BOOK REVIEW / Well, is he or isn't he?: Cliff Richard: The Biography by Steve Turner, Lion pounds 16.99

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The Independent Culture
SIR STEPHEN SPENDER would approve of this one: 360 pages and we still don't know whether Cliff Richard is gay. Officially he is 'sexless', like Sir Edward Heath - a condition which I believe is unique to England, or at any rate to our quirky libel laws. He has lived with a man, Bill Latham, for a quarter of a century. He told the Daily Mail that he hadn't slept with a woman since he converted to Christianity (in 1965) and he told the Daily Express: 'I don't particularly have any great sexual urges or needs . . . But that's my good fortune, isn't it, really?' Really?

Steve Turner's book is well researched, pleasantly written, and shows an almost Kitty Kelley- ish ear for good quotes. The genealogical chapters at the beginning are of more than usual interest because Cliff once told an interviewer that his forefathers were 'as English as roast beef'. Turner proves that, on the contrary, they were a typically confused Anglo-Indian racial mix, and that when the family first moved to England from Calcutta when Cliff (or Harry Webb, as he was then) was eight, the neighbours assumed they were Indian.

Like every other schoolboy of the 1950s, he played in a skiffle group, but had the good taste to abandon skiffle the minute he heard Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. He was soon attracting crowds of screaming fans, but managers and impresarios didn't really know what to do with him: in those days they thought of pop as a form of vaudeville and would feature him between conjurors and roller-skating acts. He was Britain's own little Elvis (he never made much impact in the States) and would dutifully practise swinging his hips while violently clasping his arm as if injecting a syringe in the trademark gesture that was guaranteed to make the girls scream. When his early sex symbol career petered out with the advent of the Beatles, he made a comeback singing 'Congratulations' on the Eurovision Song Contest (he didn't win) and several more comebacks thereafter. He has proved surprisingly durable.

He never succumbed to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but lived at home with his Mum, till he moved in with Latham and his Mum. (Mrs Webb, interestingly, then married Cliff's chauffeur, who was half her age.) He never took to drugs or alcohol and, although he has been a millionaire since his twenties, he still allows himself just pounds 40 a week spending money. Before he met Latham, he dabbled with Jehovah's Witnesses, but Latham introduced him to his own Crusader Bible-study group. A fellow-Crusader told Turner: 'I think that one of the things that attracted him to our group was the fact that there were no girls to bother him. We were an all-male group.' Cliff's management naturally deplored his conversion, thinking 'We'll have to watch him like a hawk otherwise he'll be knocking on doors', but he tactfully managed to alternate his 'gospel' and 'straight' engagements.

He emerges as less dull than one might expect - self-obsessed and single-minded as many stars are, but basically decent. His backing musicians have been known to complain that he is boring to work for ('They just about nailed the backing singers' feet to the floor so that they wouldn't distract from Cliff'), but not that he is a tyrant. His psychological make-up remains mysterious but Steve Turner cannot be blamed for that: like Cliff Richard's singing, this biography makes up with professionalism what it lacks in excitement.

(Photograph omitted)