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EDITIONS
 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 10:35 GMT
Cilla in the spotlight
Cilla Black
Cilla has hosted Blind Date for 18 years
Cilla Black has announced she is to quit as presenter of Blind Date after nearly two decades. BBC News Online looks at her enduring career and what the future could hold for her.

Cilla Black has been the doyenne of Saturday night television for 18 years as host of Blind Date and Surprise Surprise.

But her career has spanned more than 40 years, crossing genres as she went.

Brought up in a Liverpool that was recovering from the war, Priscilla White, as she was born, knew she wanted to be more than a office worker from a young age.

And she certainly broke out of her working class roots, becoming one of television's biggest stars. Her name synonymous with the dating game show Blind Date.

Cilla on Blind Date
"What's yer name and where do yer come from?"
Since 1985, Blind Date has more-or-less stuck to its original format of a man or woman picking from three strangers of the opposite sex to go on a date - hopefully to some exotic location.

Cheesy chat-up lines, no-holds barred slanging matches, Cilla's "lorra lorra laughs" and the rare event of a Blind Date wedding have kept viewers hooked.

Black secured her place as the UK's highest paid female presenters as the face of Saturday night ITV, with an OBE to boot.

Cavern Club

On her word, ITV moved its flagship football show, The Premiership, to a later slot to make way for the return of Blind Date.

It is a far cry from when "our Cilla" was a teenager hanging up coats at Liverpool's Cavern Club in the 1960s. Her mother ran a market stall in the city.

With a determination, and the obligatory gift of the gab, Cilla White never missed an opportunity to get up on stage.

She was not a natural singer, but she was good enough for the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, who welcomed her into his stable as his only female vocalist.

It was he who changed her name to Black, it is said, to appeal to Jewish impresarios, although other stories suggest it was a typing error in a local newspaper which led to the change.

Alfie

With the help of an endearing personality, George Martin's musical production and Epstein's canny management, Cilla Black was soon riding high in the charts with cover versions of songs such as Anyone who had a Heart and You've Lost that Loving Feeling.

Cilla singing in the 1960s
Cilla Black recorded songs written by Lennon and McCartney
In 1964, an initial seven-week booking for Black at the London Palladium lasted for seven months.

Two years later, she recorded what the initially doubtful Martin termed "the definitive version of Alfie", and the following year had another hit with Paul McCartney's Step Inside Love.

Epstein's final deal for his songbird, before his death in 1967, was for her own BBC variety show, titled Cilla.

Her management needs were assumed by fellow Liverpudlian Bobby Willis, whom she married in 1969.

The couple remained inseparable until his death from cancer in 1999.

Willis wrote seven of her B-sides and became what Black called her "talisman and security blanket".

He attended to every aspect of her career leaving his wife to check only "that her eyelashes were the right way up".

Bobby Willis guided Cilla from 1970s variety show hostess to her current position of star of Saturday evening light entertainment.

Her good humour and empathy with her audience brought huge ratings for Surprise Surprise as well as Blind Date.

'Losing touch'

Her down-to-earth manner in front of the camera has been accompanied by a resolute reclusiveness away from the television studio.

In the 1970s, the couple splashed out on a 17-actre mansion in the Buckinghamshire village of Denham.

Her former chauffeur, Albin Bakon, let on that he was only allowed to address her as Mrs Willis, even when not in public.

Fellow Liverpudlian Ricky Tomlinson, of Royle Family fame, attacked her for losing touch with her roots.

"I don't think it's enough to pay lip service," he said.

Cilla with husband Bobby
With husband Bobby, inseparable until his death
But, refreshingly for such a long-serving member of the showbiz sorority, Cilla Black's private life has been free of scandal, and her visible grief at the loss of her husband moved many.

Since his death she has surrounded herself with friends including Dale Winton.

In 2001, she shed her inhibitions and donned an illuminated bra and knickers outfit for a raunchy rendition of Got to Have a Gimmick from the musical Gypsy, for the Royal Variety Performance, alongside Barbara Windsor.

Cilla Black's announcement that she is quitting Blind Date leaves many avenues open for her, as she prepares to turn 60 in May.

She has already set her heart on a pop comeback, with plans to team up with boy band Blue.

Her announcement will put television companies on alert that one of TV's biggest and most enduring talents is now available.

See also:

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