I’m still wiping away the tears, long after my interview with Tweedy has concluded. What had I been worrying about? After all, he is one of the funniest men on the planet and the leading star of Giffords Circus. with a fanbase any celebrity would be proud of.
And yet I was worried that as a man of few words, interviewing him would be hard work.
“it was Nell’s wish to carry on giffords for as long as we can, or until her children can take over when they’re old enough”
And yet he is funny (obvs), thoughtful, considered and modest. His comedy is as much about timing and his gentle Scottish burr as his jokes and tomfoolery. It’s about what he doesn’t say, as much as the words he chooses.
We are here to talk about his new theatre show Tweedy and the Missing Company Of Sherlock Holmes, a farcical ‘who dunnit’, which looks hilarious.
The plot is simple; Tweedy is putting on a large-scale theatre production of Sherlock Holmes. He’s built the set, got the props and booked the local theatre for the show. There is only one problem – Tweedy has lost all the actors!
He calls on his faithful friend Monsieur Loyal for help, and together the two of them must solve the mystery of the missing actors while performing the whole show between them. A mayhem filled mystery, the like of which the world has never seen!
So far so Tweedy. And who better to play the multiple roles required than the comedy and slapstick legend and star of Gifford’s Circus, Cirque Berserk and the Cheltenham Everyman pantomime?
And yet, despite tickets selling like hotcakes, the show nearly didn’t happen at all, because Tweedy was struck with a terrible case of writers block.
“Once I’d started it all just blurted out – all my completely barmy ideas. I’m not sure really where they come from”
“Even though I do a new show every year, I found it rather difficult to write. Which was a problem because all the theatres were booked, and lots of the tickets, and I’d sold the premise, but I hadn’t actually written it yet, and I didn’t know what to do.”
So what happened? “I spent a lot of time not knowing what to do but I have got there now,” he confirms.
Phew. So was it a case of writers block? “Yes, completely like that, until I watched some old black and white Sherlock Holmes films, in particular Hound Of The Baskervilles and that was that.
“Once I’d started, it all just blurted out – all my completely barmy ideas. I’m not sure really where they come from.”
So does he write for his legions of fans? “No if I’m honest I’m much more selfish than that. If it makes me laugh then that’s enough. It’s just slapstick nonsense after all.
“But I’m in a lucky position. I already have a character that people recognise because of Giffords, so I don’t need to spend the first 20 minutes of the show getting to know the audience, which helps massively.
And yet, with the panto only just finished, what’s the rush? “Giffords is going out on the road a month early to get the Easter hols in, so that’s why I’m launching straight into the show now.
three weeks after he left school, tweedy was back there working as a cleaner.
“I buffed the floors on a unicycle,” he says.
Giffords is the famous Cotswolds circus which launched Tweedy into super stardom. He met its creator Nell Gifford while they were both in other circuses and tragically Nell died recently.
“Her funeral was beautiful and very well done,” Tweedy says. “Although it’s going to be different but strange to carry on without her.
“But it was her wish to carry on Giffords for as long as we can, or until her children can take over when they are old enough.
“And Nell surrounded herself with an amazing and experienced team. So although Nell was the visionary one with all the ideas, our circus director Cal McCrystal is very good at that as well.
THE KNOWLEDGE THAT I AM A CLOWN, THAT CLARITY WAS A GREAT RELIEF AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE. IT’S DEFINITELY WHAT I WAS MEANT TO DO”
Meeting Nell in 1996, (she was working at another circus at the time and founded Giffords in 2002) Tweedy was under contract elsewhere until 2003.
“She told me she didn’t want traditional clowning in her circus which suited me,” Tweedy remembers. “I was ready to try something different by then. My heroes had been Norman Wisdom and Laurel and Hardy, so we were on the same page from day one.”
But to understand the magnitude of inventing his own clowning persona, we need to go back to the beginning.
Tweedy grew up in Aberdeen. He clowned around constantly at home and at school, before realising that his forte could also be his life.
“There was a definite moment when I had my clowning realisation, which made sense of my personality and who I am.
“The knowledge that I am a clown, that clarity, was a great relief at such a young age. It’s definitely what I was meant to do.”
“It didn’t go down too well at home though.”
So what did his parents say? “No, no no.”
And? “‘Get a proper job, learn a trade, something to fall back on.’ They said I could do clowning as a hobby at weekends, and do children’s parties.
“But I didn’t want to be a children’s entertainer, I wanted to be on stage, in the theatre. I hadn’t come across circuses by then, but I knew what I wanted even then.
“It was like when my friend had the realisation that he was gay. Nothing else made sense until then.”
Tweedy persevered, and three weeks after he left school, he was back there as a cleaner while also working in youth theatre.
“I buffed the floors on a unicycle,” he says.
Then he landed a job in panto and realised he could make money from it too. “I loved it. We got a good review in The Stage and it made me think, ‘this is what I’m going to do’.
However in those days there was no internet and “because I’m quite old, it was quite hard to find out how to be a clown,” Tweedy says. Eventually he got a job at Butlins to earn enough money for clown school. But then clown school went bust so he got a job with Zippos Circus instead.”
He was at the traditional circus complete with clown faceprint, wigs, big shoes and clown suits for eight years.
Giffords must have been such a breath of fresh air after that. “When I joined Giffords it was really liberating because the audience no longer had any preconceptions about me,” he agrees.
So was it hard to invent Tweedy or is he just an extension of, er, Tweedy. Where does the man end and the clown begin?
“The character is very much part of yourself. If I’m at a party and I get overexcited then they are the same thing. I just can’t help it. My character and being generally excited are the same thing.
“But as I have evolved, the character has evolved with me. It’s different to acting but very confusing when you over analyse it.
And where did the name come from? (He doesn’t disclose his real name, saying he’s always had nicknames, even as a child, so has rarely been called his own name).
“I was going to be Weedy, but then I found out there was already another clown called Weedy, so a fellow clown suggested Tweedy to give my Scottish ancestry a nod, and it stuck.”
“Until people have seen me they don’t get it.”
Doesn’t anyone call him by his real name? “Well my parents… and my in-laws,”
Pause. “Although when they do I know I’m in trouble.”
Is he called Tweedy at home? “Yes. I was already Tweedy when I met my wife at Zippos – she was the trapeze artist.” Of course she was.
So was the wedding a circus extravaganza? “We arrived in a tiny car. I wore a kilt. It got into the nationals.” Yes then.
And is his home life his sanctuary compared to the performing side? “No it’s like the circus there too, but then I suppose my wife and daughter have to put up with Tweedy all the time.” Quite.
As for his permanent sidekick Keith (the iron) Tweedy says “I found him in a bin in 2008. He was broken so I took him out and played around with him a bit, and he soon became a part of the show. Now I can’t go anywhere without him.
Same one? “He regenerates…..”
We digress. Back to the show. With many of the venues already sold out, his fan base shows no sign of abating. “It’s funny because if I appear anywhere where Giffords goes, then the shows are really popular, but further than that no one one comes because they think ‘a clown trying to be Sherlock Holmes…is that funny?’ because they don’t know who Tweedy is. Until people have seen me they don’t get it.”
So is he aware of how many people love him, of all ages? “My fans you mean? “Yes, I am aware. Three generations all enjoying themselves at once is the best thing ever.”
But does it ever make him uncomfortable? “It can be a bit odd. That’s why I wear a hat because otherwise the mop of orange hair gives it away a bit.
Pause. “Otherwise it can take a while to do the shopping.
“And the selfies are funny because it’s always the adults who want them, but they always blame the kids.
“I can’t complain though because I still absolutely love it. And I’m being paid for it,” he says as if after all these years, it still amazes him.
“But then farce and clowning are one and the same thing – they make people laugh and that’s what the country needs at the moment, escapism and laughter.”
Tweedy’s definitely the man for the job. And Keith of course. We mustn’t forget Keith.
Sat 1st Feb BANBURY Mill Arts Centre 11am & 2pm
01295 279002 or go to https://www.themillartscentre.co.uk/shows/tweedy-presents-the-missing-company-of-sherlock-holmes/
The Hooley, Giffords Circus, runs from April 9 to September 27. www.giffordscircus.com