John Lennon was a character who remains one of music’s most talented figures but, in truth, he wasn’t always the easiest person in a room to get along with. The bespectacled Beatle had a unique sense of humour, and it took a while to understand him on all levels. However, Tom Jones wasn’t graced with a prolonged-period of patience during his first encounter with Lennon, and the straight-talking Welshman had to fight the urge to attack him physically.
Their first interaction with one another came on the British television show, Thank Your Lucky Stars, which ran between 1961 and 1966. This show was the place where the biggest musicians of the day came together as millions tuned in to watch their favourite stars but, on one occasion, two of these giant names almost came to blows. The episode in question which aired in 1965 was a star-studded affair, not only did it feature The Beatles and Tom Jones, but The Kinks and The Shadows were also among the names who made an appearance.
This event was a big occasion for Jones. It was one of his first-ever appearances on television, and the nation was waiting patiently on their television sets to deliver the crooner form the valleys. It was his moment to make an impression, and with The Beatles on the line-up, he knew the programme was unmissable television.
Recounting the tale to Channel Bee, Jones remembered the day’s events vividly. “I had ‘It’s Not Unusual’ out, which was my first hit record in 1965 and The Beatles were on the show,” he said. “I went to watch them rehearse in the afternoon, and I’m sitting there where the audience would be later on. I’m with my manager, Gordon Mills and waiting for The Beatles to come out to watch them rehearse.
“John Lennon was the first one out on the floor, and he looks up at me, he’s got his guitar. He says, ‘It’s not a unicorn, it’s an elephant’ and then said, ‘How you doing you Welsh poof?’,” Jones was irate and responded, “‘Come up here, you Scouse prick, and I’ll show you’,” he recounts with a proud smile on his face.
“Gordon Mills says ‘It’s his sense of humour, don’t’. Which of course it was, and we became friends later on. He was taking the mick or taking the piss, so that was his sense of humour,” the singer added.
“Paul McCartney said to me, ‘If John Lennon made fun of a song, it means he likes it, because he wouldn’t make a comment on it if it didn’t strike him,'” Jones said in a later interview with the Liverpool Echo.
According to author Chris Hutchens, Jones told Elvis Presley, and The King lapped it up as he wasn’t a fan of Lennon’s. “I had a run-in with him myself,” Hutchens claimed Jones told Elvis in an interview with the Daily Mail. “He made some smart remark at a TV studio in England, where we were appearing on the show Thank Your Lucky Stars. I wanted to take him outside and see what sort of hiding his intellect would stand.”
This incident probably wasn’t the only time during the days of The Beatles that Paul McCartney had to step in to stop Lennon from getting into trouble, and it’s a keen insight into the dynamic of the band behind closed doors.
There’s no doubt that Lennon was a prickly character, who was complex and seemed to use humour as a social mechanism. Although he likely didn’t mean any harm in his comments to Jones, hurling homophobic slurs at someone you’ve only just met is the sort of behaviour that deservedly lands you in a spot of trouble. On this occasion, Lennon almost found that out the hard way if it wasn’t for McCartney and Jones’ manager stepping in.