By 1966 Cilla began to feel that Brian was neglecting her. For the first time he didn’t attend the opening night of one of her shows. She found she could no longer contact him by phone and had to talk to secretaries or assistants. When appointments were made he cancelled them or simply didn’t turn up. She discussed the situation with her boyfriend, Bobby Willis, and they decided to seek representation elsewhere. Bobby phoned NEMS and left a message for Epstein that Cilla would soon be looking for a new manager.
Epstein had become dependent on drugs by this time, but the thought that Cilla might leave him proved so distressing that he arranged for Cilla and Bobby to meet him at his Chapel Street home for lunch.
When they were together he broke down and cried, telling her: “There are only five people I love in the world. And that’s the Beatles and you, Cilla. Please don’t leave me, my Cilla, please.”
Touched by the depth of his emotion, Cilla agreed – and the next day Brian arranged for BBC TV to showcase her in her own series. This new direction was to turn Cilla into one of Britain’s most popular mainstream entertainers, establishing her career for the next few decades and reaping her awards such as Best Female Entertainer of the Year for several years to come.
Epstein died in 1967, before the series he set up for Cilla was televised.
The first series of nine 50-minute shows, simply called ‘Cilla’, made its debut on BBC 1 on 6 February 1968 and the series was to feature many top names, including Tom Jones, Donovan, Tony Bennett and Harry Seascombe.
Paul McCartney penned a number called ‘Step Inside Love’ as the show’s signature tune, which became a Top 10 hit for her. This was the third song Paul had penned which Cilla had recorded and Paul made an acoustic version of the song as a demo for her.
The initial show was seen on Tuesday 9 February and her special guest was Ringo Starr. The two of them appeared in a comedy sketch and sang a duet, ‘Do You Like Me Just A Little Bit?’ Paul’s father, Jim McCartney, who used to play it when he had a jazz band, had suggested the number. Ringo also performed ‘Act Naturally’ and appeared in a comedy sketch in which he was a ventriloquist and Cilla was his dummy.
As he was the first Beatle to appear solo on another artist’s show, his fellow Beatles sent along a number of telegrams to the BBC studios where he was recording the show: “Come home, Jim. All is forgiven. Love. Your Buddies and Pals,” “We will be watching. Luv Herbert and Family” and “Big Brothers are watching and wishing you well. Love from your Big Brothers.”
Cilla was to become a staple figure on British television, but she wasn’t successful in her film career. Apart from a cameo in ‘Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey’ she appeared co-starring with David Warner in the 1967 film ‘Work Is A four Letter Word,’ and that’s about as far as her film career got.
Incidentally, George Harrison originally wrote ‘The Light That Had Lighted The World’ for Cilla to record, but it ended up on his ‘Living In The Material World’ album.
He also produced a session with Cilla in August 1972 when they both recorded two songs by George in the Apple Studios. They were ‘I Still Love You’, which George later gave to Ringo for the ‘Rotogravure’ album and ‘You Got to Stay With Me.’ The arrangements had been made for Cilla to record ‘I Still Love You’ during a hectic summer season at Blackpool and she
traveled to London on a Sunday to do so, with George producing and playing rhythm, Eric Clapton playing lead, Klaus Voormann on bass and Ringo playing drums.
The session with Cilla was never completed because Cilla had been to the dentist prior to the session and the recording wasn’t successful, although George kept the tapes at Friar Park.
George and Cilla bumped into each other in a vegetarian restaurant in 1982 and decided to finish the recording they began ten years earlier. Cilla’s version of the number was finally issued in 2003 when it was included on ‘Cilla: The Best of 1963-78’, a 3 CD set issued to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of her recording debut.
At the beginning of 1969 Cilla and Bobby were married and during the year, to celebrate her twenty-fifth birthday, she had plastic surgery on her nose. Cilla had fractured it when she was 14, but its shape hadn’t concerned her, until Bobby began urging her to have an operation to improve her profile on television.
For the next few years she continued to receive awards as Britain’s top Female singer by publications such as New Musical Express and Disc, but by the mid-1970s she’d become firmly established as an all-round entertainer, appearing in cabaret, pantomimes and summer seasons at holiday resorts. She also became a mum, giving birth to three boys, Ben, Robert and Jack, between 1974 and 1980.
By this time she was no longer achieving any success on record and her career as a singer gave way to her new status as a television personality. She and her family had settled down in a 17-acre estate in Buckinghamshire in a house formerly owned by Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Under a lucrative contract with London Weekend Television, which made her Britain’s highest-paid female TV star, she started hosting the shows ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Surprise, Surprise’.
Cilla was awarded an OBE in 1997 and in 1998 ‘Bobby’s Girl’, a biography by Douglas Thompson, was published. Sadly, Bobby was diagnosed with cancer and died on Saturday October 23 1999.
Cilla’s first autobiography ‘Step Inside’ was published in 1985, her second, ‘Cilla Black: What’s It All About?’ in 2003.