When a song makes it to the top of the UK singles chart, it can be either garlanded for capturing the hearts and minds of the music-buying public or ear-marked as a future pub quiz question in some obscure one hit wonder songs round. Every once in a while, a so-called novelty song makes it into the top 10 and more often than not, the breeding ground for these singles is on television.
Looking back over the history of the Official Charts Company, the climate has definitely changed, thanks to the dramatic evolution of downloads and streaming and social media changing the way we listen to music. Some artists’ chances of charting are dramatically increased, whereas novelty singles are more like the things you listen to on YouTube or Spotify without investing your hard-earned cash in them.
But the relationship between TV and music has also changed with the arrival of talent shows like The X Factor, a show that is ruthlessly designed to create a hit in time for the coveted Christmas UK number 1. The X Factor winner’s single has been number 1 for seven out of 11 years that the show has been on the air, and has only ever been kept off the top spot by charity singles and an extraordinary one-off protest campaign for Rage Against The Machine.
But that isn’t the kind of TV spin-off single we’re looking at in this list. There are Christmas songs, children’s TV themes, parodies, charity singles and, frankly, only about three or four good ones. This isn’t a list of favourite pop picks and we’ve kept it contained to songs that made it into the top 20, but this is our look back at the history of chart singles that spun-off from British telly.
Mercifully, that exempts 1985’s Doctor Who SOS pop single Doctor In Distress, which didn’t chart. If you’re a new Whovian, we strongly recommend that you pull your ears off before going to look that up.
The Proclaimers ft. Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin: (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles
Spun off from: Phoenix Nights and Little Britain, but mostly Red Nose Day 2007.
Highest chart position: No. 1 for three weeks in 2007
Back in 2005, future Abzorbaloff Peter Kay was flanked by a whole bunch of celebrities in a new Comic Relief video for Tony Christie’s Is This The Way To Amarillo? The song topped seven weeks and eventually became the third best-selling single of the decade – that’s not bad for a re-release of a 1970s pop song. Kay teamed up with Matt Lucas and David Walliams for the follow-up, another unofficial single that covered Charlie and Craig Reid’s catchy folk rock number, with a few interjections by wheelchair-bound comedy characters Brian and Andy (“I would roll 500 miles and I would roll 500 more…”) Again, the video premièred on Red Nose Day and went straight to the top of the singles chart in the following week.
One hit wonder? The Proclaimers’ previous best performing single was Letter From America, which reached number 3 back in 1987. The Comic Relief video brought the Reid brothers back into the mainstream consciousness, but that hasn’t translated into chart success for their singles since. Meanwhile, Peter Kay had a third number 1 charity single with his Animated All-Star Band for Children In Need in 2009 and also released singles as Geraldine McQueen from Channel 4’s TV contest spoof Britain’s Got The Pop Factor.
Bonus trivia: The song was the biggest selling number 1 of 2007 up to that point and its sales doubled those of the official Comic Relief single, a cover of Walk This Way by Girls Aloud vs. Sugababes. TV fans may also know 500 Miles as the track that’s stuck on a loop in the tape player of Marshall’s car on How I Met Your Mother.
Bo’ Selecta!: Proper Crimbo
Spun off from: Bo’ Selecta
Highest chart position: No. 4 in 2003
I’m sorry if you had forgotten this existed. Back before ITV decided that Keith Lemon was the lynchpin of its light entertainment schedule, Leigh Francis was faffing about to no small amount of acclaim on Channel 4’s late night comedy series, Bo’ Selecta. For maximum enjoyment, we haven’t embedded the whole six minute(!) video here, with its dated and tasteless cold-open featuring John Leslie and Matthew Wright, (don’t look it up) but the goal seems to have been to create a time capsule in which Francis’ Craig David raps about Christmas with a chorus of literally tens of celebrities. If nothing else, it’s the most 2003 song ever recorded.
One hit wonder? No. A double A-side of I Got You Babe and Soda Pop got to no. 5 the following year. Francis also released a single as Keith Lemon called I Wanna Go On You in 2013 for Text Santa, but it didn’t break the top 40.
Bonus trivia: In case you don’t know, Keith Lemon: The Film is the worst British film ever made. That’s not about this song – it’s more of a public service announcement, because for some reason, a sequel is still in development…
Bob The Builder: Can We Fix It?
Spun off from: Bob The Builder
Highest chart position: No. 1 for three weeks in 2000/1.
The race for Christmas number 1 is often much bally-hooed in the press from November onwards. Back when physical sales ruled, the popularity of the contenders could be clear-cut enough that it could be looked upon as a one-on-one race, rather than the Wacky Races style cluster-faff we can anticipate next month. The first Christmas number 1 of the new millennium came down to a race between Stan by Eminem and Dido or a remix of the theme tune to Bob The Builder. The great British public voted with their wallets and put Neil Morrissey’s Bob in the top spot – history will probably show they were right.
One hit wonder? No- a year later, Bob and friends got to number 1 again with a cover of Lou Bega’s Mambo No.5, replacing all of the ladies’ names in the song with construction tools and methods (A little bit of concrete mixed with sand/A little bit of Bob, the builder man.) Bob The Builder: The Album also featured Bob’s cover of Crocodile Rock, with guest vocals from Elton bloody John himself.
Bonus trivia: The song wasn’t only the best-selling single of 2000 – it was the tenth best-selling song of the whole decade. We were unable to corroborate reports that this theme’s ‘Yes We Can’ anthem inspired the stirring slogan of President Barack Obama’s history-making 2008 campaign, but given their mutual success, it seems obvious, really.
Teletubbies: Teletubbies Say ‘Eh-oh!’
Spun off from: Teletubbies
Highest chart position: No. 1 for two weeks in 1997
Eh-oh! When it started in 1997, Teletubbies was huge with kids and the BBC made a very good deal to remix its theme tune as a single, all thanks to an A&R executive by the name of Simon Cowell.
“I heard another record label were about to sign the Teletubbies, so I got the BBC in my office and told them I would give them £500,000 in advance,” Cowell boasted to the Sun in 2001. “We knew a record like that would make over £2 million.”
We won’t say he was right, but he was demonstrably correct – at the time of writing, the double-platinum single is still the 83rd biggest selling song ever in the UK.
One hit wonder? So far, yes. The Teletubbies have yet to release any more material, although we hear unconfirmed reports that Po is going solo and has “some deep experimental shit” lined up for the New Year.
Bonus trivia: Teletubbies Say ‘Eh-oh!‘ was the favourite to take the Christmas number 1 spot, but the Spice Girls scored their second festive winner on the bounce with Too Much. With a reboot of Teletubbies currently showing on CBeebies, is it too much to hope that Cowell will have the winner of this year’s X Factor cover the children’s favourite in a bid to maintain the coveted title for a third year running?
Mr. Blobby: Mr. Blobby
Spun off from: Noel’s House Party
Highest chart position: No. 1 for a total of four weeks in 1993
Inconceivable as it may be to some of our younger readers, BBC One’s Saturday night schedule didn’t used to be all about Doctor Who. At least for Noel Edmonds, you have a frame of reference in the form of Deal Or No Deal, but his bulbous sidekick looks to modern eyes like something designed to terrify CBeebies viewers. But before Bob The Builder and Teletubbies, there was Blobby, which beat out Take That and Meatloaf to take the Christmas number 1 spot. It’s still comfortably the worst ever single to hold that honour.
One hit wonder? Somehow, no. Christmas In Blobbyland made it into the top 40 two years later, but was beaten to the Christmas number 1 spot in 1995 by Michael Jackson’s Earth Song and exactly 34 other songs. Still, number 36 was as high as the pink-and-yellow punchline would ever get from there.
Bonus trivia: Candyman rules also apply to Mr. Blobby and that’s the third time we’ve mentioned him by name. Sorry if you’ve been reading this aloud, but Den of Geek is not liable for the annoyance or destruction of property you’ve just brought upon yourself.
The Cat: Tongue Tied
Spun off from: Red Dwarf
Highest chart position: No. 17 in 1993
Series II finale Parallel Universe is the only episode of Red Dwarf to date that plays without an opening title sequence, instead jumping straight into a surreal dream sequence of the Cat’s in which he sings and dances to a pop ballad called Tongue Tied, backed by Lister and Rimmer in matching outfits. The song was catchy enough that a fan campaign to EMI for a single release finally came to fruition in 1993, some five years after the episode was originally broadcast. Even years later, this earworm makes us nongy-nangy ningy-nongy.
One hit wonder? Yes, but let’s not forget that the chart performance of this one was extraordinary given that it was based solely on a campaign that the record label attributed to the “30,000-strong” Red Dwarf fan club and was released with no TV or radio publicity.
Bonus trivia: If you enjoyed watching Chris Barrie and Craig Charles doing their level-best to keep up with professional dancer Danny John Jules in that video, you owe Charles Augin your thanks – he played computer interface Queeg earlier in Series II, and also choreographed the dance for this scene.
Mr. Bean & Smear Campaign ft. Bruce Dickinson: (I Wanna Be) Elected
Spun off from: Mr. Bean
Highest chart position: No. 5 in 1992
“My name’s Bean, Mr. Bean, and I want to be elected.” In the week before the 1992 UK general election, there was a cover of Alice Cooper’s Elected by ‘Smear Campaign’ (made up of members of Taste) and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson that featured Rowan Atkinson’s beloved buffoon canvassing for votes for his Bean party in between lines. The song was released in support of Comic Relief, but also serves as a cute send-up of the election campaign.
One hit wonder? Yes – as a largely silent character, Mr. Bean wasn’t big on singles. The character did appear in the video for Boyzone’s Picture Of You, from the soundtrack for Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie, which peaked at number 2 in 1997. Atkinson has since retired Mr. Bean, but he’s popped up a few times in Comic Relief sketches and at the Olympic opening ceremony.
Bonus trivia: This single played out the end credits to the BBC’s overnight election coverage back in 1992, over a montage of highlights from the evening, including people falling over and kissing their wives.
The Timelords: Doctorin’ The TARDIS
Spun off from: Doctor Who
Highest chart position: No. 1 for one week in 1988
This one spawned a whole self-help book, called The Manual (How To Get A Number One The Easy Way). Bill ‘Time Boy’ Drummond and Jimmy ‘Lord Rock’ Cauty got together after a self-imposed break from the JAMs to design a house track based around the Doctor Who theme tune, but wound up creating a number one single instead. Aside from Ron Grainer’s iconic theme and various other sound effects from the show, Drummond and Cauty mashed up Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll (Part Two), Steve Walsh’s Let’s Get Together Tonite and Sweet’s Blockbuster! Critics hated it, but as they anticipated, the mainstream audience lapped it up, affording it one week atop the singles chart.
One hit wonder? As The Timelords, yes. But afterwards, The JAMs reinvented themselves again as The KLF and their Neighbours-themed follow-up Kylie Said To Jason failed to chart. They hit number 1 again in 1990 with 3.a.m. Eternal and had four more top 10 hits in the following year. Doctor Who hasn’t charted again, although after the show returned triumphant to BBC One, members of the Outpost Gallifrey fan forum unsuccessfully campaigned to get Murray Gold’s original song Love Don’t Roam into the top 40 to take advantage of new rules about downloads.
Bonus trivia: Excerpts of Doctorin’ The TARDIS can be heard over the PA system at American football stadiums to this day, during breaks in games. Something about that song just riles up sport fans good and proper, apparently.
Nick Berry: Every Loser Wins
Spun off from: EastEnders
Highest chart position: No. 1 for three weeks in 1986
EastEnders started on BBC One in 1985 and for a while there, it was big on pop spin-offs as it strived for more social relevance than the other soaps. The biggest and wishy-washiest hit of the lot was Every Loser Wins by The Banned, fronted by Nick Berry’s Simon Wicks, which was heard on the show throughout the summer of 1986 and gave the show its first number 1 spin-off single. As seen and heard in the clip, it’s “music to vomit to”, but it was hugely popular at the time and sold over a million copies.
One hit wonder? Nope, not for the show or for Berry. Later that year, Anyone Can Fall In Love was released by Anita Dobson, who played Angie Watts in the show and basically sang a ballad over the lyrics over the now-iconic EastEnders theme. Berry had another TV themed hit after leaving the soap, with a 1992 cover of Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat, the theme tune to the show of the same name, which reached number 2.
Bonus trivia: Other soaps got in on the act too, much later on, but their cover singles didn’t reach the heights of Every Loser Wins. Emmerdale‘s The Woolpackers got to number 5 with Hillbilly Rock, Hillbilly Roll in 1996, while Coronation Street‘s cast covered Something Stupid and Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life on a double A-side that reached number 35 at Christmas 1995.
Spitting Image: The Chicken Song
Spun off from: Spitting Image
Highest chart position: No. 1 for one week in 1986
Hold a chicken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose, buy a jumbo jet and then bury all your toes. This was Spitting Image‘s uncanny and satirically insensible parody of Black Lace’s disco-heavy discography. It’s the second song on this list to have been written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor of Red Dwarf fame and typically, it did even better than Black Lace’s own Agadoo, which peaked at number 2 a couple of years earlier.
One hit wonder? Sort of. The show had another bash at the charts with the Christmassy B-side release Santa Claus Is On The Dole/First Atheist Tabernacle Choir, which just about scraped into the top 20.
Bonus trivia: The B-side included a bunch of other satirical songs from the ITV series, alongside something ominously labelled The Chicken Song (12 Hour Version). It was only 6 minutes and 59 seconds as it turns out, but that’s still almost three times as long as the original.
Grange Hill: Just Say No
Spun off from: Grange Hill
Highest chart position: No. 5 in 1986
‘Just say no’ was a phrase coined by the First Lady of the United States Nancy Reagan as part of the US war on drugs and it was catchy enough that someone was bound to make a song with that title eventually. So, it might as well have been the cast of CBBC’s then groundbreaking school drama Grange Hill, who sang the song in conjunction with a controversial storyline about Zammo Maguire’s Heroin Addiction, (which has been exhaustively recapped on the GH wiki.) The song was a top 5 hit – our favourite part is Kevin’s rap break.
One hit wonder? Yep- given their anti-drugs stance, they didn’t even want another hit, actually.
Bonus trivia: When Justin Lee Collins valiantly attempted to reunited the cast for a new rendition of this song in 2005’s Bring Back Grange Hill, he only got four original cast members to participate in the singalong. Grange Hill was actually still on the air at the time Bring Back Grange Hill was broadcast.
Cliff Richard & The Young Ones: Living Doll
Spun off from: The Young Ones
Highest chart position: No. 1 for three weeks in 1986
Going by this list, 1986 might really have been the peak year for UK TV spin-off singles, but this one came first. The Young Ones had ended two years earlier with Rick, Vyvyan, Mike and Neil going on a summer holiday in a stolen bus before it crashed through a Cliff Richard billboard and then right off a cliff. Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Christopher Ryan and Nigel Planer reunited for Comic Relief, to provide bellowed backing vocals and music video shenaniganizing for one of Richard’s hits with The Shadows and arguably made it their own.
One hit wonder? Not quite – prior to this, Planer reached no. 2 in 1984 as Neil with Hole In My Shoe.
Bonus trivia: A 2012 episode of Pointless had ‘Things That Cliff Richard’s Living Doll Can Do’ as a subject in the Head to Head round. There are only four answers, but the best answer was ‘Crying’, which would have scored you 54. Pointless trivia indeed.
Joe Fagin: Breakin’ Away/That’s Livin’ Alright
Spun off from: Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Highest chart position: No. 3 in 1984
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet followed a motley crew of English construction workers who worked on building sites around the world; its channel-spanning run started on ITV in 1983 and ended on BBC One in 2004. The show’s opening and closing tracks, performed by songwriter Joe Fagin, were released as a double A-side in 1984. If you’re ever visiting the North East, you’ll have to try not to bring this up – there are still those of us in Middlesbrough who remember that time in the unlikely third series when the cheeky bastards carted our Transporter Bridge off to America and are tipsy and belligerent enough to take umbrage with it. OK, well, there’s me anyway…
One hit wonder? Fagin reached number 1 in 1985 as part of The Crowd’s charity cover of showtune/Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. He also covered As Time Goes By as the theme for the BBC sitcom of the same name, but it wasn’t released as a single.
Bonus trivia: The song was re-worked to support the England national football team’s campaign in the 2006 World Cup, which took place in Germany, as with the new title, That’s England Alright (Hear the roar, when the three lions score/We’re gonna beat them all out of sight) but it peaked at no. 147 in the charts.
Dennis Waterman: I Could Be So Good For You
Spun off from: Minder
Highest chart position: No. 3 in 1980
He didn’t write the theme tune, but he sang the theme tune and he got the theme tune in the top 10. Dennis Waterman played Terry McCann, the titular minder to George Cole’s Arthur Daly, for ten series between 1979 and 1994. The first series of the show got something of a lukewarm reception and in a marked change to how telly works nowadays, it got a second chance and went onto gain some traction in its second year, starting with the theme tune charting.
One hit wonder? What Are We Gonna Get ‘Er Indoors, a duet between Waterman and Cole, reached no. 21 in 1983, but that’s about it. Of course, Waterman did go onto sing the theme tunes for other shows in which he starred, including On The Up, Stay Lucky and New Tricks.
Bonus trivia: David Walliams’ bizarre Little Britain caricature of Waterman as a fellow of Hobbit-like proportions apparently comes from thinking he was smaller than he expected when he met him. His insistence on writing and singing ‘the theme toon’ is a bit more obvious.
The Wombles: Remember You’re A Womble
Spun off from: The Wombles
Highest chart position: No. 3 in 1974
Based on Elizabeth Beresford’s furry, environmentally-friendly creatures, The Wombles was a stop-motion animated fixture of children’s BBC in the 1970s, famously voiced by the mighty Bernard Cribbins. Songwriter and record producer Mike Batt, who composed the show’s theme tune, came up with the idea of making the Wombles into a novelty pop group and they’ve released a number of albums over the year, most recently 2011’s The W Factor. This 1974 single was the title track from their second album and their highest-charting effort to date.
One hit wonder? No – other top 20 charting singles from Remember You’re A Womble included Banana Rock (No. 9) and Minuetto Allegretto (No. 16). A re-release of The Wombling Song in 1998 reached No. 27.
Bonus trivia: The Wombles played the Avalon stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 2011, a booking that was notably criticised in the run-up by founder Michael Eavis. In the event itself, front-Womble Orinoco et al reportedly drew a bigger crowd than the Pyramid stage that afternoon and, of course, graciously encouraged everybody to clean up their rubbish after the gig.
Benny Hill: Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)
Spun off from: The Benny Hill Show
Highest chart position: No. 1 for four weeks in 1971/2.
Another Christmas chart-topper to finish with and the first ever UK number 1 to have come from a TV show. The song was a surprise hit when it was released as a single, but it is in many ways the quintessential novelty single. It’s a semi-autobiographical song from Hill, based on the beginning of an unfilmed feature script about his days as a milkman that he wrote in 1955. The popular sketch first aired in 1970, when it was shot in black and white due to a technician’s strike, but remade in full colour for the single release a year later.
One hit wonder? Yes – Hill would go on to appear in the video for Genesis’ Anything She Does in 1986, but the song wasn’t released as a single.
Bonus trivia: According to his 2006 episode of Desert Island Discs, this is the only song to which Prime Minister David Cameron knows all the words. If fact-checking is your thing, why not try singing it loudly in his face if you see him in public and see if he joins in before you get tackled by 30 stone of security blokes.