← Back to portfolio

Culshaw Is Flying High With Stunning Portrayal

Published on

Renowned impressionist, Jon Culshaw, ended 2022 by concluding a three-month tour that enabled the 54-year-old to become his comedy idol.

Penned by Tim Whitnall, ‘Flying High’ expertly tells the story of Les Dawson’s rise from wayward school child, reluctant boxer and, would-be author, to one the nation’s most loved and respected comedians.

The hugely successful tour took in locations as far afield as Edinburgh, but it seemed so fitting to conclude at the Lowther Pavillion Theatre in Lytham St. Annes, the town Dawson called home and resided in until his death.

Culshaw captivates the audience, not only with his vocal perfection but also the perfect timing of stance and mannerisms, making this a personal homage to the Manchester-born genius, who passed away in 1993.

“It really is the most amazing thing, such a wonderful privilege and a joyful thing,” explained the Dead Ringers star. “Les is a joyful character to inhabit. Like putting a warm coat.

“Great timing and a marvellous technician, but because of his love of language, he could build the story and incorporate the jokes within as the story built to a brilliant pie-in-the-face punchline.

“He had this beautiful sense of the author in his material. It was more than just gag after gag, there was a love of language. And I think it was for those reasons that Les went far beyond trends that come and go with eras, he crossed over into the thinking person’s territory.

“This show has seen the likes of Ian McKellen, Reece Shearsmith, Alan Yentob in attendance, so many people who have this love and admiration for Les.”

Set in 1985, Flying High finds Les fielding phone calls from his agent, who's desperate for the comic to complete his autobiography, while reflecting on his journey from the entertainment wilderness to national treasure. A series of newsreels, recaps and meetings with famous faces (with every character perfectly captured and portrayed by Culshaw), perfectly paints a portrayal of a man who experienced more than his fair share of knockbacks before opportunity really did come knocking in 1967.

The show brilliant and intimately encapsulates a Les Dawson few knew; the disenfranchised schoolboy whose teacher’s backhanded compliment spurred him on to become an author to the young boxer trained in his uncle’s tough Manchester gym, who was so apologetic and mortified when knocking an opponent out, chose to make the English language his ultimate weapon.

With ‘contributions’ from Billy Connolly, Huw Edwards, and the iconic Cissie and Ada, sentimentality never gets too much with Flying High, and perfectly amalgamates the many hilarious situations of how one man’s determination and struggles went on to inspire him to delight a nation and become a staple of British television and the godfather of the mother-in-law joke.

And those struggles were something Culshaw truly believes served Dawson well, as he explains.

“I think those struggles did symbolise the tough times that you have to go through,” he said. “There is something about staying the course over 16, 20 years and building up to that moment when Les’ career really took.

“The boxing is very symbolic of taking the knocks while continuing to move forward. And Les had that great inner strength; he would have never given up.

“He always found something very philosophical about any knockback, something that you could gain and grow from. And from the moment of Opportunity Knocks he had that breadth of experience that gave him substance, presence and reverence.”

As well as the well-known and well respected of the acting and literary world, it was the presence of Tracy, Dawson’s widow, that really spurred Culshaw on.

“Tracy is an absolute inspiration who spurs you on and she has been so kind. It is a sense of wanting to remember Les and remind everyone of his genius and warmth as a person, Tracy and I are in this together.”

“I would like to thank Jon from the bottom of my heart,” added Tracy. “I feel like he has brought Les back to me and to us all.”

2023 marks 30 years since the death of Culshaw’s comic idol. So, will he be Flying High in this year?

“I would love to!” His response emphatic. “I would like to think that this is only the beginning.

“He was a comic you could admire and be impressed by, but you also loved as well. For me, the nation's finest 'droll comedian' of all time.”

0 Comments Add a Comment?

Add a comment
You can use markdown for links, quotes, bold, italics and lists. View a guide to Markdown
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. You will need to verify your email to approve this comment. All comments are subject to moderation.

Subscribe to get sent a digest of new articles by John Howard

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.