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Ivor Cutler

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The eccentric entertainer, poet, playwright and recording artist Ivor Cutler was a master of off-beat humour championed by such diverse fans as Bertrand Russell, disc jockey John Peel, Billy Connolly, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Beatles cast him as the bus driver in the 1967 film The Magical Mystery Tour.

On stage Cutler was described as having “the demeanour and voice of the weariest human being ever to be cursed with existence” and looking like “one of the more sinister characters in Dickens”.

A regular broadcaster with the BBC, his books and radio series included such titles as Cockadoodle Don’t, Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Volume 2, Many Flies Have Feathers, Jammy Smears and Gruts. In 1980 he was awarded the Pye Radio Award for Humour and in 1994 A Stuggy Pren was produced on BBC Radio 3.

Ivor Cutler was born on January 15, 1923 in Glasgow. He was educated at Shawlands Academy and was evacuated during the war. In 1940 he became an apprentice fitter with Rolls-Royce, helping to make Spitfires. He trained to become a RAF navigator but was dismissed for being “too dreamy and absent minded”. He served the rest of the war as a storeman with an engineering company.

He went on to become a teacher at AS Neill’s famous progressive school Summerhill in Suffolk and continued teaching for more than 30 years. From 1954-80 he taught drama and poetry to primary children for the Inner London Education Authority. In his seventies he reflected: “In a way I am still carrying on with the kids. And those who come to my gigs probably see life as a child would. It’s those who have been busy making themselves into grown-ups, avoiding being a child – they’re the ones who don’t enjoy it.”

He began performing in London in 1957 and was spotted in the sixties by Ned Sherrin who booked him to appear on television. He appeared on the Acker Bilk Show, Late Night Line-Up and other programmes and in 1967 appeared in the film The Magical Mystery Tour playing Buster Bloodvessel, the bus conductor who announces to his passengers: “I am concerned for you to enjoy yourselves within the limits of British decency.” In 1967 his record, Ludo, was produced by the Beatles’ producer George Martin.

Cutler dressed distinctively both on and off stage, wearing plus fours and colourful hats with badges. His favourite method of communication was by sticky labels that he had especially printed, often with ‘Cutlerisms’ attached: ‘Never knowingly understood’, ‘True happiness is knowing you’re a hypocrite’ and ‘Add 15 inches to your stride and save 4% of insects’ were among the most popular.

In 1973 he appeared on Robert Wyatt’s album Rock Bottom and recorded 12 albums of his own work. He wrote more than 300 songs and in 2000 he was signed to Oasis’ former record label, Creation. He last appeared on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, in January 2004. The event was filmed and shown in a documentary about his life, Looking For Truth With a Pin (BBC4).

He was a member of the Noise Abatement Society and of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. In 1990 he said: “When I do die I shall be glad to get away from loud pop music and cars but I shall miss, insofar as when one is dead one can miss anything, the beautiful kindnesses of those people to whom courtesy comes naturally.”

He died on March 3, aged 83. He had two sons from a marriage which was dissolved.

Patrick Newley

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