(1944 - 2001)
It all began on the 10 February 1944 in Stourport - a small village near Kidderminster and Birmingham - with the birth of one Clifford Thomas Ward (now you know what the 'T' stands for!). Cliff, who's father was a Power Station worker, was one of five children, having one sister and three brothers. He was educated at Stourport Secondary Modern School, and it was here that he met his wife, Pat, when she was 13, and he was 14 years old. His first adventures in singing occurred at school when he spent some time as a choir boy. On leaving school, in the early sixties, he formed a pop group under the name of 'Cliff Ward and the Cruisers' who became quite popular around the Midlands. Later, in the mid sixties, and after several member changes, the group re-named themselves 'Martin Raynor and The Secrets' with Cliff assuming the role of the elusive Martin Raynor. The fictitious name was soon dropped, and the band continued as merely 'The Secrets': they went on to do some extensive touring around Britain and France, achieving a moderate level of success. Six singles were recorded along the way (ten of the songs penned by Cliff himself), though these made little impact on the music world at large.
Following the demise of the Secrets in 1968, Cliff decided he needed to get a 'real job', and so spent the following three years at a teacher training college, ultimately finding employment at the nearby Bromsgrove High School, teaching English (where his mastery of words and lyrics come from!?) and drama. While there he continued songwriting (in his spare time) and recorded his first solo album 'Singer/Songwriter'. It was released on the Dandelion label, but, shortly following its release the Dandelion company folded. As a consequence, 'Singer/Songwriter' received little media coverage, and went largely unnoticed. Cliff had been teaching for about two years - when he wrote and released his now famous single Gaye, which took the music world by storm, selling over a million copies world wide. It reached number 8 in the British pop charts in June 1973. Immediately following his chart success with this song, he released his second album 'Home Thoughts' - an absolute masterpiece that surpassed even the success of Gaye, being released in twelve countries. It firmly launched Cliff as a leading British 'pop star'. At this point, wanting to concentrate on music full time, he gave up the teaching profession. Unfortunately, his idea of 'concentrating on music full time' was to write songs and churn out albums from his home-base - keeping a low profile all the while. He failed to capitalise on his initial success by consistently refusing to tour and perform live gigs. Interviews, photograph sessions, and television appearances were made only when absolutely necessary. His reasons may be understandable: he is known to be rather shy, and being in the limelight has never appealed to him; what is more, he is very much a 'family man', and did not want to spend time away from his wife and children.
Cliff and Pat married when he was 17 and she 16, after Pat became pregnant ('I got married 'cos' we needed a pram' - to quote a line from his song Prams - 'Sometime Next Year' album): they have remained happily married ever since. Over the years, several stories have circulated, telling of an affair Cliff was reputed to have had with a French girl named Gaye, while doing a tour of France. The crux of the story being that Gaye was killed in a high speed car crash (suggesting a possible act of suicide) after Cliff had returned home to Pat, refusing to stay with Gaye in France. It was said to be this episode that led to the composition of Cliff's now famous song, Gaye. The recent, definitive, biography, by Dave Cartwright, has revealed that there never was such a 'Gaye', and that the stories were purely fictitious.
Cliff and Pat still live in the Kidderminster area. In the early days they had three Children - Debbie, who was born with cerebral palsy and has been committed to a life in a wheel-chair (the song 'For Debbie And Her Friends' is about her - see link below). Debbie is now married with a daughter of her own, she works as a social worker in the Coventry area. Then there was Martin and then Sam. Quite a few years later - in 1979 - they had another daughter - Polly. There is a photograph of Polly, aged about five, on the reverse side of Cliff's 'Both Of Us' album sleeve. Polly attends the annual 'Clifford T Ward Conventions' along with Cliff and Pat. At the 1995 convention, I had a short chat with her - then aged sixteen, she told me she was in her final year at school, and wanted to attend college the following year with a view to a career in art and design.
The children heard singing on Cliff's early albums were from the school where he taught (Bromsgrove High School), and the speech at the end of Screen Test ('Mantle Pieces' album) was recorded by one of his former pupils. Cliff has always claimed that Pat is a beautiful singer - but this was flatly denied by Pat in the recent biography. I asked Cliff if he had ever considered recording a duet with her. He told me he had put this proposition to her a number of times, but she had always declined.
In the introduction to the first edition of 'Waves - The Clifford T Ward Fanzine' (August 1995), its editor, Clive Winstanley, had this to say about Cliff:
In 1984, Cliff was in the process of erecting (with the aid of a local firm of builders) his own recording studio in a barn close to his house. He became very uptight at the slow rate of progress made by the builders, and would stay up late into the night continuing with the job-in-hand himself. His health began to suffer: 'he was experiencing tremors, tingling sensations and loss of balance on a more frequent and pronounced level. This was not stress. Maybe something simple, such as an ear infection, could account for his balance problems, but the spasms, the shaking, though still sporadic, well, that was an indication of something more . . . '. A visit to the doctor led to hospital tests, which resulted in the shock news that he had been struck down by the crippling disease multiple sclerosis. Cliff did not reveal his illness to the outside world until several years later - when the symptoms could no longer be disguised. He is now largely confined to a wheel chair: pretty ironic when you consider the song he wrote about his invalid daughter, Debbie - 'For Debbie and Her Friends'. Now, much of the time his speech is slurred and he survives on a small weekly invalid benefit - supported only by whatever royalties still trickle in from recordings made in better times. However, he continues to work on as best he can. In 1994 he recorded a new album - 'Julia And Other New Stories' - crawling on all fours into his home-based recording studio to finish it. It was his eleventh album and may be his last! Illness now seriously limits what he can do. In 1992 a stage musical, 'Shattered World', was produced as a tribute to him. It was based on his life and his battle against MS. Half the songs were Cliff's own, and half were numbers written by others about him.
His fight against MS continues as a daily struggle. In an interview with his local paper, the Wolverhampton Express & Star, in September 1994, he told reporter Aidan Goldstraw: "I have not and will not come to terms with this illness. There are times - usually quite late at night - when I'm almost normal again. But unless they find a cure for this dreadful MS, then I don't see a future."
ADDITION (December 2001)
In late November, 2001, Cliff was taken ill with pneumonia. After spending several weeks in hospital near his home, and in his beloved Worcestershire, Cliff died at 9 a.m. on Tuesday 18th December 2001.
Copyright © 1998/2001 Michael Armitage