Manshead School joker Gavin makes an impression on tour

Gavin Spokes, centre, in One Man Two Guvnors
Gavin Spokes, centre, in One Man Two Guvnors

At Manshead Upper School, Dunstable, young Gavin Spokes was the class clown, getting into trouble more than once for doing blisteringly accurate impersonations of his teachers and, in particular, his headteacher Graham Kellet.

He was also pretty sporty and was known to have a killer stroke at the cricket stumps and clever turns on the football field, writes Anne Cox.

Spokes was the sort of boy who caused teachers to sardonically sneer: “You think you’re so funny don’t you? You ought to be on the stage!”

Fast forward about 20 years and Gavin Spokes lives in Leighton Buzzard and is the undeniable hit in the National Theatre’s touring production of the hugely successful comedy One Man Two Guvnors, which comes to Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre next month.

The show is currently on the biggest tour ever programmed by the NT and Gavin, who plays the lead, hungry and dim-witted gopher Francis Henshall (a part originally created for James Cordon) has the biggest challenge of his acting career.

The story is set in 1960s Brighton where the ever-hungry Henshall works for the local Mr Big. By sheer stupidity he finds himself on the payroll of a second master and he comes undone trying to serve them both. The show, written by Richard Bean, is packed with physical humour that has Gavin in knockabout good form throughout.

“It’s going really well,” said 35-year-old Gavin. “My drama teacher at college said that I wouldn’t do much with my career until I was in my 30s and she was right. I did work on and off. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve rarely stopped working, but this is the biggest role of my career so far.”

In the last five years the solidly built actor, who still occasionally turns out for Dunstable Cricket Club, has played comedian Oliver Hardy in a stage play, and has appeared in Guys And Dolls, 1984, Noises Off and was last year’s Mr Toad in the Royal & Derngate’s Christmas production of Wind In The Willows.

Earlier he lived and worked in America while his wife, dancer and choreographer, Emma Annetts, worked with Celine Dion.

The couple later returned to the UK and Gavin made TV appearances in Utopia, Obsession, Hollyoaks and The Bill.

But his big break came when he became understudy and then leading man in the West End production of One Man. Before he knew it he was fronting a year-long national tour.

Locally the tour reaches Aylesbury Waterside on August 11; the Royal & Derngate in September; Wycombe Swan in December and New Theatre Oxford next February.

Gavin was born at the Luton & Dunstable Hospital. As a teenager he was a member of a Bedfordshire theatre group and the National Youth Musical Theatre Company.

“I went to Priory Middle School in Dunstable, but it was at Manshead I realised how much I enjoyed making people laugh.

“I used to do impersonations of the teachers like Mr Kellet and people off the telly.

“We came back from the US to London in 2006 and five years later moved to Wing before settling in Leighton Buzzard last year.

“One Man is a huge challenge. If you’ve got James Cordon or Rufus Hound as the leads then audiences know who they are but with me – well I’m just hoping to charm the pants off everyone – and it seems to be working!

“It’s such a well written play like a cross between panto, Morecambe and Wise and a musical. The tour is going really well and we’re playing to packed houses. We’re touring until next March and I do try to get home at weekends.

“On Sundays I turn into a vegetable. Literally I’m virtually in a coma all day as I try and recoup my energy. It is an incredibly physical part and it really takes it out of you – but I’m loving every minute of it.”