Sir Cliff Richard had wanted to do something with the character Heathcliff from Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights for years. He had also been aquatinted with Tim Rice for years, knowing him from his days with Norrie Paramor. In 1991, Tim received a call from Cliff Richard with a proposition -- how would he like to write the lyrics to an album about Heathcliff? Already onboard the project was John Farrar (Farrar had worked with former Shadows members Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch, and had written and produced many of Olivia Newton John's hits). Olivia Newton John had said she would sing the part of Cathy on the album. The plan was to turn what would start out as an album into a concert show, with Frank Dunlop directing. Tim, needless to say, agreed. What emerged was the concept album Songs From Heathcliff. The album (classified as Cliff Richard songs rather than as a show starring Cliff Richard), was released in October of 1995.
The first single released was "Misunderstood Man", which entered the UK charts in October at number 19. It even found it's way onto the popular BBC soap EastEnders as background music for a scene. "Had To Be" was released on 2 November, entering at number 22. A new version of "I Do Not Love You Isabella" (rather than the track from the Songs From Heathcliff album) titled "The Wedding" was released on 18 March 1996. Featuring Helen Hobson who had just been signed on to portray Cathy for the show, the single entered the charts at number 40. Heathcliff had trouble making play lists because it was too rock/pop for some stations, and too non-rock/pop for the others.
Record-Breaking Ticket Sales
A 22 week UK tour of the concert began on 16 October 1996 in Birmingham, and then moved to Edinburgh, Manchester, and London. The dates for the concerts were announced in early March. Cliff Richard visited all three locations, and with Tim Rice, sold tickets. Heathcliff set records the first day tickets for the tour were available on Monday 4 March 1996 by raking in £2,305,00. Six extra weeks had to be added immediately to the tour because the tickets sold out so fast. A Heathcliff Hotline was set up for tickets for all locations at 0990-203020. Even with the extra dates, the demand for Heathcliff could not be met, so a return to Birmingham Academy from Saturday 14 December to Thursday 19 December 1996 was later added to the tour.
Two commemorative stamps featuring Cliff Richard were released when tickets went on sale. One was a profile of Cliff Richard, and the other had the picture from the Songs From Heathcliff album on it.
Show Details Fall Into Place
At first the papers declared that critics were to be barred from the show. Cliff Richard responded that he had never intended to keep critics from seeing the show, he just wanted to give his fans top priority. If there were tickets left, the critics were more than welcome to have them.
It was announced at a Heathcliff press conference in London on Sunday 3 March 1996 that Helen Hobson would play Cathy. Backing vocals would be supplied by Mick Wilson, John Perry and David Combes; the band would be composed of John Clark, Keith Hayman, Peter May, Bob Noble, Alan Park and Steve Stroud. Mike Moran would be the musical director, and the show would be choreographed by Brad Jeffries. Rehearsals began on 2 September 1996.
The show, presented by the Cliff Richard Organisation, opened on 16 October 1996 at the National Indoor Arena at Birmingham as planned, and was much expanded from the original Cliff Richard album. Lyrics and music, of course, were by Tim Rice and John Farrar respectively. The book was by Cliff Richard and Frank Dunlop. Frank Dunlop also directed, choreography was by Brad Jeffries, production design was by Joe Vanek, and lighting design was by the ubiquitous Andrew Bridge. Musical direction for the production was by Mike Moran. The show starred Cliff Richard as Heathcliff, Helen Hobson as Cathy, Darryl Knock as Edgar, and Jimmy Johnston as Hindley.
Due to the complexity of the production, Heathcliff was not able to move from Birmingham Academy to Edinburgh Playhouse by 5 November as originally planned. Instead, the show opened at the Edinburgh Playhouse the next day, Wednesday 6 November. A special matinee performance at 2.30 on Saturday 9 November 1996 was added for all of the fans who had purchased tickets for the performance on the 5th.
Among the publicity for the show was a full page colour advertisement on the first page of the 1996-1997 issue of the Dress Circle catalogue.
Tour Success Leads To Additional Dates
The single "Be With Me Always" featuring Cliff Richard and Helen Hobson which was to be released on 4 November 1996, was released instead on 13 January 1997. The double CD cast album, produced by John Farrar and recorded live at Earls Court Hall (where rehearsals were held) and the Academy at the National Indoor Arena (Birmingham) by the BBC Radio International Mobile, (originally due to be released on 18 November and then 9 December) was released on 2 December 1996.
An extra tour date for Heathcliff was scheduled for The Academy at the NIA, Birmingham on Friday 13 December 1996. (The extended date had at first been set for Saturday 14 December 1996.)
A month's worth of extra dates were also added for Labatt's Apollo, Hammersmith (London) from Monday 7 April to Saturday 3 May 1997. The box office for those performances opened on Saturday 30 November 1996 at 10 A.M..
Two further weeks of performances were added after Easter for Hammersmith (London), with tickets going on sale 4 April 1997, making the last night of Heathcliff Saturday 17 May 1997. There were no Sunday performances. The show was not open on 5 May (Monday), 6 May (Tuesday), 12 May (Monday), 13 May (Tuesday) when it was being taped for commercial release. A voucher for a £8 discount on the top two ticket prices (not valid on Friday and Saturday) was offerred, and could be obtained by sending a s.a.s.e. (with a first class stamp) to: Heathcliff Voucher Office, PO Box 46C, Esher, Surrey KT10 0RB, England.
In mid April 1997, Tim Rice and Cliff Richard received awards for combined platinum (300,000+) sales of the two Heathcliff albums.
In the seven months that Heathcliff played, it was seen by a half million people.
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