As a nation we’ve always had a soft spot for a novelty song. Who could resist the cheeky lyrics of George Formby’s Little Stick of Blackpool Rock (and pretty much everything else he strummed his uke to)?
Arthur Askey didn’t do too badly with his little tea pot and his buzzy bees either. And later who could forget (try though we did) Benny Hill’s 1971 chart topping Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In the West) which at least was much better than 1961’s forgettable Gather In the Mushrooms.
We’ve also tended to be rather fond of the underdog and the one hit wonder so it’s hardly surprising that in the punkish year of 1978 Jilted John should win the nation’s heart with his eponymous anthem to doomed nerds ticking every box.
As with the 1950s, nobody worth their salt sang under their real name – then it was the era of Tommy Steel and Billy Fury. By the late 70s it was Jonny Rotten and Sid Vicious playing havoc with filling in tax declarations.
Jilted John was, in fact, Sheffield-born Graham David Fellows, a drama student at Manchester Polytechnic who after his initial success as the embittered teenager whose girlfriend Julie had left him for another man named Gordon, later morphed into the equally comic (and much longer lasting) character John Shuttleworth.
As a sidebar Fellows appeared in Coronation Street as Les Charlton, a young biker chasing the affections of married Gail Platt (then Tilsley). During his fame as Jilted John, Fellows had first appeared on Coronation Street in a very brief cameo role in which he meets Gail, single at the time, on the street in Manchester.
In 2007 he appeared in an episode of ITV’s Heartbeat.
But who couldn’t feel sorry for John (the jilted one) when he opens his ode with:
“I’ve been going out with a girl
Her name is Julie
But last night she said to me
When we were watching telly
(This is what she said)
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.”
The song is presented almost as a monologue and has all the matter of factness of Squeeze or The Kinks at their best. But a little more pointed:
“Who’s this bloke I asked her
Goooooordon, 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)”
Then there’s the real punk/oi moment of “Here we go, two three four” and one of the most telling lines in pop history:
“I was so upset that I cried
All the way to the chip shop.”
No wonder John is upset. He’s been dumped “just ’cause he’s better lookin’ than me, just ’cause he’s cool and trendy.”
And then comes the punchline which has haunted anyone who shares the forename ever since, the oft repeated refrain “Gordon is a moron.”
There were other punk novelty moments (or maybe punk was just one big comedy moment?) – such as Banana Splits (Tra-La-La) and Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Please but none caught the fusion of teen angst, rejection, helplessness and confrontation, in the same way.
As with so many of music’s classics there was an element of right time right place luck about it all.
Fellows later said: “I’d written a couple of songs and I wanted to record them. So I went into a local record shop and asked if they knew any indie or punk labels. They said there were two, Stiff in London and Rabid just down the road. So I phoned Rabid up, and they told me to send in a demo. We did the demos with the late Colin Goddard – of Walter & the Softies – on guitar, and the drummer and bass player of The Smirks. I took it along to Rabid, who loved it … so we re-recorded it a few days later with John Scott playing guitar and bass and Martin Zero (aka Martin Hannett) producing.”
The single, released by Rabid in April 1978 actually featured Going Steady as the A-side and Jilted John as the B-side. Jilted John was first played on national radio by BBC Radio One’s John Peel who apparently commented that if it was promoted by a major record label he could see it becoming a huge hit. It was subsequenty picked up by EMI and introduced by Kid Jensen on Top of the Pops as “one of the most bizarre singles of the decade”. It reached number 4.
Two follow-up singles were released the same year.A pseudo concept-album also produced by Hannett followed, entitled True Love Stories, charting John’s love-life – and two further singles, neither of which was a hit. No other recordings followed these, making Jilted John a classic one-hit wonder. Strangely a cash-in single by Julie and Gordon sold moderately well, as did lapel badges bearing the legends “Gordon is a moron” and “Gordon is not a moron”.
Fellows revived the Jilted John character at the 2008 Big Chill festival premiering a new song about Keira Knightley’s ultra-thin figure. In December 2014 Jilted John won the One Hit Wonder World Cup feature on the BBC Radio 6 Music Steve Lamacq show. In late 2015 it was announced that Fellows would once again revive Jilted John for Rebellion Festival 2016 at the Winter Gardens in, Blackpool.
In 1986 Fellows created John Shuttleworth, a middle-aged, aspiring singer-songwriter from Sheffield with a quiet manner, slightly nerdish tendencies a Yamaha PSS680 portable keyboard, and a repertoire including such songs as Pigeons in Flight – which
Shuttleworth attempted to have selected for the Eurovision Song Contest. A spoof documentary about it, called Europigeon, featured such past Eurovision stars as Clodagh Rodgers, Lynsey de Paul, Bruce Welch, Katrina Leskanich (from Katrina and the Waves), Johnny Logan, Cheryl Baker and Brotherhood of Man.
He has released a number of albums and singles as John Shuttleworth
Fellows only played a handful of gigs as his Jilted John alter-ego: “I think we only did about six or seven… all in Manchester. Although to be totally honest, I only really did those to get an Equity card!”
By all accounts they were shambolic if fairly amusing — affairs.
Maybe a final word should be left to rock journalist Paul Morley who penned a typically OTT piece in the NME on the Manchester scene, homing in on Rabid and Jilted John in particular:
“This is an everyday, ordinary tale of everyday adolescent infatuation, and yet it is conceived and performed definitively: a Pop drama, no less. Ultimately, absurdly, there is too much intense accessibility for it to be a commercial success, even if it had the backing of a major label.”
Thankfully he was as wrong as he was wordy!
However, by the time his follow-up single was out, Fellows was back at drama college, his Jilted John persona already behind him. Consequently, with no artiste available to promote them, both the excellent debut album and the single stiffed (the LP ended up selling around 15,000 units).
Later Fellows admitted: “There was a big inspiration and that was John Otway. He had this hit called Really Free in 1977 and I just loved that kind of spoken delivery and the way he half sings during the chorus. There was an everyday quality to the lyrics, it was just throwaway and had a quirkiness that I wanted to copy. I’d always thought there were so many love songs that spoke in generalities, ’If you leave me it will break my heart,’ ‘I can’t go on without you,’ all that shit that I never believed. I like songs with detail. I was also aware of Squeeze and the lyrics of Chris Difford who shares a love of the minutia and detail and rhyme.
“There wasn’t a real Gordon but it was one of those trendy names, like Gary or Colin. They were working class names but were guys with cool hairdos and leather jackets and the shirts with the big collars. And ‘Gordon’ happens to almost rhyme with ‘Moron.’ But my childhood sweetheart was a girl called Julie, so that’s that.”