Gold's Hall of Fame: Cilla Black

12 October 2021, 11:35

Cilla Black
Cilla Black. Picture: Getty

By Mayer Nissim

Before her time as Queen of Weekend Television, Cilla Black was a recording superstar.

Cilla Black was best known to a whole generation as the undisputed Queen of British telly, with her shows Blind Date and Surprise Surprise dominating the 1980s and 1990s.

But before she was prompting 'Our Graham' for those quick reminders or doling out surprises to members of the public, she was a massive hitmaker.

Supported by The Beatles, produced by George Martin, managed by Brian Epstein and covered by The Smiths, Cilla's pop career is worth celebrating.

Where did Cilla Black grow up, and what was her real name?

Cilla Black was born on May 27, 1943, in Liverpool, of course.

She grew up in the Scotland Road area of Vauxhall with mum Priscilla Blythen and dad John Patrick White, and her real name was Priscilla Maria Veronica White.

She went to St Anthony's School on Scotland Road, before learning office skills at Anfield Commercial College.

How did Cilla Black get into music?

Like many Liverpudlians in the early 1960s, the young Cilla was eager to get into the music business from an early age.

Looking for a way into the industry, she got part-time jobs as a cloakroom attendant at the Cavern Club and a waitress at the Zodiac coffee lounge, impressing regulars like The Beatles with her singing.

A local promoter Sam Leach booked her a gig at the Zodiac Club on Duke Street, billed as Swinging Cilla, backed by Merseybeat band The Big Three.

She also had guest spots with other local groups Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes.

When Bill Harry referred to her as Cilla Black in the first issue of Mersey Beat music magazine by mistake, she liked the sound of it so much she decided to keep it as a stage name.

What was Cilla Black's connection to The Beatles?

While plenty of people from Liverpool were trying to become pop superstars in the 1960s, very few had the personal blessing of The Beatles.

While she had signed a contract with her friend and neighbour Terry McCann, it was swiftly cancelled as non-binding as she was under 21.

Instead, encouraged by his Aunt Mimi, John Lennon introduced her to The Beatles manager Brian Epstein and won her an audition.

Singing in the wrong key and under-rehearsed with her backing band, who just happened to be The Beatles, she flopped the first time around.

"My voice sounded awful," Black later remembered. "Destroyed – and wanting to die – I struggled on to the end."

But she got another go, and Epstein was impressed enough to sign her up in September 1963 and later introduced her to producer George Martin, winning her a contract with Parlophone – the same label as the Fab Four.

What's more, her first single 'Love of the Loved' wasn't just produced by Martin, but it was also written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Cilla went on to record seven albums with George Martin between 1965 and 1973.

Lennon and McCartney wrote a couple more songs especially for Cilla – 'It's For You' and 'Step Inside Love', and she also covered countless Beatles hits, including 'Yesterday', 'For No One', 'Across The Universe' and 'The Long and Winding Road'.

She also covered Paul McCartney's early solo song 'Junk', and John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 'Oh My Love'.

Cilla even went wth George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Marc Bolan to the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 to watch John Lennon and Yoko Ono's experimental movie Erection.

George Harrison would later write 'The Light that has Lighted the World' and 'I'll Still Love You (When Every Song is Sung)' for her, and co-wrote 'Photograph' with Ringo Starr for her – though Ringo ended up nabbing it for himself. Cilla would eventually record it 30 years later.

What were Cilla Black's biggest songs?

Cilla Black had 19 top 40 hits in the UK by 1971, with 11 of them hitting the top 10 – and not all of those were Lennon-McCartney songs.

She covered songs by artists like Dionne Warwick, Righteous Brothers and Randy Newman, as well as having songwriters write songs especially for her. Her hits included:

  • Love of the Loved
  • Anyone Who Had a Heart
  • You're My World
  • It's for You
  • You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'
  • I've Been Wrong Before
  • Love's Just a Broken Heart
  • Alfie
  • Don't Answer Me
  • A Fool Am I
  • What Good Am I?
  • I Only Live to Love You
  • Step Inside Love
  • Work Is a Four-Letter Word
  • Surround Yourself with Sorrow
  • Conversations
  • If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind
  • Something Tells Me (Something's Gonna Happen Tonight)
  • Heart and Soul (with Dusty Springfield)
  • Surprise, Surprise

What TV shows did Cilla Black appear on?

While she was still scoring top ten hits, Cilla Black burst into the world of television with her very own BBC TV show Cilla, which premiered on January 30, 1968.

It went on to run for a whopping 69 episodes over eight series, finally winding up in 1976.

She leapt over to ITV in 1975, being the main entertainer in six half-hour sitcom plays by Ronnie Taylor, again having her name in the title for Cilla's Comedy Six.

After some time away from the small screen she returned with a bang after an attention-grabbing appearance on Wogan in 1983, helping spark a TV comeback.

She fronted Cilla Black's Christmas in 1983, and ended up hosting over 370 episodes of Blind Date from 1985 to 2003 and more than 140 episodes of Surprise Surprise from 1984 to 2001.

Cilla also presented four series of game show The Moment of Truth, before beginning to wind down her TV career.

Even after she left LWT, Cilla went on to appear on a number of talkshows and panel shows, being grilled by Michael Parksinson, Graham Norton and Frank Skinner, and notching up not one but two appearances on Room 101.

She was a judge on Soapstar Superstar in 2006, stepped in for her pal Paul O'Grady on his show, guest-anchored Loose Women and starred as herself in an episode of Benidorm.

Cilla celebrated her 50 years in showbiz in 2013, with the special The One and Only Cilla Black.

Was Cilla Black married, and how many children did she have?

Cilla met Bobby Willis while she was working at the Zodiac. The pair hit it off, and they eventually got married on January 25, 1969 at Marylebone Town Hall.

Bobby was a songwriter who wrote a number of tracks for his then-girlfriend Cilla in the early '60s, including 'Shy of Love', which was on the flip for her debut 'Love of the Loved'.

After Brian Epstein's death, Bobby went on to manage Cilla and helped her transition into a TV superstar.

The couple had three sons together Robert , Ben and Jack, as well as a daughter Ellen, who tragically lived for only two hours.

Bobby died on October 23, 1999 from lung and liver cancer, aged just 57.

When did Cilla Black pass away?

Cilla Black died at her holiday home in Estepona, Spain on August 1, 2015. She was 72.

An autopsy later revealed that she had suffered a stroke after falling back and hitting her head.

She had been complaining of poor eyesight and arthritis and had apparently always said she wanted to die when she was 75, having seen her mum suffer from progressive osteoporosis before her own death at 84.

The Beatles version of 'The Long and Winding Road' was played as Cilla's coffin left St Mary's Church, Woolton.