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Summer Holiday: The Story Behind Cliff Richard’s Shining Hit Song
CBW / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

Summer Holiday: The Story Behind Cliff Richard’s Shining Hit Song

Released at the peak of his fame, Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday is a classic pop song that’s no mere romantic fling - it lasts forever.

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It’s one of the best Cliff Richard songs: a tune everyone knows even if they don’t know why they know it. But Summer Holiday has a fascinating story, in which one of the brightest young singers of the early 60s found himself at the pinnacle of fame, thanks to a perfectly planned conjunction of multiple showbiz opportunities, a huge amount of talent and a backing group that could pen a pure pop classic in just half an hour…

Listen to the best of Cliff Richard here.

The backstory: Britain’s biggest pop star

Though it is often assumed that British pop music barely existed before The Beatles, that’s just ignorance. Cliff Richard was one of Britain’s finest talents and a massive star before The Beatles broke through. His backing group, The Shadows, were also hugely famous and influential in their own right – numerous teenagers picked up a guitar in tribute to their bespectacled axe hero, Hank Marvin, someone most stars of the rock’n’roll era still hail as one of the best guitarists of all time. Both Cliff and The Shads’ superstar status lingered long after The Fabs arrived.

Early British rock’n’roll was barely rebellious, however, and the moment a pop singer became big enough, they were ushered into the world of mainstream showbiz – which made sense when you consider that many pundits believed rock was just a passing fad. Hence Cliff and The Shadows took star billing in a series of movies, mostly musical comedies, of which 1963’s Summer Holiday was the fourth. Screen fame brought further opportunities: to show off their songwriting skills, and to promote their records in the most dazzling way.

Writing Summer Holiday: A very thin brief

Movies were not the only path for Cliff Richard and The Shadows to explore. Pantomime was another channel, and the two forms of entertainment accidentally came together when a title song was required for Summer Holiday. Brian Bennett and Bruce Welch, drummer and rhythm guitarist of The Shadows, delivered the goods. The band were performing in a panto at Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, when the synopsis for their next movie arrived. They’d been invited to write some songs for it, but the brief they’d been sent was somewhat thin. “Four or five guys hire a London bus and drive through Europe meeting girls on a summer holiday,” Bruce Welch recalled, speaking to The Mail’s Weekend magazine. “That was it.”

Undeterred, Welch immediately began working on the song – by singing the first thing that came into his head. “Brian Bennett was in the orchestra pit, and I sang, ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday, no more working for a week or two.’ Brian added, ‘We’re going where the sun shines brightly. We’re going where the sea is blue.’”

Paydirt! That’s how classic pop is made when you have the talent to do it: it took about 30 minutes to complete a song which still resonates, 60 years later.

The recording: A winning formula

Cliff Richard had scored 19 Top Ten hits in four years under the production supervision of Norrie Paramor, and he wasn’t about to change a winning formula. So on 9 May 1962, he went to EMI studios – now famed as Abbey Road – in chi-chi St John’s Wood, North-West London, to join Paramor and The Shadows, ready to create yet another smash hit. The session went smoothly, and orchestral parts were added later, credited to The Norrie Paramor Strings. They had another winner in the can, but they had to be patient before they’d discover just how big Summer Holiday would be; there was a movie to complete first.

The movie: Greasy spanners and sunny Greece

The making of the Summer Holiday movie was initially not so smooth. Sidney Furie, who had directed Cliff Richard’s previous box-office banger, The Young Ones, had been in line to shoot the movie, but he found himself tied up finishing off The Boys, a darker affair in which a group of Teddy Boys face a murder charge – there is a Cliff connection here, too, as The Shadows supplied songs for the soundtrack.

British director John Krish was then slated for the task, but it eventually fell to Peter Yates to direct Summer Holiday. Cliff spent some of the early summer of 1962 at London Transport’s Aldenham Works, in Elstree, playing Don, a mechanic, for the start of the movie: not so glamorous. But the sunnier scenes were shot in Greece, which provided Cliff, The Shadows and the assembled cast with a beautiful backdrop in front of which they could perform the ebullient dance scenes created by Herbert Ross. By late autumn, the movie was in the can. The first hit single released from the movie was a double A-side, The Next Time/Bachelor Boy, penned by Cliff and Bruce Welch, released in November 1962 and which made No.1 in January 1963. The film’s title song had to wait its turn.

The release: Pop pandemonium

When Summer Holiday, the single, was finally released, on 8 February, 1963, it could hardly have been better timed. The movie had been released to much fanfare on 10 January, and its premiere prompted pop pandemonium at the Warner West End cinema in Leicester Square. Cliff didn’t attend the screening, though it wasn’t for want of trying – 3,000 screaming fans mobbed his car and he was unable to get out, so he was driven away to a private celebration!

The movie was a huge hit, a Technicolor blast of sunshine in a notoriously cold UK winter that would go down in history as “The Big Freeze”. Britain was beginning to come to terms with the idea of mass-marketed vacations in sunnier climates, and teenagers dreamed of hot holidays with their friends in the Mediterranean. Summer Holiday presented exactly this to them – albeit a curiously sex-free, self-driven version on a converted London bus – and Cliff’s catchy song played to that dream. It made No.1 in the UK (topping the charts on 14 March), Spain, Canada and Australia, and was a worldwide hit. Just to make it even more appealing, Summer Holiday’s B-side was another gem from the movie, the more upbeat Dancing Shoes, and it charted in its own right in some regions. To balance things out a little, Cliff’s eternal co-stars, The Shadows, also enjoyed a No.1 with Foot Tapper, another tidily swingin’ track from the movie.

Influence and legacy: This Summer Holiday lasts forever

Summer Holiday has made many reappearances in the years since. Holiday Rap, by MC Miker G And DJ Sven, borrows its melody. There have been cover versions by artists as diverse as Darren Day and reggae-rapper Yellowman. It hardly needs mentioning that the song is a certified Cliff Richard classic, a staple of his live set and one of the songs in his famous impromptu performance at Wimbledon in 1996, when rain stopped play but not the fun.

Rather more seriously, Summer Holiday became, as Bruce Welch observed, something that “changed society”, perhaps, in a small way, helping to normalise the idea of foreign travel for all sections of society, which burgeoned in the 60s, and also in some way promoting the idea of Britain’s teenagers enjoying independent lives and spending their hard-earned disposable income on pure pleasure. It turned out that the world’s love for Summer Holiday proved to be rather more lasting than just a romantic fling. This Summer Holiday lasts forever.

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