Mervyn Stutter - in his own words...
I've been doing this entertainment mullarkey since 1974. That's 49 years! Still standing! Still working!
I started out in Theatre in 1974 and acted and wrote scripts and theatre songs and directed for around fourteen or so years - Nottingham Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Dukes Playhouse Lancaster, Library Theatre Manchester, Chester Gateway, 7:84 (England), Coventry Belgrade to name a few.
Then lots of TV work in 1980s beginning with the first ever UK Daytime TV show called OPEN AIR with the much missed Pattie Coldwell and a very thin Irishman called Eamonn Holmes! I was the regular topical songwriter.
I did many more TV current affairs programmes with weekly topical songs then moved onto BBC radio writing more songs - LOOSE ENDS with Ned Sherrin, IT’S BEEN A BAD WEEK with Punt and Dennis, HAYES ON SUNDAY and AFTER HOURS (Radio 5),
Also did my stint in TV soaps in the late 1980s - ALBION MARKET and EASTENDERS, plus I lectured in Comedy and Theatre at ROSE BRUFORD COLLEGE in Sidcup.
I worked on and off doing the London Comedy Circuit in the 1980s and early 1990s but with the sort of songs I was writing I preferred more theatrical spaces and Arts Centres.
My first ever solo Edinburgh Fringe show was in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar in 1987.
“Celebrating the trivial and attacking the absurd he gives us a seriously funny show.”
“Stutter is as sharp as any, as funny as any and more informed than most.”
And I have been on the Fringe every year since!
After 5 years of very successful comedy shows people kept asking me if I could recommend shows to them – had I seen anything good. And so my annual Pick of the Fringe showcase was born. My wife Moira produced and I hosted. In 1992 we started at lunchtimes in that old Cabaret Bar at Pleasance and it was an immediate success with both artists and audiences. So that was it! No more solo shows on the Fringe. Pick of the Fringe is a full time job every day for the month in Edinburgh with no room for solo shows.
Prior to this in 1988, I got married to the beautiful South African actress Moira Downie, had a son Alfie in 1994 and he made his first appearance in the Edinburgh Festival on my show aged 6 months. After he was born I did not want to miss out on him growing up, so I cut down the touring and tried for more radio so I could work from home. This lead to me doing lots of weekly songs on radio shows such as AFTER HOURS on Radio 5 for two years and then two years writing songs for HAYES ON SUNDAY each Sunday morning. Off the back of that work, Jim Moir, the then new Head of Radio 2, gave me my own comedy series dedicated to all Menopausal Flower Children everywhere called LOVE 40 - NEW BALLS PLEASE. I co-wrote and starred in all three series of that show which went out on Thursday nights and Saturday lunchtimes each week and was made by Celador and directed by Dirk Maggs.
Soon after, I got a new sitcom on Radio 4 called GETTING NOWHERE FAST. I wrote and starred in all three series of that show which went out at first at 11.30am each morning and was then repeated a few months later at 6.30pm. We got huge audiences at 11.30am in the morning during the second series, apparently as big as the Today programme and as big as the News Quiz at 6.30pm. The shows still get repeated on BBC Radio4 Extra. Apparently due to audience demand. Hurrah for the listeners!
The big difference for me in those shows was that they had their foot firmly in the radio comedy tradition of my youth but were very current, being about the Baby Boomers getting older. From the audience responses and from emails I still get and from the people I meet even now while out touring, it is clear that the audience thoroughly enjoyed the shows for those same reasons. I was told later that my sitcoms were the first to use comedy song. The stories were punctuated by comedy rock songs and pastiches of Sixties hits to comment directly on the action. After all, what else would the Flower Child hero of the piece be but a singer songwriter.
I wrote and starred in three plays for Radio 4 over the next few years; GOING TROPPO, WATERLOO SUNSET and DAVE THE DEAD LEFTY. Plus many features and documentaries, including the first ever four part retrospective on the legendary Light Programme’s WORKERS PLAYTIME – a weekly wartime morale booster variety show that travelled secretly every weekday all over the UK to entertain factory workers. It ran from the Blitz to the Beatles. My school lunchtimes at home were always accompanied by Workers Playtime.
My work these days is mostly performing my 90 minute live shows of chat and satirical songs around the villages of England on the National Rural Touring Circuit where the village hall audience on a Saturday night will mostly be over 40 years old. Hurrah! My people!!
But the one constant in my performing life is my annual 90 minute Pick of the Fringe showcase each year on the Edinburgh Fringe. It is such a huge pleasure to work with my team to discover and encourage so much talent and present highlights from their shows to my audiences each day.
Every day seven tasters from seven very different shows – and every day a different seven shows for you to see. As one satisfied customer put it:
'It's like the Royal Variety Show of the Fringe'
He's not wrong!!