13 June 2016

Cliff Richard

In the late 1950s Sir Cliff Richard (1940) became known as 'Britain's answer to Elvis Presley'. The ‘Cliff Richard musical’ was the number one cinema box office attraction in Britain for both 1962 and 1963. The singer and film actor, represented the United Kingdom twice at the Eurovision Song Contest, in 1968 and 1973, but never won. 

Cliff Richard
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/165. Photo: Camera Press / UFA.

Cliff Richard
German postcard by ISV, no. H 34.

Cliff Richard
Big Dutch postcard.

Cliff Richard
German postcard by ISV, no. T 16. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1972.

Cliff Richard
German postcard by ISV, no. T 17.

Rock 'n Roll

Cliff Richard was born Harry Roger Webb in Lucknow, British India, in 1940. He was the son of Rodger Oscar, a train driver of Indian Rail, and Dorothy Marie (born Dazely) Webb. Following India's independence, the family moved to Britain.

In 1957 Harry Webb became interested in skiffle and formed the Quintones vocal group. Later he sang in the Dick Teague Skiffle Group, and then became lead singer of a rock and roll group, The Drifters. In 1958, the group adopted the name Cliff Richard and the Drifters.

The handsome singer burst onto the rock 'n roll world in 1958 with his debut single Move It, originally the B-side. The single went to no. 2 on the UK charts. Music critics Roy Carr and Tony Tyler wrote that it was 'the first genuine British rock classic'.

Cliff adopted an Elvis Presley-like dress and hairstyle. In performance he struck a pose of rock attitude, rarely smiling or looking at the audience or camera. His late 1958 and early 1959 follow-up singles, High Class Baby and Livin' Lovin' Doll, were followed by Mean Streak which carried a rocker's sense of speed and passion, and Living Doll by Lionel Bart.

Living Doll (1958) became the first of fourteen #1 singles in the UK for Cliff. Living Doll triggered also a softer, more relaxed, sound. By that time The Drifters' lineup had changed with the arrival of Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Hank Marvin, and Bruce Welch. The group was obliged to change its name after legal complications with the American soul group The Drifters and the new name was The Shadows. Their subsequent hits, the no. 1's Travellin' Light and I Love You cemented Cliff's status as a mainstream pop entertainer.

Cliff Richard
Dutch postcard, sent by mail in 1963. Photo: Columbia.

Cliff Richard
Dutch postcard.

The Shadows / Jet Harris (1939-2011)
The Shadows. Dutch postcard by Syba, Enkhuizen, no. 22.

Cliff Richard
Dutch postcard by 't Sticht, Utrecht, no. AX 6122.

Conversion to Christianity

In 1964 Cliff Richard announced his conversion to Christianity. Initially, he believed that he should quit rock 'n roll, feeling he could no longer be the rocker who had been called a 'crude exhibitionist' and 'too sexy for TV' and a threat to parents' daughters. He re-emerged, performing with Christian groups and recording some Christian material.

Cliff still recorded secular songs with the Shadows, but devoted a lot of his time to Christian work, including appearances with the Billy Graham crusades. He never married and claims to have observed a celibate lifestyle since his conversion. This and the softening of his music led to his having more of a pop than a rock image.

After the Shadows split in 1968, Richard continued to record solo. Twice Cliff Richard represented the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest: in 1968 and in 1973. In 1968 he sang Congratulations by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. It lost by just one point to Spain's La La La by Massiel. According to John Kennedy O'Connor's The Eurovision Song Contest — The Official History, this was the closest yet result in the contest and Richard locked himself in the toilet to avoid the nerves of the voting.

In May 2008 a Reuters news report claimed that voting in the competition had been fixed by the host country's dictator leader, Francisco Franco, to ensure that the Spanish entry won, allowing them to host the contest the following year. In particular, it is claimed that Spanish television executives offered to buy programmes in exchange for votes. This has not been proved beyond doubt, but it is thought to be likely. Eurovision later ended voting by national juries in a bid to eradicate such scams.

Nevertheless, Congratulations was a huge hit throughout Europe and yet another no. 1. In 1973 he sang the British entry Power to All Our Friends. This time the song finished third, close behind Luxembourg's Tu Te Reconnaîtras by Anne-Marie David and Spain's Eres Tú by Mocedades. Richard had taken Valium in order to overcome his nerves and his manager was almost unable to wake him for the performance.

Cliff Richard
German postcard by ISV, no. T 12.

Cliff Richard
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam.

Cliff Richard
Big German postcard by ISV, no. HX 103.

Cliff Richard in The Young Ones (1961)
Spanish postcard, no. 4. Photo: British Pathe. Publicity still for The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961).

Cliff Richard in The Young Ones (1961)
Spanish postcard, no. 18. Photo: British Pathe. Publicity still for The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961).

Straight Acting

Cliff Richard’s first film was Serious Charge (Terence Young, 1959), followed by Expresso Bongo (Val Guest, 1959).

In 1961 he filmed The Young Ones (Sidney J. Furie, 1961) and the title track gave him another no. 1 with more than one million sales. The film was an enormous success in the many countries where it was released.

The follow-up Summer Holiday (Peter Yates, 1963) featured a slimmed-down Richard with visible dancing skills. At the premiere, huge crowds prevented him reaching the cinema on time. These films created their own genre, known as the 'Cliff Richard musical'. Cliff was the number one cinema box office attraction in Britain for both 1962 and 1963.

His next film, Wonderful Life (Sidney J. Furie, 1964) was not as successful as his other teen musicals. In 1966, Richard and the Shadows appeared as marionettes in the film Thunderbirds Are GO (Gerry Anderson, 1966).

His first straight acting role took place in Two a Penny (James F. Collier, 1968), in which he played a young man who gets involved in drug dealing while questioning his life after his girlfriend changes her attitude. His other films were Finders Keepers (Sidney Hayers, 1966) and Take Me High (David Askey, 1973).

As with the other existing rock acts in Britain, Richard's career was affected by the sudden advent of The Beatles and the Mersey sound in 1963 and 1964. However, his popularity was established enough to allow him to weather the storm and continue to have hits in the charts throughout the 1960s, albeit not at the level that he had enjoyed before.

Cliff Richard
German postcard by Krüger. Sent by mail in the Netherlands in 1965. Photo: Columbia.

Cliff Richard
Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. AX 5465.

Cliff Richard
Big Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam, no. 125.

Cliff Richard
Vintage postcard.


In 1976 the decision was made to repackage Cliff Richard as a 'rock' artist. That year he produced the landmark album I'm Nearly Famous, which included the successful but controversial guitar-driven track Devil Woman (Richard's first true hit in the United States) and the ballad Miss You Nights. His fans were excited that he was getting back into the heavier rock in which he had begun his career.

In 1979, Richard teamed up with the producer Bruce Welch for the pop hit single We Don't Talk Anymore, which hit no. 1 in the UK and no. 7 in the US. Bryan Ferry added the backing vocals to the song. It was his first time at the top of the UK singles chart in over ten years, and the song would become his biggest-selling single ever.

In 1987 Cliff Richard again reached again number one in the UK with Mistletoe and Wine. The popular TV sitcom The Young Ones took its name from Richard's 1962 film, and also made references to the singer. In 1986, Richard teamed up with the cast to re-record his smash hit Living Doll for the charity Comic Relief. Along with the song, the recording contained comedy dialogue between Richard and The Young Ones. This release went also to no. 1.

In 1995 Cliff Richard was knighted, the first rock star to be honoured so. In 1999, controversy arose regarding radio stations refusing to play his releases when EMI, Richard's label since 1958, refused to release his latest song, Millennium Prayer. Richard took it to an independent label, Papillon, which released the charity recording (in aid of Children's Promise). The single went on to top the UK chart for three weeks, his fourteenth no.1, and the third highest-selling single of his career.

Cliff and The Shadows reunited and started a Final Reunion tour in the autumn of 2009. In October 2010, Cliff did six concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The Bold As Brass concerts ran across the week of his 70th birthday and also coincided with the release of his eponymous album. In October 2015, Richard performed on tour to mark his 75th birthday.

During the nearly 60 years in which he has now been active, Cliff Richard reportedly sold over 250 million records. He is the only singer in the history of music to have a #1 hit in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Cliff Richard divides his time between living in Barbados and at a vineyard property in Portugal.

Trailer for The Young Ones Trailer (1961). Source: HollywoodTeenMovies (YouTube).

Trailer for Summer Holiday (1963). Source: Kevin Allen (YouTube).

Cliff Richard sings Congratulations at the Eurovision Song Contest 1968. Source: escbelgium3 | 1956 - 1979 (YouTube).

Cliff Richard sings Power to All Our Friends at the Eurovision Song Contest 1973. Source: Euroencyclopedic (YouTube).

Sources: Official Cliff Richard Website, IMDb, Wikipedia and Eurovision Song Contest official site.


Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

When I was living in Italy I used to watch the Eurovision contest every year. The greatest fun was all the conversation around the water cooler the next day when people would be arguing about whether the contest was fair etc.
Evelyn in Montreal

Brasil said...

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Bob of Holland said...

Thanks, thanks, thanks.