500 Bus Stops (BBC2, 1997)
This is another quirky comedy show that was shown in a late-night slot on BBC2, although this is yet another one that I didn’t come across until there was a repeat run on UK Play. I know I keep going about it, but this really was a great channel, and I can’t believe that this closed almost two decades ago now. Graham Fellows is a comedian and musician who first found fame in 1978 when he had a Top Ten hit single with “Jilted John”.
Not long after this, he briefly appeared in Coronation Street. By the mid-80s, he had created the character John Shuttleworth, the singer-songwriter from Sheffield, who performed a lot of his songs on his keyboard. He thinks that he is a talent, but he often has a lot of mishaps that lead to him having very little success. By the 90s, he had been established in various BBC radio comedy series, where he played his songs, and gave an insight into his fairly dull life.
The other regulars were his grumpy wife Mary, and his neighbour and agent Ken (who were voiced by Fellows too). He would also be joined by musical guests and comedians. This became popular enough for there to be a TV series. In 500 Bus Stops, we join John and Ken (who never appears on screen because he is at the camera) as they plan a music tour of the country, and there is going to be a lot of travelling.
John plans to do this in his car (which he is so fond of, that he has even made a song about that, and his performance of this is one of the highlights for me). Unfortunately, his once trusty car breaks down, meaning that he will have to do the rest of the tour travelling on buses and coaches. We often see John between gigs, thinking about life, and in various shops and cafes, even the thought of having some pie, chips and gravy can’t distract him from wondering what is going to happen next.
Due to various misfortunes, he often ends up performing to very small crowds in unlikely places. There were only four episodes of 500 Bus Stops, but they were an enjoyable variation on what the radio series had to offer. Not long after this, John was seen again in Europigeon, where he attempted to have one of his songs chosen to represent a country at the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course he failed, but maybe he could still be in with a chance nowadays, on the basis that the UK couldn’t do any worse than this year, really.
Since then, John and his other characters have featured in more acclaimed radio series (his next comedy character music historian Brian Appleton wasn’t a big success though). He continues to get a lot out of John all these years on, he has also gone on stage several tours, released several CDs, and he turned up in an episode of the TV version of Count Arthur Strong. Hopefully he will tootle his keyboard for a long time to come yet.