How the dad of John Shuttleworth’s creator captured the birth of Sheffield’s original high rise

What links John Shuttleworth and Sheffield University’s Arts Tower?

It isn’t that the comedy character has written a new song about one of the city’s tallest structures – although it wouldn’t be a surprise if a paean to the place was lurking in his back catalogue.

Claire Thornley, of Eleven Design, hands Graham Fellows the cheque alongside his sisters Lorna, Sally and Clare.

Claire Thornley, of Eleven Design, hands Graham Fellows the cheque alongside his sisters Lorna, Sally and Clare.

Instead the connection is Shuttleworth’s creator, the actor and musician Graham Fellows, who has played a central role in a new exhibition celebrating the landmark.

The show, called 100 Views of the Arts Tower, is a tribute to ‘Sheffield’s original high rise’, featuring dozens of artworks capturing the building’s presence in paintings, embroidery, ceramics, oral history, film and more.

Organised by city listings website Our Favourite Places, it also delves into archive material, bringing out pictures showing how the tower was constructed in the 1960s – and the man commissioned to take the images was Graham’s father, Derek Fellows.

“My father was a professional photographer who lived in Broomhill for most of his life,” says Graham. 

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

“His work included taking most of the university graduation photos through the 1960s and 70s. He was also the main photographer for Henry Spencer & Sons estate agents in Sheffield for much of this period.”

The images depict what must have been quite a feat of engineering for Sheffield at the time. An enormous crane soars above rows of terraced houses and small shops, now long-demolished, and the 20-storey, 255 ft tower's familiar glazed facade can be glimpsed beneath a mass of scaffolding. Construction began in 1961 and lasted for four years; it is the tallest academic building in the UK and was officially opened in 1966 by the Queen Mother.

The Arts Tower’s trustees asked Graham and his sisters Lorna, Sally and Clare for permission to use their father’s pictures in the exhibition. They agreed, and the £500 payment they received has been donated to the volunteer-run Broomhill Library, which wants to redevelop its premises and surrounding garden to create a ‘community hub’.

“Derek was a keen user of the Broomhill library and would have wanted to do anything he could to support it and improve its services, so my three sisters and I were very happy to pass on the £500 in the knowledge that it will be put to good use at a time of huge library funding cuts,” says Graham.

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

The library has just been awarded more than £15,000 from the Government to restore its rear garden, and architects are working on a final design option for the rest of the site. Planned improvements include disabled access and an internal lift.

“One of my sisters, Sally, still lives in Broomhill and has MS which means she is a wheelchair user, and not currently able to access the library,” says Graham, who now lives in Louth, Lincolnshire.

“I think the exhibition is well worth seeing by Sheffield residents and the library improvements a cause well worth fighting for.”

The show at the university’s Western Bank Library is inspired by One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, a collection of woodblock prints by 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, which focused on the peak that dominates the landscape around Tokyo. It is a spin-off of Sheffield Modern, an architecture festival that took place last year led by Our Favourite Places and the Sheffield Modernist Society. Among the highlights was a live concert in the Arts Tower's paternoster lift, which is made up of 38 carriages that endlessly move between the building's 20 floors.

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

The Arts Tower under construction in the 1960s. Picture: Derek Fellows

The exhibition runs until Sunday. Visit www.sheffield.ac.uk/library/exhibition/artstower for details.

Graham Fellows gives the donation to Broomhill Library volunteer Mattie Atkinson.

Graham Fellows gives the donation to Broomhill Library volunteer Mattie Atkinson.