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Surprise! Surprise! Cilla can do comedy!

Author: ShadeGrenade from Ambrosia
28 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Back in the early '70's, it was not unusual ( as Tom Jones might say ) for pop singers ( even those who hadn't been in the charts in years ) to grace our television screens on B.B.C.-1 on Saturday nights. There was Cliff Richard ( with The Shadows, Olivia Newton-John, and Una Stubbs ), Lulu, Clodagh Rodgers, and, of course, our Cilla ( Steve Coogan did a splendid spoof of these shows called 'The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon' ), all warbling in front of massive, glittering sets while tight trousered-dancers leaped around and dear old Bert Postlethwaite worked hard to get the lighting correct.

I liked her in these shows, mainly because she came across as pleasant and down-to-earth ( this was before the horrors of 'Blind Date' and 'Surprise! Surprise!' were inflicted on us ). Amidst the music, there was a vox pop slot in which she chatted to people ( mainly elderly ) in the street. Some of their answers were hilarious, like the old lady who when showed a picture of David Bowie thought him to be a woman.

After her show ended, Cilla crossed over to I.T.V. to do an anthology sitcom called simply 'Cilla's Comedy Six'. Executive produced by her husband - the late Bobby Willis - it cast her a different character each week, a bit like 'Seven Of One' only with Cilla replacing Ronnie Barker. The six episodes were penned by the late Ronnie Taylor, future creator of 'A Sharp Intake Of Breath', starring David Jason. Guest stars included Keith Barron, Henry McGee, Maggie Jones ( 'Blanche' from 'Coronation Street' ), Helen Fraser, Norman Rossington, Dudley Sutton, and Dinsdale Landen. To be fair to Cilla, she did as well as she could, despite her acting range being limited ( not unlike Paul Merton when he appeared in a Galton & Simpson series in the mid-'90's ). This was not her first shot at acting - she had appeared in the 1966 movie 'Work Is A Four-Letter Word', starring David Warner and directed by Sir Peter Hall.

The episode I recall the most is 'Every Husband Has One!' in which she plays 'Doris Livesey', a housewife whose home is invaded by a creepy consumer-research organisation representative called 'Russell Stanhope' ( McGee ). She has been selected from a list of thousands of women deemed to be 'average'. Forever carrying a clipboard and asking silly questions, Stanhope's presence is bitterly resented not only by Doris but also her husband Jack ( Tony Selby, of 'Get Some In!' ). Finally, fed up of his 'guest's' continual interference in their everyday lives, Jack purposefully gets Doris in the family way so she no longer qualifies as 'average'.

If Cilla had hoped to land a series based on one or more of these shows, she was to be disappointed. She did, however, do a follow-up called 'Cilla's World Of Comedy' the following year. It was crushed in the ratings by 'George & Mildred'. Cilla's ambitions to become the new Lucille Ball came to nothing. After a long absence from television, she bounced back in the early '80's with a dazzling appearance on 'Wogan', and this resulted in her being offered the afore-mentioned L.W.T. monstrosities. Both 'Cilla' shows still exist in the archive. Review over. Ta-ra!

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