Set in the Swinging Sixties, when the Beatles had just been signed, ITV’s Cilla follows another of Liverpool’s homegrown stars who hit the big time: Cilla Black. Over the past few weeks we’ve seen Sheridan Smith don her false teeth and belt out Cilla classics, from Anyone Who Had a Heart to rock ’n’ roll versions of A Shot of Rhythm and Blues, Boys and Somebody’s Always Trying – all in the famous Cavern Club.
“It’s an honest and accurate portrayal,” says Cilla producer Kwadjo Dajan, who mostly shot the scenes in Liverpool. However, the city has undergone huge redevelopments in recent years, which made it tricky for the production team, and many of the original sites like Scotland Road, where Cilla and her family lived above a barbershop, and Woolworths, where Cilla’s love interest Bobby worked as a baker, have closed.
Yet, with a little computer special effects wizardry, and a lot of creativity, Dajan was able to transport us back 50 years to the land of pencil skirts, quiffs and knee-high boots. Here he reveals five places to relive the rock ’n’ roll spirit of the show…
The Cavern Club
“The Cavern you see on screen was certainly inspired by the real Cavern Club,” says Dajan. “The Club is still there, on Mathew Street in Liverpool, but it’s not how it was in the early 60s. “The closest match to the original Cavern Club can be found at the museum The Beatles Story, at the Albert Docks. This is dedicated to the Beatles, and they have a re-creation of the Cavern, as well as a re-creation of NEMS record store, where visitors can listen to tracks. “The original Cavern was really, really small in terms of headroom; we found some space at Liverpool film studios and re-created our own version of the historic venue.”
“This subterranean club in West Derby in Liverpool was actually the home of Pete Best, the Beatles’ original drummer,” says Dajan. “His mother turned the basement of their five-bedroom house into a nightclub – and it still exists now, complete with the original paintwork, which was done by John Lennon, tour Paul McCartney and George Harrison. It’s an absolutely tiny space – how the Beatles and Cilla managed to perform there, I’ll never know. These days you would probably be allowed to fit about 50 people in there, but back in the 60s they regularly had 600 people crammed into this basement, and another 300 people outside trying to get in. We didn’t film the series here, but it’s certainly a piece of Cilla’s history.”
“Tours go to Abbey Road Studios all the time,” says Dajan. It’s no surprise, when music legends from Mick Jagger and Oasis to Michael Jackson and Kate Bush have recorded within its walls. “We went there with Sheridan Smith and all our musicians to record tracks. And each day there would always be crowds of people outside trying to re-create the famous Beatles-crossing- the-road cover shot [from the album Abbey Road, below]. It’s a fantastic location to visit.”
Magical Mystery Tour
“This bus tour in Liverpool,” says Dajan, “is probably the best thing you can do to see all the city’s famous musical sights. They take you to the home where John Lennon grew up, to the original Cavern Club, Paul McCartney’s home and more. Obviously, our story is about Cilla, but there’s a crossover with Beatles locations throughout the city.”
Cunard Building, Water Street
“We didn’t actually go out to New York to film,” reveals Dajan about filming Cilla as the star attempts to make it in America. “We filmed these scenes around the Cunard Building, which is on Water Street in Liverpool. “There are a lot of buildings and sights that resemble New York here – the architects’ brief when designing the buildings in the area was to base them on high-rise buildings in Chicago, and most of our New York scenes were filmed around that area, which worked brilliantly. There’s a sequence in the programme where Cilla performs on The Ed Sullivan Show, and to film that, Sheridan performed not far away at the Adelphi Hotel.”