If I said to you, in a lyrical scouse accent “Number one, what’s your name and where do you come from?” would you know what on earth I was on about?
These magic words, filled with excitement and a certain frisson of romance were of course made famous by Cilla Black on the tv staple dating show Blind Date that ran from 1985 all the way up until 2003. At the height of its popularity in the 1980s, 18.2 million tuned in to ITV on a Saturday night to watch the excruciating, the charming, and the unlikely pairings who sometimes rode off into the sunset together.
Fourteen years on, the format has been faithfully resurrected by Channel 5. Paul O’Grady is a damn good fit for the role of presenter. Famously he and Cilla were great friends. The start of the show is a little tribute to Cilla. He jokes Blind Date was left to him in her will. He calls her the woman “who gave me two heart attacks and broke my nose in a Jacuzzi”. It was clearly a spectacular friendship.
Paul is a cheeky, but kind and generous host. He comes across as a very warm person but his alter ego Lily Savage is never too far away if the more out-there contestants need taking down a peg or two. His accent does no harm and reminds me of Cilla. Perhaps only people from Liverpool are allowed to present this show.
The 2017 reboot is very faithful to the format, but you can play Spot the Difference: what would have been beyond the realms of fantasy in the 80s and 90s? We have one huge lumberjack beard (very nice), a gold teeth-covering grill (not nice), facial tattoos (less nice) courtesy of JJ from Essex, who mainly works in Ibiza and makes jokes about women being dogs (oh JJ), and a question about what you’d do in a zombie apocalypse. Our Graham (aka Graham Skidmore) is gone, replaced with a female voice-over from Melanie Sykes. And the new wall that keeps the dates a mystery from each other is as good a time as any for needling Donald Trump.
The super cheesy and slightly odd answers from the contestants are still there, as is tradition, and the studio audience sound like they’re in for a panto. Everyone involved seems bubbling over with enthusiasm and it’s a good fit for Saturday night Channel 5, now that ITV is totally devoted to another creaking ancient format – end-of-the-pier variety shows.
The one element from episode 1 that was slightly awkward was the date debriefs. We’ve had no prior introduction to these couples, and we’re not so invested in the outcome. One couple went to Paris and another went to rainy Barcelona where the pair mainly griped about the weather. How British. The budget seems to have been cut dramatically for the actual first episode contestants – our couples are off to play golf and table tennis. Unless these activities happen to take place in the Caribbean then they might think themselves a bit hard done by!
With a fourteen year hiatus it’s very strange to think that dating in person, even with a dividing wall, is old-fashioned in the world of dating apps and websites. Blind Date is still charming, and a tonic to the nastier, trashier shows of late (Dating Naked and Take me Out). Maybe the old guard can teach the young whippersnappers something about a classier way of doing things?
Blind Date is on Channel 5 at 7pm on Saturday nights – catch up with all the episodes so far on My5