For those of us who grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, the news that Cilla Black has died will bring about profound sadness. You did not need to be a fan of her music, or indeed her television shows, to understand that she was a giant of her era. One of the great stars of British television without a shadow of a doubt.
It really was, for me, one of those “oh no” moments that you get from time to time. There are some deaths that are inevitable, people who have been ill or just old, but Cilla was just 72. Around the same age as her great friends, the surviving Beatles Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. She had not been in the best of health, but I did not suspect it was anything this serious. How very sad.
And how very sad that she lost her soul mate in 1999, Bobby Willis. Her lover, her best friend, taken by the evil that is cancer. I know she always dreamed that one day they would meet again in the afterlife. This is not the time and place to debate the niceties of whether there really is an afterlife, so I hope that that prospect stayed with her until her untimely death. To lose a soulmate like Cilla did must have painful beyond compare.
I first saw the news on the Daily Mail website which is not my website of choice. Beneath this sad story were readers’ comments that once again laid bare the insensitive, brainless psyche of some of our fellow citizens, with jokey references to her death using the names of her TV shows and hit records. What, pray, possesses people to come up with “jokes” about a much loved entertainer and, more importantly, mother of three children? Perhaps I am losing my sense of humour, but I would not be laughing if it was my mum who had died.
However, the police announcement of Cilla’s death was not enough for the Mail, who had to find out for themselves whether she really was dead. “Most of the shutters were down at the entertainer’s house near Marbella this morning and there was no answer on the door,” wrote their intrepid reporter. There were some possible explanations for this. The first that there was no answer because the owner was dead, another was that perhaps the grieving family did not want to talk to the tabloid press just a few hours after Cilla had died or that there was no one at home. Whatever the correct answer, what the hell is wrong with these reporters? Was any public interest served by knocking at the door? Do the people who own and write for this grubby newspaper have any sense of humanity at all?
The public loved Cilla. There was no scandal, no dirt out there. She entertained millions with her singing and many millions more with her smash-hit shows “Surprise, Surprise” and “Blind Date”. In an era when having a female presenter was far from being the norm, Cilla rewrote the book and in so doing she helped open doors for a whole new generation of women presenters who had previously been excluded from television on the somewhat dubious grounds that they were women.
My abiding memory of Cilla was when Marc Bolan from T Rex guested on her show, way back in the 1970s. They sang a duet of Bolan’s “Life’s A Gas” and I remember it was really sweet. I am not sure any other TV entertainer could have got away with it, but Cilla did because what you saw was what and who she was: a Liverpool girl made good.
We hadn’t seen much of her in the public limelight in recent years. She had all but retired from public life, as she well deserved to do. She made the best of what talent she had and there were bucket loads of it. Above all, she made her family happy and she entertained a whole nation. That’s not a bad epitaph.