Love him or hate him, Cliff Richard figured large in my early years. He always seemed to be providing the soundtrack to my summer holidays (no pun intended).
My holidays in Skegness each year were played out to songs like Congratulations, Tin Soldier, Don’t Talk To Him, Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha and Lucky Lips .
Cliff Richard and The Shadows were the first group I got really excited about. They looked good, they sounded great – and they even did the synchronized stepping thing.
Cliff was born Harry Rodger Webb in Lucknow, India, on 14 October 1940 to Rodger and Dorothy. One sister, Donella, was born three years later, and another (Jacqueline) in 1948.
That same year the family boarded the troopship SS Ranghi and moved to Britain with £5 between them.
They moved into a room in Carshalton, Surrey, where young Harry attended the Stanley Park Road primary school. The family moved to Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire in 1950 – the same year that his youngest sister, Joan, was born.
Harry Webb left school in 1957 with one ‘O’ level in English, and a skiffle group called The Quintones, which he had formed with school friends. He moved on to The Dick Teague Skiffle Group before finally setting up a Rock & Roll group called The Drifters, with Teague.
Their first manager, John Foster, was strongly of the opinion that ‘Harry Webb & The Drifters’ held little magic for prospective booking agents, and after much deliberation Foster chose ‘Cliff Richard’.
In the summer of 1958, with money borrowed from Foster’s parents, Cliff Richard recorded his first demo record at HMV’s Oxford Street record store in London. He chose two cover versions, Jerry Lee Lewis‘s Breathless and Lloyd Price‘s Lawdy Miss Clawdy.
After regular gigs at the 2i’s coffee bar in Soho and a spot in a talent show at the Gaumont Theatre in Edmonton, entrepreneur George Ganjou took Cliff’s demo to Norrie Paramor, A&R Manager for Columbia-EMI.
Suitably impressed, Paramor took Cliff and The Drifters into Abbey Road Studios to record a handful of tracks.
The first single was intended to be a version of Bobby Helm‘s Schoolboy Crush but the public preferred the B-side, Move It (written by Ian Samwell) and pushed it to #2 on the charts in November 1958.
In December 1958 another Samwell composition (High Class Baby) went to #7 and early the next year, Cliff and The Drifters embarked on their first British headlining tour, with Wee Willie Harris and Jimmy Tarbuck as support acts.
The third single, Livin’ Lovin’ Doll, peaked at #20 in January 1959 and Cliff won the Best New Singer award in the annual New Musical Express readers’ poll.
We all know now that Cliff Richard is hardly a bad boy, but back in 1958 he was the enfant terrible of the British music scene – considered to be a corrupting influence on teenagers and definitely too hot for television.
The TV show that earned Cliff such an awful reputation was Oh Boy!, the ITV pop show which reflected the change in musical tastes and in youngsters generally. In 1957, Cliff had been an unknown £4-a-week clerk, but Oh Boy! rocketed him to fame and parental disapproval.
Cliff had modelled himself on Elvis – even down to the curled lip – and was accused of ‘smouldering on screen’. Newspapers attacked his “crude exhibitionism” and warned “Don’t let your daughter go out with people like this”.
Cliff explained, “One of my front teeth was capped and the shadow from the TV lighting made it look as though I had a tooth missing. So instead of smiling I ‘smouldered'”. He also cheerfully admits “Physically, I was a greasy slob. I was probably the first bad-taste dresser in this country. I wore pink socks and a pink jacket. I used to fluoresce!”.
By the early sixties, Cliff could do no wrong. His audience was now expanding to encompass all ages and his next two films – The Young Ones (1961) and Summer Holiday (1962) – were box office smashes and both soundtrack albums topped the charts.
By 1964, the 23-year-old star was caught up in a life of filming (Wonderful Life), touring, and playing Aladdin in pantomime. Although he had initially established himself as a recording artist, this was becoming just one of Cliff’s many showbiz activities.
With the 1963 singles Summer Holiday and It’s All In The Game he had taken a further step away from the rock & roll format by using strings. In due course, a recording pattern was established with producer Norrie Paramor whereby the singer simply overdubbed his voice onto pre-recorded tracks – three a night, between 8.30 and 10.30 PM.
In 1964, he did nod in the direction of Merseybeat with On The Beach and I Could Easily Fall, but more typical of the period were soft-voiced ballads such as The Minute You’re Gone. His sole concession to the harder-edged rock of the Sixties came in 1966 with the Jagger-Richards song Blue Turns To Grey, on which Shadows guitarist Hank Marvin lets his guitar whine a little.
Blue Turns To Grey was quickly succeeded by In The Country, a fresh air paean with “pa-pa-pa-pa” chorus that ominously announced the beginning of Cliff’s Eurovision period.
The Day I Met Marie in 1967 with its trumpety chorus was a further indication the rot was setting in, then in 1968 came the manically jolly Congratulations, the archetypal Sixties Eurovision song (in fact it was only a runner-up) that has since entered the repertoire of every brass band in the United Kingdom.
The song’s “oom-pah-pah” sound made fashionable by Chris Andrews with his Yesterday Man (1965) and Sandie Shaw‘s Puppet On A String (1967), featured on Cliff’s Big Ship (1969), Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha (1970) and Power To All Our Friends (1973).
During the next two decades he continued to be amazingly successful in Britain, scoring over 70 consecutive hits – an unapproachable record. However the biggest change in Cliff’s life at this time was not musical but spiritual.
Cliff had for some years been examining The Bible, prompted by discussion with Shadows bassist Brian “Liquorice” Locking. Following the death of Cliff’s father in 1961, he had experienced a sense of loss that show business success alone could not satisfy.
His spiritual search ended at the Finchley home of Bill Latham, a religious education teacher from the singer’s old school in Cheshunt.
In 1965 Cliff Richard decided that his questions about God had been answered sufficiently for him to make a personal commitment to Christianity.
The world came to know of this private decision in July 1966 when Cliff took place on the rostrum with Billy Graham at the American evangelist’s Earls Court crusade and announced that he had become a Christian. With Britain in the throes of the Swinging Sixties, when preciously sacrosanct values were being abruptly questioned and overturned, it was an unfashionable move for a pop star.
Some Christians thought Cliff would be better off away from the wicked world of entertainment, and the singer initially seemed to share this view. He folded up his British fan club and made plans to study religious education in order to become a teacher.
However, other Christians persuaded him that he was of far more value working in the industry where he had made his name and encouraged him to use his most obvious gifts – his fine singing voice, good looks and easy-going manner.
Later in 1966 Cliff made Two A Penny, a film for the Billy Graham Organisation; in 1967 he made Good News, his first gospel album; and in 1968 he performed his first gospel concert called “Help, Hope and Hallelujah” at the Royal Albert Hall.
This practice has continued ever since with a tenth of his time being devoted to specifically Christian work – visiting schools, churches, colleges and universities and carrying out a gospel tour for charity. He has also visited refugees in India and Bangladesh.
Cliff Richard’s musical revival came almost ten years after his decision to become a practising Christian, when Bruce Welch of The Shadows became his producer. Welch chose the songs for his next album, made Cliff work closely with the musicians in the studio and encouraged him to concentrate on his roots as a recording artist.
Those first sessions produced I’m Nearly Famous (1976), an album that included the hits Miss You Nights, one of his most beautiful ballads, and Devil Woman, the single that was finally to crack the US charts.
Welch was to carry on as producer for the next two albums, Every Face Tells A Story (1977) and Green Light (1978), before the guitarists he had been using, Terry Britten and Alan Tarney, moved into song writing and production. Britten shared the production on one track of Rock & Roll Juvenile (1979).
Cliff’s 1979 chart topper We Don’t Talk Anymore (produced by Bruce Welch) confirmed his undiminished excellence, and the number one album Love Songs two years later put him well beyond the reach of any competitors. At that time his closest rivals were The Rolling Stones, who needed eight more hit albums and 48 more hit singles to catch him!
His backing group, The Shadows, were also successful in their own right, starting in 1960 when Apache took them to number one.
When I was a kid I wanted to be Cliff Richard more than anything in the world. I used to warm up the record player (bloody valves) and dance around our front room singing his songs into a hair brush: Bachelor Boy, Summer Holiday, I Could Easily Fall, Lucky Lips, Don’t Talk To Him, Wind Me Up (Let Me Go), The Day I Met Marie, Congratulations, Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha . . .
He had the voice, he was a “nice guy” (and a great sport on The Morecambe & Wise Show) and even represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1968 and 1973 . . . and then in the seventies he lost it all completely as far I was concerned and turned into a slightly naff Christian version of Peter Pan whose claim to fame was chilling out with tennis players and having the piss taken out of him by The Young Ones. Oh well. He still provided the majority of the soundtrack of my childhood.
Thanks a lot, Cliff.
“The only time I’ve ever seriously been near getting married was to Jackie Irving, who later married Adam Faith. I’d like to marry a girl now who was a combination of Una Stubbs, Cilla Black and Olivia Newton-John“. Cliff Richard on bachelorhood. 1971