Cilla Black


1968 - United Kingdom

With a string of hits under her belt by the mid-1960s, Cilla Black was well on her way to cementing her reputation as one of the iconic musical acts to come out of Liverpool at a time when almost every pop group in the charts either came from (or claimed to come from) Merseyside. She made her television debut on the 27 September 1963 edition of the premier pop music show Ready, Steady, Go! and by the time she was offered her own series on the BBC she was already a familiar face on TV screens across the country.

Cilla Black

Appearances on other chart music shows such as Thank Your Lucky Stars and Top of the Pops aside, Cilla was also wanted on a number of non-pop programmes. Her natural charm, sparkling personality and quick wit were evident from the start. To TV audiences she was the epitome of 'the girl next door' who done good. And they took to her instantly. Invitations came from children's and teenage programmes such as The Five O'Clock Club and Juke Box Jury, where she sat on a panel judging other artiste's hits (or misses). And an appearance on a chat show in 1965, fronted by TV presenter Eamon Andrews, led to 6 return invitations.

Cilla Black and Brian Epstein

By 1966, her manager, Brian Epstein was already suggesting that Cilla's future might be heading in the direction of television light entertainment. He told her that TV executives were beginning to realise that, as well as her superb singing voice, she also had what Epstein called 'the gift of the gab.' But at that stage Cilla was only interested in pursuing her singing career. Possibly with one-eye on the future, Epstein booked her for a 3-week cabaret at London’s Savoy Hotel. For her final appearance the cameras were there to film her. This went out as a Cilla at the Savoy and was watched by a huge audience. One of the biggest for a television light entertainment special throughout the 1960s. It seemed as though Epstein was right; there was a TV audience out there for Cilla.

Cilla at the Savoy

In the summer of 1967 Epstein was approached by the BBC to do a series fronted by Cilla. She would sing solo, perform with guest stars, act in comedy sketches and interact with the audience. The BBC also wanted her to perform the UK entry for the Eurovision Song Contest, but on this point Cilla was adamant. She didn't feel as though she would have a chance of winning as the previous year Sandie Shaw had won the competition. She didn't think the judges would vote for another British female singer. Epstein delivered the news to Cilla and her husband Bobby the day they were going to take a short holiday in the Algarve. It seemed as though everything was done and dusted and all that remained to be done was for Cilla to sign the contract. She agreed to do it on her return. But she would not see Brian Epstein again. On 27 August 1967 Brian Epstein's body was discovered in the bedroom of his Belgravia home, the result of a lethal cocktail of booze, sleeping tablets and other drugs. On his bed was the BBC contract for Cilla.

Cilla Black and Paul McCartney

Cilla - the TV series - debuted in January 1968. For the series Paul McCartney wrote the signature tune 'Step Inside Love', inviting the studio audience and the television watching public to "find a place where the cares of the day will be carried away by the smile on your face." It was the ideal opening number. Guest stars on that first show included Cliff Richard, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson and Spike Milligan. Cilla was an immediate hit and up until the end of March attracted record viewing figures of over 13 million for each show. The success of that show, by her own admission, marked the beginning of a new phase in Cilla's professional life as one of the country's top-rated all-round entertainers. With each season the viewing audience increased reaching figures of between 18 and 22 million, before it ended in 1976.

Cilla - The BBC series

Cilla Black's television career took something of a dip between the late 1970s and early 1980s. In spite of two comedy series; Cilla's Comedy Six (ATV 1975) and Cilla's World of Comedy (ATV 1976), appearances on the small screen were few and far between. But 1983 was a good year for her, appearing in 5 television shows. These appearances reminded viewers, and just as importantly, TV executives, of her natural lasting appeal which was still very much in evidence. That same year she signed a record breaking contract with LWT to host Surprise, Surprise, heralding the beginning of another extraordinarily successful phase of her lengthy television career. In 2014 Cilla was the recipient of the British Academy Television Awards' "Special Award" in honour of her contribution to entertainment over the preceding 50 years. When she passed away suddenly on 1 August 2015, the media, the showbiz world and public reaction was testament to the legacy left behind for this much-loved entertainer. There was nothing false about her, she didn't act like a diva and always kept the common touch. To everyone she was just "our Cilla."

Cilla Black

Massive six disc (five CDs NTSC, Region 0 DVD) anthology from the British vocalist and pop icon. The CDs feature all of Cilla's recordings from 1963-73 produced by George Martin. The DVD has full-length music performances from her BBC shows of the late '60s and early '70s of which 22 are previously unavailable. 

Cilla's Hits

Sheridan Smith gives a startling performance in the BBC drama about Cilla's early years.

Published on May 10th, 2020. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

The Caesars

Historical period drama detailing the murder, sex and madness that will forever have a place in the annals of ancient history.

Also released in 1968

According to Dora

According to Dora, subtitled A Bryan's Eye View on the World, was a starring vehicle for Southport born actress/comedienne Dora Bryan who had made her showbiz debut as a child in pantomime in Manchester.

Also released in 1968

The Nat King Cole Show

The Nat King Cole Show originally aired without a sponsor, but NBC agreed to pay for initial production costs assuming that once the show actually aired a national sponsor would emerge.

Also tagged Music Show

The Champions

Adventure/fantasy series about three secret agents endowed with extra sensory powers.

Also released in 1968

Arabian Knights

Animated series of stories set round the ancient city of Baghdad which is under the rule of the evil Sultan Bakaar, who has usurped the throne from the rightful inheritance of the young Prince Turham

Also released in 1968

Get It Together

TV producer, Muriel Young, came up with the idea for a new TV pop music programme to follow on from her successful shows, Lift Off with Ayshea, the Bay City Rollers Shang-a-lang and The Arrows TV show.

Also tagged Music Show

The Jo Stafford Show

Music and light entertainment show starring the 25 million plus record selling artiste

Also tagged Music Show

Top of the Pops

Long-running music chart show featuring performances and videos.

Also starring Cilla Black

Billy Cotton

Big band, big sound and big big personality - with a rousing call of "Wakey-Wakey" Billy Cotton introduced an inexhaustible 50 minutes of non-stop music, dancing and comedy in the essential weekend variety revue that was a stalwart of BBC programming for 12 years.

Also tagged Music Show