With a little help from a last minute appeal to fans, the band’s “Killing in the Name” has won the top spot on the 2009 U.K. Christmas singles chart. It’s a stunning defeat that BBC News’ Colin Paterson likens to “Engelbert Humperdinck ending The Beatles’ run of 11 number ones in a row.”

The heated competition began when RATM frontman Tom Morello and the rest of the group decided they would come to the rescue of a public “sick of the talent shows Simon is producing to monopolize the airwaves.” Morello and company launched a campaign to defeat a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” by “X Factor” winner Joe McElderry that essentially had a lock on the title.

For the past several years, the No. 1 spot on the U.K. singles chart has belonged to a string of champs from the Cowell-created talent competition, beginning in 2005 with Shayne Ward, followed by Leona Lewis in 2006, Leon Jackson in 2007 and Alexandra Burke in 2008.

RATM was aided in its quest by Jon and Tracy Morter, who started a Facebook campaign to keep an “X Factor” contestant off the top of the Christmas singles chart. Rick Astley fans may remember the Morters for their attempt to secure the spot for the ’80s pop icon last year.

“When this year came around I just thought, let’s have another go,” Jon Morter told the BBC. “If anything, last year was fun. This year it has gone stratospheric.”

“It was one of those little silly ideas that make you laugh in your own house,” Tracy Morter explained. “We really love music and remember when we were young the charts were really exciting. We just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if that song got to number one?’

“It took something really strong and forceful to get people behind it.”

And get behind it they did: In the week leading up to the end of the business day on Dec. 19, the final day for sales to count toward the Christmas chart, “Killing” sold more than 500,000 copies, making it the first download-only Christmas No. 1 and the best selling one-week download in U.K. chart history.

Cowell called RATM’s effort “stupid” early last week, but after McElderry lost he told BBC he was impressed by the Morters’ campaign.

“I called Jon on Saturday to congratulate the two of them that, win or lose, they turned this into a very exciting race for the Christmas No. 1,” the chronically cranky producer said.

Besides scoring a victory “for fans of real music,” RATM’s efforts will help to improve the lives of the homeless. The band is donating all proceeds from the sale of the single to non-profit organization Shelter.

The group also intends to make good on an offer to give its British fans something if “Killing” prevailed.

“As promised, we will play a free concert in the U.K. in celebration of this incredible upset victory over the heavily favored ‘X Factor’ single,” the band said in a statement issued yesterday.

“We are also pleased that so much money has been raised for homeless charity Shelter and are happy to donate as well as aid this important cause.

“While there are many lessons that can be drawn from this historic upset, the main one is this: that ordinary people, banding together in solidarity, can change anything, be it the pop charts or the world.”

Ironically, the biggest losers in this holiday dustup weren’t Cowell and McElderry, but British bookmakers.

The domination of the Christmas chart by “X Factor” winners had become so institutionalized that bookies in the U.K. took bets on who would win, with RATM entering the fight at odds of greater than 150 to 1, according to Online-Casino.org.

The band’s dark horse win resulted in a lot of money changing hands – in the wrong direction.

“Although it has cost the industry over $2 million, it at least now keeps the interest going,” Gary Burton, a spokesman for British bookmaker Coral told the online gaming Web site. “The ‘X Factor’ dominance almost killed off the festive chart betting forever.”

Fa la la la la. La la la la.