In praise of Justin Fletcher aka Mr Tumble

News Simon Brew 19 Apr 2012 - 07:45
Justin Fletcher

Den Of Geek salutes and celebrates a British television personality who deserves far more respect and appreciation than he gets. It's Mr Tumble...

When an actor has built up a career of consistent quality for many years, across numerous shows, it’s generally a given that they eventually get the respect, the awards, and the appreciation that they deserve. Especially if the quality remains high.

We thus want to talk about Justin Fletcher.

His name might not mean much outside of the British Isles, but wherever you live, we’d argue you remember the childrens’ television that you grew up with. Personally, I’m a child of the 80s. I remember the BBC Broom Cupboard. I remember The Mysterious Cities Of Gold, Why Don’t You, Grange Hill, Swap Shop and Tiswas. It was a far more anarchic, rough and ready time for British childrens’ television, at a point when it was off the radar of those in commissioning power.

Now? Childrens’ television is big business, and can’t you tell. Every programme – from In The Night Garden and Numberjacks through to Big Cook Little Cook (which features the most economically unviable cafe in television history) and Balamory – seems as much designed to sell a magazine with a cheap imported toy on it as it does to entertain and educate youngsters. And whilst some of the programmes are certainly strong, they don’t seem to have the character of the shows that I for one grew up with.

My kids, though, while starved of seeing the Grange Hill cast singing Just Say No, will always remember Justin Fletcher. I’m convinced of it.

Across shows such as Something Special, Higgledy House, Justin's House, Tikabillia, Gigglebiz and more, he’s been a constant spark of life and entertainment. He might be in the guise of Mr Tumble, he might be Justin, he might be wearing one of an abundance of outfits he’s found in the BBC’s costume cupboard (if such a thing even exists any more). Most importantly, though, he’s engaging, interesting, and keeps children entertained.

In an era where the television is increasingly becoming a surrogate babysitter (although that’s nothing new, I guess), it’s a blessed relief to have such a personality amidst all the committee-driven shows around him.

Truthfully, his shows may be committee driven, too. That may be the world of children’s TV now. The thing is, though, I don’t notice. Sure, he goes through the same antics that childrens’ television presenters have been up to for years, with similar plots and scenarios. But he makes it look effortless, and he’s always, always entertaining.

I believe that Justin Fletcher is a national institution, one who deserves celebrating alongside some of our finest television actors and personalities. In an era where reality television drives people to fame, here’s a man who has found something that he’s brilliant at, and continues to do it.

I don’t know the man: he may have ambitions of replacing Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible movies for all I know. What’s important, though, is that he’s got a strong talent, and the commitment to do something with it.

Justin Fletcher is the reigning king of childrens’ television as far as I’m concerned, and I say that as a parent of two, and consequently, as a viewer of many of his shows. That he takes the time to incorporate Makaton, a flavour of sign language, into his work too is testament to his gift of communicating with a young audience. It’s brutally hard to do at the best of times, and I can’t think of anyone better at doing it on the small screen right now.

He was awarded an MBE in 2008 for his services to “children’s broadcasting and the voluntary sector”, and he’s got two BAFTAs to his name to date. That, frankly, is the least the man deserves.

Mr Tumble for Prime Minister, anyone?

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