Publication date: Spring 2018
105% funded
334 backers
Cover of The Freewheeling John Dowie

A memoir about cycling and stand-up comedy

If you’re thinking of becoming a stand-up comedian (and who isn’t?) then here’s some advice: don’t start doing it in 1972. I did, and it was a mistake. In 1972 there were no comedy clubs, no comedy agents and no comedy future. There was, however, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I went there that year, making my professional debut and getting my first review, a bad one. (“Fatuous”. The Scotsman.) But a bad review was hardly surprising. Comedy requires practice and, with venues being almost non-existent, practice was hard to find. But I persevered, doing gigs where I could, in folk clubs, music venues, fringe theatres, universities and rooms above a pub. Things improved. By the end of the decade, I was working regularly and earning a living. In the 1980s, “alternative comedy” arrived. With it came more gigs, more money and a lot more comedians. By the 1990s, comedy was big business and about to get even bigger. It was then, with impeccable comedy timing, that I packed it all in.

It was as though my departure was just the break that comedy was waiting for. No sooner had I stopped, than comedians were earning vast amounts of money performing in venues the size of small countries. I, meanwhile, was in a different sort of venue – a one-man tent. How did this happen? Simple. It happened because (as caring professionals have told me) I have an addictive personality. This doesn’t mean, as I assumed, that once you get to know me you find me endlessly fascinating. No, it means that once I get hold of something I like, I do it to death. Which is what happened when I bought a bike.

Oh yes, I thought I could handle it. I’ll just have the occasional ride, I told myself. Perhaps at weekends. Or to unwind after a stressful day. What a joke. Soon I was having bike rides before breakfast. Then I was riding my bike virtually every minute of every day. It got worse. The more bike rides I did, the more bike rides I wanted to do. Soon I was craving longer and longer journeys, friends, family and work all forgotten. In a very short while I had sold my flat, bought a tent, and was riding my bike all the time. Which is why, as former friends and contemporaries dined at the Ivy, I ate beans from a camping stove; as they drank sophisticated cocktails at the Groucho, I drank wine from a plastic mug; as they snorted heaps of cocaine, I rubbed liniment into my legs. The question, though, is this: which of us was the happier? And the answer is: them. Obviously.

I should make it clear that the bike rides I go on are not the kind enjoyed by the shave-your-legs-and-dress-yourself-in-Lycra sort of cyclist. I’ve got nothing against these people, but they’re not my kind of cyclist. My kind of cyclist tends to be either very old or very young, on rusty boneshakers or bicycles with training wheels, and they only have one thing in common: overtaking me on a regular basis. This is because I cycle more like a snail than a man, creaking along, my world on my back (or, rather, my bicycle’s back), with no idea of where I’m going or how to get there. Which explains the slow pace. I mean, if you don’t know where you’re going, why rush?

This book is not just about my life as a cyclist. It’s also about my life as a comedian. In one of those lives, starting off slowly then going rapidly downhill is a good thing. In the other, it’s not. It would have been nice if, just once, I’d got them the right way round. Like my bike rides, this book meanders from place to place, sometimes takes a wrong turn and occasionally gets lost. Which may not be a bad thing. If it wasn’t for getting lost we’d never know where we’re supposed to be. Or so I like to tell myself. All the bloody time.

It’s also a book that has no ending; at least, given that it’s the story of my life so far, I hope it hasn’t. I hope there are still a few more bike rides left: a few more hills to climb, a few more lanes to get lost in. But this is my journey so far. I hope you enjoy the ride. I did.

Comedian, poet, playwright, musician, actor, director, author. These are just a few of the words that John Dowie is able to spell. He began performing comedy in 1969, turning professional in 1972. Through the latter part of the 70s he worked with musicians, recording for Factory Records and Virgin, returning to solo comedy in the 1980s before stopping in 1995. After that, he worked as a director and wrote for radio and TV as well as the theatre, most notably Jesus My Boy, which was performed in the West End by Tom Conti and has since been translated and performed around the world. He also wrote a play for children, Dogman, which was issued on CD by Laughing Stock records and as a book by BBC Worldwide. In 2005 he decided to retire from theatrical work of any kind and went off with a bike and a tent. And now he’s back.

Many stories begin when the hero or the heroine enters a new reality and their lives are changed forever. It might be Alice falling down a rabbit hole, Mole abandoning his spring cleaning and heading for the river, or Lucy stepping through a wardrobe. My new bike didn’t lead me into Wonderland or Narnia or happy encounters with Toads and Badgers. But it did take me to a Sussex graveyard where I awoke just before dawn with my underpants on my head.


Update Nine

Thursday, 21 December 2017

God bless us everyone


I've been told that some sort of festivity is about to take place, followed not long afterwards by the death of the old year and the birth of the new. So, before all that happens, let me sincerely say I Hope You All Have a Wonderful Time During Whichever Holiday You Celebrate and (once again) Thank You All Very Much for Your Contribution to my Forthcoming (February!) Book.

And so,…

A Little Story To Keep Us Going Till The Book Gets Here

Monday, 30 October 2017



There’s a band called Supercharge who used to perform a delightful song entitled, “She Moved The Dishes First”, based on the joke: “My bird’s really posh.” “What makes you think so?” “When she has a piss in the sink, she moves the dishes first.”

The leader of that band, Albie Donnelly, is easily one of the finest men I have ever met. I was introduced to him in the early 80s…

Update Eight

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Dowie demytpb special2

My apologies for the long (and uncharacteristic) silence, which I can now break having received the artwork I’ve been waiting for. 

My idea for a cover was to parody the Bob Dylan album of a similar title, only instead of Bob and his then muse Suzie Rotolo strolling through the streets of Greenwich Village, it would be me (photoshopped presumably) pushing my bike through the same streets. I mentioned…

Me & My Band

Monday, 24 July 2017

Scan 22 jul 2017  19.27 copy

Mr John Dowie & the Big Girls Blouse was a band comprised of me (lead vocals and Stylophone); Dick Nelson (guitar and arguments); Jim Bates (drums and one-liners ); Rob the Roadie (roadie); several bass players (none of whom ever seemed to fit in); and John Mostyn, administrator/manager, who later went on to administrate/manage lesser Brummie bands such as the Beat and Fine Young Cannibals.

Me and a Beautiful Bonzo

Thursday, 8 June 2017


A guitarist friend of mine once told me a story that made me ache with jealousy. He was in his late teens and on the hippy trail, hitching his way around the usual Far Eastern localities. “What did you do about places to stay?” I asked. “Oh,” said my friend, “I’d walk into the village square, someone would be playing, I’d take out my guitar and join in, and then I’d have a bed for the night and…

Update Seven

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


I am pleased to say that the editor that Unbound assigned me delivered an impressive series of incisive thoughts. The manuscript has been massively improved. It's now in the hands of a copy editor meaning, I hope, that unwanted apostrophe's, spelling erors, meaningless  commas; semi-colons, and stray and unwanted punctuation; will all be ruthlessly excised?!!!!

Meanwhile …

The passing…

Update Six

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

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I'm pleased to say that an editor has been appointed to work on my book who, apparently, is a "very experienced, non-fiction specialist, particularly good on narrative and voice, who is assessing it from a development and structural perspective, and will respond with an annotated manuscript and a set of general notes, observations and suggestions". Which is excellent news, especially given my belief…

LOST WITHOUT WORDS: Improvising Actors & Women’s Warmth.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Imgres 1


In the early 1980s, when I was performing comedy and venues were scarce, I would sometimes book myself into short runs in various fringe theatres. One of them was the Finborough, a tiny room above a pub in Earls Court. At that time the theatre was run by Mike McCormack, along with assistant director, Nina Grahame. I became friends with them both, so much so that when Mike told me about a…


Monday, 20 February 2017

Jacktinker2 s


Jack Tinker was the most rare of all rare creatures – a theatre critic who was loved by the people he criticised; so much so that, following his death in October 1996, the lights of West End theatres were dimmed in his honour. Two memorial concerts were performed on his behalf: one at the London Palladium, the other in his hometown of Brighton.

One of the Brighton performers was Victor…

Update Five

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

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Not much news as of yet - the editorial process has begun and I'm looking forward to incisive criticism (from the editor) and childish petulance (from the author). Meanwhile, here's another story (not in the book).



Gary Turner was an artist, a musician, a boozer and a friend. Splashing paint on canvas was, I think, the thing that gave Gary the…


Friday, 9 December 2016

It's done! My sincere thanks to everyone who contributed, especially those who gave so freely of their time, tweeting, emailing, pleading and cajoling until the world caved in and we reached our target. More news will follow. As will a book. Exciting!

When I was a Kid (2). An Excerpt From "Brummie", A Poem.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Imgres 1

on Saturday mornings

we went to the flicks

(we never said pictures.

we went to the flicks)


if we wanted to go to the flicks

we could go to

the Luxor

the Triangle

the ABC Moseley

or the Imperial

and we could see


a newsreel

a film

and a serial

and what we loved best

was the serial

the serial was great

every week

the hero got trapped…

When I Was A Kid (1)

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


When I was a kid, Saturday morning cinema shows were a highlight of my life. There would be a feature film of some kind, cartoons, and a black & white serial, my favourite part of the programme. Some of the serials I saw included Zorro, The Phantom, a never ending series of incredibly crummy Flash Gordon films, and the very wonderful Batman serials, two of them, still the best ever portrayal of the…

A Bookshop & A Podcast

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Anyone in the Clapham area of London is invited to come along to where myself and author/comedian Dave Cohen will be reading our respective works, tonight (24th November) at 8. 00. For those who prefer tb be entertained at home, I can be heard chatting with the very lovely Robin Ince and Josie Long at

Peter Cook. Born this day, 17th November, 1937. A tiny tribute

Thursday, 17 November 2016


Random Thoughts On Peter Cook.





He used to wear

Italian suits

And Chelsea boots

Beyond the Fringing

E.L Wistying


Perfect genting


Private Eyeing

Cocking a snooting

Putting the boot in

Lenny Brucing

Elegant & slim & thinning

Liked a glass of Gordon’s ginning

Bet he got an awful lot of what we might call…

The Great London Book Tour

Monday, 31 October 2016

I will be reading extracts from ‘The Freewheeling John Dowie’ in a double bill with comedian/writer/musician Dave Cohen. The readings will begin with Dave performing his show “Music Was My First Love” at 8. 00. I’ll follow him at 8. 45. 

Here are the dates and the venues:.

Big Green Bookshop Wood Lane, North London on Thursday November 10th at 8. 00.

Big Green Bookshop

Unit 1, Brampton…

POKING LOU REED IN THE BACK (another story not used in my book)

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


I was never a fan of the Velvet Underground, nor of Lou Reed, until around 1990, when he collaborated with John Cale on ‘Songs for Drella’, a tribute to Andy Warhol. During that time, he released two other albums, ‘New York’ and ‘Magic and Loss’, both of which I played to death, enjoying one song in particular, “Warrior King’, a song in which Lou Reed declared that, if he had the power, there…

Another unused story - the Cruelty of Children & The Showbiz Ego

Friday, 30 September 2016

The showbiz ego is a frail and a fragile thing. You’d think our children would take note of that, and keep their unwanted opinions to themselves. But no.

Towards the end of my comedy career I had made a pilot programme for the BBC. Thinking he might enjoy it, I decided to show it to my six-year old son. After less than a minute he turned to me and said, “Would you mind if I went away and did something…

Me and Marc Bolan (another story not in the book)

Monday, 19 September 2016

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Marc Bolan died on September 16th, 1977. He was 29. Most people, when you say his name, will probably think of the curly-haired leader of T. Rex, originator of glam rock, enthusiastic Rider of White Swans and proponent of Hot Love. I enjoyed that particular incarnation but the one I’m more fond of is an earlier one – one in which Marc Bolan sat cross-legged on the floor, strumming an acoustic guitar…

Another story (not in the book)

Thursday, 8 September 2016


It’s 1979. I’m in a toilet in Clapham Junction, looking at a wall on which various people have scrawled the names of various groups: The Jam, The Clash, The Pretenders, and so on. Amongst the list of names someone has written, “The Police (the band)”.

About a year before this, I’d done three tours as the “special guest” of Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, a comedy-rock band…

Some Stories

Friday, 2 September 2016

I have begun sharing stories (not in the book) on Facebook & Twitter. Here are the first two:



ME & MAC: So. Let's try doing a scene in ... oh, let's see .... a chemist's?


Update Four

Monday, 15 August 2016

The unimaginable (to me, anyway) has happened. Thanks to old mate David Olrod I have been dragged, blushing and simpering, into the 21st Century and the world of social media, i.e., Twitter (which I quite like) and Facebook (not so keen). Old friends have sprung from the Facebook woodwork, not the least of whom is musician Jim Bates, former drummer in my "comedy rock band" the Big Girls Blouse, and…

Update Three

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

It’s been a while since I poked around in the gloomy recesses of my shed (partly because I’ve been away riding my bike) so here I am, covered in cobwebs, clutching some sort of garden implement – the function of which I have no knowledge of – with a quick note to let you know what I’ve been up to.

One of my ambitions, once the book is published, is to see if I can wring some sort of theatrical…

A Brighton Gig/A Small Splash

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

I am reading extracts from The Freewheeling John Dowie on June 16th at the Old Market in Brighton & Hove, courtesy of local impresario Mr David Olrod. I will be joined by multi-instrumentalist Charlotte Glasson. Full details can be found here I’ve also been honoured with a story in the Tunbridge Wells Times, which in no way makes my toes curl with horror…

A Message From Alan Moore

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

That fabulous fabulist Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Halo Jones and much more, including the keenly anticipated novel Jerusalem (bigger tha the Bible apparently) was given a draft copy of my book and very kindly wrote the following:

“John Dowie is the archaeopteryx of alternative comedy, in that the fossil record makes no sense without him. Now, with The Freewheeling John Dowie…

An Interview

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


Those who like to listen to clapped-out former comedians banging on and on about themselves for what seems like hours can do so by going to The interview is conducted by Martin Walker for and he is a very pleasant, witty and articulate man. When he can get a word in.




Tuesday, 3 May 2016

“It’s Alive! It’s Alive!”


On May 19th at I will be performing a thirty-minute extract from “The Freewheeling John Dowie” at the Poetry Café (in London’s Covent Garden) as the special guest of comedy stalwart DAVE COHEN.

Dave is a writer, comedian, Perrier nominee, a founder member of the Comedy Store Players and has written for many shows including Have I Got News For…

Update Two

Friday, 8 April 2016

John Fleming, comedy entrepeneur, blogger and keeper of the Malcolm Hardee flame has written a nice piece...

Update One

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Dear All

I am thrilled and heartened by the number of responses and pledges I’ve received so far. Thank you all very much. (If I know you and you haven’t received my personal thanks it’s because (a) I don’t have your email address and (b) I don’t do Twitter because (c) I drink.)

What began as a joyous deluge has now become a (perhaps) more realistic trickle. I am hoping now that word-of-mouth…

paul bassett davies
paul bassett davies asked:

John, can it be? The world's most famous person nobody's heard of, exposing himself to public humiliation yet again? Well, fair play: you pledged for my book so I'll pledge for yours. Just remind me how much you pledged, so I can give you fractionally more, and obtain some kind of passive-aggressive moral superiority. Meanwhile, here's a way we can both raise money: we'll say we're reviving that Edinburgh two-man show we did. I'm pretty sure plenty of people would pay us not to do it. What do you think?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

I'LL pay you not to do it. I can't remember exactly how much I pledged. Oh yes I can. It's shameful.

paul bassett davies
paul bassett davies asked:

Ok, I'll pledge accordingly. And we shouldn't knock that show, John. It was actually very good. It probably just needed to have two different people in it. PBD. X.

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

No. Only one. (tee hee) x

paul bassett davies
paul bassett davies asked:

Oh come on, you weren't that bad. X.
By the way, I see you don't exactly use Twitter with burning dedication (just as well: it's probably the most addictive thing of all), but those of us who do are spreading the word. Good luck with the rest of the funding.

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

I'm touched and flattered. Thank you Paul x d

Brian Montague
Brian Montague asked:

Hallo John, there isn't perhaps the merest whisper of a reference to my paltry insignificant hardlyworthmentioning contribution to your relationship with the noble there?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

Oh yes. In fact, if you look at the synopsis, it was you who advised me to get hold of OS maps. You may not be named though. Most people aren't

Brian Montague
Brian Montague asked:

Hallo John, That's okay, I prefer not to be mobbed at Tescos. All the best with the boodle. Your fan, Bri

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

You will earn your fame in Heaven x

Hunt Emerson
Hunt Emerson asked:

Hi John - No question, just letting you know I've now pledged for 2 copies of the book. Well, that's someone's Xmas present sorted.

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

Not mine I hope.
Thank you very much , Hunt. Previously the world greatest living cartoonist. Now even greater.

Adrian Oliver
Adrian Oliver asked:

Hi John, Would The Freewheeling John Dowie like to come down to The Freewheel pub in Graveney, Kent (Between Faversham & Whitstable) and do a live event on a Saturday evening? We can even provide a piano... Thanks, Adrian.

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

Hi Adrian. Yes, I would. Very much. I don't need the piano as I no longer murder that particular instrument. I'd like to do about 45 minutes of readings from the book, so I'd need to know what kind of evening you had in mind. Get in touch with me via y website and we can talk further. Best regards JD

Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly asked:

I have pledged to have my name in the back of the book but, since our names contain exactly the same number of letters, I was wondering whether my name could go on the front of the book?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

Hmmm... let me think about this Mrk.
Best Joohhhn

Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly asked:

I have pledged to have my name in the back of the book but, since our names contain exactly the same number of letters, I was wondering whether my name could go on the front of the book?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

See above

Sara Lambert
Sara Lambert asked:

How long is a piece of string John?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

The answer is a piece of cake.

David Robert
David Robert asked:

Hi John,

Fancy sending a copy to Cycling World Magazine for review?

Coantact David Robert-

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

I'll be happy to. When it's published or a pre-publication draft?

David Robert
David Robert asked:

When is it due to be published?

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

Well into next year I'm guessing

Jacqueline Cook
Jacqueline Cook asked:

Hi John,
You briefly lived next door to me in West Norwood (c1980) so when you were retweeted by Ronnie Golden, who I follow, I thought aha! Small world and all so I bought a book.
Take care

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

That's a very nice chain of events. Thank you. I shall mention this story the next time I see him - which will be soon.

George Root
George Root asked:

All i want to do is buy your book, how do I do it???????

John Dowie
John Dowie replied:

You have. It will arrive at some point in the future. So thank you and please hang on

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