Stop Sir Cliff from inflicting more damage on society
Commentator and stand-up comedian Mark Steel has presented several radio and television programmes, and appeared on Have I Got News for You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In 2006 he published 'Vive La Revolution: A Stand-up History of the French Revolution', and in 2000 stood as a candidate in the London Assembly elections.
Tuesday 07 December 1999
Anything would be a blessing, compared to the damage done to society by boosting the morale of Cliff Richard fans. His atrocious offering reminds me of my introduction to Church of England culture, when we were made to sing hymns in assembly. My memory of the words is that they were usually something like: "Oh Lord God who made everything/ trees and kittens and all the lot/ how do you put up with us?/ We're not even grateful, we deserve a good kicking."
One of them went: "Sun and moon bow down before him." And then you get The Daily Telegraph complaining that left-wing teachers indoctrinate kids! Even the most fervent liberal Sixties teacher wouldn't claim that the entire solar system regularly went "quick everyone, get down, it's Che Guevara".
Because his record hasn't been on radio playlists, Cliff is even claiming some kind of radical underground status. As if the only way people could hear the thing were from pirate radio stations, broadcast from a council estate in Peckham, with DJs rapping, "this beat going out to the Church of England posse, the notorious C-L-I-F-F keeping it real for the Sunday School massive".
In fact, this must be the only time that anything has ever been banned from the mainstream for being too mainstream. A Cliff Richard song being rejected by Radio 2 is like a Terry and June script being turned down with a note saying, "We were looking for something a bit more raunchy." Part of the problem is that society has become complacent in the Nineties, with the idea that we can enjoy everything that's bad, especially from the Seventies, as it was all done with irony. But this is an illusion. The Sweet and Are You Being Served weren't being ironic; they were just bad. I reckon that General Pinochet, instead of claiming illness, should say: "Look, it was 1973, I was just being ironic."
And Cliff isn't all right really, in a jokey, Eurovisiony, Abba-y sort of way. He represents everything that's rotten in the state of Britain; he's soulless, passionless, the triumph of mediocrity, a celebration of suburban repression of all emotion, with a false, over-the-fence niceness concealing a bitter, "grass-up-the-woman-on-the-corner-who-claims- benefit- while-doing-a-night-cleaning job" vindictiveness.
What a shameful comment on the decline of post-war Britain, that our response to Chuck Berry and Elvis was Tommy Steele and Cliff. He represents music for people who can't stand music, as show jumping is sport for people who hate sport.
The whole purpose of music is to express the anxieties, the love, the pain that words alone can't. But no one, listening to Cliff, feels a knot in their stomach and splutters, "you really sense he wants the world to know that he's in love with her; that's why he's so adamant about his congratulations and jubilations".
For 40 years Cliff has been making records, and not once has he hit upon a single quaver of sexuality. It's inconceivable that anyone, in all that time, has ever used a Cliff Richard song in the process of seduction. As something to set up a romantic ambience, you'd be better off with the theme music of the BBC's Nine o'Clock News. The problem is not religion. The gospel of Aretha Franklin or Jah-inspired reggae of Bob Marley must move even the most determined atheist. With Cliff, you get sanctimonious Stars-on-Sunday, Vicar-of-Dibley, bring-an-unwanted-tin-of-apricots-to- the-Harvest-Festival religion; the same smiley tambourine-tapping religion that turned the other cheek when he broke the boycott of apartheid South Africa to play Sun City and launched, along with Mary Whitehouse, the "Festival of Light" to counter the movements in support of women and gays in the Seventies.
Cliff has claimed that the idea of singing the Lord's Prayer to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne" was "genius". Of course it was. Right up there with the Sistine Chapel and the theory of relativity. So here's my solution. Next Christmas, he should try the same trick again, but, to prove his commitment to all religions, sing the first page of the Koran to the tune of "My Old Man's a Dustman". With a chorus of:
"Allah's the Almighty
There is no doubting that
He's merciful and vengeful
And he lives in a council flat.
That should be the last we hear from him.
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