Reasons to find Cliff Richard extremely irritating

It's not his work that so many find annoying, but his life. Where was the pain, the fun?

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The cast of one of the week's news mini-dramas does not immediately inspire much hope or curiosity. A mildly irritating old disc jockey has fallen out with the managing director of a radio station specialising in "golden oldies" over the pressing question of whether he should be allowed to play the songs of a mildly irritating old singer. Who, in their right mind, could be too concerned about a story involving Tony Blackburn, Mr John Baish of Classic Gold, and Sir Cliff Richard?

The cast of one of the week's news mini-dramas does not immediately inspire much hope or curiosity. A mildly irritating old disc jockey has fallen out with the managing director of a radio station specialising in "golden oldies" over the pressing question of whether he should be allowed to play the songs of a mildly irritating old singer. Who, in their right mind, could be too concerned about a story involving Tony Blackburn, Mr John Baish of Classic Gold, and Sir Cliff Richard?

But there is something intriguing going on here. It is not, by any means, the first time that someone has tried to ban Cliff Richard - in fact, a version of this story seems to crop up every year or so. In the late 1990s, the offices of Virgin Radio were picketed by enraged fans after Chris Evans, then its owner, had demanded that all Cliff's records should be thrown out of the library. Soon afterwards, in an attempt to stop a ghastly version of the Lord's Prayer sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne", the BBC removed it from its radio playlists .

Neither ban had the slightest success. Indeed, the only successful action against Cliff Richard was executed by himself in 1973 when he self-banned a song called "Honky-Tonk Angels" when someone mentioned that he was singing about prostitution.

What exactly is so frightening about this man? Chris Evans said Cliff Richard was too old. The BBC cited musical reasons. Classic Gold's Mr Baish referred darkly to "a policy decision that he doesn't match our brand values". None of these excuses are entirely convincing. Most Cliff Richard singles, since that dark day in the 1950s when he left the Shadows, have been dire but no worse than the work of other musically challenged oldsters who managed not to be banned. As for those brand values, whatever they may be, it is difficult to see how they would be breached by the occasional spinning of "Bachelor Boy" or "Devil Woman".

Clearly there is something about the personality of Cliff which discomfits both those of his own age and those who are younger and groovier than he is. It might be his Christianity or his attempt to cling on to youth both in the way he looks and in the music he produces, but neither of those two things quite explains the urge to expunge all trace of him from the airwaves.

Could it be that the problem is not Cliff's, however naff he may be, but ours? We have come to expect those who benefit from the ephemeral business of entertainment to provide us with some personal heartache along the way; it is part of the package. This progress from sexy teenager to family entertainer to mum's favourite over half a century has been too easy. It is an affront to the notion of show-business as a roller-coaster ride.

I should perhaps, at this point, declare an interest. When I was small, I used to think this man was unutterably cool. "Please Don't Tease" was the first record I bought. I collected his singles. For years I thought some of those early songs - "Willie and the Hand Jive", "Move It" - were respectable, even good, early rock'n'roll, but Cliff's subsequent career, as flawlessly managed as the carefully moisturised skin on his face, has retrospectively contaminated them and, to a small but significant degree, my own youthful taste. They now sound almost as absurd to me as the songs of that ridiculous fat boy with a quiff, Bill Haley. I am embarrassed that I once liked them so much.

Musical decline I could have accepted - indeed, it goes with the territory. Elvis may have ended up singing "The Wonder of You" in Las Vegas and Chuck Berry might have scraped the bottom of the barrel with "My Ding-a-Ling", but their early records were as great as ever. It was almost as if their younger selves were different people.

Cliff has remained Cliff throughout. It has not been his work that so many people have found profoundly annoying, but his life. Where was the pain, the fun? Where, apart from the whole "Honky-Tonk Angel" problem, was the moral crisis?

To survive acceptably, public figures need to screw up now and then. The reason why a chump like Tony Blackburn has remained in the public eye is that, every few years, he has made a complete fool of himself in public - by blubbing over the turntables when his wife left him, or by pathetically boasting that he had slept with 250 women, by revealing an obsession with logs on a reality TV show.

The famous lead parallel lives on our behalf. They commit the sins that we never quite had the nerve to commit ourselves. Their personal lives are messier, the switchback ride of their professional career more heart-stopping. At some point, they will be required to take that well-trodden route to hell and back to save those of us with quieter, more private lives the trouble.

Cliff Richard has done none of these things. His life as a public figure - apparently a smooth, well ordered progression from the good to the better - is an affront to the values of showbusiness. There is no redemption here. He has not suffered for our sins. Frankly, banning is too good for him.

terblacker@aol.com

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