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curled lip at

Serious Charge

Serious Charge is a 1959 film now most notable for being Cliff Richard’s screen acting début in a very minor supporting role, playing a layabout teenage musician called Curley Thompson.

The film was adapted from a stage play written by Philip King. One of the teenage delinquent gang members was played by another 1950s rock and roll star, the uncredited Jess Conrad in an early acting performance.

Plot

The unmarried vicar Reverend Howard Phillips played by Anthony Quayle, newly arrived in a parish, accuses a local 19 year old thug and petty criminal (Andrew Ray) of being partially responsible for the recent death of a teenage girl. In retaliation and as an attempt to divert attention, the teenager accuses the vicar of sexually molested him. His invented story is substantiated out of spite by another local woman still furious that the vicar rejected her amorous advances. Unfortunately for the vicar, the woman is a highly respected member of the community, her father being the parish’s previous clergyman.

The film’s harsh and gritty events are only lightened by musical performances by Cliff Richard and the Shadows, still called the Drifters at the time. Richard, playing the thug’s younger brother, is not required to do much more than lounge about looking moody with a sneering curled lip, dressed in denim jeans and a black leather jacket. He barely speaks in the film, other than to sing three songs in coffee bar scenes.

Cast

Anthony Quayle
Sarah Churchill
Andrew Ray
Irene Browne
Percy Herbert
Noel Howlett
Wilfred Bramble
Liliane Brousse
Jean Cadell
Judith Furse, Julie Martin
Wilfred Pickles
Wensley Pithey
Cliff Richard
George Roderick
Olive Sloane
Jess Conrad (uncredited).

Cultural impact

Filmed in black and white and with its moody downbeat atmosphere the film was not a huge success and did not receive a wide distribution, partly due to local cinema owners shying away from the film’s subject matter. Given that the film was released in the post war era, its central topic was quite ground-breaking, especially for the normally conservative British film industry.

The depiction of disaffected and unfocussed youths hanging around coffee bars, breaking into swimming pools, speaking in affected American jive slang and 'grooving' to Cliff Richard's songs was a little clumsy and contrived. There was a general opinion, even at the time, that the inclusion of the rock and roll was a cynical move by the film’s producers to cash in on Cliff Richard’s chart success and he was indeed featured large in the pre-release advertising campaign.

However, the main plot is quite a daring story, and occasionally almost subversive. Homosexuality was still highly illegal in the UK and to accuse a vicar was unheard of. The audience is however encouraged to wonder about Rev Phillips's actual sexual orientation when he spurns the advances of the good churchgoing woman, seems oblivious to his obviously sexy and young French maid and reacts to his strident and domineering mother, a studied and knowing performance by Irene Browne, with a subservient deference.

Soundtrack

Released on Columbia – SEG7895 as a 7” four track EP entitled “Serious Charge” by Cliff Richard and the Drifters. Tracks were:

• Living Doll – also released as a single • No Turning Back • Mad about you • Chinchilla (Instrumental by The Drifters)

References

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