Cycling and comedy are two of John Dowie’s passions. The former stand-up who worked with the likes of Barry Cryer, Victor Spinetti and Max Wall during his career, tells Eileen Leahy why he decided to write a book about his two greatest loves – and why he hopes his fans will help him publish it through a crowdfunding scheme
Birmingham-born writer and performer John Dowie, 66, moved to Tunbridge Wells two years ago in order to be closer to his sons, who live in London.
His move came after a steady career which included stints in stand-up, music and playwriting and led to him working with the likes of Barry Cryer, Neil Innes, Victor Spinetti and Factory Records’ Tony Wilson.
He has performed numerous times at the Edinburgh Festival and his most famous works include the children’s musical Dogman and play Jesus My Boy, which was performed by Tom Conti in the West End to great acclaim in 2009.
Twelve years ago John retired from performing and turned to cycling – mostly around the UK and occasionally in Europe – to keep himself busy.
Instead of writing his memoirs, he’s penned a witty book called The Freewheeling John Dowie which combines his two primary loves of comedy and cycling…
What inspired you to write this book?
I knew as a relative showbiz nonentity that a straightforward biography wouldn’t interest many people. Also, there are loads of books about cycling already so I hope that combining the two will make for a more interesting read.
Have you written any other books?
I did one about my stand-up routines entitled Hard to Swallow, which was published in the 1980’s in comic book form. My epic poem for children, Dogman, was published by BBC Worldwide in the 1990’s and then turned into a musical in 2005. The Worcester Repertory Company recently published my play, Jesus My Boy, after they did their own production of it, but this is the first time I’ve sat down and written a proper book.
What do you enjoy most – cycling or comedy – and why?
Cycling definitely. I’ve never died while cycling but performing comedy on stage meant I died rather a lot.
Where is the most memorable place you have cycled around?
I’ve only cycled around Europe so far. One of my reasons for writing the book is I hope it generates enough income to help me cycle around Australia and the USA. One of the most remarkable places I visited was the Airborne Cemetery near Arnhem, in Holland. There’s over 2,000 airmen buried there and hardly any of them were older than 18.
When did you retire from performing and why?
Twelve years ago after I wrote and appeared in Dogman. We did it for a month in Edinburgh, then took it on tour. Once you’ve made children laugh, or made them frightened (in a good way) or heard them singing along to a song you’ve written, or applaud you, you don’t want to do anything else.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you on a bike?
Well let’s just say I ended up in Hythe, Essex and not Hythe, Kent after a map muddle and ended up having to sleep in a graveyard – with my underwear on my head. You can read more about it in the book!
Whereabouts in Europe have you cycled and how long did each stint take?
On my first trip last April I rented out my flat, packed a tent and a sleeping bag, and took a ferry to Holland. I ended up in Spain and came home last October. I also usually spend three or four months in the summer cycling in France and Ireland. I’ve also done Land’s End to nearly John O’Groats and been around Wales on my wheels.
I like to just get up and go, without having a definite plan in mind, and see where the road takes me.
What are you up to at the moment workwise?
Desperately trying to convince as many people as possible to help crowdfund my book! You can pay as much as you like, starting with a £10 pledge, then choose from a range of options, including one in which I’ll cycle to your house, give you your copy of the book, then later write a story just for you alone. The quicker you pledge, the quicker the book gets made! I’m also touring a little and reading extracts from The Freewheeling John Dowie.
Why did you decide to move to Tunbridge Wells?
The last place I lived was on a houseboat in Norfolk. I was missing my two sons, who are both now in London, so I needed to find somewhere closer to them. I moved here over two years ago and haven’t seen hide nor hair of them since!
To find out more about John Downie, his comedy, cycling and crowdfunding go to www.unbound.co.uk