To millions of pre-school kids and their parents he is the king of clowns, Mr Tumble, slapstick extraordinaire in a star-spangled waistcoat.
Justin Fletcher has to be one of the South West’s busiest residents, deftly juggling a multimedia mix of television, music, voiceover and live work. His programmes Something Special, Gigglebiz and Justin’s House are among the most popular on television channel CBeebies. With a fanbase as fervent as any rock star’s, it is little surprise that he has toured major venues along the First Great Western network.
‘You can’t beat anything live,” he says. ‘I have a fantastic cast.” Justin definitely has no shortage of comic creations to bring on board. For his comedy sketch show, Gigglebiz, he plays no less than 26 different characters.
“You get letters daily saying things like 'my child has spoken for the first time after watching your programme. You can’t really get anything better than that.”
Much of their antics take inspiration from a very particular period of cinema history. As he reveals: ‘They are based very much on the slapstick, silent comedy era of Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. I love that comedy style.’
Classic movies help Justin brainstorm in another way too.
‘I often get a lot of my ideas from listening to film music. My two favourite composers are Erich Korngold and John Williams,’ he says, without hesitation. ‘Korngold used to write music for rousing swashbuckling movies, things like Robin Hood and Captain Blood. John Williams is a genius. About ten years ago I went to see him live at the Barbican and it just blew me away.’
However, children’s entertainment will always be number one for Justin. He was awarded an MBE in 2008 for his work with programmes such as Something Special, which is aimed at children with delayed learning and communication difficulties. It’s the star vehicle for Mr Tumble and obviously very important to Justin.
‘Out of all of the shows I do it’s the most rewarding because it helps so many children to communicate,’ he says. ‘You get letters daily saying things like “my child has spoken for the first time after watching your programme”. You can’t really get anything better than that.’
On the popularity of his alter ego among fans, Justin explains: ‘It’s just lovely, a lot of children are quite adamant that Mr Tumble and Justin are completely two separate characters. I take that as a compliment.'