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.

294. Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking (1970)

As 1970 drew to a close, November’s number 1s seemed to symbolically bid farewell to the 60s. So, what next? Glam was around the corner, but in the meantime, the Christmas number 1 looked back to pop’s past, as Welsh singer-songwriter spent six weeks at the top with a cover of a 50s R’n’B tune.

David William Edwards was born in Cardiff on 15 April 1944. Musically gifted as a child on the piano, at the age of 10 he formed The Edmund Bros Duo with his elder brother Geoff. They both formed The Stompers around 1957, with Dave on lead guitar and Geoff on rhythm. From there the younger Edmunds had brief stints in several groups before becoming lead singer of rockabilly trio The Raiders, who formed in 1961.

In 1966 Edmunds, following a brief spell in The Image, shifted to a blues-rock sound and formed a short-lived outfit called Human Beans, who mutated into the trio Love Sculpture. Their second single, a novelty high-speed reworking of Sabre Dance, which climbed to number five after getting the attention of DJ John Peel. After two albums Love Sculpture split in 1970.

Edmunds returned to Wales and learned how to recreate the sounds of the R’n’B and blues songs of the 50s by himself, and made plans to record a cover of blues classic Let’s Work Together by Wilbert Harrison, until he heard Canned Heat’s version. Around this time he worked with Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets, helping the 80s hitmaker score his first recording contract.

Fortunately, Edmunds heard Smiley Lewis’s I Hear You Knocking while driving, and noted he could use the backing track he’d already recorded for Let’s Work Together and make a cover of Lewis’s song. It was also a track he knew from Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets’ repertoire.

The original, written by New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew (who had co-written the 1959 Elvis Presley number 1 One Night) and released by Lewis in 1955, is a straightforward slice of piano-driven 50s R’n’B, but Edmunds went full on blues-rock. He played every part on his version, using heavy compression to create an unusual, direct sound.

Edmunds’ I Hear You Knocking is a quirky choice for Christmas number 1, but of course, being at the top of the charts on 25 December wasn’t an ‘event’ back then. The weird production is attention-grabbing to begin with. Most unusual of all is the vocal track, which sounds like it’s being sung down a bad phone line, or is coming out of a damaged transistor radio. I’m not sure if Edmunds was aiming for a dated 50s sound, but if so, it doesn’t quite come out like that. It gets a bit annoying after a while, whatever the intention.

The chorus is memorable, and the slide guitar is effective, and I enjoy Edmunds’ shouting out ‘Smiley Lewis!’ and other rock’n’roll star names from the 50s in the instrumental break. I can see why listeners would have enjoyed a bit of basic blues-rock for a while. Not sure how it stayed at number 1 for six weeks, though.

Despite the success of I Hear You Knocking, it took Edmunds two years to release his debut album, Rockpile, which was mostly a collection of more oldies. He had left it too late to capitalise. Or maybe he wasn’t bothered about doing so anyway. He spent the next few years producing rock and blues acts like Brinsley Schwarz, Foghat and The Flamin’ Groovies. However, his two singles Baby I Love You and Born to Be With You reached the top 10 in 1973.

In 1974 Edmunds had a brief role in the David Essex film Stardust, and helped with the soundtrack. A year later came his second solo LP, Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Then his friendship with Nick Lowe from Brinsley Schwarz resulted in their new group Rockpile. Due to being on different labels they were unable to record until 1980 but would guest on each other’s solo material for the next few years.

In 1979 Edmunds scored his last top 10 hit with Girls Talk, written by Elvis Costello. Rockpile only recorded one album, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, before splitting up due to arguments between Edmunds and Lowe. Edmunds went back to mainly producing, and worked with big names including Paul McCartney, Status Quo, Stray Cats, The Everly Brothers and kd Lang. He had a US hit with Slipping Away in 1983 though, written and produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne.

Edmunds went into semi-retirement in the mid-80s, but he did tour with Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band in 1992 and 2000. After a couple of albums released online, he began touring in his own right again in 2007. Edmunds performed I Hear You Knocking on Jools’ Annual Hootenanny in 2008 and then Sabre Dance in 2009. His last album was On Guitar… Dave Edmunds: Rags & Classics in 2015, featuring instrumental covers. After a final show in July 2017, Edmunds retired from music.

1970 was an interesting, eclectic year for number 1s, with several well-remembered chart-toppers. Lots were in thrall to the past, though, with the departure of The Beatles leaving the music world wondering what to do. Fortunately, T. Rex were now on the scene, having scored a number two hit with Ride a White Swan. Marc Bolan would soon have his first number 1.

Written by: Dave Bartholomew

Producer: Dave Edmunds

Weeks at number 1: 6 (28 November 1970-8 January 1971)

Births:

Singer Aled Jones – 29 December 
Welsh rugby union player Louise Rickard – 31 December
Football referee Andre Marriner – 1 January
BBC newsreader Suzanne Virdee – 1 January
TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss – 5 January
TV presenter Joanne Malin – 7 January

Deaths:

Olympic athlete Lillian Board – 26 December (see below)
Composer Cyril Scott – 31 December

Meanwhile…

Boxing Day: Olympian athlete Lillian Board, died in Munich, West Germany, after a three-month battle against cancer. She was 22.

New Year’s Eve 1970: Although Paul McCartney had announced his departure from The Beatles earlier in 1970, it was made official when he filed a lawsuit against the other three on this day to dissolve their partnership.

New Year’s Day 1971: The Divorce Reform Act 1969 came into effect, which allowed couples to divorce after a separation of two years (five if only one agrees). This ruling resulted in a sharp rise in divorces over the next two years.

2 January: The new year got off to a shocking start for football fans when a stairway crush at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow during a match between Rangers and Celtic killed 66 and left many more injured.

3 January: BBC Open University broadcasts began.

8 January: Uruguayan left-wing urban guerrilla group Tupamaros kidnapped Geoffrey Jackson, the British ambassador to Uruguay, in Montevideo. He was held captive until September.