Dogs, glasses, potatoes... the beauty of John Hegley’s surreal humour is its homeliness. This unsung national treasure has an uncommon ability of being able to take the most ordinary humdrum thing – be it a sofa, stick or handkerchief – and come up with something hilarious.

A giant of the alternative comedy scene he appeals to adults and children alike, not by being silly or patronising, but the opposite. His poetry, jokes and songs are funny, engaging but also very clever – and we can all identify with them because he is like us.

All of which makes him the perfect comic to play a family show looking at some unsung members of the animal kingdom, at The North Wall arts centre in Summertown on Saturday.

All Hail the Snail sees John taking his audience on a humorous journey through his library of poems, songs, stories and animal drawings, armed with his trusty mandolin.

“There are lots of stupid rhymes,” he says. “It’s hopefully entertaining but with some depth and weight. It’s light and heavy at the same time – and value for money I hope. I do try.”

The genius behind such classics as Eddie Don’t Like Furniture and Well Bread Dog, goes on: “It’s about getting young people to delight in a theatrical experience. I want to involve them and make them realise they can be participants too: from an active and emotional perspective.

“The show’s made up of various little scenarios about tolerance and inclusion, featuring a few unexpected characters. As the audience get to know them they discover they’re not so different after all.”

The show, aimed at ages seven and over, is part of the 35th birthday celebrations for performance poetry group Apples and Snakes and will see him joined by musician Clare Elstow, whose styles range from folk, and ragtime to baroque. She shares with John a particular penchant for the works of Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (John’s father claimed to have been related to the 18th century composer for harpsichord).

“One would expect an educational aspect to a show in Oxford wouldn’t one!” John laughs. “People may not have heard of Rameau, but certainly will by the time we leave. There are lots of things you wouldn’t expect in a children’s show. There’s a chance to take away something you haven’t heard before.”

Any fan will know about John’s life-long obsession with dogs, and he assures us there will be plenty of canine antics.

“There will be dogs a-plenty,” he smiles, but other animals too.”

Not cats though. While he is a cat-lover, they rarely feature in his poems. “I am vulnerable and need assurance and help, and dogs are funny,” he says.

“Dogs are more comical than cats and lend themselves more to comedy. Cats are in their own world. Having said that, I haven’t had a dog since the 80s and I live in a flat, so am happy with my tabby, Ella.”

Born in London he was raised in Luton (the town provides another rich seam of humorous poetry, along with its football club, The Hatters, of which he was remained a lifelong fan) and Bristol.

After school he worked as a bus conductor and civil servant but became a household name after becoming a musical comedian, starting off at London’s Comedy Store in the 1980s, touring as one half of The Brown Paper Bag Brothers with Otiz Cannelloni and featuring in a band called the Popticians (even recording two sessions for John Peel).

“I’ve always enjoyed words and simple concise wordplay,” he says. “I used to love playground rhymes.

“It’s something I had an affinity with. I started out as a singer first, but even then it was the wordplay that I loved.

“In 1979 I was singing in London and some chap came up to me and said ‘you’re a wordsmith’. So I’ve gone with my strengths.”

He goes on: “ I do educational stuff in schools too. It’s a multi-pronged effort.”

His 13 books include (the titles giving a hint to his obsessions) Visions of the Bone Idol (Poems about Dogs and Glasses), Glad to Wear Glasses, The Family Pack, My Dog is a Carrot, The Sound of Paint Drying, Peace Love and Potatoes, I am a Poetato and New & Selected Potatoes.

Glasses are another career-long obsession. He says: “When I started performing in comedy clubs, instead of carrying a load of things with me, I’d just perform with what I had in front of me – and that was my glasses.

“Parents say it’s good for their children to have glasses put in a positive way.

“I got them when I was 12 and liked them as an accoutrement. They made me stand out in some way. People did used to shout things at me, but I used to make jokes about my glasses as a pre-emptive strike. Now you see me... now you don’t!”

With new books and radio shows, John’s popularity goes from strength to strength, remarkable in a world where few alternative comedians stand the test of time. To what does he attribute his longevity? “That’s down to the people who come along – and I suppose I do have new things. In fact I’ve just been working on a song this morning: a song to the Morris tune Shepherd’s Hey.

John says he can’t wait to come to The North Wall.

“Oxford is always good,” he says. “I know people think of Oxford as very stereotypically cultured, but people there do tend to buy a lot of books. And there’s something in this show that everyone, even adults, will enjoy.”

  •  John Hegley: All Hail the Snail, is at The North Wall, Summertown, Oxford, on Saturday. Shows at 2pm and 5pm. Tickets from