With a career spanning 60 years to date, music legend Cliff Richard is one of the most enduring pop stars of his generation. Now aged 77 and celebrating his diamond jubilee in the entertainment industry, the veteran star is showing no signs of slowing down.
To date, he has sold more than 21 million singles in the UK, making him the third best-selling artist in the history of the UK singles chart, behind only Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Early life and career
Born Harry Webb, on 14th October 1940, in Lucknow, India, he is the only son of Rodger and Dorothy Webb, who also had three daughters. His father worked as a catering manager serving the Indian Railways and the family remained in India until Cliff was eight years old.
They returned to Essex, England, following Indian independence in 1948. On leaving school in 1957, Cliff started work as a filing clerk, playing in a skiffle band called Quintones in his spare time, after his father bought him his first guitar.
He went on to become lead vocalist with a rock ‘n’ roll band called The Drifters – who were nothing to do with the US soul band of the same name.
Music entrepreneur Harry Greatorex suggested a name change for the young Harry Webb. Cliff was reportedly chosen because of its association with cliff-faces and rocks (linking with the “rock” music genre), while Richard was a tribute to Cliff’s hero, Little Richard.
The band’s name was changed to The Shadows after copyright issues with the American Drifters.
They recorded a string of records in the late 1950s and had a number two UK chart hit with Schoolboy Crush/Move It in 1958 on Columbia records. John Lennon later hailed Move It as being the first true British rock record.
In early TV appearances, Cliff’s smouldering, sneering style led to him being called Britain’s answer to Elvis Presley and the raunchy Move It (the B-side of the single) became more popular than the A-side.
In addition to a string of hit records that followed his chart debut, Cliff also became a movie heartthrob. First, he starred in teen movie The Young Ones in 1961, followed by the 1963 musical, Summer Holiday, when he played teenage bus mechanic Don, who works for London Transport with his friends Hayes, Bulloch and Green.
They borrow a double decker bus to take a summer holiday on the open road, driving across continental Europe after converting it into a luxurious mobile home. They have many adventures along the way, including meeting some girls and enjoying a little romance.
Accompanied by a great soundtrack, the film was the UK’s second most popular film of 1963. Its title song was a chart hit for Cliff and the Shadows, reaching the number one spot and staying there for three weeks in the UK singles chart.
After the Shadows disbanded in 1968, Cliff went solo and continued to make hit records. His album, I’m Nearly Famous, finally brought him fame in America in 1976. One of his biggest hits, We Don’t Talk Any More, sold 500,000 copies in 1979.
One of the highlights of the 1980s was his duet, All I Ask of You, with Sarah Brightman for the Musical, Phantom of the Opera, in 1986.
Another famous moment was when he was a spectator at Wimbledon in 1996, when heavy rain stopped play on the Centre Court. Cliff’s impromptu sing-along kept the crowd entertained during the break in play.
He celebrated 50 years in music in 2008 by releasing an eight-CD boxed set called And They Said It Wouldn’t Last. He also reunited with The Shadows to play at the Royal Variety Performance.
In addition to his ongoing support of various philanthropic causes, Cliff has also raised money for Comic Relief by singing on a new humorous version of his 1959 single, Living Doll, with comedy group The Young Ones in 1986.
The song by the anarchic group of new wave comedians and the clean-cut Cliff Richard was a big hit that was certified gold after being number one in the UK singles chart for three weeks, with all the proceeds donated to charity.
In 1980, Cliff was honoured by the Queen with an OBE for his services to music and charity. In June 1995, he was made Knight Bachelor – the first singer to be honoured with a Knighthood. In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll of the general public to compile a list of the 100 greatest Britons in history and Cliff came 56th.
He has won a multitude of music industry awards over the years, from being crowned the NME best new singer in 1958, to the Brit Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1989. In 1968, he won the Ivor Novello Award for Most Performed Work for the single, Congratulations.
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