I recently watched the 3-part mini-series on that recently departed icon of British televison, Cilla Black. A few things really struck me.
The sectarian division in 1960s Liverpool. Frequent references were made to tensions between Protestants and Catholics…some of this may have been added for dramatic purposes,yet the programme certainly gave the impression that some parents were anxious to keep their offspring from dating across religious lines. At one stage, Cilla’s dad tells her boyfriend to tell her aunties that he ‘supports Everton’ a cultural code for being Catholic at the time.
The role of the manager in popular music. This always fascinates me, and here we saw two really different types of manager: (i) the remote, well-heeled and well-connected manager, Brian Epstein (also manager of the Beatles) and (ii) the loyal, caring, supportive local lad without any resources apart from his passion and belief. In this case, the latter, Bobby Willis went on to be Cilla’s tour-manager and subsequently her husband until his death. Naturally both of these characters were played in a way that accentuated their different motives/styles/appraoches…yet it was still interesting to see how decisions were made behind-the-scenes in the music industry.
It was particularly poignant that when Epstein’s body was found, a contract with the BBC for a series with Cilla was amongst his possessions…and I seem to remember his character urging her to consider making a transition from being a pop star to being a TV personailty. Timing is everything in the music industry, and vision doesn’t hinder progress…yet at times the role of good old fashioned luck can’t be ruled out.
I hadn’t thought about Epstein outside of his role with the Beatles. I think it is fair to say that he single-handledly transformed not only the music industry, but also British, and subsequently, world culture. No band had been as big as that before, and while he made mistakes, many of those stemmed from the uncharted terrain he was exploring. Literally, no one had expected, or could have predicted the success of the band and what that entailed.
Yet ultimately, Epstein was apparently a tragic figure, a closet gay man during a time in Britain when that was not tolerated. It is tempting to comtemplate what he would have achieved if he had lived longer and more happily.
Another interesting thing about the series is that Cilla didn’t exactly come out of it well. She was porrtayed as a selfish, self-centred diva…although how would anyone of her age in that era have reacted to sudden massive fame and all that comes with that.
I think the end credits claimed that she went on to be Britian’s highest paid TV personality of her era…in which case that transition from being a pop star to being a TV personaility worked out really well for her.
It is a tribute to the series that it portrayed these characters as flawed yet made the viewer care for that and wish them well.
Another pop music story that was not without its tragedy and casualties….lots to learn from it.
I came across this footage of her wedding. Funny to think of a time when a celebrity wedding didn’t involve exclusive pictures for Hello magazine and aunts (or the Weird Hat Association of Knotty Ash) and relatives got to stand beside and behind the happy couple…now they would be firmly moved out of the way to accomodate Z-List celebrities!
Sheridan Smith who was superb as Cilla…with the real Cilla below
and a link to some relevant sites