Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Expresso Bongo Cliff Richard

Expresso Bongo Cliff Richard A 1959 black and white movie produced and directed by Val Guest, with a screenplay by Wolf Mankowitz based on his stage play. Guest's wife, the American actress Yolande Donlan, had seen the Mankowitz play at the Saville Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. It starred Paul Scofield and Millicent Martin, with James Kenny as 'Bongo' Herbert. Yolande told her husband it would make a great film and took him to see the play, but he was unconvinced, so she arranged for him to meet Mankowitz and he decided to try to raise the finance for the movie. He initially approached Nat Cohen of Anglo Amalgamated, who told him, "No, who cares about rock 'n' roll?" Guest said, "They care about Presley".
"When you get Presley, talk to me" Cohen said.

Mankowitz said that he'd written the play as a satire on the Tommy Steele phenomenon, and when Guest sought a singer to play Bongo, he rejected the idea of Steele because he considered he didn't have the vulnerability for the role. There was also some consideration for Marty Wilde, but Guest felt he was too tall. At 6ft 3ins Guest thought he might be too big for people to feel sorry for him, so he placed an advertisement in the newspapers.

He received a call from Tom Littlewood, owner of the 2 Is coffee bar in Old Compton Street, who suggested he come down to see a singer called Cliff Richard. Guest recalled: "Cliff wasn't our ideal choice for the part because he didn't have acting experience, but he had the right sort of androgynous look. You could start him off quasi-innocent and have his lack of innocence as a singer come through". Cliff was hired at a fee of £2,000 and, as he was still under age, his mother had to sign the contract. Cliff asked, "Can my mates be in it, too?" referring to his backing group, who had just changed their name from 'The Drifters' to 'The Shadows', to avoid a conflict of names with the American hit group 'Drifters'.

Laurence Harvey starred as Johnny Jackson, a sleazy agent who discovers young 18-year-old Bert Rudge playing in a Soho coffee bar, inveigles him into signing a contract giving him a 50% split, re-names him Bongo Herbert and manipulates his career. He introduces the lad to a fading American star, Dixie Collins, and arranges for him to be a guest on her London show, where Bongo completely eclipses her. She sees his potential and the chance to appear on his forthcoming tour and makes a play for him, although the naïve lad doesn't realise it. When she tries to seduce him, all he wants to talk about is his love for Lambrettas. He is madly devoted to his music and has no time for anything else, "For me, it's more like a drug" he says, "It takes my mind off a few things". She invites him to her luxury apartment where she asks him whether he had a steady girlfriend. "Why's everyone always on with this girlfriend routine?" he says. "It's not unnatural or illegal" says Dixie". "Girlfriends just run you down, they're always wanting things", he says. "Sometimes the feeling is mutual, you know" she replies.
Expresso Bongo Cliff Richard

Expresso Bongo Cliff Richard The main love interest is between the agent Jackson and his stripper girlfriend Maisie King, played by Sylvia Sims. Observing that the strip clubs are full of elderly bald men she comments,"It's like playing to an egg box". Kenneth MacMillan was hired as choreographer, but he had a difficult time trying to get six topless strip-tease dancers to dance and sing at the same time. He commented, "It's the simplest routine - they may have looks, legs and tits, but they have no co-ordination!" He eventually got them to dance the routine for the movie. Later he was to become director of Covent Garden's Royal Ballet and received a knighthood! Because of the strip scenes the film was given an 'X' certificate, which was a great disappointment to Cliff's hordes of teenage fans.

The songs in the film were ones from the original production, which included singing parts for Laurence Harvey, although the E.P. only featured four numbers sung by Cliff. The E.P. became the first E.P. of the Sixties to top the British charts when it reached the No1 position in March 1960. The numbers were: 'Love'; 'A Voice In The Wilderness'; 'The Shrine On the Second Floor' and 'Bongo Blue', the latter being an instrumental by The Shadows. 'The Shrine On The Second Floor' came about when the agent Jackson suggests that Bongo sings a song about mother love, but hires a songwriter who can't really come up with the goods.

Jackson says, "So far, what have we got? Sex. Beat. Violence….we've got it all. We've got it all except for one thing…religion. We've got to get religion". Mankowitz recalled, "I put that in because religion is always exploited in the common music hall reference out of which this type of music came. Mothers and religion have always gone very well together. This suited Cliff, too, I think".

Incidentally, although some sources say that the Jackson role was based on Larry Parnes, Guest says that it was based on a friend of his, Johnny Kennedy.

Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

Article Text Bill Harry               Original Graphics SixtiesCity     Other individual owner copyrights may apply to Photographic Images

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