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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Cilla's Blind Date success story

By Helen Bushby
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Big Brother's Alex Sibley, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Cilla Black
Last year's Christmas Blind Date featured Alex Sibley and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson
Cilla Black's decision to bow out from presenting Blind Date was a momentous one.

She has been part of the furniture on Saturday night TV for the last 18 years.

Little did she know that when she took the job of presenting the programme - spawned by Australian dating show Perfect Match - that she would secure her status as national icon.

The show's format is simple - a contestant picks a date from three hopefuls hidden behind a screen by asking them questions, with the resulting couple being whisked away on holiday to see if they hit it off.

This is obviously not a foolproof way to find a suitable partner, and the often ensuing conflict - refereed by Black - made for compulsive viewing when the show was at its peak.

Cilla Black
Black is famed for her one-liners
When Blind Date was still new to our TV screens it was able to command 17 million viewers, although in recent years this has slumped and it now gets just over three million.

But this does not appear to have dented Black's reputation.

Although her fame was initially built on her chart-topping singing, it is her TV work that has given her such a wide fanbase.

Having successfully presented ITV prime-time series Surprise Surprise, the Scouse entertainer took on Blind Date in 1985.

It proved to be a perfect outlet for one of her best assets - her wit.

Cilla Black
Her career began in the 60s as a singer
"My boss said 'Who's the most sexless and inoffensive person on telly?'" she said in a Sunday Times interview. "Then he thought of me".

Steering away from innuendo, Black provided a mix of motherly concern, gossip and one-liners, often taking sides if one half of the "couple" behaved obnoxiously.

Her put-downs were legendary, as were her catchphrases, which played on her Liverpudlian background.

"We'll have a lorra lorra laughs" is probably the one she is most famous for.

Michael Parkinson and Cilla Black
She is an established all-round performer and has appeared on Parkinson
The show became a hit across the board - this was no doubt due in part to the fact that it featured everyone from students to pensioners.

People from all walks of life were invited to perch on the set's silver stools after being introduced by "our Graham", as Black liked to call the show's announcer.

With her sparkly suits and bright red helmet of hair, Black was instantly recognisable and no doubt provided a refreshing change from other, more sedate presenters of a similar age.

Another secret of the show's success was that it often teamed up some unlikely couples who would patently end up hating each other.

Marriages

Viewers would have to tune in the following week to see how they got on, which of course meant that it made for compulsive viewing at its peak.

It was like virtual gossiping over the garden fence, with Black there to stop the couples getting too bitchy and inject humour where it was needed.

And, of course, occasionally people did get on - the series has managed three marriages - one every six years on average.

But all formats tire, and it is to Black's credit that she managed to helm the show for so long.

'I was miserable'

As time went by the show began to lose viewers, possibly because its choice of contestants became less interesting.

But Black remained as influential as ever.

She was responsible for ITV shifting its football programme, The Premiership, to make way for a new series of Blind Date in a prime-time slot.

However Black, who has just turned 60, said in recent interviews that she decided she wanted to bow out because it was too tiring and stressful, and she was not keen on its new "ditch or date" format.

"My life was planned around studio dates," she told The Mirror.

Cilla Black and Bobby Willis
The death of Black's husband Bobby Willis in 1999 hit her hard
"No one realises how much work is involved to sustain a show like that. I was miserable, it's as simple as that."

The death of her husband, Bobby Willis, in 1999 also had a huge effect on her, and when she thought of leaving the show she consulted a psychic.

The psychic is reported to have told her: "You are frightened and excited. Bobby says that is OK - you are doing the right thing."

But it is unlikely she will go quietly.

With her stack of awards, including best presenter award from the Royal Television Society, a Bafta, two lifetime achievement awards and an OBE, she is still hot property.

She has also spoken of reviving her singing career, and no doubt still has an army of music fans as well.

Her successor on Blind Date has a tough act to follow.




SEE ALSO:
Cilla set for final Blind Date
30 May 03  |  Entertainment
Cilla in the spotlight
06 Jan 03  |  Entertainment
Cilla plans pop comeback
02 Oct 02  |  Entertainment
Blind Date denies 'Idol revamp'
23 Apr 02  |  Entertainment
Blind Date makes strong return
12 Nov 01  |  Entertainment
Blind Date contestant's proposal
29 Dec 01  |  Entertainment


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