Cilla, the final episode of which aired this evening, has been ITV's most successful drama since Broadchurch. It's not a crime show, but I've really enjoyed it, not least because it's offered a wonderful recreation of the Merseybeat era, which formed the backdrop for my personal favourite of the Harry Devlin novels, Yesterday's Papers. A framed cover of the book still hangs, I'm told, in the Cavern Club, and the original Cavern was where Cilla Black made her name in the Sixties.
The success of the show, scripted by Jeff Pope, owes a huge amount to Sheridan Smith's performance as Cilla. She's such a warm, entrancing actor, and her singing is fantastic. At the end of episode two, her performance of Cilla's first number one hit, Anyone Who Had a Heart, was stunningly good. So good, n fact, that it seems to have propelled Cilla's original version (itself a cover of Dionne Warwick's version, written and produced by Bacharach and David) back into the Top 40 after so many years.
The story is a simple one - a Liverpool girl with a powerful voice overcomes obstacles to find fame and fortune - but edge was added in this episode by the focus on her manager, Brian Epstein, whose life spirals out of control as he struggles to combine looking after Cilla and the Beatles with a sequence of personal disasters. Tom Stoppard's son Ed was very good as Epstein.
I loved the recreation of Cilla's famous recording of Alfie, with Burt Bacharach demanding take after take in his quest for the perfection he took for granted with Dionne .As the Youtube version of the original session at Abbey Road shows, it was quite an occasion. Cilla was certainly lucky to have the chance to record two of the finest pop ballads ever written, but she made the most of her good fortune.
At the end of episode three, I was left marvelling at the range and ability of Sheridan Smith. I'm often asked which actor I'd like to play Hannah Scarlett, in the (perhaps unlikely) event that the Lake District Mysteries ever make it to the small screen. After watching Cilla, I'd certainly say that Sheridan Smith would have a place on my list of ideal candidates. To quote from another great song, I can dream, can't I?.