'll also present songs, being careful to note how well it would work as a single for Clannad or Paul Young.
Collected works of John Shuttleworth:
The Shuttleworths, BBC Radio 4
Three six-episode seasons of family-life stories, I think pre-dating Seinfeld with the concept of a Sit-com About Nothing Inparticular. As with all things on Planet Shuttleworth, Graham does the voices of the entire family except Darren who, like Maris in Frasier, is only ever mentioned and never makes an appearance.
Radio Shuttleworth, BBC Radio 4
After The Shuttleworths ran it's course, the show changed format to a mock shoestring budget, home-run guest show. Regular items included Impress An Impressario where guests (such as John Hegley and Sean Cullen) would try out their repertoire on the terminally-difficult-to-impress Ken Worthington in the hope of gaining a place on his artist roster and Make Mary Merry had popular comedians on the end of a phone trying to show Mary that alernative comedy is funny not naff. Mary is even harder to please than Ken.
500 Bus Stops, BBC TV
A four-part 'no-holds-barred' rockumentary made for television of John's first nationwide tour of freezer shops, garden centres, scout camps and underground caverns. Again, because Graham alone is behind all the voices, Ken is present with him throughout his tour but always operating the camcorder.
Europigeon, BBC TV
Televised version of an episode of The Shuttleworths charting John's attempts to get his new and (as far as he's concerned) best song Pigeons In Flight* to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, with a little help and encouragement from the spirit of Terry Wogan. When his attempts fail, he turns instead to Norway, hoping to reverse the country's diabolical track record in the contest. Originally performed as an episode in Radio 4's The Shuttleworths, the basic concept remains the same but the differences between the television and radio versions are immense. Which is the best? Hard to say, they're both great.
* Chorus goes: Pigeons in flight / I wanna see you tonight / I want to hold you / If I may be so bold to / And tell you some things that you like... / To hear / Oh my dear / In your ear / Pigeons in fli-i-i-i-ight
One Foot In The Gravy, Laughing Stock
A CD recording of the Shepherd's Bush performance of his UK tour, it's John at his very best. Songs and commentary on the impending end of the world, John live is like nothing you've heard on the radio. On a personal note, I saw this tour at the Leeds City Varieties and having it on CD is just a reminder for what a great night it was. The show is also available on cassette and video. You're strongly advised to buy it.
little personal update: on the 1st april 2003 i'm going to see john live at leeds city varieties and - eeee - i can't wait. proper updates are a-comin'. watch this space. yeah, like anyone is actually *reading* this. how many people a day log on to the everything2 and wonder, 'hmmm. what does e2 say about john shuttleworth?', roughly? not many i'll wager...