Pandora: Sir Cliff caused controversy with 'Honky Tonk Angels'

Sir Cliff Richard's squeaky clean image as the Peter Pan of British pop grows ever more tarnished by the day.

Two years ago, the usually mild-mannered crooner managed to shock his middle-of-the-road fans when he appeared on Gordon Ramsay's Channel 4 programme, The F-Word, where he told the potty-mouthed chef to "fuck off".

Now, I'm told that he will break further taboos with the forthcoming release of an eight-CD commemorative box-set entitled And They Said It Wouldn't Last: My 50 Years In Music.

Among the songs included in the track listing is an alternative version of Sir Cliff's controversial cover of "Honky Tonk Angels", a country song about prostitutes.

It is a surprising inclusion since, not long after the song was released in 1973, Sir Cliff himself backed calls for the BBC to ban it from the airwaves. For some bizarre reason, he was originally led to believe the song was about the Salvation Army. It was only when he was told it was actually about prostitution that he decided to disown it.

When I call to find out whether the track's inclusion was the result of a careless record company employee, a spokesman informs me it was all Sir Cliff's doing. Apparently, his attitude towards the record has softened over the years.

"He knows the song is on there and he is more than happy about it," I am told. "It was released many years ago and his mind has changed since then. He is older and wiser now.

"I'm sure, if anyone asked him to, he would be happy to perform it these days."

Now rain stops play for Josh

Josh Hartnett's much anticipated West End debut has been delayed. The Hollywood actor was to begin performances of Rain Man at London's Apollo Theatre next Tuesday, but this has been put back until the following week after the director, Terry Johnson, deemed the play unready. He joined the crew late when the original director, David Grindley, stepped down for family reasons.

A spokesman says: "It is a new play so everyone wants it to be perfect. Terry wants to get to grips with everything before we open."

RAF pilots flown home courtesy of Iron Maiden

Bruce Dickinson, the singer with heavy metal outfit Iron Maiden, has in the past performed for British troops in Iraq. On Sunday, he did his bit for our boys in Afghanistan.

Dickinson, a qualified pilot for British airline Astraeus, was behind the controls of a Boeing 747 that the Ministry of Defence had chartered to transport a group of RAF pilots back home.

"A lot of them recognised him because they are Maiden fans, but he was there in his professional capacity as a pilot," says an RAF spokesman. "He gave out lots of signatures to the guys."

Andy's rock'n'roll years

Although Tony Blair liked to flaunt his guitar-playing skills, there was suspicion among his colleagues that the former PM was a mere "three chorder".

His youthful protégé Andy Burnham is a more accomplished player. The Culture Secretary tells this month's Q magazine that he spent his formative years "sitting in my bedroom picking out [Billy Bragg's] 'Between the Wars' ... sad, really."

This is not the first insight we've had into Burnham's wayward youth. In 1984, a mulleted Burnham invaded the pitch at Highbury after Everton had reached the FA Cup Final.

Fry's 'virtual' panto

There was a time when serious actors would turn their noses up at pantomime, but thanks to the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Simon Callow, a spot of hanky Twanky is nowadays practically de rigueur among the theatrical community.

The latest to sign up is Stephen Fry, who has agreed to a cameo at Norwich Theatre Royal's production of Snow White in the New Year.

The polymath will appear in a "virtual role", with his performance beamed on a big screen.

Fry's only stipulation to the producers is that he will not sing, as he has what he describes as a "Van Gogh's ear for music".

Phelps isn't feeling in the swim

Amphibious golden boy Michael Phelps donned his famous packet bashers once again last week for a photoshoot at the men's pond on Hampstead Heath.

But it wasn't just London's notoriously inclement weather which was giving him gyp. Before the shoot began, Phelps spent most of his time in the lifeguard's bathroom dealing with an upset stomach.

"He wasn't very well at all. He was throwing up in the loo quite a lot beforehand," reports one witness. "I think that's why he seemed a bit quiet. He certainly wasn't his normal gregarious self."

For breakfast, Phelps likes to scoff down porridge, fried egg sandwiches, French toast and pancakes. No wonder he was feeling queasy.

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