In the late fifties and early sixties Cliff Richard was widely regarded, at least in Britain itself, as our answer to Elvis Presley. Both were handsome, dark-haired rock-and-rollers who also ventured into acting, generally in lighthearted musicals designed to showcase their music. There was, however, one major difference. In the early part of his career Elvis was a surprisingly controversial figure whose overt sexuality meant that he was widely denounced in the media and from the pulpit as a degenerate influence on the nation's youth. Nobody ever denounced Cliff; even before he publicly came out as a born-again Christian in 1964 he was widely regarded as a wholesome, clean-cut young man who appealed not just to Britain's youth but also to their parents. (And, in my case, even to my grandmother who ranked "Congratulations" as her all-time favourite pop song).
"Summer Holiday" was one of a number of musical comedies from this period starring Cliff and his backing group, The Shadows. Cliff plays Don, one of four young London Transport bus mechanics who persuade their employers to lend them a double-decker bus which they convert into a holiday caravan. They set off for the continent, originally intending to holiday somewhere in the South of France. They change their plans, however, when they meet a trio of young female singers who are trying to make their way to a gig in Athens. Realising that the girls' clapped-out old car will never make it that far, the boys chivalrously agree to change their plans and to take the girls to Greece. They are also joined by a teenaged American boy named Bobby.
Five boys and three girls seems a rather uneasy recipe for a romantic comedy, even if Don seems uninterested in love and romance, declaring in song his intention to remain a "bachelor boy until my dying day". The odds are evened, however, when Bobby (real name Barbara) is revealed to be a girl in disguise. It turns out that Barbara is a successful pop singer who is running away from her overbearing mother, and this revelation is enough to make Don rethink his commitment to lifelong bachelorhood. The film then follows the four boys and four girls on their journey from France to Greece, via Switzerland, Austria and Yugoslavia, singing appropriate songs at each stop. 1960s Yugoslavia would, on the evidence of this film, seem to have been a rather primitive place, a backward peasant society which had not changed much since the 1360s.
The music is mostly cheerful sixties Britpop, although there are occasional ventures into other genres. "Bachelor Boy" shows the influence of folk music, "Really Waltzing" is a parody of Viennese operetta and "Foot Tapper" the sort of instrumental number in which The Shadows specialised. In "Let Us Take You for a Ride" the lyricist achieved the difficult feat of turning a report on the mechanical condition of a motor-car into a witty number. "The Next Time" is a wistful ballad which, like "Foot Tapper" and the title song, got to number one in the British charts, although today it is less well known than "Bachelor Boy" which was released as its B-side.
The film was a major hit in Britain, grossing more at the British box office than any other film of 1963 except the Bond film "From Russia with Love". It was not, however, a success in America, partly because it opened there two days after the Kennedy assassination but also because the "British Invasion" of American pop culture did not really start until the following year. That invasion was very much spearheaded by the Beatles, and Cliff, along with the other leading figures of the pre-Beatles British rock scene, was never really part of it. Even after 1964 he only had one big American hit, "Living Doll".
Today, "Summer Holiday" might seem to be of historical interest only except for those old enough to remember Cliff Richard in his heyday, for whom it will also have nostalgic value. I must admit that I am not quite old enough to fall into this group, but even so I found a lot to enjoy in it; it is good-natured, tuneful and often amusing. Quite honestly, I found that it stands up better today than do a lot of those Elvis musicals from around the same period. 7/10
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