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The Return of Siadwel

AFTER 25 YEARS, SIADWEL IS BACK FROM THE GRAVE
It’s the voice you notice first. John Sparkes’ face may no longer be familiar, but his long involvement in the TV animation Peppa Pig means his Welsh-grained narration is instantly recognisable- if you're under ten years of age. Hugely successful and popular worldwide, a new series of the children's classic is now in production. Now Sparkes has set his sights on reviving Siadwel.
John Sparkes talks exclusively about reviving Siadwel for BBC Radio
John Sparkes: "There are two strands to my comedy, strangeness and filth".
SHADWELL
It wasn’t always so. Born in Swansea, a failure at school, his first TV appearance was in ITV’s “The Fame Game” as a ventriloquist with a house brick for a dummy. “It sounds crazy, but it worked”. Sparkes had been looking for a name for new character as he passed through Shadwell tube station in London. “I thought it sounded a bit Welsh, so I changed the spelling, and that was it”.
NAKED VIDEO
Absolutely
Absolutely (Channel Four): Stoneybridge Town Council
Sparkes was later spotted and signed whilst performing Siadwel at the Edinburgh Festival by Naked Video’s creator Colin Gilbert. “The programme originally started on BBC Scotland as Naked Radio, but as it was going to be aired on BBC2, they wanted some non-scots voices, and I was hired as the token Welshman” says Sparkes, “that’s also how I got Absolutely.”
GWYN, HOVIS AND DENZIL
Naked Video helped launch the careers of Sparkes, Helen Lederer and Gregor Fisher, a.k.a Rab C. Nesbitt. The show was the catalyst for a number of careers: Harry Enfield, Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Jennifer Saunders and Charlie Higson were all Naked Video writers.
For Absolutely, Sparkes created the characters Gwyn, Frank Hovis and Denzil, who “was based on my next-door neighbour, a DIY fanatic, he had four sheds, filled with tools for making sheds”.
STRANGENESS AND FILTH
Frank Hovis was “largely based on Sir Les Patterson”, the filthy alter ego of Australian comedian Barry Humphries.
“Frank Hovis was filth”. “There are two strands to my comedy, strangeness and filth”.
So how does he invent a new character? “It always starts with the voice. The mannerisms and the physicality come later”.  He claims to never perform as himself, but quickly forgetting this, he adds that many elements of Siadwel are based on the young John Sparkes, growing up in Swansea.  “That’s the truth of it”, he admits.
BARRY WELSH
Some of Absolutely’s characters reappeared in Barry Welsh is Coming for HTV, which ran for six series. Sparkes won four Welsh Baftas for his creation Fishguard news reporter Hugh Pugh and Barry Welsh.
As the narrator for Peppa Pig, and voices, to be more accurate, noises, for Shaun The Sheep (a feature film is now in production for cinema release in 2015), he has carved out a satisfyingly successful career as a voice artist.
SIADWEL MUSES ON DEATH
Now he has brought life back to Siadwel, 25 years after killing him off, complete with funeral, in the third series of Absolutely. During his funeral, Siadwel muses on what it’s like being dead: “it’s more or less the same as being alive”.
Siadwel is available as a podcast and download
Siadwel is available as a podcast and download
Sparkes offered the idea to BBC Radio Wales, who asked the now-reclusive comedian to revive Siadwel over a four-part series, beginning this Friday, 21st. March. Why has he brought this character back from the grave? “I thought a lot about what it was like to be growing up in Swansea, and that led to me revive him”.
He’s returned to a stand-up format in front of a live audience, performing a mixture of poems, stories and running jokes about his terrifying girlfriend Gravel, his Nan, and school.
DON'T STAND UP
He’s quick to insist he doesn’t want to return to stand-up comedy. After a couple of low-key gigs at the King’s Head in Crouch end, his agent told him: “don’t do the circuit, the audiences don’t get the back story”.
“There are just so many comedians now, there must be one for every ten thousand people in Britain. There’s more misogyny now, which isn’t exactly progress”.
He “doesn’t get” arena shows, though he likes Michael Mcintyre: "there’s just something about him which is funny”.
HENNING WEHN
Of the new comedians on the circuit, he admires German comedian Henning Wehn. “He’s extremely funny, edgy, and he sails very close to the wind”.
ABSOLUTELY
Absolutely is also set for revival, on BBC Radio: “there’s a meeting about it in the pub next week".
Does Sparkes have a catchphrase for the new series of Siadwel?
Yes and no: "Is ‘hello’ a catchphrase?”
6.30pm, Fridays from 21st. March, BBC Radio Wales, on iPlayer and as a podcast.