Blind Date (Photo: Rex Features)
Blind Date (Photo: Rex Features)


Blind Date is back, but can it work without Cilla?

Under the helm of Paul O'Grady, the iconic 80s show is back on our screens this Saturday. Lucy Dunn asks whether it is right to bring an old favourite back without the woman so vital to its success

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By Lucy Dunn on

Oh, they sure don’t make Saturday telly like they used to. There were some clangers, of course (does anyone remember 3-2-1?), but there were also some real pearls and Blind Date was very much top of my list. The late Cilla Black and her sidekick, “our Graham”, were national treasures, icons of the 1980s small screen. The show ran for an incredible 18 years, pulled in a whopping 18.2 million viewers per episode and played Cupid to hundreds and hundreds of singles. Cilla even got to “wear a hat” to three weddings. Twenty-eight years later, Alex and Sue Tatham, the first couple to get married, are still together.

For nearly two decades, Blind Date gave Britain, as Cilla would say, a lorra-lorra laughs – and now, this weekend, it's back, this time with the late presenter’s old friend, Paul O'Grady, at the helm. In an interview this week, O'Grady admitted he'd found filming the new series hard, telling the Radio Times that he initially felt he "shouldn't be doing it". "I thought, 'This isn't right – it's so synonymous with Cilla, she should be here, not me."

O'Grady has big shoes to fill, certainly, and while it's a great appointment, will it be the same?

Part of the original show's popularity was that it was good, clean fun – telly that you could watch with your mum and dad. Cilla would help contestants quiz potential partners hidden behind a screen. Questions such as “Where would you take me as a romantic holiday?” would be answered with cheesy one-liners: “Pick me and I’ll whisk you to Italy and I promise I won’t be a menace in Venice...”

But it was the big reveal at the end that was the best bit. A wobbly (ever noticed that all 80s sets were wobbly?) partition would pull back and the contestants would meet their chosen “date”. The camera would then zoom in to try and capture any hint of disappointment or shock on their faces.

Cilla *was* Blind Date. Since then, few programmes have filled the Saturday-night telly vacuum in such a constant, unerring way  

Any kind of schadenfreude was always tempered by Cilla’s warmth and lightning-quick jibes: “Did you forget to put your jumper on, George, love?” she'd say to a sloaney-looking Hugh Grant-a-like who had a jumper tied round his shoulders. 

Cilla *was* Blind Date. When she announced she was leaving in 2003, the show came to a stuttering, painful end. Since then, few programmes have filled the Saturday-night telly vacuum in such a constant, unerring way.  

When I first heard the news that Blind Date would soon be back on our screens, I had reservations. Is it ever a good idea to revisit the past? After all, the programmes and films that have come back and died an abrupt death are too numerous to mention. Nostalgia can be a seductive smokescreen – would the format could be too unsophisticated and slow for today's Tinder generation?

According to Channel 5, the new format will be much the same, although it will also include "thematic twists" to "breathe new life" into the series. But I’d say modernise with care – this may be 2017, but Blind Date’s formula is iconic.

O’Grady, it seems, had reservations at the beginning, too: "But then I spoke to her sons and lots of people who knew her and they said: 'You have to do it, because she'd want you to do it for everyone.'"

And, you know what, he's not wrong there, chuck. 


Blind Date starts on June 17 on Channel 5, 7pm

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Blind Date (Photo: Rex Features)
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