295. ‘Grandad’, by Clive Dunn

What have we here then? A Christmas novelty that made it to #1 a fortnight too late? I know this song, vaguely – well, the chorus at least – and brace myself to write a terrible review.


Grandad, by Clive Dunn (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th January 1971

Grandad, Grandad, You’re lovely, That’s what we all think of you… And yep, the chorus is truly horrifying. It’s sung by little kids, to their grandpa, but in the creepily lifeless tones of horror-movie children, the sort with shining eyes that lure unsuspecting people into dark, misty forests… However, the song becomes more complex when you get to the verses. This is no saccharine ode to grandparents, oh no.

I’ve been sitting here all day, Thinking… Same old thing ten years away, Thinking… An old man sits in his rocking chair, getting all misty-eyed for days gone by. Penny-farthings on the street… Bows and hoops and spinning tops… The days when motorcars were new and scary, when happiness was a Charlie Chaplin matinee…

But there’s no resolution, no ‘oh getting old isn’t all bad’ twist at the end. In fact it gets worse. After listing all the things he misses, we get a final gut-punch: Familiar things I keep around, Near me… Mem’ries of my younger days, Clearly… Come into my mind… I’m no old man, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the feeling of getting older, of slowly losing your mind to age, of seeing death approaching over the horizon. Get beyond the banjo and the parping tuba, and this is a really depressing number one hit.

But then those bloody kids keep coming in to ruin it. Grandad, You’re lovely… What are they doing? Trying to cheer him up? If I were their grandad I’d be praying for the end to come even quicker. This would be a far, far better, and actually quite subversive, record without them. (I’m not even convinced that they’re real children, though I’m not sure that they had the technology in 1970 to computer-generate such creepy sounding voices.)


Clive Dunn does sound quite geriatric when he sings, especially when he pronounces ‘telephones’ as ‘jelly-phones’, but he was only fifty when ‘Grandad’ hit #1 – a young grandad in anyone’s books. He was, I guess, playing upon his dotty Corporal Jones character from ‘Dad’s Army’, which was one of the biggest shows on TV at the time. Presumably the show’s popularity can explain this strange record’s huge success.

It’s a novelty; but not particularly funny. It’s a children’s record; but more complex and bittersweet than most children would be able to grasp. I can imagine thousands of them bought their grandfathers this record for Christmas, sending the old men into a depressive spiral when they sat down and actually listened to it. Plus, if we assume that the ‘Grandad’ in this record is looking back fifty years, to 1920, then isn’t it weird to think that if this were re-recorded today then the singer might reference ‘listening to Clive Dunn singing ‘Grandad’’ fifty years ago in the lyrics? Mind-bending…!

The UK Number Ones Blog Playlist is here.


21 thoughts on “295. ‘Grandad’, by Clive Dunn

  1. I was wondering if you’d be interested in participating in an ALBUM DRAFT- still working on the final rules but the basics of it- I am getting 10 obsessive music fans on here- and organizing a draft like a sports league. 10 rounds- 10 players so in the end 100 albums will be selected. Everyone will have one pick in each round- once an album is picked by someone it is off the board. I am looking at starting this around July 1- if interested let me know and I will get the full details for you in a week or so. I hope I explained this in an understandable way!

    • Hey Hans – thanks for the invite. Sounds like an interesting concept, but think I’ll have to sit it out. Finding time to write my posts can be tough enough, so wouldn’t want to commit to taking on any more. I’ll be interested to follow along, though!

      • No worries. Keep that chart going. Interesting to see the differences in the two countries charts.

  2. No just no…I don’t like this… I have my hands over my ears and thinking “Well, I stand up next to a mountain And I chop it down with the edge of my hand”

  3. Oh God, no, I can’t even relisten to it. It’s a… well, there are no words to describe how awful this excuse of a song is. Who bought it in the first place, is what I want to know?

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  5. GEEZUS, Stuart. Who the hell bought this and/or requested it be played? In order to be a #1, there had to be a “want” to hear it. Better yet, who decided it needed to be recorded? Shoot me.

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  9. What a strange, strange song. But it’s not awful. Yes, the verses are quite depressing. I was not expecting that after hearing how irritating the chorus was. I don’t hate it, and it’s certainly better than some of the novelty hits in the US (look up “Mr Custer” by Larry Verne for a contender for the worst song of all time).

    Until the 1990s, the UK charts have so many off-kilter songs that hit the top spot. Makes it more interesting than the US where there are very few surprises.

    • Even today, while the novelty single might have died away, there are still oddities and re-releases that make #1 in the UK (Kate Bush last year, for example). And when charity singles come along all bets are off…

      I think one of the reasons that the British charts are slightly less predictable is that airplay has never been a contributing factor, which means a song doesn’t necessarily have to be played on the radio to make it. I’m not sure how much airtime, if any, ‘Grandad’ or Benny Hill got, for example.

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