TV EYE : ORGANIC SENSATION

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Cheesy music plays on a Yamaha organ while a wobbly camcorder pans across a drab front-room. It alights on a tired-looking vase full of withered flowers. "Here's a dry floral display that Mary is very proud of," a voice intones. "Justifiably so. Yeah, smashing!"

Welcome to the home of John and Mary Shuttleworth. It's not quite in the Hello! league of glamour, but that's the whole point. The joke about singer/ entertainer Shuttleworth - the wry creation of character comedian Graham Fellows - is that he's a failed celeb. Where Jane Seymour resides in a succession of Californian castles, Shuttleworth lives in a box-like semi in Sheffield. Where Ivana Trump wears designer ball-gowns, Shuttleworth sports a red acrylic polo-neck and burgundy car-coat.

Already a big hit on Radio 4, Shuttleworth transfers to BBC2 this week with a new four-part series called 500 Bus Stops. The premise is that he is making his bid for the big time by touring with his Yamaha organ to such major venues as Bakewell library. Before setting out, he practises in his garage: "That's a fun rhythm," he enthuses. "It goes down very well in sheltered accommodation, hospitals, that sort of thing."

When his Y-reg Austin Ambassador with the chocolate interior - to which one of his near-hits is dedicated - breaks down in a garden centre, Shuttleworth is compelled to complete the trip on a bus. His agent has not booked Bakewell library, so Shuttleworth ends up banging out his timeless number, "Save the Whale", in a freezer-shop in Matlock. Customers, oblivious to his crooning, carry on rifling through the chill-cabinets.

Trading in the minutiae of everyday life - he likes to check the sealant on patio doors and stop off at reservoirs to look at water-levels - Shuttleworth is a character viewers can relate to. "He has a wonderful, ordinary streak," reckons Peter Symes, executive producer of 500 Bus Stops. "It's a very delicate type of humour. So much comedy now is pretty cruel, and he's not cruel at all. You would expect to bump into John in a supermarket - you couldn't say that about a lot of comedy characters."

Fellows confirms that it was always his intention to make Shuttleworth a really kind man. "I'm fed up with angry comedians," he declares. "Gentle comedy is a good antidote to the in-your-face style which came out of the yuppie, go-getting society of the 1980s."

Viewers warm to Shuttleworth because he is clean, Fellows says. "He espouses certain traditional family values. He draws people into a safe little world of his own which people can identify with. They like the inconsequential nature of things that happen to John."

Like any close partner, Fellows loses patience with Shuttleworth. "I do get bored with him - it's like being in The Mousetrap for 10 years," he says. "To play one character for 10 years is boring. Ironically, I want time off to do John-type things. I want to mend the roof on my car- port." But the character is so well-rounded that Fellows keeps thinking of new things for him to do. "I was in a camping shop the other day," he says, "and I happened to look at a compass. The shopkeeper said to me, `We're selling a lot of those at the moment. People are using them to help set up satellite dishes.' I'll try to use that for John."

The danger is that 500 Bus Stops will become a huge hit, making a massive star out of Shuttleworth and defeating the object of the character. Mega- stardom would make him redundant. "It will never go to his head," says Symes. "He'll remain fixated on showerheads and bathroom features."

`500 Bus Stops' starts Tues, 11.15pm, BBC2

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