Part 1/3 tx. 15.09.14 9.00-10.00pm, ITV1
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Cilla at Granada Television, 1963
I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if Cilla Black had disappeared into obscurity around the end of the 60s/start of the 70s. In this alternative universe, the 80s/90s Cilla of ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Surprise, Surprise’ never happened. Would she have merited the same kind of adulation which greeted Sandie Shaw’s second career with The Smiths in the mid 80s? We shall never know.
It’s maybe difficult to imagine Cilla ever being that cool but last night’s opening of Jeff Pope’s three part biopic was a reminder of the now almost forgotten Priscilla White/Cilla Black of early 60s Liverpool, The Cavern and John, Paul, George and Ringo. How cool is that?
It was good to find that this wasn’t one of those truncated TV dramas which hatches and dispatches a storyline in one hour flat (the new ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ and the film remake of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ felt absurdly telescoped). Some may say Cilla doesn’t merit a three part series but last night’s opener boldly said otherwise. It positively fizzed with energy.
Obviously the period fascinates but so too does the story itself – an ambitious young, working class woman who resolutely put her singing and career first and amiable boyfriend and future husband to be, Bobby Willis, second to eventually find huge success with the top record producer in the country. There is a lovely scene with Bobby making his way through the back-to-backs humming his own composition Shy of Love which was to become the B-side of Cilla’s first single. He tells her he is twenty-four years old, works in a recording studio and owns a car. When it emerges none of this is true (he works in a bakery) after her initial snub, it endears him to Cilla all the more. We see him needling to become her manager which results in his own hopes of singing success dashed as he devotes himself to furthering Cilla’s ambitions.
Sheridan Smith sparkles as Cilla combining mischief and humour along with that backbone of ambition. The live singing is impressive, especially her nerves during an uncharacteristically lacklustre rendition of Summertime before Brian Epstein.
The detail feels just right from the smoke-filled cafs to the badly dyed beehives and the way The Beatles are shown as just another local band. I had problem keeping up with the Scouse accents but that kind of felt like part of the fun.
I’m not sure how up-to-date the three parts take us – until the end of the 60s, I would imagine. Surprising that this missed out on Cilla’s fiftieth anniversary which was actually last year (marked by a Paul O’ Grady fronted tribute and a DVD set). Or maybe there is an album to coincide with the series… I rather hope not, to be honest. Sorry Cilla, but for me this is how I like to remember you.
Cilla at the BBC
Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black