CLIFF RICHARDS : THE artist
He started life as Harry Webb and spent some of his childhood years in India. Cliff Richard was inspired by the music of Elvis Presley and at age 16, formed a band, ‘The Quintones’, with school friends and performed at their local Youth Club. From there, Cliff Richard went from strength to strength and became a global star.
Having moved to India to help build a system of railways, Rodger Webb married Dorothy Dazely in 1939 and the following year the couple had a baby boy – Harry Rodger Webb.
Born in The King’s English Hospital in Lucknow, Harry was educated in Howrah, until his family moved to England in 1948, following Home Rule in India.
After a privileged life in India, the Webbs faced poverty, and were forced to sleep on mattresses at the houses of various relatives. In 1951, they were given a council house in Chesthunt, and after just failing the eleven-plus exam, Harry was enrolled in the newly built Cheshunt County Secondary School.
For his 16th birthday, Harry got his first guitar, going on to form ‘The Drifters’ in 1958, with Terry Smart and Norman Mitham. After a number of low-key London gigs, Ian Samwell joined the band and they recorded their first demo, covers of Elvis’ ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Breathless’.
After recording their first hit single, ‘Schoolboy Crush/Move It’, they were quickly signed by Columbia. The song hit No.2 in the British charts, and went on to sell over a million copies.
Now going under the name Cliff Richard, an appearance on the TV show ‘Oh Boy!’ catapulted Cliff to sex symbol status.
In 1958, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch joined ‘The Drifters’, and by 1959 the band changed their name to ‘The Shadows’. It was also around this time that Cliff made his film debut in ‘Serious Charge’. The film produced the hit ‘Living Doll’, Cliff’s first number one hit.
Cliff’s second movie, ‘Expresso Bongo’, was more successful and critically acclaimed. As the albums and hit singles rolled out, Cliff Richard was building a devoted fan base that would secure his chart success some 40 years later.
In 1961, Cliff starred in ‘The Young Ones’, and the accompanying single shot straight into number one in the charts. The second film with Cliff in the leading role was another musical, ‘Summer Holiday’, which saw him star alongside Una Stubbs.
1968 saw the last album recorded by Cliff with ‘The Shadows’, and Cliff went on to tour with his own gospel album. In 1970, Cliff launched his first television show, featuring a mix of music and comedy. In the same year, he made his stage debut in Peter Shaffer’s ‘Five Finger Exercise’, a play focusing on a ‘deep friendship’ between a student and his tutor. The play was originally considered controversial for its veiled homosexual themes but despite this, reviews were favourable.
One of the most talked about aspects of Cliff’s life is his relationships. A much publicised relationship with tennis star Sue Barker in 1981 ended within a year. Cliff has also been linked with actress Una Stubbs.
In 1986, Cliff and The Young Ones re-recorded ‘Living Doll’ and made it to the top of the charts. In the same year he appeared in the West End musical ‘Time’, and by the end of the decade he had released his highest selling album of all time, ‘Private Collection’, which went on to be certified four-times platinum in the UK alone!
‘Mistletoe & Wine’ become Cliff’s first Christmas-themed No.1 in 1988 and by 1989, Cliff became the first British artist to release 100 singles. Cliff continued to tour and break records throughout the 1990s, and in 1995 he became Sir Cliff Richard – the first pop star to be honoured with a full Knighthood.
Despite selling records by the lorry load, Cliff ran into trouble getting airplay from various radio stations, including a ban by the BBC for his track ‘Misunderstood Man’, which was deemed “too raucous” for listeners.
Perhaps the most significant project for Cliff in the nineties was the fulfilment of his lifelong dream to play the character of Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s masterpiece, ‘Wuthering Heights’. The show was a runaway success, and gave Cliff his highest selling video ever, topping the UK video charts for two months upon its 1998 release.
In 1999, ‘The Millennium Prayer’ reached number one, regardless of no airplay and scathing reviews. Despite a lack of support in the press, Cliff continues to make music and his recent album and DVD release cracked the top twenty.
Cliff now divides his time between his homes in the UK, Barbados and Portugal, where he has taken to making his own wine.