Webchat with Justin Fletcher
This is the edited transcript of a live webchat with Justin Fletcher, aka Mr Tumble, the BAFTA award-winning presenter and actor when he visited MNHQ in April 2010.
The Something Special and Gigglebiz presenter came to Mumsnet Towers, charmed visiting children by singing and clowning around, and answered lots of your questions about his shows, receiving an MBE, Makaton, bumper cars, biscuits and more.
JustinFletcher: Hello Mumsnetters (signs "hello"!).
Can I just say that I'm really thrilled to be at MN Towers and bowled over by all your comments about Something Special and the other programmes. A lot of people are involved with the making of Something Special and it's very close to all our hearts. And it's the comments like yours, and from other people who write in about how their children have communicated or done things for the first time, that make it absolutely worthwhile for all of us.
I hope I'm going to be able to answer as many questions for you as I can today and I'm going to make sure that all your feedback (good and bad!) about the shows goes back to CBeebies.
Earthymama: Any plans for family entertainment? After Dr Who on Saturdays would be good!
JustinFletcher: As I said before I'm always open to suggestions about new shows, whether they are for children or adult. But I'm very happy where I am at the moment!
MissWooWoo: Do you write any of your own stuff and, if not, is it something you'd like to do if you had more time?
JustinFletcher: Yes I do write some of my own stuff. The characters from Gigglebiz were all my own creations and I try to write as much as I can but I do have a large team of writers to help me as there's so much material. And with Something Special, I have a free rein with the visual slapstick although I'm given a storyline first.
Thepurplestar: Have you got any more weekend visits to the CBeebies house planned?
JustinFletcher: I love going into the CBeebies house as it gives me an opportunity to work with the other presenters. I'm sure I'll be popping up again there soon.
Imaginewittynamehere: Justin, given your almost universal MN popularity have you thought of selling your endorsement to a political party (and donating proceeds to charity of course )
I think you should probably stand for election, maybe in 15 years time when all of today's three year olds could vote too!!
JustinFletcher: Ha Ha, ImagineWittyNameHere
Notwavingjustironing: One thing has been bugging me for years, were you the "voice" in Alphabet Town and any other VTech toys? I could have sworn it was you.
JustinFletcher: To put you out of your misery, yes I provide the voice for several children's toys!
Olifin : Justin, do you voice any audio books?
JustinFletcher: Yes, I voice some audio books. I've done Wriggle and Roar by Jacqueline Wilson.
Iklboo: What's Shaun the Sheep like to work with?
JustinFletcher: It's a joy to work on Shaun the Sheep and I'm very proud to provide his baas! The quality of Aardman's animation is just quite amazing.
FattipuffsandThinnifers: Which character do you enjoy playing most?
JustinFletcher: That's a really good question! I obviously love Mr. Tumble because I'm a big fan of slapstick but my favourite character in Gigglebiz is probably Arthur Sleep, but then I do love Rapids Johnson and Captain Adorable is great fun too…
FioFio: I cannot help wondering though whether you take great pleasure dressing up as a woman?
JustinFletcher: I love a challenge and when I dress up as Dina Lady, Nana Knickerbocker or Ann Teak it is certainly a challenge. But it's great fun to play all sorts of characters be they male or female!
PfftTheMagicDragon: How many different "Baaaa's" did you have to record for Timmy?
JustinFletcher: When I'm recording Shaun I can do up to four hours worth of various baas. And on Timmy Time I voice Paxton the Pig, Kid the Goat, Finley the Fox and Osbourne the Owl - so I'm something of an expert now in animal noises!
stanausauruswrecks: What would you like to do when Gigglebiz/Something Special run their course? Do you plan to move into mainstream TV work? Do you worry that you may be pigeonholed as a children's TV actor forever more?
JustinFletcher: I don't think I'm ever going to move away from children's television because I love it so much. I'm absolutely happy where I am. If someone offered me an adult acting role I'd look at it. But to be honest there's a great challenge doing something like Gigglebiz – with 20 different characters - probably more of a challenge than I'd ever get on an adult programme.
geordieminx: Any chance of more Higgledy House?
JustinFletcher: Sarah-Jane and I are in touch - she's a great friend of mine and we would love to work together again in the future. But there aren't any current plans to bring back Higgledy House.
aloevera: Justin, we need to know if you are the voice of Handy Andy?
JustinFletcher: I'm really sorry but I'm not sure who Handy Andy is so I don't think I am the voice!
NewShoesonMonday: Could you put some signed photos for sale on MN... to raise money for your chosen charity - or we could order them? I'm sure there are lots of us who'd like to buy a poster or signed DVD or something? And some clothing too please, before our toddler is too old to wear it. T-shirts etc..? Please
JustinFletcher: I've brought some signed postcards in with me today, which I'll leave with MN. And the Tumble house is in Devon.
AppleTreeWick: DH and I have cynically exploited their devotion to you by convincing them that you are actually Ray Mears' brother. This means that we can actually watch some grown up TV whilst they are around. The girls are ever hopeful that one day you might pop out of the jungle for a cup of tea with Ray. So my question is: have you ever considered creating a programme in collaboration with Ray Mears? We would definitely buy the box set.
JustinFletcher: To AppleTreeWick and everybody else who's interested in the Ray Mears collaboration! I haven't thought about working with Ray Mears but wildlife is a big interest of mine and I would love to come up with a wildlife show for young children. So I would be all ears if someone like Ray Mears got in touch. Or perhaps Rapids Johnson from Gigglebiz and Ray could get together in some way!
PaisleyLeaf: Where's Wiggyville? It looks a gorgeous little place.
JustinFletcher: Wigglyville is Portmerion in North Wales and it's a beautiful spot.
Gingernutlover: My daughter aged four loves all of your shows, especially Gigglebiz; she thinks you are great, just wanted to say well done for creating some fantastic TV. She wants to know who your favourite character is in Gigglebiz, she likes Captain Adorable best! (I don't think she really believes the others are you!)
JustinFletcher: Tell your daughter I like Captain Adorable too and Arthur Sleep and Rapids Johnson are my other favourites.
Bluecats: When you do the short clip of Captain Adorable, there is a little stripy cat on the tree. Where does the cat come from? I have the exact same cat that I bought for myself years ago in Germany which my daughter adopted as hers and cannot go to sleep without. I tried to get hold of an extra one in case she loses hers, but the company stopped making them.
JustinFletcher: You've got me there but I could try to find out...
Megatron: My children have grown up with you and my six year old wants to know if you have any new shows in the pipeline?
JustinFletcher: Do tell your six year old that we're about to film a new series of Something Special and I can let all you MNetters know first - we're just going to go into production with a second series of Gigglebiz and we'll take all your feedback about the characters etc to the table!
Picante: Do you have any plans to do a Gigglebiz tour?
JustinFletcher: Hi Picante and others who've asked, there are no plans for a Gigglebiz tour at the moment but I am in early discussions about doing a live show next year.
bran: Not a question, but a bit of rude constructive criticism. Please drop Nana Knickerbocker from Gigglebiz, it's just not as funny as the rest of the sketches. My question is a bit personal, I saw you being interviewed on The One Show and you weren't at all as I thought you would be. Were you putting on an adult persona for adult TV or are you naturally softly spoken with minimal gesticulation? If so, what drew you to the clown/children's TV industry?
JustinFletcher: I'm sorry you don't like Nana Knickerbocker. I think you must have seen me on Breakfast News not The One Show. Obviously, I have a different persona when I'm presenting to children but doing an interview on adult TV is a very different environment. I was drawn to children's TV because I used to watch Philip Schofield reading the birthday cards in the broom cupboard and I thought "I'd like to have a go at that". Philip was a good inspiration to me.
Wigeon: Can you suggest some more verses? I am a bit fed up of "Na na na na na na Gigglebiz Na na na na ho ho ho Na na na na na na Gigglebiz Na na na na it's time to go Gigglebiz gigglebiz, we've had a lovely time Gigglebiz gigglebiz ho ho ho Gigglebiz gigglebiz we've had a lot of fun Gigglebiz gigglebiz ho ho ho"
JustinFletcher: I'm sorry you're a bit fed up with the theme tune but we did consciously try to keep it very simple because we wanted children to be able to sing along with it!
charlieandlola: What is Mr Tumble's favourite biscuit?
JustinFletcher: Mr. Tumble is a fan of custard creams!
Zephyrcat: My four year old Ellie would love to ask you which is your favourite song from Something Special (SS)?
JustinFletcher: My favourite song from SS is 'Down in the Jungle' because I have great fun doing the animal actions!
Stillenacht: How do the children /special schools on Something Special get chosen? Are they written to or do they contact the producer?
JustinFletcher: It's a mix of schools that are chosen by our research team and schools that write in and put their schools forward.
Nessarose: Are there signs that we can do one-handed? (temporary measure)
JustinFletcher: Yes, there are lots of signs you can do one-handed. If you go onto the Makaton website you can find out further information
Littleozz: It is sad that SS is not on as much on CBeebies these days. Will it be coming back with new episodes?
JustinFletcher: Yes, we're filming new episodes of Something Special at the moment and you should be able to watch it every weekday for at least the next year!
Megatron: You must find the reaction to SS very rewarding, did you expect such a great response or has it come as a surprise to you?
JustinFletcher: It came as a huge shock to discover how popular Something Special became so quickly and, absolutely, it's the most rewarding show I do - no doubt!
LoveBeingAMummy: My question is why isn't the hello and goodbye song signed anymore? DD adored this and it has certainly confused her.
JustinFletcher: This is a really good point and it's something we're all very aware of. Basically because Something Special has gone Out and About we no longer record the signed hello and goodbye songs in the studio. And because of the way CBeebies repeats programmes, children often have to switch between the old studio-based episodes and the new location episodes which I know can be confusing. We know children benefit from routine so we've made our new out-and-about episodes very repetitive (in a good way!) with lots of clear signposts. My producer has told me that we may have the opportunity in the future to go back into the studio and if so we'll look at reintroducing the songs. I hope that helps a bit.
Valpollicella: Have you learnt Makaton as you've filmed the shows, or have you undertaken any 'formal' courses?
JustinFletcher: Due to the time restraints we have with filming it hasn't been possible for me to do long courses, but I have training before filming starts when obviously we concentrate on the key signs. But I'd really love to do a proper course and extend my Makaton vocabulary.
Booboobedoo: My question is (just out of nosiness curiosity): did you have a specific interest in SN programming from the beginning, or was it a happy accident? You clearly have an affinity and sympathy with the children, which makes me wonder if you have had any personal experience with SN kids.
JustinFletcher: When I was filming Tikkabilla, the producer Allan Johnston had the idea for a new series (Something Special) and he asked me if I would be interested in learning sign language for children with learning difficulties. And I just jumped at it - there was no question of me not doing it! But, no, I hadn't worked previously with children with learning difficulties.
scrappydappydoo: Why are the Something Special DVDs so expensive?
JustinFletcher: I do take your point about the price of the DVDs but the good news is that there is a new DVD coming out soon, which is produced by BBC Worldwide, and which I think IS cheaper.
TotalChaos: How did (SS) come about?
JustinFletcher: Something Special was the brainchild of producer Allan Johnston who before he worked in television was a teacher in mainstream education, then special needs education and in a school for children with severe learning difficulties. A few years later at CBeebies he was asked to make a series about communication and it took him back to when he was teaching. He thought it was a great opportunity to make a series about Makaton – and the rest is history. I'm very happy to ask him if he'd like to come on and do a webchat if you'd like!
treacletart: I am desperate to know the back story behind that stunning house! DH would also like to know where it is in <hush> real life - he thinks it might be in the West Country somewhere...
JustinFletcher: DH is right – it is in the West Country , in Devon. We thought it would be funny to have a place where all the Tumble family would be contained in one place and this was an ideal spot.
shanks313: Are there any plans for more SS...Gigglebiz merchandise?
JustinFletcher: There aren't currently any plans for books, merchandise or an SS tour at the moment, but we do have interest from time to time from publishers and merchandisers so watch this space! We've always thought that signing books or a Mr. Tumble sensory doll would be a good idea but we wouldn't want to produce merchandise for merchandises sake - it would have to stay true to what Something Special is all about. There is going to be a Something Special magazine out though in a couple of weeks, so watch out for that.
BitOfFun: Can I ask if my daughter (nine) would enjoy your programme? I have been moved reading accounts of how children have responded to it, but warn you that she is low-functioning autistic with severe learning disabilities, and has never shown much interest in TV, beyond being soothed by music channels. She has laughed like a drain at Takeshi's castle though. May I ask if you would contemplate jumping into muddy water somewhat clumsily from a great height? It may just hook her in...
JustinFletcher: I think your daughter may well like Mr Tumble if she likes clumsiness. Do let me know what she thinks of it. I have already jumped off many things as I do all my own stunts!
Arabica: Do you ever run workshops on communicating with children with learning disabilities? Would be useful for health professionals too...
JustinFletcher: I don't do workshops but when I do live shows I quite often sing and sign at the same time.
2shoes: Would you ever consider doing something aimed at older kids with SN?
JustinFletcher: Yes absolutely - I'm always open to new ideas.
StewieGriffinsMom: Is it true when you received your MBE that one of the guards shouted "Mr Tumble" as you walked away? How shocked were you?
JustinFletcher: Yes it is true! It was the funniest thing but I had to keep a straight face because I literally met the Queen a minute later!
Olifin: What was your favourite subject at school?
JustinFletcher: I just loved drama - my first part was the Artful Dodger in Oliver!
Tinkhastwoeasterbunnies: How old are you? I am only interested as it is hard to tell.
JustinFletcher: Don't tell anyone else, but I'm 39!
Stillenacht: Did you study performing arts/theatre studies at university? What was your route into TV?
JustinFletcher: Yes I did study at the Guildford School of Acting for three years. I moved into television in 1994 - my first job was Fun Song Factory after sending a letter to producer Iain Lauchlan, who went on to co-create The Tweenies.
Amiable: Do you use the Makaton now in your personal life - if you meet a child with special needs in the street for instance?
JustinFletcher: Yes, I do use Makaton when I meet children. If they use signing as well I sign straightaway with them.
Tinkhastwoeasterbunnies: My daughter is sat on my lap she is four years old and loves you. She would like to ask: do you have any cats or kittens? Do you have an oven?
JustinFletcher: Yes I have two cats - Freckles and Muggles - and I have an oven too!
tinkhastwoeasterbunnies: What do you like doing in your spare time?
JustinFletcher: I have very little spare time but I like to go to the movies when I can and working in the garden. I built a duck pond yesterday!
Booboobedoo: Luvvy question: if you went to Guildford, were you taught by Peter Roberts? He's my hero.
JustinFletcher: I wasn't taught by Peter but I do know him, he's a lovely chap.
Scrappydappydoo: Were you anymore than just friends with Sarah-Jane? Seeing as you shared Higgledy house and all.... Or more seriously, who is Mr Tumble going to vote for??
JustinFletcher: Sarah Jane and I are great pals. And if Aunt Polly was willing to stand for election, Mr Tumble would vote for her!
SeverusIsMySlave: Are you ticklish?! And what is your favourite sandwich filling?!
JustinFletcher: Yes, I'm ticklish, and my favourite sandwich filling is avocado and bacon.
Mumofmonsters: Has anyone asked Justin what his favourite biscuit is?
JustinFletcher: My favourite biscuits are fig rolls!
Lockinsgonecurly: When children meet you do they all start signing?
JustinFletcher: Yes, children often sign when they meet me. It's remarkable and I'm always astounded by the levels of children's signing - quite often they're better than I am!
nobodysfool: Can you tell us something about you that would surprise us?
JustinFletcher: Tell you something that would surprise you? Well I own four bumper cars - that often surprises people!
Mamaglee: I'd like to know what you wanted to be when you grew up?
JustinFletcher: At school I wanted to be a film director, but somehow I've found myself in front of camera instead.
IvaNighSpare: Are the CBeebies staff Christmas parties the deliciously sordid and depraved affairs my twisted head wants them to be?
JustinFletcher: Sadly, there isn't a CBeebies Christmas party - or if there is I've never been invited!
Clarissimo: If you have one tip for someone who wants to be a children's entertainer on TV, what would it be?
JustinFletcher: I was taught how to present by a man called Iain Lauchlan and he taught me the "three Cs" of presenting - clarity, contact and commitment which I've always tried to have in the back of my mind. If DS2 is really serious about being a children's presenter my advice would be that he should practise as much as he can doing pieces to camera with a video camera.
EVye: What is your favourite CBeebies programme (not your own) and why?
JustinFletcher: Hi EVye, that's a really good one and it's got me! Actually I'm going to go with Charlie and Lola, that's a great programme.
sunchild77: I'm just wondering how on earth you manage to have a personal life?
JustinFletcher: Hi Sunchild77. I'm very lucky to have been extremely busy for the last 15 years and I each year I always think it's going to get quieter and it never does. I absolutely love what I do but it does make difficult to have personal life.
ruddynorah: Are you generally mobbed when you go out? It occurs to me that you are a very recognisable huge celeb to millions of kids, though anyone without children wouldn't really know who you are. So what do you do? Avoid play gyms and stick to sophisticated champagne bars??
JustinFletcher: Funnily enough a lot of adults do recognise me - especially students! And quite a lot of my mail comes from adults saying that they watch Gigglebiz - so it's not just adults with children. I'm very lucky as most of the feedback is positive so it's not a problem.
Besom: I was wondering which performers you have been most inspired by?
JustinFletcher: The comedians that have inspired me are Rik Mayall, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Jim Carrey.
SawneyBeane: Can you tell us what's happened to Sarah-Jane and do you have any plans to work with her in the future?
JustinFletcher: Sarah-Jane is going to be doing a great new show on Cbeebies later in the year called Mighty Mites about encouraging children to try out different activities. And we would love to work with each other again but there's nothing on the cards at the moment.
LittleMissNorty: Do you have children of your own? Do you practise your Gigglebiz characters on them?
JustinFletcher: No, I don't have children of my own but I'd like a family one day. In the meantime I practise my Gigglebiz characters on my niece and nephew!
Shanks313: Hi Justin, my kids adore you and we are coming to see you in panto (front row seats). We were wondering will there be a chance to meet you after the show?
JustinFletcher: Tell me when you're coming and I'll give the children a big wave.
Gypsymummy: What does it take to be a hit with young children and do you reckon it is something you can learn with time?
JustinFletcher: I think you have to enjoy what you do really and hopefully that enjoyment rubs off on the children - I always think I've got one of the best jobs in the world. That's why I love doing live shows because you can work off the energy given off by the children.
Last updated: about 3 years ago