Aside from his place as the third-top-selling singles artist in UK history, with total sales of more than 21 million in the UK and reportedly around 250 million worldwide, Sir Cliff Richard is also a famously religious man.
Like him or loathe him, he’s never hidden his Christian beliefs and Watford youths had the chance to see his conviction in the flesh, as it were, in 1967 when the “pop and film star” came to town on January 22.
“He will sing – and speak – to young people at an open birthday rally which Watford Youth for Christ are holding at Clarendon Road Congregational Church,” trumpeted the Watford Observer front page a couple of weeks previously.
“After the rally,” the paper continues, “Cliff will go along to the Watford Youth for Christ Café in Market Street to inaugurate a new coffee machine.”
The whole story was told after the event in the Watford Observer of January 27, 1967.
“There was an unusual sight at Watford on Sunday evening,” the paper reported, “police on duty on the pavements surrounding a church and hundreds of teenagers standing four and five abreast waiting to go in.
“Some of the girls had been there since four o’clock in the afternoon. In the end the police were forced to turn away youngsters as the overspill hall filled to capacity.”
Those who managed to get inside saw Cliff play the guitar, sing gospel songs and talk of how he became a Christian, and how it had affected his outlook on life.
The report continues: “When one girl screamed in delight as he came forward with his guitar, he told her firmly but pleasantly: ‘If you must do that, the Rolling Stones are on television tonight.’
“He said afterwards that since becoming a Christian he had led a much fuller and happier life. In ‘show biz’, he said, one read about people committing suicide and he could understand why. When their lives revolved around something unimportant and something went wrong, what else could they turn to?
“After the rally Cliff, accompanied by three ministers, visited the Youth for Christ coffee bar in Market Street. The teenagers flocked around and, as the picture shows, Cliff was kept busy signing autographs.”
So who exactly were the Watford Youth for Christ? Does the organisation still exist?
Well, the Watford branch may no longer be with us but the Youth For Christ movement itself is still going strong. Founded in the 1940s, the nearest group seems to be High Wycombe but it’s an international group with branches all over the world.
As for Cliff, well, despite saying in 1967 he was “seriously thinking of giving up pop singing” and that he’d like to teach Divinity, he’s still going strong too – although now he’s Sir Cliff, of course. In November 2013, he released the 100th album of his career, The Fabulous Rock 'n' Roll Songbook. It reached number seven in the UK album chart.
Did you attend the church that night? What are your memories of the occasion? Please write and let us know.
This article formed part of the Nostalgia column first published in the Watford Observer on January 17, 2014. The next Nostalgia column – with information about football, toads and sausages, among many other things – can be found in tomorrow’s Watford Observer (dated January 24, 2014) or read online here from 4pm next Thursday.
If you have anything to add – or would like to tell us anything you think our readers may enjoy about Watford’s history – we are always pleased to hear from you. Contact Nostalgia, by clicking here firstname.lastname@example.org