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How 1970s Can You Get? Cliff Richard in Take Me High vs Never Too Young to Rock

  After the hippies and before punk, there was a period in British culture, namely the early-to-mid nineteen-seventies, when it seemed like people were deliberately trying to be as colourful and upbeat as possible in the face of the nation's impending economic ruin. Hence, glam rock was a thing, brightening up the newly-bought colour televisions, but while that was fine for the music industry, as far as the film industry was going, it was in trouble thanks to the Hollywood money deserting it, and leaving productions desperately trying to attract audiences with either gimmicks or whatever zeitgeist entertainment they could lay their hands on.

Stepping into this melee was none other than Cliff Richard, the Peter Pan of Pop as he was then known, who was doing his darnedest to raise the spirits by appearing on the small screen regularly, releasing a host of singles and albums, and even having another go at winning the Eurovision Song Contest (he, er, failed. Again). Another project he took on would be his final starring role in a movie, after a run of hit cinematic efforts in the sixties, yet although he retained his youthful countenance, his audience was more the family one than the teenagers he had interested back then and Take Me High in 1973 reflected that focus.

Essentially, it sought to publicise the City of Birmingham - not the American one, the English one - and make it look like a mouthwatering prospect for investment and setting up businesses there. Birmingham was just as prone to the gloomy forecast in the economy as many other cities up and down the United Kingdom, and anything it could conjure up to make itself look attractive was going to be a chance they would pounce on. Thus Sir Cliff (as he would become) traipsed all over the more scenic areas of the region to big up the place as a haven for go-getters and not, as may have been more accurate, a haven for unemployment and inner city strife.

The trouble with that is, Birmingham in 1973 was something of a butt of jokes from the rest of the country, much as Liverpool would be (and Liverpool had The Beatles to boast of), so rendering it as glamorous as New York City was hard to believe, and that was even in the seventies when the Big Apple was going bankrupt - Cliff's character is offered a job there by the banking business he works for, and is all set to jet off when he is told to go to the Midlands instead. His disappointment is in his face, which means the rest of the film cheers him up by having him realise Birmingham is, if anything, more desirable to live in than anywhere in the United States.

This being one of the most seventies-evoking of cities, when Cliff and company secure a deal to produce a Birmingham-related promotional hamburger named the Brumburger, you half expect them to toast their bright idea with Creamola Foam (well, George Cole does tuck into a packet of cheese and onion Golden Wonder crisps, so there's that). This was a musical too, so Richard rocks out on the soundtrack frequently, if not too raucously, with a selection of tunes, some based on the plot: he and romantic lead Deborah Watling (from Doctor Who in the previous decade) look like children's TV presenters in their big trilling in the kitchen scene.

But mostly, this was about promoting the city, so we were treated to visions of the canal network which Clifford pilots a barge down, and even nips around in a small hovercraft to get him to a meeting on time (does anyone try that in real life?). The Brumburger so inspires the population they hold a parade for it, complete with marching band, you've never seen anyone so excited about fast food, but there wasn't much to do in Blighty in the seventies what with the internet not being invented yet. Also worth looking out for was rich landowner Hugh Griffith hunting a laughing (or quacking) fox that Cliff and Debs hide in their Mini, but comedy took second place to the business.

Not set in Birmingham but a selection of fields, woodland and occasional countryside building outposts, Never Too Young to Rock was unleashed upon the world in 1975, with a view to cashing in on glam rock, which was on its last legs before punk and disco came to dominate the charts. It was produced by G.T.O., who the same year gave us Side By Side, a Terry-Thomas-fronted nightclub comedy with pop music interludes, and the year previous had done us no favours by promoting Gary Glitter in Remember Me This Way. This was probably their best effort, not that this was saying a whole lot in recommendation, yet like Take Me High, my goodness was it seventies.

For that reason, fans who were around in that era and enjoyed the music, as well as younger film buffs who have arrived at it out of curiosity, Never Too Young to Rock does have a following, seeing as how where else in the cinema can you witness such bands as Mud, The Rubettes and The Glitter Band (Gary nowhere to be seen, you'll be relieved to know), all messing about for the camera and performing a few hits? The fact this took place under gunmetal skies and often in a thin drizzle of rain simply made it more nostalgic: the grim seventies, with the denizens of entertainment determined to bring a ray of sunshine or two into our lives with sub-Goon Show nonsense.

It does begin with a transport café where Freddie Jones and Peter Denyer arrive seeking bands to play at a concert, since it looks as if they will be banned from television in the later decade (they weren't, and indeed Mud had a top twenty disco hit that wasn't half bad). They do this in a detector van that Jones is continually trying to sabotage so he can publicise a "silver band", i.e, a brass band, and once inside the caff he proceeds to start a riot between two sets of rival football fans, throwing food around as Mud perform and dodge the custard pies. As an opener, it was striking and amusing, but signalled the chaos that passed for a plot to come.

We were treated to a haunted house, an army assault course (with Peter Noone as the drill sergeant), a brass band on a traction engine also trying to sabotage Denyer's mission, and guest stars like Sally James, presenter of legendary kids' TV show TISWAS, DJ Peter Powell with enormous hair, always available comedienne Sheila Steafel, and a pre-Ultravox Midge Ure with his briefly popular band Slik (they had a number one!). Oh, and like Take Me High, there is gratuitous use of a mini-hovercraft, though it had to be said, whatever the Cliff vehicle's faults, it was at least coherent enough to tell a story that went from A to B without the hiccups here. As expected, the concert goes ahead, and Scott
Fitzgerald (also a Eurovision loser) sings the title track. If you had any interest in what the seventies in Britain were like, these were well worth a look, and if you had appreciated Never Too Young to Rock, you would appreciate Take Me High in precisely the same way.

[Take Me High has been released on Blu-ray and DVD by Network as part of their The British Film line, fully restored and looking and sounding pristine. Those features in full are:

Music-only audio options on main feature
Theatrical trailer
Textless titles
Russell Harty interview
Image gallery
PDF material.

Click here to buy from the Network website.]
Author: Graeme Clark.


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