British singer Susan Maughan scored just one hit, 1962’s Bobby girl, but continues to make a rewarding career from it. Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s she issued a string of high-quality releases, including – somewhat unusually for girl singers of the period – a number she had written herself.
She was born Marian Maughan on 1 July 1938, and hailed from Consett, County Durham, in the north east of England. (Her date of birth is often given as 1942, but this is little more than a PR man’s wishful thinking.) As a child, her family relocated to Birmingham, and after leaving school she became an office typist.
But Susan’s nine-to-five working life was set to change when she answered an advertisement in Disc Weekly for a featured vocalist with the Ronnie Hancox Dance Band. Susan successfully auditioned and during her three years with Hancox she learnt to read and write music.
In 1961 she was introduced to agent Dick Katz, who was looking for a female vocalist to join the Ray Ellington Quartet. Within a few weeks Susan was enjoying her first engagement with the quartet at the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo. She remained with Ellington for a year.
Susan had also signed to the Philips label and was destined for fame with guidance from her producer, Johnny Franz – even though her first three efforts failed to chart.
Her 1961 debut release, Mama do the twist, should have been a big hit – it was catchy and topical at a time when the twist was the current dance craze. Her second single, Baby doll twist, was backed with a lively up-to-date version of the old Sophie Tucker song Some of these days. Her third offering found Susan in a melancholy mood with I’ve got to learn to forget.
Susan recalls, “In those days we didn’t choose our own songs – we were told by the record company what we had to sing.”
However, her fourth single, Bobby’s girl, proved a winner. It had been recorded by Marcie Blane in the States and the spoken opening lyric began, “When people ask of me, what you would like to be, now that you’re not a kid anymore.” Susan hated the intro. “It sounded so awful,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine myself sounding so twee. So we changed the routine and decided I should start off singing the chorus… ‘I wanna be Bobby’s girl’. As soon as I heard our version, I could imagine everyone whistling it – and they did.”
The disc peaked at number three in the UK charts in October 1962. The flip side, Come a little closer, is worthy of note and could have been hit in its own right.
Susan, a brunette, was easy on the eye and had a certain ‘girl next door’ quality, and quickly developed a fan base.
More discs followed: Hand a handkerchief to Helen, which peaked at number 41 in February 1963, was regarded by many as a reference to Helen Shapiro, whose career was now on the wane. The flip side, I’m a lonely one too, deserves a mention, as Susan wrote it herself and it was also recorded by fellow Philips singer Rose Brennan.
Her third and last chart entry, She’s new to you, just broke into the top 50 at number 45 in May 1963.
By now, Susan was well known and part of the line-up for the 1963 Royal variety show, which also starred the Beatles. Susan sang It might as well be spring and Bobby’s girl.
She became a popular guest on television shows, including Ready steady go!, Thank your lucky stars and the Morecambe and Wise Show. Besides success on the small screen, Susan also took the female lead in the musical film What a crazy world alongside Marty Wilde, Joe Brown and blonde-topped Grazina Frame.
A further musical feature, Pop gear, recently released on DVD, stars a host of 1960s names including beat babe Billie Davis and Susan, who sings Make him mine.
Her first long player for Philips in 1963 was titled I wanna be Bobby’s girl but…, and was a concept album of sorts, featuring songs that included boys’ names, such as Teddy (a Connie Francis US single) and Sue Thompson’s US releases James (hold the ladder steady) and
Norman (both of which were also issued by Brit girl Carol Deene).
That same year saw the release of Swingin’ Susan and, a year later, came Sentimental Susan. The two albums present her singing standards, which suit her singing voice very well. She also released four EPs for Philips.
Further notable singles include 1963’s The verdict is guilty, 1964’s Hey lover, Kiss me sailor and Little things mean a lot (a strong revival of the 1953 chart topper by Kitty Kallen) and 1965’s Poor boy and When she walks away.
Arguably, many of Susan’s best recordings were actually B-sides, such as 1963’s Bachelor girl, which Susan had penned, and 1964’s Call on me and That other place. Don’t be afraid, issued as the flip to 1965’s You can never get away from me, proved particularly popular with gay fans, for whom its lyrics held a certain resonance. Other songs composed by Susan include I didn’t mean what I said, Stop your foolin’, Don’t get carried away and Somebody to love.
However, like many of her contemporaries, the arrival of the beat boom spelled trouble for Susan. Now deemed outdated by fans who had adored her just a year or so earlier, her records failed to sell.
In 1965, she attempted to boost her flagging career with a single recorded specifically for the lucrative German market, the original composition Dream Boy. It suited her style but, sadly, it didn’t chart and no further German-language singles were released.
Back in the UK, her second single of 1966, Where the bullets fly, was the title track of a spoof James Bond film and very much in the dramatic, Shirley Bassey mould.
A year later, another long player titled Hey look me over featured Susan offering a jazz approach to old songs (Great day) as well as current items (I’m a believer and There’s a kind of hush).
In 1971 came a switch to the Spark label, then to Ember for the release of her This is me album in 1974 and several singles including El bimbo – which was also recorded by a host of other European girl singers, including Italy’s Rosanna Fratello and Finland’s Marion Rung.
By the late 1970s and 80s, Susan had carved a niche in pantomime work and as a regular fixture on the 1960s nostalgia circuit.
Today, she is still in demand for 1960s tours, most recently sharing billing with Barry Ryan and Dave Berry. Part of her set incorporates a tribute to some of the other girl singers of the 1960s – Helen Shapiro, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Kathy Kirby and Cilla Black – and she sings a song most associated with each particular star.
With thanks to Mark Willerton for contributing this piece and to Brian Swales for additional research.