This was the programme which first brought one of the iconic figures of modern radio to public attention. John Shuttleworth, a versatile and widely experienced singer-songwriter, is truly a master of his chosen instrument — the Portasound electronic keyboard. Each show contains several demonstrations of his unique abilities, each number consisting of indescribable lyrics delivered in his off-key, laryngitic tones and accompanied by bouncy keyboard ditties and shouts of “Oof, no, that’s wrong, it’s gone onto the fun rhythm”. But the show is far more than the music: each fifteen-minute programme is a record of life in Shuttleworth’s “semi-detached world”, a way of life the retired Sheffield security guard shares with his wife Mary and teenage children Darren and Karen — and his “next-door neighbour and sole agent” Ken Worthington, a man with a taste for the good things in life, who prefers relaxing on the verandah with a Malibu to the serious business of getting John some bookings down at the youth centre. It’s an instantly-recognisable world, replete with garden centres, step-classes, light ale, Austin Ambassadors and shower head maintenance, but one which is rarely to be glimpsed in the metropolitan, media-centred world of Radio 4. Despite his obvious absurdity, John Shuttleworth is, in many ways, more true to life than any other character in comedy.
Shuttleworth is one of two legendary characters created by the Sheffield/Manchester-based comic actor Graham Fellows, who writes most of his own material: the first was, as every trivia fan knows, Jilted John, the lovelorn loser who had a No 4 hit single in 1978 (entitled simply ‘Jilted John’) describing his heartless girlfriend’s decision to chuck him in favour of the more attractive Gordon (chorus: “Gordon is a mo-o-ron…”) Fellows later appeared in ITV’s Coronation Street before turning his attention mainly towards the Shuttleworth family. There are some endearing idiosyncracies about his working methods: he plays not only John but all the other characters as well, by means of multisynching, and records all the shows in a small studio in a shed at the bottom of his garden.
Shuttleworth (who has a distinctive visual appearance, with brown leather jacket and thick spectacles) transferred to BBC2 television with a ‘tour documentary’ series entitled 500 Bus Stops in 1997 (Ken Worthington accompanied him, or rather his voice did: his non-appearance on screen was explained as due to camera-shyness resulting from a humiliating appearance as “TV’s clarinet man” on New Faces back in the seventies, where he was allegedly “crucified by Tony Hatch”). He returned to television on the eve of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, with an adapted version of a special edition previously transmitted on Radio 4 and entitled John Shuttleworth: Europigeon, about his attempt to win the contest with a song of his own composing: “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’d like… to hear… in your ear… oh my dear…”
See also: Shuttleworth’s Showtime
External links: The Official John Shuttleworth Homepage, including an episode guide to The Shuttleworths