John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett’s TV debut ended in a fashion which mirrored the turn Otway’s career was going to take.

In a mini freak-out at the end of Bob Lind song Cheryl’s Going Home Otway ran around like an over-excited schoolchild, kicking over Barratt’s amp as he tried to jump on top of it, effectively shutting the song down.

The camera panned over to Otway as he lay on his stomach singing the final verses a capella as Barratt tried to strangle him.

With only two hits to his name over more than 40 years, Otway has made failure into an art form, with spectacular flop after flop.

But his incessant live schedule has meant along the way he has gained a legion of dedicated fans.

They famously got together to give him a second hit Bunsen Burner in 2002 as a 50th birthday present, and ensured he was named above Paul Simon, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan in a 1999 BBC list of the nation’s favourite lyrics, coming seventh with 1978 B-side Beware Of The Flowers (Cos I’m Sure They’re Gonna Get You Yeh!).

His new movie carried on the work of his supporters, who began as a carefully run mailing list before becoming early adopters of the internet and creating one of the first newsgroups.

“Everybody said ‘What are you going to do for your 60th birthday?’,” says Otway.

“A movie seemed like a pretty good idea.

“We had done a Royal Albert Hall campaign [in 1998 when 4,000 fans packed into the London venue to see him play] so I knew there were enough fans to fill the Odeon Leicester Square – which would give us enough of a budget to make a film.”

The premiere provided the climax of the film, with the director and camera team capturing footage of fans entering the cinema, before quickly editing it into the final reel.

“I was just watching it hoping it would work properly,” admits Otway. “We had eight or nine seconds of blackness and then it came up. No one knew what the ending was going to be like until that night!

“We had no sponsors or backers for the film, basically the fans invested in it, and were all credited as producers.

“The projectionist said he had never seen anything like it – as the producer credit came up, half the audience stood up and pointed their mobile phones at the screen!”

Rock And Roll’s Greatest Failure: Otway The Movie traces Otway’s career from that first Old Grey Whistle Test performance through his “ups and many downs” – from his failure to achieve a follow-up to 1978 hit Really Free to his disastrous attempt at a world tour.

The archive footage was assisted by Otway’s almost obsessive filming of the major moments in his life.

“The idea of starring in a movie came to me when I was about nine years old,” he laughs.

“Someone would follow me with a camera when I thought I was doing something clever.

“My poor daughter, who did a lot of the editing, had to sit through hours of her dad acting like a prat.”

He admits he dreaded watching some of the footage.

“It’s a self-effacing look at my career,” he says. “The more embarrassing the footage was, the more valuable it became.

“I had a camera at my first rehearsal with the band, and I remember getting someone to film me as I came into the room and met them. For years I wondered why I had done that, I’d made an idiot of myself. It looks a real fake moment – but it’s a gem!”

He also found interview material from an abandoned 1980s Otway movie, a 45-minute documentary in 16mm of a homecoming show in Aylesbury following his first hit, and even footage of a very young Jools Holland introducing him in what must have been the former Squeeze pianist’s first professional appearance in front of the camera.

The film underlines the direction Otway’s career has followed – having not released an album of new original material since 2002.

“I’ve just recently recorded a few tracks with Willy but not enough for a complete album,” says Otway, who reunited with his old sidesman on tour in 2009.

“For somebody at my stage in my career I’m unlikely to break through with an album.

“A lot of my career has been about taking my fans on epic journeys and fun adventures in the music industry.

“Part of the fun is what we get up to outside the records. For the hit campaign I can’t think of any other artist who let his fans choose what the hit should be. People engage with it because they think it’s a bit of a wheeze.

“I ended up having a record company with 10,000 employees who went out and worked the shops to make sure the record got in the charts. The records might be rubbish, but the fun you can have with them is great!”

He led his Otway mask-wearing fans on a parade through Cannes to deliver the movie to the cinema – something he is considering doing in Brighton for this screening.

The Duke’s@Komedia show will see Otway team up once more with long-time collaborator Attila The Stockbroker – the pair worked together as a duo from 1989, writing a surreal rock opera Cheryl and touring as Headbutts And Halibuts. Shoreham-based Attila will be introducing the screening and leading a Q and A session.

As for the future, Otway hasn’t discounted the idea of a sequel.

“Before the movie ends there is a bit about my world tour [in 2006] which was a complete and total disaster,” he says.

“It would be nice to do that successfully, rather than as disastrously as possible. Perhaps I wouldn’t do it with the jet plane – that was part of the reason it collapsed!”

  • Rock And Roll's Greatest Failure: The Movie (12A) screens at Duke's@Komedia, in Gardner Street, Brighton, on Wednesday, July 17. Starts 9pm, tickets £9.60. Call 0871 9025728