He may have permanently jilted John but Graham Fellows has no intention of abandoning alter ego John Shuttleworth as he heads for the palladium
Ken will be beside himself with jealousy...
Thirty years after he first pulled on the polo neck and leather jacket of John Shuttleworth, Graham Fellows is to star at the London Palladium.
Not as himself or as his long abandoned alter-ego Jilted John but as the bumbling Crookes Crooner Shuttleworth, the character who still likes to drive out to Redmires to check the reservoir levels – a character based broadly on Graham Fellows’ father Derek and some of the men Graham used to come across when he worked behind the bar in Crookes Working Mens’ Club.
June 2015 will be the 30th anniversary of the birth of Shuttleworth and by then his current tour will be over but a new challenge among the stardust and greasepaint of London’s West End beckons.
Will John like it down there?
“I think so, though he likes the north better,” said Graham Fellows in the Broomhill Tavern, back in Sheffield to visit his sister.
“It’s going to be a night of music and laughter. Anita Harris, Jon Otway, Toyah Wilcox, Heaven 17, Chas and Dave – or one of them – are all possibles. Every performer wants to be on Sunday Night at the London Palladium and this is my chance to do it.”
There’s no word yet on how John’s sole agent Ken Worthington – he finished last on New Faces in 1973 when his clarinet act went terribly wrong – has taken the news but there’s bound to be friction.
Graham is currently on tour as John in his Wee Ken To Remember show which comes to the Crucible in February.
“We seem to have a pattern now where I do a new show every two years,” said 55-year-old Graham.
“We start in November, have a break for Christmas and then start again in late January. It works well because you are promoting your message in November and December and you don’t have to do any gigging for a while.
“I enjoy it, it’s a lovely life and every gig is a challenge.
“I think if I did the perfect gig I would have to give it up.”
Giving up the John character was very much an issue for Graham 10 years ago – but not any more.
“I was thinking about killing John off a few years ago but not now. Getting the right balance is the key, not doing too much.”
That and finding new ways to challenge himself and his much-loved character.
“It’s coming up to 30 years now since I started doing John and we are still doing new stuff. At the moment we are working with Steve Coogan’s company Baby Cow on a new animation and we are hoping to sell a cartoon series.
“Kevin Baldwin who worked on Monkey Dust and Rhubarb and Custard is doing it for us.
”Unacompanied Lady, a song sung on the new tour, has been made as a five-minute cartoon and is the pilot for the animation series we are hoping to sell. We have started the series but it’s hard to get it off the ground when TV companies are obsessed with reality shows. I don’t think TV is in a great state at the moment.
“An animated series is a great way for the Shuttleworths to evolve. It’s been five years in the development and it will be finished in January then they have to hawk it round to sell it.
“A comparison with the Simpsons is not totally irrelevant. Imagine a British Simpsons but with a bit more style and you’re about there.”
Graham also has a project much further north.
“I have renovated an old church in Orkney into an recording studion, artists’ retreat and a quirky holiday home. We are looking for bands who want to do albums there.”
As we talk in the Tavern legendary Record Collector shop owner Barry Everard drops in for a pint and an extraordinarily Shuttleworthian tale emerges.
“Graham’s sister Claire was the first customer in my shop when I opened in July 1978,” said Barry.
“She was selling, not buying. She brought in a copy of the Lindisfarne album Fog On The Tyne.
She now claims I gave her 50p for it but I can’t remember.”
Graham blanches. It was his album and he had no dea what Claire was doing with it.
“I’m still mad about that,” says Graham animatedly.
“I gave your shop a wide berth for years after that. I remember thinking: ‘This man must be ruthless if he’s taken another man’s albums like that’.
“It was signed by all the members of the band, including Alan Hull, who’s since died. I was so mad at the time.”
Graham arrived in Sheffield on the train and walked through the city he first left in the early 1970s and explained his walk from the railway station.
“I lost my driving licence about 10 years ago after a series of speeding offences and I find that it frees you up tremendously,” said Graham.
“In London you can spend most of your day looking for a parking space. I walked up to Broomhill from the railway station today and past some of my old haunts.
“I walked past Broomhall Nursery on the way up and I was amazed. It’s still a nursery and the heavy wooden gate that I climbed over while trying to escape when I was four years old is still there.
“And, 51 years later it’s still a nursery.”
“I also passed what used to be the YMCA but is now part of Hallam University which is a bit of a shame. I played table tennis for the YMCA ‘F’ team when I was a teenager. John uses that one on stage.
“I was the only teenager along with a lad called Richard.
“I had some happy days in Broomhill and Broomhall.”
That was before Graham became Jilted John for his flirtation with the charts in 1978.
“I don’t remember there being a punk scene in Sheffield back then, “ he said.
“I was a swot who bred mice back then playing with my Grundig tape recorder with a quarter of Nuttall’s Mintoes in my pocket.”
Jilted John was taking the micky out of punks, particularly Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks “The last time I lived in Sheffield was in 1981 when I came back to play the part of Paul McCartney in Lennon at the Crucible.
“I think Sheffield is a very nice place to come back to now, now that the skeletons in the cupboard aren’t rattling so hard.
“1981 was when my mum said to me: ‘Why don’t you come back home and have your old room back?
‘This singing and acting lark is all very well but have you thought about working for your dad doing wedding videos?’
“Obviously I didn’t do that and we know the rest.”