Today, I want to talk to you about an album. One of my favourite albums, and almost certainly the greatest cult-punk-adolescent-romance-narrative-concept-album ever released. But first, some background.

A lot of people know the song “Jilted John” by Jilted John, even if they don’t know it by name. Chances are, they probably think it’s called “Gordon Is A Moron” or “The Moron Song” or something like that. It sounds like this:

It got to number four in the UK charts in 1978, was performed live on Top of the Pops on no less than three occasions, and is rightly held as one of the greatest and most memorable singles of the late ’70s punk/new wave era. But for most people, that’s where the Jilted John story ends – as a one-hit wonder, a novelty record and nothing more. What most people don’t know, however, is that “John” actually recorded an entire album. And, what’s more, it’s a masterpiece.

Jilted John was, of course, the alter-ego of a young comedian and singer-songwriter named Graham Fellows – who would later go on to create the peerless John Shuttleworth, and appear in adverts for Yorkshire Tea. In its original form, the eponymous song was actually the B-side of a Rabid Records single called “Going Steady” – in which a not-so-jilted John told of his love for girlfriend-of-two-months Sharon – but on the radio, it was “Jilted John” that gained greater currency, and the single would eventually be re-released by EMI with the sides flipped. In the wake of the single’s success, Fellows and super-producer Martin Hannett regrouped to create an entire album. It had an absolutely fantastic romance-comics-spoof cover, came with a free gift of a “Mice and Ladders” board game, and was called True Love Stories.

Although the album was – by the standards of the single – something of a flop, it’s retained its status as something of a cult favourite. And I absolutely love it to pieces. So if you’ve never heard it – or, even, heard of it – before, allow me to introduce you to its genius…

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To say that there’s been a fair bit of concern expressed by Red Dwarf fandom over recent Twitter comments from Doug and Richard Naylor is putting it mildly. And it’s only natural that, given the insane levels of optimism that accompanied the audience’s reaction to the live shooting weeks of Series X, that any kind of setback – whether it ultimately turns out to be a minor or a major one – is going to deflate things a little bit.

Nevertheless, whatever’s happening with the production at the moment – or what might be speculated as happening with the production – I still think there are a whole host of reasons to be optimistic. And, in my position as Official Red Dwarf Cheerleader, I feel it’s my duty to remind people of them.

Because the shows are great. Really, seriously, great. You can call me biased if you want, but anyone who knows me knows I’ve been plenty critical of Red Dwarf when I don’t like it. I know that due to my current role, I’d obviously have to be positive about the new series in public no matter what – but if I didn’t like the new episodes that I’d seen filmed, I’d simply avoid talking about them except in an “official” voice. As it is, though, I love them. Obviously, I can’t say too much about them without giving away things that aren’t meant to be given away, but here are just a few of the reasons why the return of the show fills me with so much joy:

  • First and foremost, they’re funny. Each of the episodes I saw (four, out of the six – although in one instance we only saw somewhere between half and two-thirds of the total running time being filmed) had at least one absolutely huge audience reaction moment, but the genuine laughs are healthily distributed throughout the entire series.
  • The stories are great. Strong, memorable, well-constructed plots, throughout the entire series. One episode – which I didn’t actually see being filmed, but have heard a detailed synopsis of – has a genuinely inspired and innovative central premise, one that I don’t think anyone has ever done before. It’s the sort of thing that carries on the fine tradition of episodes like “Future Echoes” and “Thanks for the Memory” in exploring inventive, original sci-fi ideas.
  • It’s fan-pleasing. A few of the episodes are really heavily rooted in established Dwarf lore, and do things that we might never have expected to actually see on screen. But man, are they satisfying.
  • Then there’s the final episode. Well. To say anything detailed about it would ruin the many, many treats it has to offer – but if it doesn’t immediately leap high onto the “all-time favourite” lists of the majority of fans, then the majority of fans are mad. It’s brilliant: thrilling, clever, funny, surprising, and even a little bit moving. It contains not one, but two of the best guest actor performances the series has ever had. And it has a final line that – no kidding – nearly moved me to tears right there at the recording.
  • The lead cast are all on top form. Any concerns about not slotting back into the characters after such a long time away were fairly well alleviated by Back to Earth anyway, but across this full series they feel comfortable, happy and confident in these roles. And more than anything, this is the series that will dispel the myth that Lister and Rimmer are simply too old these days for the show to work. They’re not – the show has simply adapted its tone and premise to fit them.
  • The guest actors, as already hinted at, are pretty much uniformly superb, too – I can’t think of a single bad performance across the episodes I saw, but I can recall at least three or four superb ones. A handful of actors get to play roles that are quite significant to the Red Dwarf mythos – and which rely on their being able to fit in with preconceptions a fan audience might have about them – and without exception they do so with aplomb.
  • It looks amazing. Obviously, we haven’t seen the special effects, model shots and so on yet – but I remain confident that, even with whatever technical problems are currently going on, ultimately it’s all going to look and feel terrific. One thing is for sure, though – the sets, whether onboard Red Dwarf itself or elsewhere, are astoundingly good. The Dwarf interior, in particular, feels like a combination and culmination of all previous incarnations, and ultimately it’s almost like the ship how it always should have looked. Maybe I’m biased towards it having spent a day walking around its corridors (and, I’ll admit, pretending I was actually onboard the ship), but I fell in love with it before that, at the moment I walked into the first audience recording. It’s beautiful.

That’s probably about all I’d better say, anyway (though if you want more from me on the new series, I wrote a bit more about the actual experience of a recording day in my official capacity) – there’s a delicate balancing act in talking about this series, because everyone with any kind of connection to it – whether official or fan – wants to avoid ruining the twists and turns it has to offer before its broadcast later this year. But my point is this: the recent chatter on Twitter about model shots and music is just about the first negative-sounding word that has come out from anywhere connected to the production, and it shouldn’t cancel out the immense positive feeling from the episode recordings – the feeling that, quite simply, Red Dwarf X is just about everything that a new series of Red Dwarf should be.

It’s going to be amazing. And Autumn can’t come soon enough.

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