Saturday teatime. In my house, this meant my mum would cook a special tea, steak or gammon with pineapple if we were very lucky, which we’d eat on trays in front of the telly. And tea and Saturday night TV in the late 1980s and 1990s would mean Blind Date and Cilla Black.
At its peak, Blind Date had viewing figures of 15 million viewers. Impressive enough but Cilla Black’s reign as Queen of British Television was the second act of a long career.
The story of Priscilla White, the cloakroom girl at The Cavern Club and pal of The Beatles that became a pop star is well documented. Cilla may never have been as credible as a Dusty Springfield or as cool as a Sandie Shaw but amongst her back catalogue were songs from some of the greatest writers of all time. And let us not forget Burt Bacharach, a man who knows a thing or two about female singers has claimed that her version of one of his greatest songs Anyone Who Had a Heart was his favourite. Not too shabby for a woman often derided for her vocal ability.
Looking back now on her career, the amount of time she remained Our Cilla and a major star is what’s truly impressive. Today a ‘’hot’’ pop star can be casually dumped by their record label barely after the first album has hit the internet and winners of talent shows are sent back to obscurity at the slightest whiff of declining recording sales, Cilla managed to move from pop music to light entertainment and television in a way that never seemed jarring, remaining a big name in the process.
Her TV career actually began with her own BBC show in the late 60s and early 70s. But it was with the double whammy of Surprise Surprise and Blind Date that introduced her to new generations. And Cilla did cross generations. She managed the rare feat of being a true family entertainer, Auntie Cilla; an audience who remembered her from the peak of her pop stardom sitting down with their own children to watch light, often silly but more often than not fun shows together. Her flame red hair and unique mangling of the English language may have been easy to mock and the programmes she hosted would be regularly sneered at by highbrow critics. But her popularity and ability to draw an audience remained undiminished.
Saturday night television was very different when Cilla was the Queen of it. This was the pre-Cowell era, a time before phone voting and copycat talent shows. Of course the producers of Blind Date were probably every bit as much the cynical puppet masters that the X Factorproduction team are today but now it seems like a kinder, gentler time. When the stakes are a trip to the Costa De Sol and some awkwardly scripted flirting, it seems quite quaint compared to the possibility of a Christmas number one and all the music industry corporate baggage that comes with it.
Despite her love of sequins and spangles, and a pair of legs that even in later years women half her age would have killed for, Cilla was never glamorous. But she was showbusiness. An old school style of Champagne glass ever present in hand, never leave the house without a full face of make up and killer heels on, summer seasons and pantomime showbusiness. It barely exists now. Entertainers have been largely replaced by presenters and proficient autocue readers on TV and you’re likely to find somebody who came third in Big Brother playing Aladdin down the local theatre at Christmas rather than someone who learnt their craft on the working men’s club circuit.
Reading the tweets and tributes about Cilla Black, I know mine was not the only household that invited her into our homes at Saturday teatime. She was a guest who made us chuckle, occasionally may have made us cringe a little and a guest we had fond memories of.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.