I booked my day trip to Liverpool several weeks ago, when rail tickets were going cheap, so turning up on the day of Cilla Black's funeral was quite a coincidence. Not just the chance to pay my respects as the cortège passed by, but also the possibility of seeing Cliff, Tarby and Biggins, a heady celebrity brew. But the procession was going nowhere near a station, and I had other things to shoehorn into my ten hours, so I thought I'd likely give the event a miss. Except...
The tall blonde looked like being a handful when she boarded the train at Euston, making a show of settling down and laying out her belongings on the table. Officially she was only entitled to a quarter of it, but she positioned her pieces with aplomb - the laptop swivelled into the space of the man next to her, the notebook into the shadow behind, the coffee into the gap by the aisle, the bottle of water plonked in the outfield - like a master chess player on the attack. Then from her bag she retrieved a sheaf of papers, with Cilla's funeral order of service on top, then various other printouts from the internet. Chomping down on a Pret sandwich she started to read Cilla's Wikipedia article, dutifully underlining certain key passages. Then she started on the newpspaper obituaries, but underlined nothing this time, presumably because most of these were based on the same Wikipedia foundations. Journalist, I thought.
Eventually she reached for her notebook, once she'd remembered where she'd stashed it, and started transcribing various key phrases for later use. Among the scribble was the email address of a certain Julie at itv.com, which you should know I wasn't trying to read, but this is precisely what happens when someone pushes their belongings into the nether reaches of a rail carriage table. Eventually everything came together as she started to type purposefully into her keyboard, possibly completing an article you read online yesterday, or maybe a script you heard on the television. If so, be alerted that it was written hours before the funeral even took place.
Somewhere around Nuneaton her cameraman rang up. He was already in town, and had a couple of items of bad news to relate. Firstly there was nobody outside the church yet, which I thought wasn't surprising because it was still before nine, and the service wasn't until one. Secondly the family had banished the media from the church grounds, leaving a space for photographers far enough back that they wouldn't be able to see much, but this was still the best place to be so they'd need to arrive early. But there were still voxpops to be done, because modern TV news cannot function without, so the two of them would need to head first to Woolton Road and interview any earlybirds they could find, then rush along to St Mary's to stake out their sub-prime spot. It didn't sound like the day would be brimming with job satisfaction.
In Liverpool city centre, around ten o'clock in the morning, Mathew Street was being hosed down in readiness for the day's revelries. A small collection of floral tributes had been laid on the cobbles in front of the Cavern Club, where Priscilla was once a cloakroom attendant, and somebody had stuck the front page of the Liverpool Echo to a pillar. 'Our Cilla' said a homemade poster in bright pink letters, sellotaped by the door, below a scrappy 1980s photo with a certain Diana-esque touch. Two white haired ladies stopped in the street to examine the haul, while a few of us earlybirds with mobile phones stood back to await a clear shot of the scene. Rather more flowers were laid out up the road by the Cavern Pub, a space with no Merseybeat connection having been opened in 1994, but then this is a street which also boasts a Lennons Bar and a Fab 4 Pizzeria.
I spent the rest of the day avoiding Woolton, instead dashing across town from the Albert Dock to Toxteth, and from West Derby to Birkenhead. The city seemed to be powering ahead as usual, and not especially mournful, although I did notice that the flags on the Pier Head by the Liver Building were all at half mast, which was a nice respectful touch.
And here I stumbled upon a TV news crew set up by the dockside, their three vans arranged into an L-shape to shield goings on from either the wind or the public. I was excited to see that this was indeed ITN, with one of their trademark blonde anchors carefully positioned with the Liver Building behind her, ready to feed live into the six-thirty news. When the time came she delivered a mere ten seconds to camera before a pre-recorded film cut in, with eventually some more general spiel to follow. The palaver that goes into giving you the viewer something to watch is immense... as Cilla the professional presenter would undoubtedly have known.
And there in the front of one of the vans I spotted the woman from the train, I think, stuffing her face with another sandwich while the key broadcast went out. But as for what the report said, or how the funeral service played out, alas I missed everything Cilla-related on the TV yesterday because I was in the city where it was happening.