Thursday, 21 July 2011

Cliff Richard, Crusaders and Finchley in the 1960s

In 1965 Cliff Richard, now Sir Cliff Richard, came along to the Finchley Crusader Bible Class held at Christ's College School, London N3, on Sunday afternoons. This Bible class for schoolboys, predominantly private and grammar schoolboys, was run by Bill Latham and Graham Disbrey.  Cliff had been invited to "sit in...under the gaze of thirty goggling schoolboys."  I was one of them, in the intermediate age group, and I proudly wore my Crusader badge on the lapel of my school blazer. My friend, who sat next to me, had a Crusader Bible, having attended Crusader classes for a whole year, on Sunday afternoons, without an absence.  This would have been something that I could never achieve because my Father, who played cricket up to three times a week, encouraged me to be a cricket scorer and occasional fielder/player, when somebody cried off on the day of the match. (The money for scoring and the delicious free teas, with plenty of sandwiches and cakes, were very tempting to a teenage boy.)  I was told by some evangelical Christians that I failed to honour the Lord's Day properly.  According to this view, Sunday (the Lord's Day or Christian Sabbath) was not a day for sport or recreational activity, and certainly not for any school homework.  Crusader Bible class was considered to be a most worthy way for teenage boys to spend their afternoons on the Lord's Day.  Dr John Harvey of Imperial College, University of London, was leader of the Crusader Bible class for senior boys.

Cliff was very committed to the class, despite his heavy commitments as an international entertainer.  On Saturdays we occasionally went on special outings.  On one Saturday we went to Whipsnade Zoo, and Cliff drove some of the boys up the M1 in his Citroen convertible.  He had some impressive cars.  I seem to recall him arriving at Christ's College in a Jensen Interceptor and an E type jaguar.  He once told the boys that he had owned a Cadillac, but it had been a great disappointment.

Cliff moved to Etchingham Park Road in Finchley, London N3, where Mrs Latham and her son, batchelor Bill Latham, lived.  I understand that Cliff believes that his conversion took place in this house.  Bill attended St. Paul's Church (Anglican), across Victoria Park, in Long Lane, Finchley. Cliff went there too. Paul Betts was the vicar and Terry Nottage was the curate. David Winter, who had been editor of Crusade Magazine,   became a BBC producer of religious programmes; he was a very active member of the congregation at St Paul's. ( I remember arguing with him about adult believers' baptism. David Winter robustly defended the Anglican theological position of infant baptism.)  St. Paul's Church had a thriving youth club, but nothing like Christ Church, North Finchley, which had a packed large hall (with badminton and table tennis) on Saturday nights. Christ Church had very well attended after church meetings on Sunday evenings, with some excellent guest speakers. Andrew Kirk, an eminent theologian, was a curate then. Both churches were soundly evangelical.  Harold Parks became the vicar in the mid 1960s.

I remember talking to Cliff at David Winter's house, near Victoria Park in Finchley, about Cliff's future in showbusiness. David Winter, Bill Latham and Nigel Goodwin wanted Cliff to get involved in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization and the Crusade meetings. (Nothing to do with Crusaders.)  For a time Cliff was considering becoming a school teacher of religious studies.  Bill Latham was then head of religious education at a secondary school in Hertfordshire; he gave Cliff advice about a career in teaching and the need for academic qualifications in order to enrol for teacher training.  Some Christians felt that Cliff should quit the worldly pop music business, like Terry Dene the skiffle group singer. Becoming an evangelist or RE teacher would have been a possible way forward.  These Christians contended that the evil influences of the pop music industry would be detrimental to an authentic Christian witness.  The broad way of compromise and terrible temptations would beckon.  There was fear of worldliness and the contamination by the pop scene with its loose morals and sexual promiscuity i.e. sex, drugs and rock and roll.  The Nationwide Festival of Light was formed to challenge and stand against the perceived moral laxity, particularly in the media. Some trendy teenagers, however, thought that it was better to be a Keith Richards (of the Rolling Stones) fan rather than Cliff Richard, sometimes despised for his squeeky clean Christian pop star image.   When Cliff decided to remain in showbusiness some Christians were disappointed.  Others rejoiced that he could witness and proclaim his deeply held Christian faith to a very wide but needy audience.  Links with evangelist Billy Graham, a Billy Graham  film starring Cliff called Two A Penny, with RADA graduate Nigel Goodwin, followed.


Johli Baptist said...

People often ask me if there was any evidence that Cliff was gay as he was linked with bachelor Bill Latham and the boys in Crusader classes?

In my opinion, the answer is none, nothing at all.

kernowp said...

The passage of 50 years and growth of facial hair prevents me recognising you, but I was at Finchley Cru till end 1964 as assistant leader, then moved to Cornwall. Now on back benches at Truro Baptist church, after 42 years as deacon/secretary. How can we get in touch? Peter M

Alan Dibden said...

A very interesting read re Finchley and Cliff's involvement. I grew up in the Tunbridge Wells Class and well remember Cliff (with full beard) paying our class a visit about then and turning up with Bill Latham in a Jensen Interceptor. I think we had a record turnout that Sunday!


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