Cilla: The Lost Tapes, Wednesday 19th February, 9pm, ITV
Cilla: The Lost Tapes. That’s quite a portentous title. It makes them sound dramatic, even earth-shattering. We’ve had the JFK Tapes, the Nixon White House Tapes, the Diana Tapes. Now, in another geopolitical cataclysm, the Cilla Tapes are set to reveal a secret plot to overthrow the British government and install Brucie as Home Secretary, Tarby as Foreign Secretary, and Cilla as PM.
Except, unfortunately, the truth is a little more prosaic. In 2017, when Cilla Black’s family home was sold, a box was discovered in the attic. In it was a veritable treasure trove of home video and recordings of Cilla talking to her autobiography ghost writer about her life.
This documentary, narrated by Sheridan Smith (who portrayed Cilla brilliantly in the biopic series) intercuts the old home videos with archive footage of Cilla’s numerous TV appearances. Meanwhile, Cilla’s own recorded recollections mingle with those of friends, who reminisce fondly about the woman who was something of a showbiz trailblazer.
Among those watching the tapes and getting all misty-eyed and wistful (and why shouldn’t they?) are Sir Cliff Richard, Paul O’Grady, Jimmy Tarbuck, Holly Willoughby and Gerry Marsden. Oh, and of course Biggins. I think it is now technically illegal to make a programme about someone in showbiz without hearing the thoughts of Biggins. Good thing too, I say. I interviewed him once, for Saga, and his outfit was actually less entertaining than his personality, which doesn’t sound like much until you realise he was dressed as a panto dame with about 600 glittery pompoms dangling off him.
There is footage of Cilla on a skiing holiday in 1969 with George Martin. Paul O’Grady splutters with astonishment. “She always told me she could ski. I never believed her!” If you were one of the biggest showbiz stars of the 20th Century, it’d be a bit of an odd thing to lie about, but there you go. Actually, there’s quite a lot of footage of Cilla in the snow. As one clip shows, in 1974 she went to Scandinavia with Ringo Starr and Basil Brush. That’s not a sentence you expect to write every day.
In amongst all the footage of Cilla carousing with showbiz chums, though, there are recordings of her singing: With Gerry and the Pacemakers in an early stage appearance in 1963, singing Fever; an early TV appearance, singing Anyone Who Had a Heart; recording Alfie with Burt Bacharach at Abbey Road. And each one is a little reminder of her astonishing talent. She might have just been a little, red-haired coat-check girl from the Cavern Club in Liverpool, but boy, could she sing!
The footage also tells the story of Cilla the wife and mother, who liked a quiet life behind closed doors. She had one great love in her life, her husband Bobby. The audio recordings include her revealing that she gate-crashed her husband-to-be’s stag do, because she wanted to go to the world-famous Mirabelle restaurant in Mayfair. I managed to avoid a similar eventuality by holding my stag do in a pub where your shoes stuck to the carpet and the kitchen served, um, Monster Munch.
It’s all here. The stellar music career, the segue into television, with the massive hits The Cilla Show, Surprise, Surprise, and Blind Date. The touring, the travel, the holidays, the love, the family, right through to the death of her beloved Bobby, and her new life as a widow, where she finally embraced life on her own, and made the most of it. This, it turns out, involved learning how to travel by bus, book her own taxis, go to a pub, and use an ATM machine; all things she had never done before!
In truth, the home movie footage doesn’t form a vast proportion of this film. This is borne out by the fact that 18 different organisations are credited with providing archive footage. But it doesn’t really matter. This is a marvellous celebration of an absolutely iconic showbiz figure who stayed at the top of her profession for 50 years, and who gave us all that voice, those songs, and a lorra, lorra laffs
Bumps, Friday 21st February, 9:30pm, BBC One
I can’t wait to be a grandparent. I mean, I can, in the sense that my kids are 11 and 8, and I don’t want my daughter to come home to me in eight years’ time and say “Dad, great news, I got a B in my GCSE History mock, and I’m having a baby in June.” What I mean is, it must be brilliant. You get all the good bits of parenting (the cuddles, the hilarity, the unconditional love) and none of the bad bits (the nappies, the broken sleep, the nappies, the nappies, oh dear God, the nappies). So yes, I look forward to the day, a suitable distance in the future, when the blessed child arrives.
As such, I can sympathise with Anita (Amanda Redman), the lead character in this new sitcom pilot. She is desperate for grandkids, but none seem likely to appear anytime soon. Her son Aiden (Seb Cardinal) and his boyfriend have absolutely no interest in adopting. And her daughter Joanne (Lisa McGrillis) seems to be exhibiting a marked reluctance to grow up. She is 37, in a casual relationship with the ineffectual and cowardly Clay (Rhys Thomas), and is more interested in downing pints of lager and drunkenly trying to ride unicycles than in embracing maturity.
Anita, it seems, is a little bored with her cosy suburban life in Frinton-on-Sea. I went on holiday to Frinton-on-Sea when I was a kid. It was a town without a single pub. They were banned. No wonder she’s bored. Anyway, she finds herself doing a quiz on her phone one day (I told you she was bored) and one of the answers reveals to her that the oldest woman ever to have a baby was 74. 74!!!! That could mean I have a 6-year-old sibling somewhere! (Well, if you took the fact that my mother had a hysterectomy 35 years ago out of the equation…)
Anyway, this gets Anita thinking. She’s 62… what if she just took a little trip over to the continent and had a nice romantic evening out with a turkey baster.
Um… what? I understand that you want a baby, but steady on! The nappies, the broken sleep, the nappies, PLEASE CAN WE STOP TALKING ABOUT THE NAPPIES!! And besides, Frinton got its first pub in 2000, so there really is no need for such drastic action.
Anyway, this is all frightfully good fun. Redman is great in the lead role, and McGrillis, who played loveable dimwit Kelly in Mum, turns in another outstanding comic performance. The script is written by Thomas, and by Lucy Montgomery, who plays the barmaid in the local watering hole. The story is enjoyably daft, and there are some wonderful lines in there. When Anita mentions to her sister that a 74-year-old woman had given birth, her sister replies archly: “I saw it on Loose Women. I thought it was disgusting. So did the Nolan sister.” I also liked the line “I knew you were clever by your Duchy Marmalade.” But maybe that’s because we eat Duchy Marmalade.
This is just a pilot. Actually, it’s a pilot with a pilot, as one of the characters flies airliners for a living. But with any luck, we’ll be seeing a good deal more of it on our screens in the future, because this is an original idea beautifully executed by a top-notch cast.
The best… and the rest
Sunday 16th February
Inside Extinction Rebellion: Martyrs or Maniacs?, 9pm, Channel 5: To some, they are crusaders fighting for the future of the planet. To others, they are slightly irksome crusties with bongos causing traffic jams. And to others still, they are dangerous extremists who pose a security threat. This one-off documentary looks for the truth behind the labels.
Monday 17th February
Live: The Labour Leadership Debate, 8pm, Channel 4: Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy slug it out for the opportunity to shout at Boris Johnson a couple of times a week.
Amazon: What They Know About Us, 8:30pm, BBC One: I’d assumed this was a rather lovely documentary about how much the indigenous people of the Amazon know about life in the UK. Nope. It’s about how much of our data the company Amazon has harvested. I prefer my idea.
Confronting Holocaust Denial with David Baddiel, 9pm, BBC Two: For some inexplicable reason, there is still a significant proportion of people who believe that the Holocaust never happened, or has been greatly exaggerated. Jewish comedian and author David Baddiel looks for the truth behind this disturbing phenomenon, involving conversations with some deeply unpleasant individuals.
Prison, 9pm, Channel 4: Paddy Wivell’s excellent, occasionally horrifying series from Durham Prison returns, this time bringing us the reality of life in a women’s prison, HMP Foston Hall in Derbyshire.
This Country, 10:35pm, BBC One: Third series of this consistently brilliant spoof-documentary following the lives of two disaffected youths living in poverty in the Cotswolds.
Tuesday 18th February
How to Stay Out Of Jail, 10pm, Channel 4: Presumably, the answer isn’t as simple as “Don’t commit any crimes,” as that would be a tough one to stretch out across an hour. Actually, this is a look at a new scheme being employed in County Durham, where convicted criminals can avoid jail time by pledging not to reoffend.
Thursday 20th February
First Dates, 10pm, Channel 4: Return of the show that eavesdrops on blind dates taking place in a London restaurant. It is generally hilarious, frequently excruciating, and occasionally heart-meltingly romantic.
Friday 21st February
Gogglebox, 9pm, Channel 4: Series 15 of the show that watches people watching telly. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a good deal better than it sounds.
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