Date of Birth: 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK
Birth Name: Priscilla Maria Veronica White
Nicknames: Cilla Black
Cilla Black, broke through in the 1960s as a buck-toothed pop singer in the Merseybeat boom and went on to become one of the enduring stars of television light entertainment, hosting the brassy Saturday night favourites Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date.
In August 1963 she was a 20-year-old typist in a Liverpool office. A month later, having left the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein smitten, she recorded her first hit, Love of the Loved, a Paul McCartney number. By 1965 she had become the female symbol of British youth with two No 1 hits and a season at the London Palladium, and by 1968 she was a millionaire at 25. A quarter of a century later she was the highest-paid female entertainer on British television.
She made a career out of what one critic described as “the phenomenon of ordinariness”. Indeed she would scarcely demur at the description “dead common”. “Class, I haven’t,” she conceded, “but style I’ve got.” As the Liverpool docker’s daughter and ingenue pop star trailing in the Beatles’ wake, Cilla Black resolutely adhered to type: lacquered mane of flame-red hair (the consequence of a sixpenny rinse at the age of 13) short skirts, long legs and a strong Scouse accent.
After starring in her own BBC series Cilla in the late 1960s, she moved to ITV to star in a live Saturday night variety show, popping up “somewhere in Britain” with a camera crew to knock at someone’s front door. She once famously disturbed a man who skulked blinking on to his balcony followed by someone else’s wife wrapped in a sheet; another “Come on, luv, it’s Cilla 'ere” intrusion took her into a room where rows of embarrassed men on chairs who muttered one-word answers to her increasingly querulous questions turned out to be the clientele of the local brothel.
It was her ability to combine mischievous curiosity with deadpan humour that sealed her success with Surprise, Surprise (1984) on ITV, the strangely gripping show for which she was paid £15,000 a week. As well as emotional reunions of long-lost relatives, the show featured “Cillagrams”, in which she again turned up at a location unannounced but this time marking some special occasion with a song. Invited to the run-down port of Holyhead by the local Mayor, she sang Hooray for Holyhead in the main street, the watching crowds swelled by the staff of Woolworths who trooped out to hear her while looters trooped in through the back door and plundered the shop.
Unashamedly working-class, the show was panned by the critics as rubbish, but Cilla was unflinching. “I didn’t choose television. Television chose me,” she said. “I was a bit of fun and a bit of Scouse rough and everybody liked me, I was normal. I could have been the kid next door. And then I turned into the auntie next door. And now I’m the granny next door.”
But accusations of bad taste followed when, at Christmas 1987, the show took her to a hospital at Zeebrugge where victims of the ferry disaster were being treated, and she led medical staff and survivors through the streets of Bruges singing Little Drummer Boy.
“She really is a battler,” noted The Daily Telegraph critic, “and has honed to a fine edge her skills of cajolery, intimacy and self-deprecation .”
Her second television hit, Blind Date, launched in 1985, was a game of flirtatious lucky-dip between the sexes featuring participants separated by a screen who paired off without seeing each other amid laboured, scripted repartee. She had seen the show while touring in Australia, thought it hysterical and urged LWT to make a British version. The programme was compulsive viewing for many, although it came to be criticised for its increasingly explicit sexual innuendo.
The success rate for many of the couples was low, and most viewers tuned in to watch Cilla’s brilliantly scathing put-downs delivered (usually to the men) with robust Scouse grit. Three of the paired-up couples did, however, get as far as the altar after meeting on the show, and Cilla was guest of honour at all three weddings. In January 2003 she announced during a live broadcast that she was leaving Blind Date after 18 years. Paul O’Grady and Dale Winton were both lined up to replace her, but the show was cancelled after she left.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born in Liverpool on May 27 1943, the only daughter of a Mersey docker. Her mother ran a market stall selling stockings and trinkets. The family lived in a four-roomed council flat above a barber’s shop on Scotland Road, the rough and ready “Scottie Road” of Liverpool folklore and an Irish-Catholic stronghold; until she was nine, they had no indoor lavatory and bathed in a tin tub in front of the kitchen stove.
Priscilla Maria Veronica White was born 27 May 1943, Vauxhall, Liverpool, UK and educated at St Anthony’s Catholic secondary modern school nearby, she left at 15 to learn office skills at Anfield Commercial College. Within a year, she had taken a job at £4 a week as a filing clerk at British Insulated Callenders Cables, where she typed and deployed her 80wpm shorthand, supplementing her wages during her lunch hour by checking the coats at the Cavern Club, the up-and-coming music venue in Mathew Street in Liverpool city centre. At night she sang with some of the emergent Merseybeat groups such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and the Big Three.
At the nearby Iron Door club, she also sang with the still-unknown Beatles, courtesy of John Lennon who called her “Cyril”. In early 1962 Lennon introduced her to the Beatles’ new manager, Brian Epstein, who rejected her after she underwent an impromptu audition in the middle of a Beatles show at the Majestic ballroom in Birkenhead; she sang Gershwin’s Summertime but it was not in her key.
Her luck changed when, accompanied by John Rubin’s modern jazz group, she sang a few standards at the Blue Angel club, not knowing that, again, Epstein was in the audience. By now the Beatles were on their way to stardom, and Epstein’s talent stable was expanding. “Why didn’t you sing like that before?” Epstein asked. He was convinced that Cilla would become a huge star. Having changed her name to Cilla Black (the local Mersey Beat newspaper had mistakenly called her by the wrong colour) she made her first proper appearance with the Beatles at the Odeon, Southport, on August 30 1963, watched by Epstein’s father, Harry, who predicted she would be “the next Gracie Fields”.
A week later, over Sunday tea, Cilla and her father signed a contract with Brian Epstein. She was to be his first designer pop star and so was born Cilla black.
Cilla’s first single, Love of the Loved, written by Paul McCartney, charted disappointingly at number 35. But in February 1964 she had her first number one with Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. The American singer Dionne Warwick, who had already released her own recording of the song in the US, was miffed; while her version sounded effortless it was apparent that, as one critic put it, “Cilla was straining her garters”. Cilla Black herself recalled 30 years later: “Dionne was dead choked and she’s never forgiven me to this day.”
Epstein had heard Warwick’s record in the USA and had returned to Britain with a copy which he played to the producer George Martin. He immediately declared it would be perfect for Shirley Bassey. When Epstein insisted he had earmarked it for Cilla, Martin doubted that the Liverpool singer had the vocal ability to pull off such a powerful number. In the event Cilla’s recording sold a million copies.
When in May she followed up with a second No 1, You’re My World, Cilla became the first British female singer to have two successive No 1 hits. She appeared in that year’s Royal Variety Performance, where she met Gracie Fields, who did not take to her. Nor did Noël Coward, watching in the stalls, who thought her “ghastly beyond belief”.
In November 1966 she appeared with the comedian Frankie Howerd in Way Out in Piccadilly (Prince of Wales), the start of a long-standing friendship between them. The following year she signed a £63,000 contract to present her own series, Cilla, on BBC Television. Paul McCartney wrote the signature tune, Step Inside Love, and the critics loved her. “She’s ordinary and unassuming,” noted Philip Purser in The Sunday Telegraph, “and still tickled to death at being plucked out of the typing pool by the great god Pop.”
Cilla Black married her long-time boyfriend and manager, Bobby Willis, in 1969 who later died in 1999.
An appearance on Terry Wogan’s television chat show in 1983 was followed by a similar date with Jimmy Tarbuck on ITV; this was seen by John Birt, then director of programmes for LWT, who was struck by her fresh, unaffected, and “delicious, naturally funny” style. Realising her potential as a game show host, he booked her for Surprise, Surprise. She became a regular guest at Birt’s lunches for fellow celebrity Scousers when, with the likes of Anne Robinson, Roger McGough and Robert Runcie, then Archbishop of Canterbury, she tucked in to chip butties, scouse stew with pickled beetroot and jelly and evaporated milk.
Cilla Black never refused an interview request, the River Room at the Savoy being her venue of choice, and the presence of her beloved husband being a pre-condition a relic of her being invited, by one journalist in the 1960s, to stroke his war wound.
Politically, she swung from supporting Harold Wilson in the 1960s to backing John Major in the 1990s. She was an enthusiastic supporter of Margaret Thatcher . In August 2014, she was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to the Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum.
Cilla Black was named ITV Personality of the Year for Blind Date in 1987 and Variety Club Showbusiness Personality of 1991. She won a Bafta in 1995, but disliked being labelled a television presenter. “I always think of myself as a singer. That’s what I want on my gravestone: Here lies Cilla Black, singer. Not TV presenter.”
Appointed OBE in 1997, the proudest moment of her career, she once declared, was “absolutely rubbing shoulders with and meeting the Royal family”. At her own palatial 10-bedroomed house in Denham, Buckinghamshire, once owned by Sir Malcolm Sargent and bought in 1965 for £40,000, she enjoyed her 17-acre garden and, in keeping with her lifelong frugality, vacuumed it herself every Sunday (the housekeeper’s day off) “in case the Queen drops in”.
She published her memoirs, Step Inside, in 1985. In 1994 she turned down an honorary fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University (formerly Polytechnic) when some of the students complained it would “devalue” their degrees.
In 2014 the actress Sheridan Smith gave a highly acclaimed performance in Cilla, a three-part television drama about Cilla Black’s rise to fame, acted, noted The Daily Telegraph, with a “killer combination of warmth, mischievousness and vulnerability”. Cilla herself described the portrayal as “terrific”, adding, “but God knows how she sang so well with those false teeth in.”
“I didn’t want to be Doris Day,” Cilla Black once reflected, “but I wanted what went with it. She’d talk about her backyard and it was three acres of lawn; our backyard was where we kept the coal. I wanted her backyard, the fame and fortune. If there had been Blind Date then, I would have been first in the queue.”
Date of Birth: 23 April 1928, Santa Monica, California, US
Birth Name: Shirley Temple
Shirley Temple was the screen’s most popular child star of the 1930s, receiving at the age of eight 135,000 birthday gifts from fans the world over.
Throughout the Depression years, her sunny disposition helped audiences forget their woes and a special Oscar was presented to her for “bringing more happiness to millions of children and millions of grown-ups than any other child of her years in the history of the world”. It might have turned many a tiny tot’s head, but Shirley had her mother constantly at her side to ensure she was kept on an even keel.
Gertrude Temple was the architect of Shirley’s career, masterminding every aspect, every contract, what she ate, when she slept. Before each take, she would coach her, ignoring the director, and give her last-minute instructions. “Sparkle, Shirley,” she would say. A shrewd businesswoman, she knew instinctively how to manipulate the studios and their publicity machines to her daughter’s advantage. For good or ill, she turned little Shirley into a phenomenon. Everything she did was news. In October 1936, the world gasped as a bulletin flashed over the Reuter wires: “Shirley Temple has been sent to bed with a slight fever resulting from a cold.”
She was acting in pictures from the age of four and rapidly captivated filmgoers with her blond ringlets and dimpled charm. Dolls, books and games were named after her in a merchandising campaign matched only by Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Yet her talent was modest. She sang off-key and cynics dismissed her dancing as “mere jigging up and down”. She liked to do impersonations but her acting was generally regarded as cute rather than compelling.
She had the child star’s built-in self-destruct mechanism what had seemed peachy in a moppet became arch in adolescence. Attempts to extend her career into young womanhood were unsuccessful and she made her last film in 1949 washed up in Hollywood at 21.
Yet that was not the end of the Shirley Temple story. Against all sceptics’ expectations, the little girl who had never had a normal childhood matured into a distinguished politician and diplomat. She stood (unsuccessfully) for Congress before representing America at the United Nations and serving as US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia under her married name of Shirley Temple Black.
She was born on April 23 1928 in Santa Monica, California, the daughter of a bank teller. Like many a proud mother, Gertrude Temple enrolled her child in dancing classes at the age of three and promoted her vigorously. A talent scout from Educational Pictures, a small company specialising in shorts, spotted Shirley and invited her for a screen test, which led to her appearance in 1932-33 in a string of film spoofs known as Baby Burlesks. Among them were The Incomparable More Legs Sweetrick (as Marlene Dietrich), The Pie-Covered Wagon and Polly-Tix in Washington.
She alternated these performances with small parts in now forgotten feature movies such as The Red-Haired Alibi (1932) and To the Last Man (1933), opposite Randolph Scott. While filming a second series of shorts for Educational under the title Frolics of Youth, she and her mother were approached by the much bigger Fox Film Corporation (later Twentieth Century-Fox) with a view to Shirley featuring in the film Stand Up and Cheer (1934). She passed the audition and was signed up for $150 a week. When the film opened, she stole the show with the song and dance routine Baby Take a Bow.
Recognising her star potential, Fox swung its publicity department into action. But it did not have her under exclusive contract. Earlier in the year, the astute Mrs Temple had forged a two-picture deal with Paramount and it was that studio that initially reaped the benefit of her sudden fame. It rushed her into two pictures in 1934 to fulfil the contract Little Miss Marker, based on a Damon Runyan story, and Now and Forever, in which she was the go-between who reunites an estranged couple played by Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard.
On the strength of these pictures, Shirley’s Fox contract was renegotiated to $1,250 a week. She was cast in Bright Eyes, where she sang one of the songs indelibly associated with her, On the Good Ship Lollipop, and from then on vehicles were written especially for her. By the end of 1934, aged six, she was the eighth biggest draw in America.
A year later, she was number one and held that position four years in a row, attracting more fan mail than Greta Garbo and being photographed more often than the President himself. “I class myself with Rin Tin Tin,” she volunteered brightly.
She churned out pictures at a tremendous lick sometimes five a year through the late-1930s and the public clamoured for more. Features included, in 1935, The Little Colonel, Curly Top, a remake of Daddy Long Legs, and The Littlest Rebel, in which she told Abraham Lincoln that he was almost nice enough to be a Confederate. The 1936 clutch had Captain January, Dimples and Poor Little Rich Girl, while in 1937, the title role in an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Wee Willie Winkie was changed from boy to girl especially to accommodate her.
Her work in this film led to a notorious libel suit involving the future novelist Graham Greene, then employed as a film critic by the magazine Night and Day. At a cocktail party, after what he later described as “a dangerous third Martini” Greene dreamt up the idea of deflating the Temple balloon, but he peppered his review of her performance in Wee Willie Winkie with such litigious terms as “bilious coquetry”, “dimpled depravity” and “mature suggestiveness”.
Shirley and Twentieth Century-Fox sued. In court in March, 1938, Sir Patrick Hastings, counsel for the plaintiffs, was too mortified to bring himself to utter Greene’s words. “In my view”, he said, “it is one of the most horrible libels that one can imagine about a child. I shall not read it is better I should not but a glance at the statement of claim ... is sufficient to show the nature of the libel. This beastly publication appeared but it is right to say that every respectable news distributor in London refused to be party to its sale.”
The plaintiffs won; $5,250 punitive damages were awarded to Fox, $7,000 to the actress and Night and Day folded. But as a postscript to the episode, the mature Shirley Temple bore the novelist no grudge. In 1989, she sent him an inscribed copy of her autobiography, Child Star, and invited him to tea.
The year 1938 marked the high-water mark of her popularity. She appeared in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (without ringlets for the first time), in Little Miss Broadway and Just around the Corner at a fee of $100,000 a picture, which made her Hollywood’s highest-paid earner after Louis B Mayer. By 1939 he fee had jumped to $300,000, but public taste was changing. Susannah and the Mounties was disappointing and The Blue Bird was, by common consent, a “turkey”.
MGM had wanted to borrow her for The Wizard of Oz, but Fox refused, casting her instead in what it hoped would be a rival children’s attraction . But Maeterlinck’s arty symbolism in The Blue Bird found no favour with the public. It opened in selected cinemas a few days before Christmas 1939, but proved such a dud that it had to be withdrawn after only a few days and replaced by a Sonja Henie ice-skating musical. When generally released in 1940, The Blue Bird met with no warmer response, becoming Shirley’s first unmitigated flop.
Gertrude Temple blamed Fox and offered to buy out the remainder of Shirley’s contract. Fox raised no objections and, at the age of 11, she took a “sabbatical” from the cinema, ostensibly to repair gaps in her patchy education. Though her vocabulary was officially said to be 750 words, “all of which she can write”, she had trouble with numbers over 50. According to her teacher, she still thought 47 cents was more than 55 cents.
In fact, Shirley’s absence from the screen was an opportunity for her mother to negotiate a fresh contract with another studio. She picked MGM, but it was not a happy choice. The studio was grooming its own child prodigy in Judy Garland and found only one vehicle for Shirley, the lacklustre Kathleen (1941). Roger Edens, who was Garland’s coach, let it be known that Shirley would have to put in a lot of singing and dancing practice if she hoped to be worthy of the studio. Mrs Temple took umbrage and took off.
After a remake of a Mary Pickford picture, Miss Annie Rooney (1942) at United Artists, Shirley gravitated to David O Selznick, who signed her to a seven-year contract, but as a teenager she could no longer command lead roles. Selznick cast her only in supporting parts in Since You Went Away (1944) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1945). In that year, aged 17, she also completed her interrupted education by graduating from Westlake High School for Girls in Los Angeles. She then published her first autobiography, My Young Life, and was married to army sergeant-turned actor John Agar.
The last four years of her screen career were an anticlimax. Her infant precocity gave way to mere pertness (of which there is no shortage in Hollywood) in such films as The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer (1947), That Hagen Girl (1947), with Ronald Reagan, and A Kiss for Corliss (1949), her screen swansong, opposite David Niven. This period also included the first film in John Ford’s cavalry trilogy, Fort Apache (1948), in which she co-starred, aged 20, with her husband.
When the marriage failed, she was married again (in 1950) to a wealthy San Francisco businessman, Charles Black. She largely retired from acting to concentrate on social work, though from 1957 to 1959 she narrated and appeared in a television series entitled Shirley Temple’s Storybook. This was followed in 1960 by Shirley Temple Presents Young America, a programme about the problems of high-school dropouts.
From 1960 she played a leading role in developing the San Francisco film festival, resigning in 1966 only over the decision to screen the Swedish film Night Games, which she denounced as “pornography for profit”. In 1967 she ran for Congress to fill a dead man’s shoes (Republican J Arthur Younger). Though her recording of On the Good Ship Lollipop was used as a theme song at rallies, she insisted that “Little Shirley Temple is not running. If someone insists on pinning me with a label, let it read Shirley Temple Black, Republican independent.” But in the era of Lyndon Johnson, her conservative stance on taxes, law and order and drug addiction lost her the seat.
After her election defeat, she continued to work for the Republican party, raising funds and urging Americans overseas to back Richard Nixon in the forthcoming presidential campaign. When elected, Nixon named her one of the five-member American delegation to the 24th session of the United Nations General Assembly. In this capacity she served in 1969 on the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee. Her subsequent diplomatic career included US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76), sparking a trend for Ghanaian children to be named Shirley (including boys), and to the former Czechoslovakia, to which she was appointed by President Bush in 1989.