In Conversation with Johnny Hutch

Feature in Issue 6-4 | Winter 1994

Johnny Hutch is a leading international adviser and performer in all fields of entertainment, comedy, acrobatics and stagecraft. Winner of the titles of Britain’s Premier Tumbler and the 1976 World Circus Championships, led in 1977, at the age of 64, to a live performance, where he was captured on video, doing a round-off flip flop full twisting back somersault. This year he received an MBE for his services to entertainment. Paul Vates went along to chat to Johnny Hutch at the end of his workshop for the International Workshop Festival in November.

I was welcomed by a myriad of smiles and giggles from a group of twenty or so adults: actors, dancers, directors. I watched the group perform their show, tumbling to music; transforming into camels, dogs and conveyor belts; sliding at speed over table tops; creating slapstick from chairs, newspapers and each other. But before the closing dance routine, a bellowing ‘Hold it!’ rang out. The diminutive speaker was the workshop leader. He held them to attention. ‘Breathe!’ They breathed and, finally, he let them finish. Whoops of delight filled the air. A climactic conclusion to a weekend workshop with Johnny Hutch as part of the International Workshop Festival.

At 81 years of age, dressed in a suit, he informally presents his workshop and gets results from all who attend, recreating many of his successful routines he has choreographed for the famous over the years. As for the vigorous tumbling routines:

‘Even the human being learning to walk is an acrobatic feat. It is possible to do most things – the impossible takes a little longer. Visual theatre is the finest way of speaking to an audience.’

‘What’s important to remember,’ said one of the organisers, ‘is that yesterday morning, many of these people couldn’t even do a forward roll – now look at them!’

Johnny’s inspirations are Chaplin (he was adviser on the film Chaplin), Laurel & Hardy, and Harry Langden. Then there is Tommy Handley, Rob Wilton, Max Wall, and Benny Hill.

‘I was born in Middlesborough, Yorkshire.’ In 1913, Middlesborough was in North Riding, ‘I left school only to find I was too small to do anything. The steelworks manager told me straight: “Come back when you’ve grown a bit!”’

As fate would have it, a troupe of Arab acrobats were in the area and holding auditions, ‘My mother dragged me round to see them and suddenly I was a performer on a five-year apprenticeship.’ Being the smallest, he was given the position of Top Mounter – the one who stands at the top of a human pyramid.

He has appeared at the London Palladium more than any other living performer, first appearing there in 1927.

If there was one outstanding memory from his outstanding career, what would it be? A short pause for reflection and his face lights up. ‘It was the 1930 Royal Command Performance. I was the Top Mounter with The Seven Hindustans and we were instructed beforehand that on no account should we look into the Royal Box. But come the pyramid, there I was, on top, and on eye level with the Box. It was like a magnet. And I looked! And I thought. “They’re looking at me. Now I’m in for it! It’s the tower for me!!” And to this day I can clearly see King George’s beard and Queen Mary’s pearl necklace.’

As we parted company, one of the workshop’s participants came over and shook Johnny’s hand saying, ‘It was an honour.’ The whole entertainment industry owes so much to people like Johnny Hutch.

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Issue 6-4
p. 12