A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an episode of The Guardian Radio Hour Podcast, in which comedian Stewart Lee talked about the cross-pollination between music (or more precisely: punk) and alternative comedy in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
A fascinating listen. In fact, I listened to it twice. The first time while falling asleep, smiling like an idiot. The second time to make extensive playlist notes … smiling like an idiot.
The one track I couldn’t shake off, was ‘Jilted John’ by Jilted John, a brilliantly funny slice of teenage life which reached no. 4 in the UK single charts in 1978.
John and Julie
At just 19 years old, Manchester-based comedian Graham Fellows created the character Jilted John and released the album ‘True Love Stories’ that same year. The back sleeve of ‘True Love Stories’ provides some insight into Fellows’s alter-ego:
“Jilted John, otherwise known as Graham Fellows, is a full time drama student in Manchester and his ambition is to become a full time actor. He has 3 sisters and a very nice mother and father who live in Yorkshire. Jilted John likes fancy mice, Kate Bush and the countryside. His dislikes include Gordon the Moron, anyone successful with girls and gardening.”
Gordon the Moron being the name of interest there.
I think I can safely say that Gordon is Jilted John’s nemesis. The song ‘Jilted John’ wouldn’t be half as good without a depressed and angry John bemoaning losing his girlfriend Julie to Gordon, who is – so he keeps repeating – a moron.
Yeah yeah, it’s not fair
In just a few lines, Fellows paints a series of vivid, tragicomic scenes, that gain power through John’s mildly revengeful cockney-voiced delivery:
“She said listen, John, I love you
But there’s this bloke I fancy
I don’t want to two-time you,
So it’s the end for you and me”
“Who’s this bloke, I asked her
Goo-oo-oor-don, she replied
Not that puff, I said dismayed
Yes, but he’s no puff she cried”
(He’s more of a man than you’ll ever be)
Later on, while crying “all the way to the chip shop”, John is mocked by Gordon and Julie, “standing at the busstop”.
“Gordon is a moron”, John decides, before he launches into a feast of insults and hilarious threats.
In ‘The Rough Guide to British Cult Comedy’ (2006), Julian Hall writes: “[Jilted John’s] lament that “Gordon is a moron” made for one the most bizarre singles of the 1970s – no small feat in a decade that also gave us punk and the Wombles.”
Factoid: ‘True Love Stories’ was produced by Martin Hannett – then Martin Zero – who went on to produce such landmark albums as ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division and ‘The Return of the Durutti Column’, as well as work by Magazine, New Order and Happy Mondays.
Further reading / listening