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24 September 2014

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You are in: Manchester > People > profiles > As good things go, he went

Hovis Presley

Hovis Presley

As good things go, he went

How do you pay tribute to a poet as reticent about fame as Hovis Presley? Three years on from the bard of Bolton's untimely death, fans have a chance to appreciate his work through a new play.

Richard McFarlane AKA Hovis Presley

- Richard McFarlane was a performance poet – who performed under the character name “Hovis Presley”.
- Born in Bolton in 1960.
- He was well known for his deadpan delivery and dextrous wit.
- Performed alongside the likes of John Hegley and John Shuttleworth.
- Fans of Hovis included Mark Radcliffe, Badly Drawn Boy and Jonny Vegas.
- He died, aged 44, of a heart attack in 2005.

Dave Morgan – a fellow writer based in Bolton – has repackaged Richard's work as a play in two acts. The result is 'Hovis in Wonderland'.

In the first act we see a year in the life of Hovis, in which he interacts with characters from Richards’ book 'Poetic Off License'. Act two concentrates on one day in Hovis' life – as Dave puts it, 'bowling around Bolton'.

It’s an affectionate tribute to the man and his work – but a heavy responsibility for Dave, who was well aware of Richard's ambivalent attitude towards fame.


"I think he would have distrusted the tributes. I hope deep down he'd be secretly pleased but I've always maintained he'd be livid if he thought somebody like me had taken his material and done something with it.

Richard McFarlane and Dave Morgan

Richard McFarlane (Hovis)and Dave Morgan

"I didn't realise just how much adapting someone else's work would be like treading on eggshells. People love certain poems and don't like the idea of them being chopped up and rearranged. And that's what I've done – I've taken some work which is really well known and really butchered it about!"

A big risk then – so why did he do it?

“When Richard died the family set up a trust as a memorial fund. They raised money through a number of gigs, but when I went to those gigs they didn't actually do much of Richard's stuff. There’s hundreds of one liners in Richard’s material, and I wanted to anchor them in some way and hold it together.

"I went through Richard's work and started to pick out bits and then asked Richard’s friends what they thought of the idea. They liked it and through them I met up with Richard’s mum and sister and they let me get on with it.”

'Pathologically unambitious'

Whilst Richard didn't court fame – one newspaper article describes him as 'pathologically unambitious' – his work has an enduring appeal.  Dave puts this down to,"... how clever his word play is. But it's also direct, it's stuff you can almost touch it's so familiar. You could say it's about Bolton, but it's about everyman – it's universal."

This universality can be seen poems like 'I rely on you'. Fans apparently asked Richard countless times to use it instead of their wedding vows – and with lines like:

I rely on you
like a handyman needs pliers
like an auctioneer needs buyers
like a laundromat needs driers
like The Good Life needed Richard Briers
I rely on you's easy to see why.

'I rely on you' doesn't feature in 'Hovis in Wonderland', but there are plenty of chances to revel in Hovis' other work – and Dave has been heartened by the response to the play so far.

“I've always been wary of doing it in Bolton – that friends and family would feel I didn't do the work justice. But I've had a really positive response. A guy who knew Richard very well came up to me after one performance and said, 'I've seen Richard perform that dozens of times and never quite got it like that. I feel like I've seen something different about it all.'

"He'd never seen it as a body of work before. I wasn't trying to do that, I was just trying to do a homage to the work. It's very heartening what people have said so far though."

No doubt it'll be heartening for the fans to have a chance to hear Hovis' work again too.

last updated: 23/06/2008 at 14:25
created: 31/03/2008

You are in: Manchester > People > profiles > As good things go, he went

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