Blind Date was merely one part of a really golden Saturday night ITV lineup in the '90s. But standing head and shoulders above Stars In Their Eyes, Gladiators and Man O Man, there she was, Cilla Black, wearing a fun jacket with her hair teased into an auburn halo. Blind Date was good, cosy, silly TV. We miss Blind Date. I miss Blind Date. Blind Date originally ran from 1985 to 2003 but it was announced yesterday that it has been resurrected by Channel 5. Olly Murs and Vicky Pattinson have been touted as potential hosts, and Christopher Biggins is having none of it. He said: “Let’s bring back old-established things which were great because Cilla Black made them great. It’s very depressing. I don’t think they should do it.” Blind Date’s format is so simple that Biggins might be right – maybe only Cilla could handle it. For those who wasted their Saturday nights by, I don’t know, watching arthouse films or actually going out, the programme involved one contestant – the chooser – who sat on a high stool behind a partition and three other contestants of the opposite sex who sat on high stools on the other side of the partition. They are the choosees. The chooser asks three questions, to which the choosees must all respond. The questions weren't so much “What’s your favourite Pinter play?” but more along the lines of, “My favourite food is bread. If you could be any type of bread, what type of bread would you be?” It was mandatory for responses to involve an innuendo. It was the law. Something like, “I don’t know what type of bread I’d be, but I’d like to butter your baguette” or “I’m soft and a lovely handful, so I’d be the perfect set of buns”. The chooser picked one choosee and they’d go on a date, then come back to tell everyone how little they liked each other. Cilla presided over it like a slightly sarcastic auntie, there to boggle at the more ridiculous answers and console people when it didn’t go right for them. This soft touch is needed. Can Olly Murs muster up Cilla’s arch wit? Can Vicky Pattinson emulate her compassion? There’s a very real possibility of Murs doing his cheeky-chappy bit to someone who has just come back from a horrible trip to Austria with a bloke who loudly self-identifies as a “boobs man”. I’m against it. In its original glory, Blind Date rattled all the right cages. Television’s moral guardian, Mary Whitehouse was dead against the risqué back-and-forth of the show because of its promiscuity (!). Ah, no, here’s what she actually wrote in 1995: “It is to leave us with a deep sense of anxiety that not only ourselves but, even more importantly, our children are being sold cheap. The idea gets around that to have fun you must also have sex, even if it is only the verbal variety.” She links the programme – if you have just tuned in, the show under discussion is Blind Date – to high sexual crime rates. Good Lord.
Blind Date knew what was in store for the children watching at home, with so many awkward future dates stretching ahead of us like the M1. We didn’t know it but Cilla Black was paving the way for full-blown, fist-in-your-mouth horrible romantic scenarios. Watching it was preparation for finding true love and the many “boobs men” we would meet along the way. Although it could see into our futures, it could not have predicted the advent of Tinder. Perhaps this time around the host will have to gesture towards big screens and allude to “swiping right” to sound modish, instead of using the cue cards Cilla held. Perhaps the new Blind Date will draw inspiration from recent dating shows such as Take Me Out, and the contestants will have to display some sort of talent. I do hope not. Blind Date was never the space for showing off, having any sort of discernible gift or being remarkable in any way. This was the programme where the contestants could say “My name’s Angela and I’m a secretary from Leeds!” and be met with whoops of delight from the audience. The show was about putting on your Saturday-night outfit, showing up and being cheerful. It was not about displaying your jujitsu skills or playing a guitar solo while suspended in mid-air. It was brilliant because it felt utterly attainable. The “noteworthy” guests who perched on the famous high stools before being catapulted to fame or an approximation thereof were your Amanda Holdens, your Nikki Grahames, your Ed Byrnes. Blind Date was oven chips; a hot water bottle; a glass of Oyster Bay. It was not designed to challenge us, but to ease the misery of existence. Let’s hope the new programme honours this.