In November 2012, the UK chart celebrated its 60th birthday, just 10 weeks earlier, the only surviving male artist to appear in the first ever chart, Max Bygraves died. In September 2012 I compiled a round in my local quiz called the over 80s club which consisted of 19 artists who, at one time or another, had a UK number one and were still alive. Ironically, the week I did it, Andy Williams died. Six weeks later the oldest living male artist to have ever had a UK hit single, Clive Dunn, died, he was 92.
The BBC-TV comedy series, Dad’s Army, was created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft around the adventures of the Local Defence Volunteers, a group of men who were prevented by age or disability from joining the regular services. The brilliant casting included Arthur Lowe as the pompous Captain Mainwaring, John Le Mesurier as Sgt. Wilson and Clive Dunn as Lance-Corporal Jack Jones, the local butcher. Dunn had many catchphrases which included, “They don’t like it up ’em”, Don’t panic! Don’t panic! and “Permission to speak, sir.” His solo album was to be called Permission, To Sing, Sir!
Clive Dunn, who was born in 1920, had seen action in the Second World War and he came to the public’s attention as a supporting actor in Bootsie And Snudge. He built up a reputation playing older men if fact, his first on stage engagement when he was a teenager was playing a 72-year-old.
Herbie Flowers, a member of Blue Mink and Sky, met Clive Dunn at a party and Clive, thinking he would like to try his hand at singing, asked him for a song. Herbie began writing a song and then got stuck on the chorus. Kenny Pickett, who had been in the 60s psychedelic band The Creation, called round and the chimes of his front door bell gave him the two notes that became ‘Grandad’. He passed his melody to Kenny, who used the outdated images on a tin of Quality Street as the starting point for the words.
Grandad hit number one on the UK singles chart on the week of Clive’s 51st birthday and thus, at the time, made him the oldest artist to make his debut on the singles chart. He appeared on Top of the Pops four times and the B-side, I Play the Spoons, received regular airplay on children’s radio programmes like Junior Choice.
Looking like a benign, doting senior citizen, Clive sat in a rocking chair with his cap and scarf and was surrounded by children while he performed ‘Grandad’ on the nations favourite pop show. Now to reveal the extraordinary history of that rocking chair! It began its service as part of the TV series, Relax with Michael Holliday. After Holliday’s death in 1963, the BBC commissioned a similar easy listening show from Val Doonican. So similar that Val used the same rocking chair and he was to make the album, Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently. The rocking chair also did service in The Morecambe and Wise Show. In the 70s, the producer John Ammonds presented the chair to Mike’s widow. It is now in the home of Mike’s son, Michael Holliday Jr, on the Wirral. He says, “Whenever I sit in it and rock back and forth, I can’t help myself. I start singing.”
In 1974, Clive Dunn played another old codger, Sam Cobbett, in the sitcom, My Old Man, and, with shades of Old Mother Riley, his screen daughter was played by his wife, Priscilla Morgan. The hit single led to his own TV series, Grandad, from 1979 to 1984 in which he played the caretaker of the Parkview Rehearsal Hall and, naturally, everything went wrong.
He retired in the mid-80s to spend more time in the Algarve in Portugal helping his wife and two daughters successfully run a small restaurant. In 1987, at the age of 67, he was briefly lured out of retirement to perform in the Theatre of Comedy’s West End production of the classic French farce An Italian Straw Hat and also wrote a humorous autobiography aptly entitled Permission to Speak. In his spare time he kept himself busy as an artist painting portraits, landscapes and seascapes until his sight failed.
Clive Dunn died in Portugal on 6th November 2012 from complications following an operation. Incidentally his cousin was the actress Gretchen Franklin who is best remembered as Ethel Skinner in EastEnders.