‘Honestly, a two-year old could do this stuff,’ he reveals in a soul-baring interview with the Radio Times. ‘I did two seasons at the Leicester Playhouse, and two at the National. People still stop me in the street to comment on my ‘Little Dorrit’, and yet look at me now, leaping up and down alongside some crazy-haired bimbo in yellow dungarees; singing a song about how kangaroos can bounce up and down. Really? They can? No shit!’
Griffiths became the titular character Mr Clownshoes in 2008 and quickly became a favourite with children and parents. Former BBC Head of Children’s Programming, Dawn Clough, recalls Griffiths initial interview, ‘He was really keen,’ she remembers, ‘and had the sort of unthreatening asexuality we look for in our male presenters. However, there were tell-tale signs early on that he was becoming disillusioned with the work. He began to refusing to fake ‘wonder’ when he saw everyday items like flowers and rainbows, and privately he confessed he was uncomfortable pretending to be a buccaneer or an oak tree. Almost as if it was beneath him.’
Melanie Hood, a mother of two, from Welling in Kent admits to being shocked by the interview, ‘Well, he always seems so jolly, doesn’t he? The way he’s smiling that big smile all the time, and the way he talks so earnestly to all the toys – Fatty Caterpillar, Baby Mungo, Loose Goose and Uncle Wrinkles – it never occurred to me that someone might find that demeaning.’
The presenter himself lays much of the blame at the feet of the scriptwriters. He says, ‘The plots, if you can call them that, are weak. Last week I filmed an episode where all I did was take four toys for a picnic, which we then had to abandon due to strong winds. Any normal person would have checked the forecast first; it stretches credulity to the limit.
‘Most of the time I’m left floundering for the character’s motivation – what compels someone to live in a tree-trunk shaped like a teapot, with four flea bitten stuffed animals? I keep trying to get them to explore the character, find out what makes him tick, apart from the clockwork shoes, of course, because deep down I sense he’s actually lonely and scared. You see, if you can’t bring that sort of depth to the part, then you just reduce him to an educationally sub-normal man who thinks the moon smells of cheese.’
However, others claim Griffiths is a diva, forever harping on about past glories. Former co-presenter Andy Davidson says Griffiths could be difficult to work with. ‘He can turn it on for the cameras, but honestly the minute they’re off he’ll stomp around ranting that he never had to teach Chitwel Ejiofor how to count to five using a foam abacus.’
Despite the complaints, Griffiths maintains that young people watching the show have no sense of his inner torment. ‘I may be screaming under my skin, but I will simply not allow myself to give a bad performance. I’ve worked with Penelope Keith, and let me tell you, if she suddenly found herself making potato prints with a glove puppet, she’d still put her heart and soul into it. Because she’s so bloody professional, that’s why. So bloody professional.’