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Ta-ra Cilla, your common touch made you special

By Gail Walker

Published 04/08/2015

In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 Pop singer and entertainer Cilla Black (Priscilla White) rehearses a song with Paul McCartney in a recording studio; the Beatle has written the song 'Step Inside Love', which will be the theme song for Cilla's new television show. Original Publication: People Disc - HB0137 (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 Pop singer and entertainer Cilla Black (Priscilla White) rehearses a song with Paul McCartney in a recording studio; the Beatle has written the song 'Step Inside Love', which will be the theme song for Cilla's new television show. Original Publication: People Disc - HB0137 (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 6th August 1970: Pop singer and TV star Cilla Black with her husband and manager Bobby Willis and their baby. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 11th April 1965: Some of the pop stars who attended the New Musical Express 1964-1965 Annual Pollwinners All star concert at the Wembley Empire Pool, London. Among them are Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, The Bachelors, the Rolling Stones, the Searchers, the Animals, Tom Jones, Marianne Faithfull, the Seekers, Donovan, Wayne Fontana, Twinkle, Herman's Hermits, Jimmy Saville, The Echoes, Kathy McGowan, the Mike Leander Show Band, and the Ivy League. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 14th December 1971: Singer and entertainer Cilla Black in costume as Aladdin for the BBC Christmas pantomime. (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 Portrait of bands 'Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas' and 'Gerry and the Pacemakers', holding up the singer Cilla Black, March 23rd 1964. (Photo by Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 Singer Cilla Black reacting to the news that she will be appearing in the Royal Variety Performance, London, October 20th 1964. (Photo by Reg Lancaster/Express/Getty Images)
In Focus: Cilla Black Dies Aged 72 UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: Singer Cilla Black performs on a television show circa 1973. (Photo by Tony Russell/Redferns)
FILE - In this Jan. 18, 1968 file photo, From left to right: George Alexander; Pete Swettenham, Geoffrey Swettenham and John Perry, the four members of the "Grapefruit" pop group are seen seated at a table at the launch of their record "Dear Delilah, in the Mayfair Suite at Hanover Grand Hotel in London, with with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, folk singer Donovan; Beatles' Ringo Starr and John Lennon; Cilla Black and Paul McCartney in the background. Police say big-voiced British singer and TV host Cilla Black has died aged 72. Spanish police said Sunday that the singer, who had a home in Estepona, southern Spain, died Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 4, 1969 file photo, British pop singer Cilla Balck smiles with her fiance Bobby Willis, in Mayfair, London. Police say big-voiced British singer and TV host Cilla Black has died aged 72. Spanish police said Sunday that the singer, who had a home in Estepona, southern Spain, died Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. Born Priscilla White, Black worked as a teenager in the cloakroom of Liverpools Cavern Club, where her musical talent was spotted by The Beatles. (AP Photo, File)
File photo dated 15/10/1995 of Cilla Black (left) and comedienne Faith Brown are entertained by Comedian Mike Yarwood at the unveiling of a plaque in honour of Bill Cotton in London. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Neil Munns/PA Wire
File photo dated 5/8/1970 of Cilla Black with her 10 day old baby son Robert John Willis as they leave Avenue Clinic in St John's Wood, London. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 8/3/1968 of Cilla Black and Cliff Richard at BBC Television office in Shepherd's Bush, London, as they helped to count votes for Britain's song for Europe. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 4/8/2001 of Cilla Black, son Robert Willis and his new wife Fiona after their wedding at St Mary The Virgin Church in Denham, Buckinghamshire. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Matthew Fearn/PA Wire
File photo dated 28/5/1964 of Tommy Cooper and Frankie Vaughn helping Cilla Black to celebrate her birthday. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 31/3/1965 of Cilla Black at London Airport where she was leaving for New York to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 13/2/1970 of Cilla Black, voted the Top British Singer (female); Cliff Richard, voted Mr. Valentine and Best Dressed Star (male) - he was also runner up to Tom Jones in the Top British Singer (male section); and Lulu, voted Top Female Singer (World), Miss Valentine and the Best Dressed Star (female), during the Disc and Music Echo Fourth Annual Readers' Poll Awards - Cafe Royal, London.
File photo dated 3/5/2006 of Lionel Blair and Cilla Black arriving for the Help the Aged Living Legend Awards, at Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Hugo Philpott/PA Wire
File photo dated 9/12/1965 of Cilla Black and Bruce Forsyth record a sketch for a Christmas show at ABC-TV's studios in Teddington.
File photo dated 17/9/2008 of Cilla Black during the Fashion for Relief show during London Fashion Week at the BFC Tent, Natural History Museum, London.
File photo dated 21/3/1964 of Brian Epstein (behind) with artists, Cilla Black, Tommy Quickly (right and Billy J Kramer appearing in his show at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 22/5/1997 of Cilla Black and her husband Bobby attending the Royal Television society awards ceremony at The Grosvener in London. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Neil Munns/PA Wire
File photo dated 15/12/1963 of rehearsals at Alpha studios, Birmingham, for ABC's 'Thank Your Lucky Stars' programme with Brian Matthew, Cilla Black (centre), The Beatles (back), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Searchers. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 4/5/1965 of Cilla Black, Petula Clark and Sandie Shaw at the Dorchester Holel, London for the Variety Club of great Britain in Tribute To the Record Industry. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 21/3/2005 of Queen Elizabeth II meeting TV presenter Cilla Black (left). Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA Wire
File photo dated 31/1/2010 of Prince Harry meets Cilla Black before he plays in the inaugural Setebale Polo Cup at the Apes Hill polo club in Barbados. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/5/1964 of Gerry and the Pacemakers are welcomed back by Cilla Black and Billy J Kramer (both on right) when they arrived in London from their American tour. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 7/9/1071 of Pop singer Cilla black carries her son, Robert John Willis from the aircraft at Heathrow Airport after flying back from Nice. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 29/9/1965 of (left to right) Joe Loss, Lionel Blair, Cilla Black, and Billy J Kramer demonstrate a new dance routine to accompany Joe Loss's new track Let's Kick. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 9/1/1966 of Comic duo Dudley Moore (right) and Peter Cook are joined in a sketch by singer Cilla Black. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 8/5/1978 of (left to right) Cilla Black, Harry Secombe and Dame Vera Lynn at the Variety Club of Great Britain luncheon thanking the British Record industry for its contribution to the club's work for children's charities. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: PA Wire
File photo dated 3/7/2014 of Cilla Black, Sir Cliff Richard and Colin Firth in the Royal Box on Centre Court during day eleven of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. Cilla Black has died at her home in the south of Spain, according to reports. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday August 2, 2015. See PA story DEATH Black. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire
(Files) In this file picture taken on July 2, 2009 British singer Sir Cliff Richard (L) and British television personality Cilla Black watch the action on Centre Court during the Women's Semi-Finals of the 2009 Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis Club, in southwest London. Cilla Black, the 1960s pop star championed by The Beatles who became one of Britain's best-loved television presenters, died on Sunday in Spain, media reports said. The 72-year-old, whose real name is Priscilla White, died in Spain where she lived. AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZACARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images
Cilla Black has passed away
Cilla with her baby son Robert John Willis in 1970
Cilla with Bruce Forsyth
Cilla with her late husband Bobby
Cilla Black with Gloria Hunniford at the TV Quick Awards

The death of Cilla Black was a shock, I suspect, to many of us because she was an ever-so-British version of the Unsinkable Molly Brown. She had always been around. She always would be.

And that is the mark of a true star. Not the brief flaring in the heavens, the here today, gone tomorrow fleeting wonder. No, she was there, woven deep into the very fabric of our lives. Even if you didn't like her, Our Cilla was part of the national furniture - like the Queen, Corrie and Mastermind.

In the end the affection people held for her went far beyond rational explanation. Even the most devoted Cilla fan would be hard pushed to say that she was a great beauty, or a great singer, or even a great interpreter of songs.

But Cilla had one great card up her sleeve. Cilla Black was one of us. Yes, she must have had drive, she must have developed a professional veneer over the years but, basically, we could all see ourselves in Cilla. Less than perfect teeth and a regional accent.

We could relate to her. In some way, her story was ours.

Just look at how we think of Cilla, or rather the various Cillas.

First of all we had the Merseybeat Cilla. A cloakroom girl at the legendary Cavern Club, a Liver Bird who liked to go dancing, had a bit of a voice and managed to strike lucky. In a Britain where the old class systems were crumbling she was a breath of fresh air - cheeky, unashamed of her roots and cheerily working class, she had no need to put on airs.

Even her private life was ordinary. Cilla wed the love of her life, Bobby, in 1969. It was a romance across the divide - she was Catholic, he Protestant, and it lasted 30 years until his early death. Cilla never featured in the scandal sheets and, after Bobby's death, never remarried.

She had the good luck to be a friend of The Beatles and became a kind of proto-little sister to the era-defining group. It was John Lennon who introduced her to their manager Brian Epstein. Seeing what many couldn't, he masterminded her early career.

The connection was to make Cilla hip. Eleven top 10 hits from 1964 to 1971 - not bad for a singer who was never the critics' darling.

Then Cilla made the crossover to television. Like Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse and Eric and Ernie, Cilla entertained mums and dads, the children, the aunties. It was an age of three TV channels where the aim was to draw in the millions, not to form little televisual ghettoes; an era when a star was known to every man, woman and child in the country as opposed to today's narrowcasting, demographics and niche audiences.

I can just about recall Cilla from the late Seventies, when she was part of the Saturday night pantheon. The eight o'clock slot was patrolled by the fabulous four: Cilla, Cliff, Lulu and - come summer - Seaside Special. It was an era when the star wasn't a big, sulky ego determined to wrestle their opinions upon us. Nope, they were all-round entertainers.

Cilla, Cliff and Lulu would sing, dance, do a couple of comic skits, a little hidden camera tomfoolery with the public and still have time to indulge in some badinage with special guest star Gilbert O'Sullivan. Twenty-two million watched her programmes. Twenty-two million. It seemed like real "born in a trunk" showbiz. Proper entertainment with proper troopers. Like Brucie, Tarby and Bob Monkhouse, Cilla even had her own catchphrases - "ta-ra chuck" and "lorra, lorra laughs".

The Eighties and Nineties were when Cilla really stepped into my life with Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, huge shows which made the most of her "star with the common touch" quality. Of course, critics and poseurs sneered at these exercises in the lightest of entertainment, but such tricky-to-pull-off vehicles could only have been held together by a traditional star - someone who could talk to people (a little bit saucy, but never crude) without being condescending, someone who could actually be a part of the family (no wonder she was known widely as Auntie Cilla).

And Cilla was a proper star in another way, too - she knew the contract with the public that fame brought, and so she shared every aspect of her life with them, as if they were indeed blood relatives. Her heartache when she lost a premature baby and when Bobby died. Her pride in her three boys.

True, she provoked the professional haters by coming out as an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, but as always she'd a knack of knowing what the people wanted. Cultural historians pore over The Young Ones and Blackadder, but shudder at the notion of watching Blind Date. Which is a shame, because those would give them an insight into what made vast numbers of real people tick. In any case, Cilla was always the entertainer, happy to rack up the viewing millions with easy, middle-of-the-road, non-confrontational, televisual genius.

In other words, she was one of a diminishing band - an old-fashioned British star. She was in the same league as Eric and Ernie, Les Dawson and Shirley Bassey. And there is no higher compliment than that. Ta-ra chuck.

Follow me on Twitter @GWalker9

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