Bernie Clifton – The Interview

profile-pic-copy-v2Upon a chance encounter at a Count Arthur Strong gig, I stumbled across the 70s variety entertainer Bernie Clifton, I decided to find out a little more about the man behind the bird.

Read the full Interview below.


Why did you start wanting to entertain people?”

“When I was a lad, growing up in St. Helens, I was a plumber, and I was working on building sites in bathrooms. And bathrooms have got great acoustics to resonant and I used to sing mi little heart out as a fifteen year old thinking ooh I’ve gotta sing, and I could always sing, I was always a good singer, so that’s why I started, I was singing singing singing, then ultimately the nonsense and the comedy just arrived later.”

“Like the sort of stuff you did on the voice?”

“Well yeah because um as far as the public were concerned they didn’t know anything about my singing so I was going for some serious singing lessons in Manchester, and as a result of these singing lessons I suddenly started to, this voice started to emerge again. So I thought well, who am I gonna sing to? So I auditioned for the voice, and I got on the voice.”

“So it’s been kinda like a underneath thing running through your whole life?”

“Well yeah, things happen in your career, that yknow suddenly you start to follow a path, or you’re led along a path, and other things take a little, take a back seat. They go on the backburner and that’s what happened with my singing voice. I got all the props and I became known as a visual comedian and as a result of that it was ugh yknow the singing kinda got submerged so I was determined to do something about it, so I went for my singing lessons at the college and gradually got myself on the voice and now a lot more people know that I can sing than knew before.

“So my advice to anybody would be if you’ve got a talent that takes a backseat, is to do something about it, you’ve gotta be really persistent, I think it starts with an idea, yknow first of all, I’ll find a way of getting some serious singing lessons, so I met someone who was a singer and was a student at the college in Manchester, the Royal northern college of music, and I made um, I lent on them to introduce me to their vocal coach I went and saw him, when he auditioned me and he took me on so if I hadn’tve done the early process of having an idea, what are you gonna do about it and being determined, it’s like building a wall isn’t it, you know you’ve got to build one brick at a time and finally it’ll all come to pass and in the course of that there are many diversions you know you actually get setbacks.

“I never actually told my family or my agent that I was doing this voice audition because they may have tried to talk me out of it and I thought I’d just go for it because i had the belief that it was the right thing for me to do and that again that’s advice, if you’ve got a bee in your bonnet and you think this is right for me, you’ve just got to keep wading through the opposition.”

“So I’m not calling you old or anything…”

“You can call me as old as you like. I’m ancient. I’m a hundred and seven yknow. But I haven’t looked after meself.”

“I googled it you’re 81”

“She knows. She knows. The whole world knows I’m 81. I don’t care, funny thing is, when you’re sixty, sixty five, I found out I was hiding me age but once I got past sixty into the seventies I thought oh this is alright, you start to get a bit of respect yknow. When you um, the trouble is that when you’re 80, when you’re young, you know nothing, but when you’re old you know everything but no-one asks you.

“I’ve found with old people, asking them things after they’ve died you don’t get the same reaction, the answers are much slower.”

“No but what I was gonna say about you being old was um it was like it seems to me like you always wanted to sing your whole life and then you sort of thought well just sort of grabbed it while it was there and like do you think about other things like that in your old age.”

“Yeah. Keep saying old age. Old people. Old age. Old. Old age. Old age. Old age. Old age. Old people. Old age. Old age people. Aged people. Elderly. Antique. Redundant. Antique.”

“You did first dates though aswell so it seems like you sort of just grab things”

“She watched first dates.”

“Have you had any success in your dating life since then?”

“Now I’m old. It’s very interesting that you asked me that because it’s all connected, after getting on the voice after doing everything I did to get to the voice audition and getting on the telly singing um I said whatever comes up I’ll say yes to, doesn’t matter whatever it is I’ll say yeah, and do it.

“And somebody rang up and I love the programme first dates, I love it, think it’s fantastic, it’s like being a fly on the wall. I have to tell you that watching the show when you’re in it is not the same, I watched it from behind the sofa. It’s like ssssst yknow you’re not performing are you, as a performer and a singer and a comedian and when I’m out and doing stuff in public that’s what you do but suddenly to be back being myself I found it a hard watch.

“Nevertheless, no regrets, but I didn’t actually, there was no spark there, between me and the lady that they paired me up with, but it was still an experience. It’s what life’s all about innit.”

“I think you’d be good on channel 5 programmes like top 100 things that happened in the eighties.”

“Well I’m actually writing a book, I’m thirty-thousand words into my life story, and I’m still only up to the seventies and I’ve got so many things that have happened to me and so many people I’ve met and so many places I’ve been to, in my life that I could’ve never imagined as a fifteen year old plumber in St. Helens.

“I never could’ve believed, the first time I got up on stage, it was a talent contest in St. Helens, at the theatre Royal, and I went along there with my mate Bernard, Moggie Moor he was called, well I was Bernard Quinn, still am Bernard quinn and um, he was Bernard Moor, we sat on the front row, and the uh, the show was all about, um, I was fifteen. The show was all about getting people out the audience, and we were up on the stage like greyhounds out the slips, and he said to Bernard Moor he said I’ll give you this mophead and you can pretend this is mop is your girlfriend and you can sort of say you can be having a snog with the mop and then he turned to me and he said and you, you can just sing something.

“Well I just stood there and I opened my mouth and started to sing, and this hush fell upon the audience because if I say it now, I had a good singing voice, and it went so quiet and I could feel the goosebumps on the back of my neck and I remember, you ever heard of a filmstar called George Clooney, George Clooneys got an aunty called Rosemary Clooney and she had a very big hit back in the fifties with a song called ‘half as much’ and I started to sing ‘half as much’ and this hush fell on the audience, and I suddenly felt what is going on here, whatever it is, it’s better than plumbing and that was it.

“It’s kind of addictive, you know once it’s in you, feel it in your bones in your genes it’s like, it’s a great great feeling. I often thing I should write a song with that lyric, I feel it in my fingers I feel it in my toes, and I’d call myself yknow cuz I’m an old person I’d call myself ‘wet, wet and wetter,’ or ‘damp, damp and damper.’ And sing ‘I feel it in my fingers’”

“So who would your most interesting person you’ve met be?”

“Dya’ know I was only saying to the queen last week, well it’s gotta be the queen I think, I met the queen at the Royal Variety show yeah, I met her a couple of times and she always says ‘how’s that Amy doing is she still at Sommersall and is her mum still shouting okey dokey over the garden wall, embarrassing the neighbours.

“I met the queen and I was at the Royal variety show in 1979 and it was very successful for me but um, last year there was a reception at Buckingham palace and I went along and I was introduced to her, and I was introduced to her by a gentleman who said ‘your majesty, this is Bernie Clifton, who entertained you at the Royal Variety show many years ago on an ostrich’ and she went ‘hmmmm ostrich,’ and I said ‘yes your majesty, the ostrich is still performing, although he is much slower these days’ and she said ‘hmmm slower. Isn’t it funny how things get slower.’ And off she went chuckling, absolutely delightful. Yeah great great time, so that I suppose has gotta be top of my list hasn’t it.”

bird“So how did you get onto crackerjack from doing your singing?”

“I’d been on, I was coming out the clubs, and I was in summer season in Jersey, and people were flying out to jersey to see the turns, the acts, the talent that was on there and someone saw me and booked me to do a TV show with Lou Lou, and then when that was over someone dropped out of Crackerjack and somebody said, would you like to go onto Crackerjack? And I went yep, didn’t think twice, did four years on Crackerjack.

“Infact there’s a man writing a book about it, he came up from London on Monday and we met, I met him we went to Frankie and Bennies, and Frankie (?) said ‘is that Amy still doing, she comes in, doesn’t eat any food, just sits there with her phone, chatting into her phone, um yeah so crackerjack I’m in this book I suppose.

“It was a formative time of my career. And people of a certain generation like your mum here, will remember it but it was a time when people on a Friday would as families, TV dinners were still in, they’d go in the front room, come home from work from school, and the weekend would start, Friday its five to five. And we used to do sketches, we did comedy we had guests from top of the pops, you know the best, number one artists, would come on the show and we’d do a medley at the end of the show that would involve the songs from the hit parade which I don’t think we could do now could ya?”

“You’re doing a thing at Scarborough?”

“A thing, that’s how you see my summer season, a thing. I actually am, doing a summer season, it’s the first summer season I’ve done for twenty years. And it’s fantastic it’s at the spa theatre in Scarborough, three nights a week, starts on July the twenty-fourth and it finishes at the end of August.”

“You were saying about it was different watching yourself on first dates, is it because you’re more vulnerable?”

“I’m very vulnerable yeah, cuz it’s what you’re doing really you’re act yknow the mucking about like you’ve just been here to live-ish and on stage, and in the public, you adopt a persona don’t you, you’ve got like an alter ego, but when all that’s wiped away, I couldn’t go home and behave with my family the way I behave when I’m out doing my shows. They wouldn’t stand for it anyway, but that’s another story. So to be exposed if you like to be revealed as the real you, the way you actually are, it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t bad at the time, but it wasn’t easy to watch.”

“You still live in Chesterfield, so like why do you still choose to live in Chesterfield after all that time?”

“Agh, I love it, it was an absolute total accident, I was brought up in St. Helens in Lancashire and when I was twenty one I had to go and do my national service in the RAF, and um, I ended up in a RAF camp in Doncaster, and when i came out I stayed there, I met a Doncaster girl, and I stayed there and got a job selling vacuum cleaners door to door. And the firm opened a branch in Chesterfield, and because I’d got no ties I went to Chesterfield to sell vacuum cleaners, and my first day I got in a van, and they dropped me off outside a housing estate in bolsover and I sold them all a washing machine.

“I went down this street and everybody ended up with a washing machine, so I thought ‘I think I might stay in Derbyshire’ so I stayed in Derbyshire, eventually raised a family, yer mam might remember a joke shop we had on knife smith gate, so I put down routes in Derbyshire, and eventually bought a derelict farm in Barlow, that was thirty five years ago and it’s a beautiful part of the world. Absolutely love it, even though I’m a Lancastrian at heart, nevertheless I’m sort of I’m more of a dyed in the wall Derbyshire person now.

“And the great thing about Derbyshire it’s so central, it’s not remote, you know I live in the country yet I’m in Sheffield in twenty minutes, Derby, Manchester in an hour and so on. It’s London couple of hours, yeah, I’m a very lucky boy, living where I live.

“And I fly an aeroplane as well, did you know that? So I was flying, went flying last night, tripped over the cat. No, I went flying last night, beautiful spell of weather, and we actually, yeah I’ve got a little micro-lite aeroplane, so I went about half past eight, went for a little buzz around Barlow, which is brilliant. Lucky boy.

“On my CD, there’s a photograph of me flying over Chatsworth House. I’ve got a wingtip camera, and I went flying over Chatsworth, tilted it like that, and it went click, and there’s me at Chatsworth.”

album“On about your singing, have you written any songs?”

“What I tend to do is write just parodies, I’ve just started to play, just learning guitar, just started to play guitar, and I tend to do parodies of, were doing one at the moment of streets of London, by a singer called Ralph Mctell, but I’ve done, my own version of it, I don’t really write original, I write original lyrics but I tend to adopt popular songs, popular tunes.”

“You could do music videos”

“Could I do a music video? I dunno, I dunno, people, when they look at old people, they have a pre-conception about what the old person can do so I, I wouldn’t be against it at all. As long as I don’t have to run around on the back of that big chicken, which is getting slower and slower as I said to the queen last week.”

“What’s the happiest moment in your life and what was the saddest?”

“Happiest would probably be finding a girl, getting married, and the saddest would be losing her to dementia fifteen years ago, so that’s a high and a low, outside of the stage. And everybody I think um, goes through life in many ways as a rollercoaster of emotion, for most of us I suppose you never quite know, what’s around the corner, but I am a great one for trying to cram in a lot, and that’s illustrated by me going flying last night.

“You know we’ve had some terrible news this week from Manchester, with the terrorist attack, and it makes me think, makes you focus on life is for living and enjoying what you’ve got. And I think if you’ve got an opportunity to do something, however trivial, just do it, grab the moment while you can. And seriously last night when I went flying, the events kind of do focus me and I thought shall I go tonight shall I leave it, and I thought ‘today’s the day’ and that would be my motto, I think ‘grab the moment’ like that thing at the end ‘keep on keeping on.’ Life is for living isn’t it.”

“I just think how lucky I am, if you see me in the morning for the first two hours, if I’ve got a gig in the morning I’ve gotta get up at five o clock to make sure my body is functioning.”

“Have you got any funny quirks or anything?”

“You know the first thing I do at night and the first thing I do in the morning is um, is put the mice out that I’ve trapped, we’ve got these humane mouse traps, cuz I can’t kill anything, and I live in an old cottage on a farm in Barlow, and we’ve got mice all over the place, and I know they’re there, and I now lock everything up, if it’s not locked up they’ll have it. And one of thems eating a hole in the bottom of a door that leads into my utility room and every morning I come out and I can see these little wood shavings it’s trying to get in or get out.

“So what we’ve done, I’ve bought these two humane traps and the mouse goes in, and it’s about six inches long and about two inches square, and the mouse goes in and as it goes in, it hits a flap and the flap comes down behind it and it can’t get out.

“But then when you read the book, it says do not leave the mouse in for more than four hours it’ll become traumatised and shocked so what we’ve done we’ve put the trap we’ve attached a box to it so the mouse goes in the trap and it’s got a nice big box and we fill the box full of chocolates and put a little to in the corner and a jacuzzi so it has a nice little night on its own and then I release it out into the wild unscathed.

“However on the instructions it said you must release at least a quarter of a mile away, well I’m not doing that at eleven o clock at night or seven in the morning so I just take it down the bottom of the garden, and they’re probably back in the house before I am. I could take em in my micro life and drop em out, parachuting mice, just get a parachute out of a hankie and just take em up to fifteen hundred feet and say there you go.

“And the first model we did of this departure lounge, we called it a departure lounge, the mouse went in, ate all the food, had a poo and then ate it’s way out the cardboard so we’ve now modified it, so we’ve called it Shawshank Mickey, so at the moment we’ve got the trap stuck into like a cardboard box, so the first thing I do, come out the bedroom there’s one on the landing going ‘hello’ so he goes out and I go downstairs and there’s another one, so were in double figures at the moment. I think I could do a great song about Shawshank Mickey.”


Bernie can be seen at the Spa Theatre, Scarborough until 30 August and his CD ‘The Voice of Bernie’ is available from his website www.bernieclifton.co.uk.