'Oof! I'm not happy...' | John Shuttleworth interview

'Oof! I'm not happy...'

John Shuttleworth interview

Former sweet factory security guard turned versatile singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth - and Graham Fellows, the man behind the legend - answer your questions. First up, Graham...

How did you come up with the character of John. I am currently trying to devise a comedy character of my own - is there any suggestions you could pass my way? Paul Rogers

John was devised while recording a spoof demo tape in 1985. I’d been hearing a lot of, very amusing genuine demo tapes made by wannabes like Shuttleworth, and decided to fool a music publisher friend by making my own demo. Originally John played the guitar, but a girlfriend at the time’s father introduced me to his organ one night, and it struck me as the perfect instrument for John. The image came together gradually: John’s character was based on the steady northern blokes I served when I worked behind the bar of a Sheffield working men’s club; also the nerdy, quietly excited, proud men I encountered at fancy mice shows as a teenager. My advice to anyone devising a character is to base it on someone – however tenuously. Try the character out (in gigs or just in front of friends and family) at various stages of their development. Don’t worry about failure or not getting it right immediately – you probably won’t.

When you are actually John Shuttleworth’s age will you do a young character? Andy Barr

When I created John I was 26, and placed John at 46. Now - 21 years later, I’m 47, older than John was at his conception, yet John has curiously aged only ten years or so. At this rate I will catch him up and even overtake him in another 20 years, but I can’t imagine I’ll still be doing him then. To answer your question – yes, I’m sure at John’s age I will be doing a younger character. Of course, I already perform as Dave Tordoff – the concreter from Goole – who is a few years younger than me. He’s in his early 40s.

I'm interested to know how The Shuttleworths is recorded. Which character do you record first and how much of the radio show comes from improvisation in the studio? Chris Boyd

The show is recorded on a multitrack audio format, each character given its own separate track. Once all the voices are recorded, sound effects are added, and the whole thing is mastered onto a two-track recording, usually on CD. The digital age has definitely eased the creative process: cut and paste is a godsend (for switching dialogue around, creating gaps for new ideas to be inserted etc), and I make good use of the varispeed function for the female characters’ voices. I usually start with the voice of John then add a response from another character, before returning to John’s track to record his response. Very little of the show is in the form of written lines, and most comes from the process of improvisation. This method helps to achieve the illusion of the characters being not actors reading lines but real people spontaneously chatting to each other. Well, that’s the intention anyhow.

Who are your comedy influences? Steve Thomson

They are unusual, and not necessarily comedians: Mike Leigh plays, Alan Bennett monologues, Victoria Wood sketches, Fry and Laurie, early Steve Coogan, people I meet or overhear in the big wide world.

I just read an interview that the One Foot in the Gravy tour was the last outing for the infamous John Shuttleworth. But he is on tour shortly. Is it an apparition? Tracy Joubert

Not at all. John has toured at regular intervals (usually every two years) for the last ten years, and will probably continue to do so as long as the public and my mortgage balance demand it.

Have you ever considered writing a show dedicated to John's friend Ken? Geoff Orgiman

Not specifically dedicated to Ken, no. However, most of the shows touch on Ken and his tragic life story in some detail, especially the most recent, With My Condiments. It’s all about food and eating, and almost all the songs are about or dedicated to Ken and his ‘Tummy Trouble’ and his ‘Heartache and Heartburn’.

You are now living in Louth, Lincolnshire where I was brought up. What drew you to the town and how do you find your local gigs go down? Pauly Vinter

The local gigs go down surprisingly well, considering Louth is a bit of a backwater, and John is such a modern, cutting edge performer! I moved to the town from London as my partner was from there and on frequent trips to Louth to visit the inlaws back in the early Nineties I began to fall in love with the place, so we eventually decided to move there. I’ve sadly recently split with my partner, so my ties with London are now being reconnected.

Is this the best question you've received so far? Neil Courtis

I don’t know. Is this the best answer? (Oof, that was a question, beg your pardon!)

Now John answers your questions aimed at him...

It looks like there will be a vacancy for Prime Minister coming up soon. Would you be interested in applying and what would your musical skills and culinary ability bring to the job? Dave Finchett

Well, as a certain punk anthem goes: ‘Gordon is a moron’, and clearly I would be better suited to running the country than Mr Brown, or indeed most people. As an ex-security guard (for a sweet factory in the Rotherham area) I’d be well-placed to guard the nation’s security. I could write and perform ballads full of political information, rather than subjecting everyone to boring speeches. I’m not a brilliant cook, I’m afraid, but I’m quite good at swinging the lettuce in the plastic lettuce cage, and also transferring the pressure cooker (at the end of its cycle) from the stove to a pre prepared bowl of cold water – now I can’t imagine Gordon Brown doing that, can you?

What’s you favourite venue? Paul Hipwood

The local drop-in centre. They don’t pay me for performing, and indeed are threatening to withdraw petrol money payments, but the resident karaoke machine has a nice echo effect, so yes, that one…

I've heard on the Shuttleworth grapevine that your planning on releasing a single is this true? And if so, which track will it be? Paul Sinclaire

It’s true. A four-track EP will be released on June 11 – initially as a download only, but shortly after as a CD – and it’s available at www.shuttleworths.co.uk The four tracks are two brand new numbers: Tummy Trouble and Serial Cereal Eater, and a couple of recent favourites, commercially available for the first time. They’re Two Margarines and the epic ballad I Can’t Go Back To Savoury Now, all about the dilemma of being offered another portion of your main course when you’ve already started eating your sweet.

Has John ever been tempted to cheat on Mary? Dave Fellows

Absolutely not, what a thing to say! Having said that, once – when I worked for Comet demonstrating audio equipment back in the early Eighties – I took a shine to the night cleaner, Beryl. But I wouldn’t have been able to chat her up anyway, because her cleaning equipment was very noisy and I would have been drowned out. Ooh, just remembered – when I was at a conference for security personnel I saw an unaccompanied lady sitting at the bar. She was quite attractive and I wrote a song about that, actually.

How far did the pigeon in flight actually travel? Did he/she make it home? This has been worrying me for many years. Ian Dunlop

I’ve no idea how far the pigeon flew, or whether or not it made it home, sorry. And, I think you should go and see a doctor.

What food is the best accompaniment for Henderson's relish? Paul Morgan

A scotch egg, I think. Is that the right answer?

Has John considered a follow up investigation about whether people get ruder or nastier the further south you go? Julie Clarkson

Absolutely, it’s being considered right now. The follow up film to It’s Nice Up North will probably be called Southern Softies and take me to warmer climes than I experienced on my last trip, to see if people get softer (or wetter) the further south one ventures. Internationally acclaimed photographer Martin Parr will be making a guest appearance, but hopefully not operating the camera. I’m looking for a more professional cameraman this time – someone like Stuart Piper, who, of course, does wedding videos.

I am particularly upset by certain words. For example, ‘pamper’, ‘snacks’ and ‘portion’. Are there any words that you find distressing and if so why? David Hall

Yes David, there are. I don’t like the word ‘mayonnaise’, when used in conjunction with tuna or egg. I much prefer it to be shortened to mayo. Also the word ‘wipes’ when used as a noun, I find disquieting. I’m alright as long as ‘wipes’ has a prefix like ‘wet’, ‘handy’ or ‘baby’, but as I’ve already stated, if I hear the word on its own – oof, I’m not a happy man.

When I pack my shopping at the supermarket, I like to form a solid base in each bag using tins and jars, before building upwards with softer items like mandarins. Occasionally a well-meaning cashier will start a bag off for me, but this invariably confuses my system. Does John have any tips for getting around this awkward situation or any general bagging advice? Ben Thompson

Yes I do, but first I must say I like the sound of your bagging system. Well done, lad! Me and my wife, Mary tend to adopt a more conventional approach. We have a bag each and load items into our own respective bags, which usually dissuades the cashier from assisting. Furthermore, Mary and I tend to specialize in a particular area of produce. For instance, Mary will load her bag with vegetables, while I load my bag with dairy or bread (and other flour based products such as scotch pancakes). The system’s fine unless I mistake Mary’s bag of baking potatoes for crusty cobs, and then a struggle can ensue. But on the whole it works fine.

Who was the last person John Shuttleworth emailed and why? Steve Gibson

The Chortle website just now. Well, if I hadn’t you wouldn’t have an answer to your silly question!

  • John Shuttleworth's tour, With My Condiments, is on the road until June 12. Click here for dates.
  • Danny Wallace will be answering your questions next month. A one-time comedy reviewer he collaborated with Dave Gorman on a number of his quests before becoming leader of his own cult, president of his own country, and the ultimate Yes Man - and is currently hosting BBC One's Castaway.Email a question to stand a chance of winning his forthcoming DVD How to Start Your Own Country

Published: 15 May 2007

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