Saturday 20 January 2018

Mr Tumble - the man who brings a smile to every household

Justin's House begins on CBeebies on Saturday, October 8
Justin's House begins on CBeebies on Saturday, October 8

Lisa Williams

Parents on the lookout for edifying entertainment look no further than the hugely popular CBeebies clown Mr Tumble.

Kids idolise him, dads admire his comic timing and some mums even nurse a secret crush on Justin Fletcher.

Who is he? None other than the tubby 41-year-old clown Mr Tumble of pre-school CBeebies series Something Special fame, that's who.

When Fletcher went to receive his MBE from the Queen three years ago, even the guards wanted their photo taken with him.

Not bad for a guy many people haven't even heard of - but then Fletcher has never been an ordinary children's television presenter.

He sings and plays the piano, and in Something Special, which is currently in its seventh series, uses the sign language Makaton to communicate with viewers with special needs and has been credited with encouraging these children to speak for the very first time.

In his additional sketch show Gigglebiz, which he describes as a "pre-school Little Britain" and aired for the first time two years ago, he plays no fewer than 26 different characters, 24 of whom he created himself.

Perhaps even more unusually, although Fletcher has been in the business of entertaining children for 16 years, he's never used kids' TV as a means to move on to 'bigger' things.

"My first love is children's television," he says in a voice not wholly dissimilar to his most famous screen incarnation, Mr Tumble.

"Quite often people use children's TV as a stepping stone to other things but I'm still here because I can reinvent myself. What other platform can give you that chance to air that many characters?"

It's no surprise that Fletcher views himself as a big kid. "I'm a bit of a Peter Pan, I guess, but I think that keeps me fresh, ideas-wise, and that's what's really important. I look to films like Hook, Peter Pan and Finding Neverland for inspiration for my work."

From Fletcher's description, his house in Berkshire is like a funhouse - kitted out with five real bumper cars, two customised Minis with animatronic eyes and a "six-foot long pink bathtub, on wheels".

It's this house that inspired his latest show Justin's House, a new Saturday morning offering in which he and an assortment of other colourful characters, including a robot, a monster and a newspaper delivery girl, entertain a studio full of 150 children.

"I do a lot of live shows over the summer at festivals and theatres and I wanted to bottle that wonderful live atmosphere for television," explains Fletcher. "With that amount of children it's very noisy and lively, so we've managed to achieve that."

Although the children have all behaved themselves during recording so far, managing to sit through the 25 minute-long shows with no trouble, Fletcher and his team did have to stop filming on one memorable occasion.

"We had a lovely thing happen," he says. "There was one part where I told them I'd forgotten to buy pineapple chunks for a party. But there was a pineapple in the fruit bowl on set so the children all shouted out, 'There's a pineapple!' You can't fool an audience of kids.

"We were a bit thrown so we had to remove the pineapple and start the scene again."

Fletcher doesn't have any children of his own - yet. And, despite causing quite a stir on Mumsnet, says he's not interested in a 'Find Justin A Wife' programme as some of them have suggested.

"I don't see myself as a heart-throb," he says, nearly choking with laughter. "I really don't, although it is quite flattering when you get proposed to."

For someone with such a surreal work life, Fletcher's spare time is comparatively banal, taking in fly fishing with his dad (songwriter Guy Fletcher) and playing tennis.

"I live in the country so I go out and walk by the river, and reflect a bit. I also quite like gardening," he adds.

But with three television programmes, a hectic schedule of live tours and plentiful voiceover work, he enjoys precious little spare time.

"I would probably say I'm a workaholic but I just love it and I find it exciting... I don't tend to sit still that long," he concedes.

Fletcher shows no signs of stopping, and admits he'd like to have a career as long as that of his idol, Play School presenter Brian Cant, who is 78.

"Brian was going on to the autumn of his years and I would love to do the same. I don't think I could stop working. I can't imagine it really," he says.

He's hoping for a second series of Justin's House, if the first one goes well, and to work on a charity single with Gary Barlow, who he met when the singer presented him with a Children's Bafta.

There's also a chance he'll pitch for a Saturday morning show inspired by Tiswas and Swap Shop, and an early evening Saturday night show for the family, which will give him the chance to make himself known to those who don't have children.

"I suppose there is a bit of a blind spot to what I do but I always get surprised," he says.

"The other day I was at the petrol station filling my car up and I had a little sniffle. So I asked the young lad at the counter for a packet of tissues, and he turned to the lad in the stock cupboard and said, 'Oi Dave! Can you sort out some tissues for Mr Tumble?'"


:: Brian Cant - The first presenter of Play School when it started in 1964, he stayed with the show for 21 years.

:: Valerie Singleton - A Blue Peter presenter for 10 years, she won over a nation of children with her charisma and ability to stay straight-faced even when a baby elephant once relieved itself in the studio.

:: Andi Peters - Occupier of the CBBC Broom Cupboard from 1989 to 1993, Peters held court with his puppet pals Edd The Duck and Wilson (the butler).

:: Timmy Mallett - The bespectacled presenter brought us legendary show Wacaday, the game Mallett's Mallet and catchphrases like 'bleaurghhh' and 'utterly brilliant'.

:: Ant And Dec - These Byker Grove actors found even greater fame as presenters of shows such as SM:TV Live and CD:UK, where their cheeky humour catapulted them into prime-time TV.

:: Justin's House begins on CBeebies on Saturday, October 8

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