Written by Kathy Salaman

In The News

Cilla: An infectious entertainer

Cilla Black’s death at the weekend has left a huge gap in the entertainment world, says Kathy Salaman.

Cilla Black

Photo: ITV.

Few celebrity deaths have really touched my life; John Lennon and Rik Mayall are the only ones I can think of. My memory of Elvis’s passing is of my friend’s mother – a huge Elvis fan – sitting on her knitting needles when his death was announced on the TV news. And yes, I was shocked and saddened when Diana was killed, but I didn’t feel as if something was missing.

I’ve never been what you’d call a Cilla fan. I’ve never bought one of her records; I don’t own any DVDs of her successful but not-so-celebrated TV shows; I’ve never met Cilla (although I’m sure we would have got on famously and become great friends if I had) and I didn’t cry when I read with shock and disbelief about her death.

Yet I feel a real sense of loss – as if something has been removed from my life that I just assumed would always be there. This isn’t on a par with the grief experienced when a family member dies: this feels more like someone has suddenly removed the chair I was about to sit in and informed me that I must remain in the about-to-sit-comfortably position from now on.

Just like The Beatles, Cilla formed a large part of the background music of my early childhood. Unlike The Beatles, however, she didn’t register on my music radar as I was growing up and starting to develop my tastes and buy my own records. I’ve always loved hearing her hits, particularly Anyone Who Had a Heart, but I’ve never thought about buying any of her music.

Really, it wasn’t until 1985, when she began presenting Blind Date, that I realised what a truly awesome woman she was.

Winter Saturday evenings, while getting dolled up for a night out, were always accompanied by the unforgettable, bouncy theme tune of Blind Date; Cilla’s jolly, often cutting wit; “our Graham’s” quick reminders and, so it seemed every week, at least one contestant named ‘Clurr’.

“Many hosts would have made the show about them, but Cilla always made it about the contestants, even if there was often an element of piss taking and schadenfreude in her remarks.”

And didn’t Cilla always look fab? Her carefully tailored clothes and elegant heels. Her well-groomed hair and perfect makeup. Her beautiful (and reworked) teeth. She was a pleasure to watch as well as to hear.

Let’s be honest, now: the format for Blind Date was pretty cruddy. But, with Cilla as host, it went from strength to strength. Without her infectious, bubbly personality and sense of fun (as well as her keen radar for spotting the ridiculous from within many of the contestants – some were completely unaware that she was taking the piss out of them!) the show would have died an early death.

Cilla just naturally attracted members of the public – of all ages. Perhaps it was her very ordinary upbringing, but there was just something so natural about the way she engaged her audience. We felt that she really wanted us there – not to admire her, but to have a good time. And boy, didn’t we have a good time! Blind Date was most definitely Cilla’s show, but she behaved as if it was all ours.

Many hosts would have made the show about them, but Cilla always made it about the contestants, even if there was often an element of piss taking and schadenfreude in her remarks.

Cilla in 1969. Photo: Parlophone/Warner Music Group.

Cilla in 1969. Photo: Parlophone/Warner Music Group.

Not many (including yours truly) remember the pilot, hosted by Duncan Norvelle (the blond chap who was funny for about a week with his ‘chase me’ routine as he minced around the studio of Bernie Winters’ Make Me Laugh show). Perhaps I’m being unfair; maybe there was another dimension to him, but I doubt it would have stood the test of time as Cilla’s personality did.

It was a shock to many – show producers included – when, during a 2003 live broadcast, Cilla announced that she would no longer host the show after that series. Despite rumours that ITV bosses had been looking for a new presenter, that didn’t happen. Cilla was Blind Date and no presenter with an ounce of self-respect would have attempted to step into her glamorous heels.

Now that she has gone, we can look forward to a selection of her greatest TV moments and perhaps we shall see her hit songs re-enter the charts: I, for one, will be downloading some of my favourite Cilla songs today. (Why did I not do that years ago?)

I hope, though, that we can avoid turning Cilla’s death into an excuse for a Diana-esque mass mourning and hysterical bandwagon-jumping circus: I get the impression Cilla would have hated that.

The outpourings on social media and the condolences and sharing of fond memories – from celebrities and members of the public – will continue for a while. There will be many lovely anecdotes shared and maybe spiteful remarks from the likes of Katie Hopkins (can you imagine what will take place when she pops her clogs?)

But when all that has quietened down, there will be a huge gap in the world of entertainment – and in the hearts of many who, like me, thought Our Cilla would always be around.


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Written by Kathy Salaman

Kathy Salaman is a former teacher who would like to see a fairer state education system, fewer wrinkles and world peace. She loves teaching English and maths, telling naughty jokes and reading geeky stuff.