He’s morphed into hundreds of famous characters, cracked jokes with Ozzy Osbourne over a cuppa and posed as William Hague in ‘that’ famous hoax phone call to Tony Blair. Now the man behind the voice, Jon Culshaw, has received an honorary degree from Edge Hill University in recognition of his outstanding work as an impressionist, writer and broadcaster.
In his own words “the boy done good”, despite leaving school with few academic qualifications and instead sticking with the belief that he would get through life just fine by making people laugh.
“At school I only paid attention to things that I was interested in, so that accounted for about 30% of the time,” laughed Jon. “I knew that an academic path wasn’t really for me.”
“To receive this honorary degree is such a privilege and I’m immensely proud – Edge Hill’s extra special to me because it is from my hometown.”
Born and brought up in Ormskirk, he started his career in hospital radio, then joined Red Rose Radio and, among other things, used his talents to read the weather forecast in the voice of Frank Bruno. But it was ‘that’ phone call in 1998 that made him famous, impersonating William Hague while working for Capital Radio. He was put through to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair who, despite instantly discovering the hoax, had a lengthy conversation with him on air until a member of staff ended the call.
“At the time, I had just learnt a William Hague impression and I wanted to try it out on someone. So I thought who better than the Prime Minister. I wasn’t really expecting to be put through but I was, and that was it really. Should I have done it? Well, if it’s funny then why not?”
So when did Jon first realise he had his ‘gift’?
“When I was young I’d always do impersonations of relations and friends and I’d have people laughing so I thought that radio would be good to get into because it’s pretty easy to introduce characters while presenting.”
Obvious though his talents were in vocal work, Jon saw new opportunities on TV and for the last decade he has been entertaining millions with shows such as BBC2’s Dead Ringers, ITV’s 2DTV and well-known TV dramas including Heartbeat and Little Britain. Recently, Jon teamed up with Debra Stephenson, originally an impressionist and stand-up comedian, in The Impressions Show with Culshaw and Stephenson on BBC One.
The pair impersonate a host of well-known stars, with targets spanning the worlds of popular culture, sport and politics.
“This latest show is great and I love working with Deborah, who is close to many of the celebrities.
“Doing what I do, I’ve met quite a lot of famous people. Ozzy Osbourne was one of my favourites – he’d sit there asking me to tell him what I wanted him to say. Tony Blair was another interesting person, although I found it most bizarre the way his spin people would flap around him and would be a little too eager to protect him from his own enthusiasm.”
Next, Jon has the pleasure of working with veteran comedian Ronnie Corbett for a one-off sketch show at Christmas, who is one of his biggest inspirations.
When Jon wants some downtime from comedy, he turns to astronomy. “I find it fascinating and have read many books on it. Who could fail to be impressed by the planets, stars and galaxies?”
So what words of wisdom does Jon have for our students who are trying to break into show business?
“You have to believe that anything is possible, keep at it and believe in your own ability. Think about what you can ‘bring to the party’ and have a good sense of why you are different.”
Jon dedicated his honorary degree to his mother, Teresa, who sadly passed away in September.
Listen to the full interview with Jon: