Nov 06

CLIVE DUNN – “Grandad”

FT + Popular53 comments • 11,953 views

#295, 9th January 1971


The KLF’s The Manual famously details the steps required to have a number one hit – but with a caveat: the method outlined will only work once every several years. The dark – though somewhat obvious – marketing arts behind “Grandad” are similarly timebound. If you make a record about how great a relative is, runs the logic, and give it a very obvious name, and release it around Christmas time, then it will be bought as a present for said relative by huge swathes of children. It worked in 1970, it worked in 1980, and I’m sure there are plenty of horrible examples that didn’t get to No.1 (Was there ever an “Aunts are the best” hit, I wonder).

It only works every so often, though, because this sorry affair leaves everyone (except the record label) a loser. Middle-aged actor Clive Dunn firmly sets the seal on his typecasting of ‘doddery old boy’ – fully 14 years later he was still peddling Grandad in a (pretty wretched) kids’ comedy programme. The children who bought it waste their present money on something the recipients won’t like. The Grandads themselves have to listen to a record which paints them as suet-minded idiots lost in a perpetual nostalgic twilight, scared of cars and unable to cope with “telephones and talking things”. Even the pretty melody is spoiled by the ham-fisted introduction of a children’s choir, though this melody – and the fact that the songwriters blessedly step back from saying the old days were better – stops the record being entirely unbearable.




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  1. 1

    i have to say my grandma — a cultured lady who until my grandad’s final illness drove up with him to the edinburgh festival EVERY YEAR for the music — LOVED the 1980 release! i have blocked this one from my memory, sound-wise

    i was also going to say: wasn’t clive dunn like 32 at this date, but it turns out he was 50 — WHICH IS STILL TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT! maybe i should start “playing old” for my retirement in 45 years time

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    Dadaismus on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Wasn’t this song was written by Herbie Flowers? Who, a year later, was helping another “doddery old boy” to his highest ever chart placing by providing the bassline to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”…

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    Alan on 1 Nov 2006 #

    it worked in 1980 = “There’s no one quite like grandma” i think, not a later release of this

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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Written, rather unbelievably, by Herbie Flowers, who plays tuba on the record (as he would later do on Lou Reed’s “Goodnight Ladies”) and Kenny Pickett, ex-of Mod noise-avantists the Creation, so perhaps the KLF analogy isn’t that far fetched, except that “Doctorin’ The Tardis” is actually enjoyable and listenable.

    His TOTP performance, where he sat in his rocking chair surrounded by overgrown “schoolgirls,” to whom he ad libbed such remarks as “Yeah, and you ain’t ‘alf bad yerself and all,” gave me the genuine creeps.

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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    (admin nb: the “too low” was a mistake on my part, plz discount)

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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Oh yes, and it kept Ride A White Swan off the top, yah boo hiss.

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    Dadaismus on 1 Nov 2006 #

    I’m counting the days till “Ernie”!

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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    His laugh on the line “Charlie Chaplin made us laugh” made me barf.

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    Erithian on 1 Nov 2006 #

    To play devil’s advocate a little, a song that makes us young ‘uns think for a moment about what life was like for the grandparents and paints a sympathetic picture of the older generation has some redeeming social value, which is why I’d place this a long way above “Grandma”. (As a kid I generally couldn’t stand Max Bygraves either, but could bear songs like “Back In My Childhood Days” for the social history aspect.)

    As for horrible examples that didn’t make No 1, (oh, and “Mother of Mine” nearly did), does anyone remember “My Mummy is One In A Million” by the Children of Tansley School? – which made St Winifred’s School Choir sound like Radiohead.

    (Dunno about aunties, but I presume you wouldn’t count South Park’s “Uncle-f**ker”?)

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    jeff w on 1 Nov 2006 #

    I won’t defend this, but the B-side “I Play The Spoons” is actually not bad at all.

    There was even a Clive Dunn / Corporal Jones LP (which I’ve not heard):


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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Clive Dunn leering at 23-year-old models pretending to be schoolgirls was hardly a sympathetic picture of the older generation!

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    Erithian on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Your usual picky self MC – I meant the lyrics! Anyway the real age gap was probably less than that between Benny Hill and a certain Pan’s Person.

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    Tom on 1 Nov 2006 #

    I dunno, leering at models sounds a better way of spending your old age than burbling to grandkids about kites.

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    Pete Baran on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Making St Winifred’s Girl School Choir sound like Radiohead would surely make them sound worse! (THE PANIC! THE VOMIT!)

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    Marcello Carlin on 1 Nov 2006 #

    You’ve not heard 1979’s Christmas number one then, Pete?

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    Doctor Casino on 1 Nov 2006 #

    For a while now I’ve been unable to keep up with Popular because I don’t have Internet at home and the usual channels of actually checking these songs out have been closed off. Hopefully this will be resolved soon, but in the meantime I wanted to chime in and state for the record that Tom’s description of this had me in stitches, despite having never heard the song; I’m now incredibly eager to hear this thing!

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    Tommy Mack on 1 Nov 2006 #

    Important Boring Trivia: Herbie conceived the hook when the doorbell rang as he was composing the song. Or so he claimed on one of those TV clip shows where only John Robb tells it like it was as everyone else descends into dewey-eyed nostalgia.

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    Dadaismus on 1 Nov 2006 #

    … John Robb’s usually the only one old enough to actually remember what it is he’s there to talk about

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    sadly john robb’s hairglue goes right on down to his brainstem

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    Doctor Mod on 2 Nov 2006 #

    Herbie conceived the hook when the doorbell rang as he was composing the song.

    Yeah, and something like that happened to Coleridge when he was writing “Kubla Khan.” Unfortunately, Coleridge got derailed and didn’t finish the poem. (Poor chap took too many drugs.) Unfortunately, Herbie Flowers didn’t get derailed and did finish the song.

    I consider myself fortunate that the States missed this one altogether.

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    markgamon on 2 Nov 2006 #

    I wouldn’t blame Clive Dunn. He was and remains just a jobbing actor looking for a gig.

    That said, the fact that this even registered a score bespeaks a streak of saccharine sentimentality I wouldn’t have though you possessed, Tom… :)

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    Alan Connor on 3 Nov 2006 #

    Unsubstantiated Boring Trivia: (1) The track’s origins are from Clive meeting Herbie Flowers at the Ronnie Corbett This Is Your Life afterparty.

    (2) Sales generated by appearance on Bob Monkhouse’s TV show.

    (3) A strike at the EMI pressing plant stopped production of the single as it rose up the charts.

    (4) Clive regarded the strike as an “absolutely justifiable action”.

    (5) Follow-up “My Lady Nana” less popular.

    (6) In the Grandad TV series, Clive’s best friend was a dog that we never saw.

    (This is like that annoying “Spot The Made-Up Factoid” quiz on the last page of The Word magazine, except that I’ve not intentionally made up any of them.)

    I also enjoy “I play the spoons”, and used to play that at the correct speed and “Grandad” at 33, which is scary.

    Resurrection Watch: is it just me, or does the opening track of Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space have the same tune?

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    Alan Connor on 3 Nov 2006 #

    Oh yeah: the strike was a pay dispute; not EMI employees refusing to work on “Grandad”.

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    Marcello Carlin on 3 Nov 2006 #

    The tune to the title track of L&GWAFIS is actually only “Grandad” by default; if you listen to the original it’s based on, and quotes from, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” but legal issues led to the rather underwhelming version which features on the album proper.

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    Erithian on 3 Nov 2006 #

    Just thought someone should fill in the gaps for US readers, since we Brits are so familiar with Clive Dunn we have to remember that some people won’t know who he is! – he was one of the stars of “Dad’s Army”, the most popular Britcom of the day, playing a veteran of the colonial wars of the 1890s (?) who joined the Home Guard in WW2. As such the character he played was much older than the actor himself, who turned 51 while this song – in which he also portrayed someone much older – was number 1. Some Americans might be familiar with Dad’s Army but just in case…

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    yes “lance-corporal jones” was at the battle of omdurman (1898) under kitchener (tho if he was say 25 in 1898 he would actually only be 55-ish in 1939)

    (there was a VERY WEIRD early ep of dad’s army largely set in flashback in the sudan)

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    bah i mean 65-ish

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    Marcello Carlin on 3 Nov 2006 #

    Basically it’s the equivalent of Carroll O’Connor having a US number one in ’71.

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    Marcello Carlin on 3 Nov 2006 #

    It was in the charts for 28 weeks! Obviously the

    BBC Radio 1 children’s record request show presented by Ed “Stewpot” Stewart

    vote was out in force and sustainable.

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    Dadaismus on 3 Nov 2006 #

    Was Arnold on that Ed Stewart show or on the Tony Blackburn show?

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