Cilla Black

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Cilla Black Pencil Portrait
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The quality of the prints are at a much higher level compared to the image shown on the left.


A3 Pencil Print-Price £45.00-Purchase

A4 Pencil Print-Price £30.00-Purchase

*Limited edition run of 250 prints only*

All Pencil Prints are printed on the finest Bockingford Somerset Velvet 255 gsm paper.

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Last update: 3/8/15

Cilla Black confessed her fears of growing older came from looking after her mother, Priscilla, who developed acute osteoporosis in her later years, and was unable to hold up her head or feed herself because her bones had become so brittle.

Recalling those last days, the star was moved to say:

‘She had to be fed ¬ intravenously, and I hated that as much as she did. Unfortunately – and I do mean that – her heart was strong. The result was that she lived much longer than she wanted to. I remember asking her doctor if she could do something to relieve my mother’s suffering. I’m not talking about euthanasia. I just wanted the pain to stop for her. But the short answer was no. Those final months left a lasting impression on me. I would not want to linger like she did.’

Like millions, she was at times distracted , if not on occasions consumed, with that single, all pervading thought – ‘What’s MY end going to be like?’ As it happened, her end – in August 2015 – would come quite suddenly in Spain through ‘natural causes.’

Several years on from her mother’s death, she had recovered her equilibrium; reconciled to a life of being alone but not lonely – ‘no-one could really take Bobby’s place’ – and devoted to her grandchildren. Stating early in 2014 that she didn’t wish to live beyond 75, she understandably incurred considerable PR backlash, as millions struggled to see exactly what she had to be so morbid over. By her own admission, she was consumed with the osteoporosis that had felled her mother – ‘her head was permanently bent on to her shoulder and she could do nothing for herself’ – and was obviously contemplating her own mortality. A sense of fatalism had previously overtaken her when she was widowed at 56 – her husband/manager Bobby Willis succumbing to cancer – and by her own admission, his passing cured her fear of flying; ‘For a while afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get on a plane. I thought “If the plane crashes, great,” I wanted something to take me now’. In the final analysis, Cilla was merely expressing views held by many when struck by life’s adversities. Unfortunately, for those in the spotlight, their views on worldly matters are often instantaneously relayed around the world via social media before the soothing balm of subsequent reflection. For most of us, such black periods are self contained or at worst, confined to our immediate family circle.

Interviews with the star to promote the 2014 three part ITV drama series ‘Cilla,’ merely revealed what any deep thinking person would have already worked out; namely that Miss Black was a self focused young woman, hell bent on a successful singing career. “I had a one track mind. My career was all important. It swounds hard, and it is, but that’s the way I was. You had to be like that in the 60’s. It was me, me, me. At times, I was difficult, but I got what I wanted didn’t I? It paid off”.

[Programme for Cilla’s October ’64 UK tour with Sounds Incorporated.]

According to Brian Epstein’s biographer, Ray Coleman, Cilla was his biggest managerial concern in the fall of 1966. It seems ironic now, that with The Beatles retired from life ‘on the road’ and many of his stars drifting into theatrical land or a life outside of showbusiness, problems should have arisen with his biggest solo act. Coleman wrote in his 1989 biography:

Problems with Cilla had begun in the autumn of 1966. During a demanding period, his health threatened and his working pattern notoriously unsynchronised with his artists’ diaries, Brian had been strangely neglectful of the girl singer he admired and loved. It became painfully apparent when on November 3, Cilla opened alongside Frankie Howerd in the revue ‘Way out in Picaddilly’ at the Prince of Wales theatre. Where once he could have been guaranteed to visit the show at least once a week, Brian’s visits after opening night became sporadic. A whole month went by without his appearance. This would have been considered a heinous crime by Brian himself, only a year before. After all, only two years earlier he had eulogised about her in his 1964 memoir, ‘A Cellarful of Noise;’“I watched her move and I watched her stand and I half-closed my eyes and imagined her on a vast stage with the right lighting. I was convinced that she could become a wonderful artiste.”

By 1967, Epstein was determined to offload the majority of his NEMS act, leaving him free to devote all his energies to The Beatles & Cilla. Unfortunately, the former Liverpudlian hairdresser was still a wisp of a girl, only twenty three and still relatively naive. Having rejected ‘pot’ she was still essentially a well grounded ‘down to earth no nonsense girl’, if still full of youthful self importance. Years later, she would be clearly troubled by Brian’s death:

“It’s a terrible regret to me that he did not tell me more about his depression because I could have been a bit more understanding. In those days I was full of “what’s happening to me! I was so very young”…………………….

A showdown at Epstein’s Chapel street apartment with Bobby in tow reportedly ended in tears, but after her manager’s undying devotion was emotionally reinforced, Cilla knew she could never leave him. There appears little doubt that her ‘husband to be’, if not the instigator of this discontent, was instrumental in fuelling it. Bobby Willis after all, had been Cilla’s original manager in Liverpool, being relegated to roadie and general factotum after Brian entered her world. As we now know, he had been compelled by Cilla to eschew a promising singing career himself in order to remain emotionally involved with her, a decision that must have been professionally frustrating in view of his songwriting talent. By 1966, more than three years after Epstein had taken the reins, he must have felt professionally thwarted on all counts. The shocking nature of Brian’s passing and the intervening years will have brought sombre reflection upon the Willis marriage, but they need not have reproached themselves; mistakes after all, being a part of life. It’s ironic however, that the last managerial decision of Epstein’s would signpost a career for Cilla beyond the Top ten. The following spring (1968), she would begin filming her debut light entertainment series for the BBC, an event that would propel her engaging personality into households across the country. It was propitious timing; her chart life having less than four years to run by this stage, yet twenty years later, she would be the highest paid female entertainer on the ITV network.

Question marks abound when the subject of Miss Black’s personality arises, and internet threads more than hint at a character that belies her small screen amiability – refusing autograph hunters, an affected non-Liverpudlian accent, an air of superiority, a prima donna on British Airways flights, indifference to the financial plight of Liverpool dockers despite her father having been one, and a reviled character within television production circles. Posted anonymously by individuals, these recollections, suppositions and diatribes intermingle freely with sheer vitriol – ‘she’s rumoured to have slept with all four Beatles’ – to the point of being laughable, provided of course that you are not part of her extended family. Whilst one leading Australian socialite* was happy recounting tales to her dinner guests for years of a bacchanalian night with all four Beatles in separate hotel rooms, any suggestion of impropriety between Cilla and the band is absolutely preposterous.

*The Beatles Down Under: The 1964 Australia and New Zealand Tour (Rock & Roll Remembrances)- Glen A. Naker (1982)

A 2007 Daily Mail interview hints rather more objectively at her general public demeanour, and we should perhaps not be too surprised by the reality behind the public facade. If Bobby was the first to recognise her interactive personality and gift for self projection, then any subsequent disillusionment on our part remains our fault alone for believing wholesale in the packaged product.—Cilla-nice-think.html

Recommended listening

Completely Cilla: 1963–1973 (5 CD & 1 DVD Box set) 2012

Released a s a prelude to our Cilla’s 50th anniversary in showbusiness, this collection brings together her entire George Martin produced recordings, spanning a decade long period.

All her A & B sides are collected together with seven choice album cuts, in addition to a DVD compiling twenty two performances from her television shows. Competively priced at a tad under £30, the set can be picked up for nearly half the price – value for money in anybody’s book.

Completists may prefer to track down the 2009 remastered overhaul of her original ten EMI albums, but for the discriminating listener, this boxed set remains the ultimate one stop shop.

During her 15-year tenure at Parlophone/EMI, ‘Miss foghorn’ scored nineteen Top 40 singles (including two Number Ones in 1964), released ten studio albums and became Britain’s biggest-selling female artist of the 1960s, which is no small feat when one considers Black’s contemporaries. Black’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart” is, according to BBC Radio 2, the U.K.’s biggest-selling single by a female artist in the 1960s. Completely Cilla is a particular boon for collectors, as Black’s catalogue (including the seven George Martin-helmed albums) was remastered in 2009 for a digital-only initiative.

The Live at the BBC DVD is presented as a Region Free NTSC disc, playable on all standard U.S. DVD players. Including bonus material, it contains 28 songs, of which 22 are previously unreleased! All are presented in 4:3 aspect ratios. The bonus songs include a duet with Cliff Richard and audio from a 1964 installment of Desert Island Discs! Selections have been taken from programs such as ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Cilla’_(first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh series), as well as specials such as _’Engelbert with the Young Generation’ and ‘Christmas Night with the Stars.’ Y

It’s packaged with a 36-page booklet containing testimonials from songwriters, producers, arrangers and friends including Sir George Martin, Sir Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, Sir Cliff Richard, Randy Newman, Jimmy Tarbuck OBE, Roger Greenaway, Les Reed OBE, Tony Newman (of Sounds Incorporated), Margo Quantrell (of The Breakaways), Tony Barrow (Cilla’s press officer), John Lyndon (director of Cilla’s live productions) and John Scott, Mike Vickers and Chris Gunning (arrangers).

All in all, there’s a lorra lorra information to digest!

Desert Island Discs (16/10/88)

Black’s second appearance on the show; her first from 1964 is incomplete; a mere nine minutes surviving in the BBC archive.

Recommended viewing

Cilla (ITV 3 part series) 2014

A consistent ratings winner during its three week prime-time run, but essentially a rather sanitised version of events in Cilla’s life covering the period 1960-68.

Sheridan Smith is excellent in the lead role – a driven petulant personality who demands 100% loyalty from her ‘boyfriend’ and erzatz road manager Bobby Willis (played by Aneurin Barnard) – yet the film takes liberties with timescales and somewhat glides over the intensity of their central relationship. Black may have threatened to disavow the project lest it degenerate into ‘obligatory smut’, but the prolonged chasteness of her relationship with Bobby simply doesn’t ring true, despite the singer’s catholicism. If parents were forever at home and hotels prohibitively expensive, young Mr Willis nonetheless had a car, and where there’s a will there’s a way. Still, ‘Prim Priscilla’ was not about to allow any unwanted pregnancy to thwart her professional ambitions so the young Mr Willis’s love, devotion and resolve may well have been tested to the limit for years. If, by his wife’s admission, he was not the most romantic of men – never formerly proposing marriage – he had nonetheless previously forsaken a promising musical career of his own to be her professional and emotional bedrock. Widowed at 56 but immeasurably wiser, she has never engaged in another relationship with a man, a fitting testimony to a marriage that clearly worked.

The story cuts off abruptly at 1967 with the death of Epstein, who had a contract for Cilla to star in her own BBC show ready for her to sign. Right to the bitter end, he was concerned with her best interests yet invariably at odds with the ever questioning truculent lovers.

Throughout the series, we never really get to know Cilla that well, but fifty years in showbusiness remains ample testimony to a woman with ‘balls of steel.’ Criticism of Sheridan Smith’s characterisation is unwarranted – she captures her subject’s joie de vivre and sings admirably well. Avoiding the temptation to ape Cilla’s more obvious vocal mannerisms, there’s sufficient conviction in her location scenes at Abbey Road Studios to convey the excitement of the era in which she would initially thrive.

Cilla at the Savoy (1966)

Possibly with one-eye on the future, Brian Epstein booked Cilla in 1966 for a 3-week cabaret run at London’s Savoy Hotel. For her final appearance, cameras were there to film her, and the resulting special was watched by one of the largest audience for a television light entertainment special throughout the decade. Epstein’s instinct was correct, proving conclusively that a TV audience was out there for Cilla.

Finally issued as part of the two disc CD/DVD package, “Cilla: The very best of Cilla Vlack”/“Cilla at the Savoy,” this 2013 release would be re-packaged after the singer’s death with a special Gold foil ‘Cilla’ cover featuring an extended 16-page picture booklet and tribute from her son Robert Willis, in his capacity as executive producer of the album.

Originally filmed in colour for the American market,the only officially surviving print is the monochrome version aired in Britain.


Cilla Black - The Official Site