ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36

Adrift with Cliff

Later this month Sir Cliff Richard is to perform here. Sri Lanka resident, travel writer Royston Ellis, recalls the time when he was adrift with Cliff Richard as the pop star toured England.

It was 1959. I had been asked to write the first ever book about Cliff Richard. It was called "Driftin' With Cliff Richard" and told "the inside story of what really happens on tour." I wrote it with Jet Harris, then the bass guitarist with Cliff's celebrated backing group, The Drifters.

Cliff had originally chosen the name of "The Drifters" for his backing group but it was changed to The Shadows to avoid confusion with a US group of the same name. By that time, the book had been written so the title remained, although "Shadowing Cliff" might have been more apt.

Royston Ellis signing a copy of his first book “Jiving to Gyp” for Cliff Richard, Harrow, 1959

I first met Cliff six months after he turned professional when his record Move It made the hit parade. In August 1959 Living Doll, the song that really established Cliff as a recording artiste, was awarded a Silver Disc for sales of a quarter of a million.

Our first encounter was at a studio in Hertford Street, London, where Cliff was recording a programme for Radio Luxumbourg. I had been invited there by Ray Mackender who was advising Cliff and who later discovered and managed another teen idol, Mark Wynter. I was 18, a few months younger than Cliff, and was performing my beat poetry on the coffee bar circuit.

Cliff was interested when I told him that I was a poet but it was Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, the Shadows' drummer, who really liked my idea of presenting my poetry to rock 'n' roll. We called this "Rocketry." Soon afterwards, with Cliff's consent, I was being accompanied on stage and television shows by The Shadows.

In gratitude for his help in my career, I dedicated my first book of poems, Jiving To Gyp, rather coyly, "For C-- a drifter's boy, some rhythm and blues." There is a photograph, never before published, of me signing a copy of my book for Cliff at a performance in Harrow. He returned the favour a year later by presenting me with a proof copy of his autobiography, It's Great To Be Young, in which he wrote: "To someone who already does - Royston - From someone who's trying for the first time - to write that is."

Cliff himself had performed poetry at school to musical accompaniment and invited me to his home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, where he lived with his parents to hear a tape of it. It was a poem by Rudyard Kipling and the music was the sound of kids in his class banging on the tops of their desks.

As our friendship developed, Jet invited me to tour with Cliff and The Shadows throughout Britain so that I could write the book. A singer on one of the shows was Bill Forbes who came from the then Ceylon and had a record on the English charts at the time.
In the book I quote Cliff as saying: "Why so British? Maybe one reason is that I wasn't born in Britain. Two of my kid sisters and I were born in Lucknow, India. In India our schooling was more intensive. Kids are brought up with a natural desire to study hard. When I came to England (in 1948) I carried on for a time in the way I had been taught."

I quoted his mother, Mrs Webb, as saying that his parents' view of his choice of career is this: "Cliff likes it, and as it seems to be what he is best at, and what he obviously wants, we are both content that he has chosen singing as his career."

(L- R) Hank B. Marvin, Bruce Welch, Cliff Richard, Len Sackson (road manager), Jet Harris and Royston Ellis - A photo from Driftin with Cliff

The book reveals that, even in India as a child, "Cliff always had music in his blood. When he was very young he would listen enthralled to such numbers as Jersey Bounce. His parents too, are musical. Mr Webb used to play a guitar and Cliff's mum used to sing a bit in the bath."

While at school in England Cliff joined a local skiffle group who needed a singer and his father promised him his own guitar as soon as he could play properly. He learned in two weeks.

The book I wrote with Jet about Cliff was my first pop biography. I followed that with a biography called The Shadows By Themselves - the kings of beat music tell their own fabulous story. Next came my history of beat music up to 1961, called The Big Beat Scene. By then, while I still met up with Cliff and the Shadows occasionally, I was performing Rocketry with other musicians, including a group that later became famous as The Beatles and with Jimmy Page, the progenitor of Led Zeppelin.

My last meeting with Cliff was in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, where he was making the film Wonderful Life. I had gone there to spend the winter and one day in February 1964 when I was visiting the film set, I was roped in as an extra to play the part of an Arab.

I was directed to sit with other Arabs around a smouldering campfire and to remain unconcerned while a group of Legionnaires attacked us. The Legionnaires charged in firing their rifles and we Arabs stood up to surrender. I turned round to see who was nudging me in the back so persistently with his pistol. It was Cliff, grinning and looking resplendent in pale blue uniform complete with dazzling epaulets and white trousers - utterly impractical for a real Legionnaire but very dashing nevertheless. Cliff worked hard on that film, taking a personal interest in the welfare of his friends and colleagues.

Only occasionally did he venture out to enjoy himself. I was there when he and The Shadows visited a local club and joined the island's top group, The Idols, on stage. He let rip with some rock 'n' roll standards and, surprisingly, some Beatles' numbers as well.

That's the last time I saw him perform live, so - like all mature pop music fans in Sri Lanka - I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing Cliff Richard live again this month.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.