John Hegley was born in North London in 1953 but soon moved with his family to Luton. Before attending Bradford University to study European Literature and Sociology, he worked as a bus conductor and as a civil servant. He began his performing career at Interaction (a tiny campus in North London which specialised in playful participatory theatre out-reach and goat-care), was discovered in 1983 by John Peel as part of the band The Popticians, and now enjoys a cult following among fans of subversive comedy. His surreal poetry is often heard on BBC radio and widely performed ‘live’, often set to music that is played by the poet himself. He has published ten books, including Glad to Wear Glasses (1990) and other titles of verse, prose and drama, several of which are illustrated with his drawings. He has also published a collection of photographs of potatoes.
Hegley frequently visits classrooms to help teach children - who love his delight in language and offbeat clowning. And in his public performances he often retains a sort of mock-teacherly authority, which is evident in the first of these recordings. Audiences are told off ('No excuse for talking') and are solemnly invited to participate in wonderfully stupid activities (as in ‘Blancmange’) or to speak French, or to draw pictures. In ‘Granddad's Song for Grandma’ he explores his surprisingly exotic family history: he claims to be descended from the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and that his grandmother danced at The Folies Bergères. Granddad's song is a moving evocation of an ordinary man discovering somebody wonderful, and experiencing the delicious surprise of realizing that she is within his reach.
Hegley's three short poems about his mother perhaps best illustrate his unique tone of voice, his delight in rhythm, and his celebration of the ordinary things of life. His appeal to children arises from his directness, his being easy to understand, and his jokes - about smelly dogs, glasses, Luton bungalows, handkerchiefs and the misery of human existence. These qualities also delight adults as we can hear from the response of the audience in Stroud.