295. Clive Dunn – Grandad (1971)

The first number 1 of 1971 had narrowly missed out on the 1970 Christmas number 1 spot, and although it’s not fit for much, it would have made a more fitting yuletide chart-topper than I Hear You Knocking. Grandad, by comedy actor Clive Dunn, was a canny grab at the purse-strings of pensioners and children, and in that sense was an early pioneer of the novelty Christmas song market. Factor in Dunn’s popularity as doddery old Lance Corporal Jones in BBC One sitcom Dad’s Army, and there’s little surprise it spent three weeks at number 1.

Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn was born in Brixton, South London on 9 January 1920, meaning he had only turned 51 on the day his one-hit wonder about life as an OAP hit pole position. Both his parents were actors, and his cousin was Gretchen Franklin – better known as Ethel in BBC One soap opera EastEnders. Dunn had small roles in films while at school in the 30s, appearing alongside comedy actor Will Hay in Boys Will Be Boys in 1935.

Dunn’s acting ambitions were swept to one side when he served in World War Two for real, joining the British Army in 1940. He served in the Middle East until 1941 when he and hundreds of others were forced to surrender. Dunn was held as a POW in Austria for four years, but stayed with the Army upon his release, until 1947, when he returned to acting.

Fast forward to the mid-50s, and Dunn had found his calling in comedy roles, making several appearances alongside Tony Hancock on ITV and his classic radio series Hancock’s Half-Hour. In the early 60s he took on a role that would define the rest of his career, playing a comical 83-year-old man in ITV sitcom Bootsie and Snudge. He was only 38 at the time.

This made Dunn a natural choice to star in Dad’s Army as the nervy butcher Jones in 1968. As one of the youngest members of cast he could take the brunt of any physical comedy. The role in Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s sitcom made Dunn one of the most popular comedy stars of the era.

In 1970 Dunn met top session bassist Herbie Flowers at a BBC party. Flowers was a founding member of Melting Pot hitmakers Blue Mink and played bass on David Bowie’s Space Oddity (number 1 on its re-release in 1975). Upon discovering his occupation, Dunn allegedly challenged Flowers to write him a hit song.

So Flowers went away and with Dunn’s Dad’s Army character clearly in mind, he wrote a novelty song written from the point of view of an old man looking back at his youth. However, he was stuck for a chorus, until his friend Kenny Pickett (singer with 60s rock band The Creation) called round. Ringing the doorbell, a standard ‘ding dong’ chimed, and Flowers had the simple but scarily effective hook he was looking for.

Over a leaden backing featuring ukelele, Flowers’ bass (I assume), and parping brass, Dunn recalls penny farthings, penny dreadfuls, ‘talking things’, and best of all, how ‘Motorcars were funny things, frightening’, when he was a lad. At the exact point you’re hoping his nurse will interject and give him his medication or clean him up, in comes a sickly kiddie choir, thankfully kept to a minimum, singing ‘Grandad, grandad you’re lovely
/That’s what we all think of you’. Let’s be grateful they didn’t overdo it, unlike the similar Christmas number 1 of 1980, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. Incidentally, co-producer Ray Cameron, is comedian Michael McIntyre’s dad.

It’s rotten, cynical stuff, but at least Flowers made up for it. He’s played on hundreds of hits over the years, and among other things, was a member of CSS, T. Rex and Sky. He also performed on Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, but most notably, he was the man behind the bass line on Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. So we can forgive him.

We can forgive Dunn too, such was his charm. He was a staunch socialist too, who would argue with Conservative voter Arthur Lowe over politics, so he’s alright by me (although he did have a brief flirtation with Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in his youth, which he regretted). He was also known for his friendliness towards autograph seekers.

Dad’s Army ended in 1977, and two years later Dunn found work playing – what else? – an old man in BBC children’s series Grandad. Despite the obvious similarities, it was unrelated to his number 1. When his role as Charlie Quick ended in 1984, Dunn retired and moved to Portugal.

It blew my young mind, growing up on repeats of Dad’s Army in the 80s, to know that Dunn was one of the youngest cast members and one of the few still alive. But even he got old for real eventually, and he died as a result of operation complications on 6 November 2012, aged 92.

Written by: Herbie Flowers & Kenny Pickett

Producers: Peter Dulay & Ray Cameron

Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 January)

Births:

Artist Jay Burridge – 12 January
Actress Lara Cazalet – 15 January
Take That singer-songwriter Gary Barlow – 20 January
Scottish snooker player Alan McManus – 21 January
Sports broadcaster Clare Balding – 29 January

Deaths:

Northern Irish dramatist St John Greer Ervine – 24 January
Psychoanalyst – Donald Winnicott – 28 January

Meanwhile…

12 January: The Hertfordshire home of Robert Carr, Secretary of State for Employment, was bombed, but nobody was injured.

14 January: Extremist group The Angry Brigade claimed responsibility for the bombing of Robert Carr’s house, in addition to planting a bomb at the Department of Employment offices at Westminster.

20 January: UPW General Secretary Tom Jackson led the first ever postal workers’ strike took place. Workers were insisting on a 19.5% pay rise.

21 January: After collapsing in March 1969, a newly reconstructed Emley Moor transmitter in West Yorkshire starts again. It became Britain’s tallest freestanding structure, a concrete tower standing at 1084ft.

23 January: The first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Singapore, gave Britain permission to sell weapons to South Africa.

254. Tommy James and the Shondells – Mony Mony (1968)

TOMMY-JAMES-RM-3AUG68-Copy

Mony Mony was the first time in a good few years that SEX raised its head in pole position of the singles chart. Psychedelia might have been a time for free love, but lust (by and large) seemed somewhat neutered on 7-inches (snigger).

Rock band Tommy James and the Shondells had an interesting history up to this point. Tommy James, real name Tommy Jackson was born in Dayton, Ohio in April 1947. He had his first taste of stardom while very young – he was a child model at the age of four. Jackson formed his first group in the new family hometown of Niles, Michigan aged 12. Originally called The Echoes in 1959, then Tom and the Tornadoes, they released a single, Long Pony Tail, in 1962. They settled on The Shondells in 1964 by way of tribute to singer Troy Shondell.

That year, while still at high school, they recorded the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich song Hanky Panky, but although it garnered a good local following, it failed to break out, and the Shondells split the following year.

While Jackson tried and failed in new groups, Hanky Panky was discovered in a bargain bin by a local DJ and he helped the song gain a new following. Bootlegs were soon pressed up and Hanky Panky was more popular than ever. Jackson travelled to New York in search of a record deal. Unfortunately, he found one with Roulette Records. The label was owned by Morris Levy. A hard-nosed criminal who swindled his acts out of royalties, Levy managed to scare any other interested label away from Jackson, even much bigger ones than his own. Levy inspired the character Hesh in The Sopranos.

Of course, The Shondells as they were had long since split, so Jackson searched for a new band, and found them in a house band called the Raconteurs in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He changed his name professionally to Tommy James and soon the most famous line-up of The Shondells settled on guitarist Eddie Gray, bassist Mike Vale, Ron Rosman on keyboards and Pete Lucia on drums. With the backing of Levy, Hanky Panky became number 1 on the Billboard chart in 1966.

The next few singles didn’t perform spectacularly, but eventually they found their groove, a bubblegum pop and rock sound, with songwriters and producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell. They wrote, among others, I Think We’re Alone Now, a UK number 1 for Tiffany in 1988.

By 1968, Tommy James and the Shondells were working on a promising new song, which was more or less complete, but James was struggling for a title. He had considered Sloopy or Bony Maroney, but thought they sounded stupid. They tried in vain, until James went outside, looked up and saw the Mututal of New York building. Its initials were illuminated in red at the top, and James had his ‘eureka!’ moment.

Also credited to singer-songwriter Bobby Bloom, Mony Mony was, as I said, the raunchiest UK number 1 for some time. Okay, we’re not talking Justify My Love levels of filth here, but we’re still a year off Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin topping the charts. It’s clear James is feeling like one horny bugger during the chorus. Unfortunately, as catchy as the ‘Mony Mony’ chant is, it’s a bit too bubblegum, and the backing vocals keep James in check. There’s an interesting tension there. I’ve always liked this tune, after first hearing punk rocker Billy Idol’s version as a child.

Mony Mony didn’t reach number 1 in the US, but enjoyed a fortnight in the UK over the summer. It was then briefly toppled by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but after only a week, Fire was usurped by Mony Mony for a further week.

Tommy James and the Shondells were beginning to tire of the bubblegum element of their material, and decided on a mature, pyschedelic sound. It paid off, and Crimson and Clover (which was pretty much a Tommy James solo single in all but name) ended a great year for the group at number 1 in the US. One of their bestsellers in 1969 was the sublime Crystal Blue Persuasion, used to great effect in Breaking Bad many years later. They did make a big misstep that year though, laughing off an invitation to play at a festival called Woodstock.

James and the Shondells came to an abrupt halt in 1970 when an exhausted James came off stage and collapsed. He was initially pronounced dead due to drugs. Wisely, James took off for a quiet life in the country. The Shondells renamed themselves Hog Heaven but disbanded after two albums. James however remained in the business and along with a solo career he wrote and produced a US hit for Alive N Kickin in 1970.

60s nostalgia was everywhere in the 80s, and Tommy James and the Shondells did very well out of it. Idol’s Mony Mony was released in 1982, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts had a hit with Crimson and Clover, and then in 1987 Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and a live version of Mony Mony by Idol were back-to-back chart-toppers in the US.

Thanks to audiences at Idol gigs, Mony Mony became way filthier than the original version. In between every line in the verses, crowds began to chant either ‘Hey, say what… get laid get fucked!’ or ‘Hey, motherfucker… get laid get fucked!’. Then the chorus chant was changed to ‘Fucking horny!’. Dear me.

All this renewed interest in the band inevitably led to James and a new Shondells line-up joining the oldies circuit. Classic-era drummer Lucia died while playing golf in 1987, aged 39.

2010 saw the publication of James’s autobiography. Me, The Mob, and The Music. It detailed how he was left out of pocket by Roulette Records and how it was in fact cover for Levy’s money-laundering operation. He even had to leave New York at one point to avoid being the victim of a Mob hit. He still performs live with a version of The Shondells.

Written by: Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Ritchie Cordell & Bobby Bloom

Producers: Bo Gentry & Ritchie Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 July-13 August, 21-27 August)

Births:

Scottish race driver Colin McRae – 5 August
Footballer Julian Dicks – 8 August
Cyclist Chris Boardman – 26 August 

Deaths:

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – 27 August 

Meanwhile…

31 July: The first ever episode of World War Two comedy series Dad’s Army was transmitted on BBC One. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, it ran for the next nine years and has been repeated eternally ever since. It’ll probably be the last programme on TV when Donald Trump or Boris Johnson press the big red button.

11 August: Mony Mony was number 1, British Rail’s last steam train service ended. On 11 August, steam locomotives made the 314-mile return passenger journey from Liverpool to Carlisle. The trains were either sent to the scrapyard or kept for preservation.