Thursday, 24 May 2018

And Introducing Cliff Richard

Back in 1996, while working on the Cliff At The Movies double CD for EMI, and while working on The Ultimate Cliff, the third Cliff book I co-wrote with Peter Lewry, we were called on to help in the production of a programme about Cliff’s movie career for a Polygram video release. Soon after, we were given an uncut audio version of the interview Cliff filmed for the video, some of which was not used in the final programme, and so, for this article, I dug out the two C90 cassette tapes of the interview from my box of Cliff tapes, took a listen and transcribed some excerpts from the interview in which Cliff talks about life on set and behind the scenes of his first two movies.

“My first reaction to being asked to be in a movie was just total disbelief. You have to remember when my career started in 58, I was not quite 18 when I had my first big hit record and I had only been out of school for a year and a half, so I’d seen Elvis, the Ricky Nelsons of this world, and all the people who were big influences upon me in my career, I had seen what they had done, but I hadn’t dreamt I could actually become a recording artist, let alone a film star, so when Serious Charge came through, it was almost unbelievable, and I thought what am I going to do. All I had done was the dramatic society at the school, and I don’t know how good I was at that, so it was with a bit of fear and trepidation that I arrived on that film set for the first time, but they were fantastic. They must have known, and I must have looked terrified and naive, very young, and they were wonderful, the director, the other actors were fantastic to me, they were really wonderful, and molly cuddled me all the way through it. I know it was meant to be a B feature, but Living Doll was the song featured in the film, and so therefore, the record went to number one and it created this mood for the film, and the film became a big success. And it was really fantastic to be part of that, and when watching that film, for the first time, and even now, looking back, I have seen clips, shown now and then, and there is one little scene where I’m driven away at the end in a car, and the probation officer, a rather large lady, shuts the door and tells me to be a good boy, and there’s just one look that I give out of the window, and I thought ‘I can do it.’ Just that one look, the fact that I could stop being me for that moment and be someone else with someone else’s feelings, I thought ‘I can do this,’ and that’s always stuck with me, that one shot, of me looking through the window of a car, and I remember that moment a lot of times. Acting, after all, is trying to be what you’re not and any moments that I see where I’m really successful at it, I just store them away.

“The thing about going onto any film set - and I don't know whether actors feel it now after a dozen films - but all the films I’ve made, every single first day on a film set I find quite terrifying because you don’t really know what’s going to be demanded of you, you don’t know anything about the success or lack of success of the movie until after it’s made, you don’t really know the people you’re going to work with, they’ve all been cast, so you arrive there, you’re introduced to these people, ‘This is going to be your father, your brother, this is going to your friend,’ it’s all very strange. I’m not sure if anybody ever gets used to that, I certainly haven’t.

“I have to say because Serious Charge was my first movie it seems like such a gigantic step in my life. Even records, they were inaccessible to us at that stage. How did you make a record? None of us knew where a studio was, now they’re on every street corner, so to get my recording career off the ground was a mighty triumph, and to be offered a film in the first three months of my career was impossible, just impossible. I remember being driven to the studio with this script under my arm, not knowing what it was going to be like, I don’t think I had been so afraid, but being Curly was really strange for me, because not only did they give me this name Curly - if it had been an American film, I bet they would have changed my name to match my looks - but no, they changed my hairstyle, so not only was I making my first movie, I had to come out onto that stage set with these curls in my hair, which I wasn’t very happy about I have to say, but what do you say when you are not quite 18 and you’ve been asked to make a movie. I guess you just do anything they tell you, so I did, but it was quite terrifying.

“Anthony Quayle, Sarah Churchill and Andrew Ray, they were all wonderful to me, really friendly. Anthony Quayle would say, ‘Don’t worry, let's do that one again, let’s rehearse that again,’ and made me feel very comfortable, but it was Terence Young, the director, who said to me, ‘You’re a natural,’ I didn't know what that meant at first. I was heavily complimented. I realise now that really he was saying you’re not acting a part, you just really being yourself, and he said to me a number of times, ‘It’s not as easy as you think, so don’t worry,’ and he kept on talking me through it, and he was really, really kind to me, and again, the thing that’s really impressed me about my time in the movies is how much fun it can be. I know it’s hard work, we all know that your hours are whatever early hour in the morning they call you in, usually at 6 or 7 in the morning, and you’re supposed to look wonderful on camera a couple of hours later and have that sustain throughout the day, and it’s tough work, but on the whole, I found it to be totally fun. Even Two A Penny in which I had headaches in trying to work out the scenes I had to play, was totally satisfying, and I would still call it fun as well, so to have someone like Terence Young, who was a director I never heard of, I’d hardly heard of any directors before that time, to actually take the trouble to work on someone who was absolutely a novice, one hundred percent novice, was amazing. When you think there are so many actors out of work, they could have got a million actors, a million times better than me to play that part, but I think someone was being quite clever, they wanted a pop singer, an up and coming pop singer, so first of all, I wasn’t very expensive, but I was up and coming, and of course, during the shooting of the film, my record went to number two, and subsequently Living Doll next year was a number one, so that’s why I was there. But he was very tough on the natural acting bit, ‘Be a natural and play it this way, and listen to me, and you’ll be all right’ - and I think I was.

“In the days when I was offered those movies, Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo were both X rated movies, which is ironic, isn't it, my first two films would be X rated, and therefore my actual fans who were probably in their early teens and younger wouldn’t have been able to officially, legitimately see the films. I don’t think I had management at that time, in fact I had no real management at that time. I had a chap with me who discovered me, and we called him my manager, John Foster. He did actually mutter the immortal words in a pub where I was singing, ‘I’ll make you a star’ and he did. I have to say I owe John the beginning of my career. All the steps that followed were what he gave me to start with. But as I got older, and I’m sure John will forgive me for saying this, he also had no experience, no idea of what management really entailed, and we hadn’t got to that stage of deciding on routes and ladders to climb, and areas not to go in. We just instinctively did what was put in front of us, and when the opportunity came up for making a film, there was no way we were going to decide not to make a movie, even though Expresso Bongo did have sequences that were nude sequences, but of course, they were only seen in France. They are probably now available in Britain, but at that time, the sequences with Sylvia Syms where she was supposed to be a striptease dancer, and Laurence Harvey’s girlfriend, they filmed it in close and that was supposed to be the English version, and then they said, ‘Right close the doors, we are now going to do the French version.’ It was hysterically funny when you think about it, and of course, we were all around watching these nude scenes being filmed I have to say. When you look at the film now, you wonder how it could have possibly been X rated. It’s impossibly bad rating.

“I wasn't in all the sequences, of course. In Serious Charge, I wasn’t called on for the midnight skippy dipping shot, and I’m really glad I wasn’t actually, I have often wondered why I wasn’t because at that stage in my career I would understand it. There are certain things that I feel are unnecessary and feel I don't want to be part of, but its interesting when I see clips of that film now, it still looks so innocuous, there was naivety and an innocence about it, that in fact, makes it acceptable, whereas sometimes if you were to compare the kind of things that happen in Serious Charge and Expresso Bongo with the X rated movies of today, it’s almost Enid Blyton and pornography. I’m not saying the films I watch today are pornographic, other than I think the violence tends to be pornographic, and even some of the sex scenes are, but I don’t want to generalise, but if you compare what we did as an X rated movie to what we have now, we were really in the state of Enid Blyton.

“I think Serious Charge was meant to be a look at what was happening in the youth culture at the time. The Elvis phenomena had taken place, Ricky Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, the Everlys, it was a fantastically musical time, and there was this sort of liberating effect among teenagers, we suddenly had our own art form, but at that time, I didn’t think of it as art form, it was just frolics as far as I was concerned, but it was ours and nobody else seemed to like it, and there was a generation gap, which I believe doesn’t really exist anymore, but it was an insight. I remember the scene where you had Anthony Quayle playing the vicar character of the church suddenly coming in and seeing this young curly haired slob singing a song, and everyone dancing and bopping, and throwing the girls between their feet and lifting them up and swinging them round, and there was this kind of violent look to it, or so the older generation thought, and in the actual film, he stops it, and says ‘That’s enough of that, let’s all cool, down!’ And it was meant to be a bit of a warning, I suppose, but it wasn't really a warning, it was about this is what kids do now. This is what they do and how are we going to deal with it. It was probably one of the first films in Britain to be made where a message was trying to handed across, but looking at the clips I have seen recently, I don’t think in it was any kind heavy cane stick, it wasn’t this is what we want, this is what we’re gonna do. There was no demand from us as younger performers, it’s what we were and we did it. It’s interesting, but I watched one of the clips recently, and blimey, I’d forgotten Jess Conrad was there. I’ve acted alongside Jess Conrad before he ever became the Jess Conrad that made records later, and performed on the Oh Boy! show.

“I do think Serious Charge was one of a type, and probably, almost certainly, not one of the best of the type, but I don’t want to belittle the actors in the film or the people who were involved in making it, after all it was a massive step in my own move and in my career upwards, and so I will never totally put it down, but if you compare it to the kind of things that the Brando’s were doing in the States, the kind of gang warfare and stuff like that, ours in comparison was pretty lightweight. But then again, certainly at that stage, Britain has always been slightly more gentile, I suppose, so we may look at the same programmes and we may look at the same problems, but we don’t react in the same way, less so now, of course.

“The film industry is supposed to be, in some respects, notorious, has a lot of people in it that would squash you flat, that will upstage you, but I never had that. Robert Morley was wonderful to me in The Young Ones, the actors in Serious Charge were absolutely incredible, Laurence Harvey in Expresso Bongo was absolutely fabulous. I remember when we were doing a scene, he actually said to me, after we rehearsed it, he came to the side and said, ‘just listen to me one minute, try doing it like this.’ I don’t know if that is normal or not, but I found it fantastic, that he was actually willing to help me, improve my performance in a scene in which he was participating. And if all these other rumours had been true, he would have more likely, or should have just squashed me and said ‘yes, you are fine Cliff,’ but he didn’t.

“The story of Expresso Bongo is interesting because it was supposed to be depicting how perhaps life within showbusiness was lived, you know, managers getting hold of naive young singers, exploiting them, and I’m sure that’s happened. But I’ve been very lucky. In my whole career I’ve only ever had... a manager who was put in as a kind of a probationary period I seem to remember, a friend of Norrie Paramor’s, the producer who gave me fifteen years of hits. He found me this guy, and said, ‘look, just six months and if it doesn’t work we can forget it’, and sure enough six months later, we did forget it, and I was with someone else, a man called Tito Burns, who was my first real manager, and that lasted a year or two, and then I met Peter Gormley, and when my contract with Tito was over, Peter took over. And our relationship went right through to the day Peter retired, and now I don’t have a personal manager. I have a group of people that are a management team, and we work as a team, and so, I feel very fortunate that I managed to somehow sidestep all of that side, but the film did show what could happen and did happen in those days.

“I never actually wanted to be in movies as such, I had a naive approach to life and the simplistic view for me was why would I want to star in a movie, when in point of fact, so far, I had been introduced and co-starred in two movies, so I wasn’t the star of either of the films and yet I was revelling in the success of both of them, and I had this thing about I wouldn’t star in a movie but I would co-star in movies. I mean it’s ridiculous to think that way but that’s what I wanted to do, and I thought if the film was a success I could say ‘Well, I was in that film,’ if it failed I could say ‘Well, nothing to do with me, I’m not the star of the movie.’ And that was my naive approach to it.”

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