What a strange place mid-’50s Britain must have been: a cultural wasteland in which someone like Cliff Richard must have seemed the height of exotic rebellion. In fairness, Cliff was responsible for one of the few enduring classics of the nation’s brief pre-Beatles rock ’n’ roll boom with ‘Move It’, and in the process the sort of response from the Daily Mail with which we are all so familiar: ‘we sometimes wonder if this is the negro’s revenge’.
It’s this sort of attention to detail which makes the ‘Britannia’ strand such a reliable treat. And, as we follow the genre from skiffle washboard to ‘Love Me Do’ via Old Compton Street coffee bars and an underwhelming visit from Bill Haley, the archive film and survivor stories are rolled out to fine effect.
But it’s full of moments of great charm, not least when John and Paul’s Quarrymen bandmates recall an early recording and still-sprightly organist Cherry Wainer bashes out a reprise of her number one smash ‘Hoots Mon’. ‘History doesn’t give a darn,’ snarls the Peter Pan of Pop. Never mind Cliff, at least BBC4 does.