tue 23/07/2024

The One and Only Cilla Black, ITV | reviews, news & interviews

The One and Only Cilla Black, ITV

The One and Only Cilla Black, ITV

Fifty years in showbusiness for the Liverpool singer turned television star

Cilla Black records a special episode of Coronation StreetITV

“I hate surprises!” joked Cilla Black, for 20 years host of the family reunion show Surprise, Surprise, in ITV’s toothsome tribute to her 50 years in showbusiness. She needn’t have worried, for there were no shocks in this clean-heeled gallop through her career, from gigs in her native LIverpool as Swinging Priscilla with The Big Three, to discovery by Brian Epstein, The Cavern Club, television and national treasuredom. 

Live guests on The One and Only Cilla Black, including Christopher Biggins and warmed-over contestants from old shows, were cut with prerecorded segments shot on location in Liverpool, celebrity endorsements, and a scene from Coronation Street, the whole gathered in by the affable Paul O’Grady. Nothing emerged but unstinting praise, unbridled love for a showbiz survivor, a bit from Ringo, a bit from Cliff, and two nice covers of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Alfie" by Katie Melua and Alison Moyet respectively.

What's it all about, Cilla? It's all about a new BBC sitcom, 'Led Astray'

Cilla's Scotland Road childhood was the grittiest element in this otherwise smoother-than-smooth hagiography. The neighbourhood was so tough, she says, that boyfriends would not walk her home to the flat over a barber’s shop. Her mother, who wept for want of a front door of her own, sold second-hand clothes in the market; dad was a docker. “I used to pinch babies,” she volunteers cheerfully. Everyone knew it was Cilla, dreaming of motherhood, who had trotted off with prams left outside for an instant. At three she climbed on the kitchen table to sing, lapping up the applause. As a 25p-an-hour typist in Stanley Street she earned a few pence more at The Cavern, working the cloakroom at the lunchtime gigs.

A mate who invited her to see boyfriend George Harrison play at The Iron Door kickstarted the friendship with The Beatles that gave her the hit songs "It’s For You" and "Step Inside, Love", the opening number of her 1967 television show. Cue archive footage with Lennon and McCartney, and, later, of recording "Alfie" with Burt Bacharach and George Martin, live at Abbey Road. Eighteen takes in, Bacharach said he was still after something magical: “I didn’t come all the way over from Los Angeles or New York to settle for less,” he recalls. Martin said he had it, on take four. She didn’t know at the time she was being filmed; would have stood up straighter, she says, if she had.

It was harder to like a mocked-up Blind Date, resurrecting as it did extroverts John from Leeds, Andre from London, who leads Jack the Ripper tours – not, arguably, every woman’s dream date – and Geoff from Cheshire with his glove puppet. If I had been blind dater Laura, back on the “show” 25 years after the last round, I would have picked Sooty, no hesitation (Cilla gets the Mary Quant look, pictured right).

Of the lacklustre film career, nothing, and little on husband and manager Bobby Willis, who died 11 years ago, and who took over her career when Epstein was found dead in 1967. Cilla was Epstein’s only female artist. “Do you need a tissue? No? Ooh, she’s hard as nails,” sniffed O’Grady. And what’s it all about, Cilla? It’s all about a new BBC sitcom, Led Astray, co-starring with O’Grady and piloting soon. You have to hope for writing as good as in the days when she guested on The Morecambe and Wise Show: “For another pound we could have had Lulu!”

Overleaf: watch clip of Cilla recording "Alfie"

A mate who invited her to see boyfriend George Harrison perform kickstarted a friendship with The Beatles


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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