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Radio 2 drops Sir Cliff's new 'Millennium Prayer'

POP STAR Sir Cliff Richard's new single has been left off the schedules of the UK's most listened-to station. BBC Radio 2, which is trying to shed its golden oldies image, has not included his new song The Millennium Prayer on its playlists.

Last year Sir Cliff had a run-in with Virgin Radio after broadcaster Chris Evans blacklisted the star for being "too old". And only days ago Radio 2hosted a live interview with him when his new track was unveiled. Instead the station has given priority to stars such as R Kelly, Robbie Williams, Simply Red and Eurythmics on its A-list. Another pop veteran Sir Paul McCartney features on the secondary B-list, with Eric Clapton.

Sir Cliff fails to get on any of the three main playlists with his single which puts the words of The Lord's Prayer to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. Individual DJs will be at liberty to play the song at their discretion, but there will be no guaranteed airtime which the playlists afford.Radio 2 is a key station for pop acts because its listeners tune in longer than any other station in the UK, although its audience is lower than the more youth-oriented Radio 1.

Radio 1 dumped older stars from its schedules a few years ago in a widely- publicised clear-out which saw Status Quo and The Beatles struggling to get airplay for new singles.

Sir Cliff's song was being touted as a possible Christmas number one, although its release on 15 November may be too early. And without radio support sales may struggle.

A Radio 2 spokeswoman said: "Sir Cliff Richard's new single has not been banned and you will be able to hear it on the network if DJs choose to play it. We are supportive of him as an artist but his new single was considered not to be of broad enough appeal to be on the playlist. All singles on the play list must be suitable for mainstream programmes."

Carol Hall, 33, president of the London and Surrey branch of Sir Cliff's fan club, said: "It's totally unfair. Why should they dictate what we hear? What right do they have to write Cliff off? I can't see why they're playing Tina Turner and Cher who are of a similar age, but they are not playing Cliff." Ms Hall is mobilising fans to protest at Radio 2's studios this morning.

Sir Cliff plans a year-long break in 2000 after a 40-year pop career. Fans can hear him perform it in an ITV special An Audience With Cliff Richard on Saturday, 13 November. PA