Cliff's oxygen of bad publicity

Sir Cliff Richard has authorised the stunned promoters of his Heathcliff musical to advertise the "stinker" reviews the show and his performance have received. Newspaper advertisements will this week feature quotes such as "This Wretched Show" and "It Was Like Watching The Pope Smoke Dope", "The Bad-Taste Theatre Event Of The Decade" and "Withering Rather Than Wuthering".

Generally quotes from reviews in advertisements for plays go to the other extreme, taking phrases out of context to hype the show's worth. Sir Cliff's decision to break with precedent comes from his increasing frustration with the different reactions of critics and audiences.

The London run of Heathcliff at the Labatt's Apollo in Hammersmith is being extended by a month due to demand for tickets, and Sir Cliff has told his management he wants all advertising to contrast the loathing the critics felt for the show with the fans' acclaim.

So the Heathcliff adverts will proclaim: "When Reviews Aren't Good Audiences Know Better". And beneath the stinker quotes will be a statement: "Every box-office record smashed. Half a million tickets and 320,000 Heathcliff albums sold." He has also alerted the Guinness Book of Records to the show's opening advance takings of pounds 4m, believed to be a theatrical record.

Heathcliff, a musical adaptation of Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights, is directed by Frank Dunlop and has played in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and London. Critics were near universal in their scorn for the show and the incongruity of Sir Cliff playing the dark, brooding, violent and abusive hero of the book. It had been Sir Cliff's secret ambition for the decades to play the part.

Reminding people of the poor reviews he has received seems a high-risk strategy on Sir Cliff's part. But a spokesman for the show said last night: "Cliff has been desperate to show off the fact that the punters love it and the critics don't.

"Deliberately publicising appalling reviews hasn't been done before. But Cliff was very, very keen that we print the negative quotes alongside the audience figures. He is very struck by the difference in opinion between the critics and half a million paying members of the audience. Certainly it is the latter whose opinions he values more."

Ironically, Sir Cliff's claims to play a demonic character were given unlooked-for support last week. The American evangelist Geoff Godwin, in Northern Ireland on a lecture tour entitled "The Hidden Dangers of Rock Music", said Sir Cliff had led young people astray, his life was built on money and adoration, he sang "lusty lyrics" and made hundreds of thousands of pounds from "adoring fans who idolise him and not God".

A spokesman for Sir Cliff replied: "Cliff believes everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and he will answer to God."

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