Wanted: 'Blind Date' host who can fill the shoes of Cilla Black

The search to replace a national treasure begins this week after Cilla Black stunned viewers and ITV executives by declaring live on air that the current series of
Blind Date would be her last.

The search to replace a national treasure begins this week after Cilla Black stunned viewers and ITV executives by declaring live on air that the current series of Blind Date would be her last.

Black's announcement, after 18 years at the helm of the dating programme, provided ITV with a ready-made excuse to scrap the show. But a spokesman said last night the 19th series would be filmed in the autumn with a new presenter.

Audiences have fallen from a peak of 17 million in 1991 to below 5 million for some shows in the series before the current one. But a recent revamp is believed to have rejuvenated the format, and audiences are now steady at about 6 million.

Sources said Black's surprise decision to quit could clear the way for a male host. But they acknowledged the veteran entertainer, 59, would be a hard act to follow.

A camp star similar to Dale Winton might be on the cards. Patrick Kielty, the Irish chat-show host who presented BBC1's Fame Academy, could also be in the running.

Female contenders include Cat Deeley, Kielty's Fame Academy co-presenter, and Claire Sweeney, the former Brookside star who won hearts in Celebrity Big Brother in March 2001.

Davina McCall, who presented Big Brother and Popstars – The Rivals, is said to have ruled herself out. Insiders said she was approached about the role after Black hinted last autumn she was considering stepping down.

The Liverpool-born star began her career 40 years ago as a singer. She went on to be one of the most popular figures in light entertaintment, hosting BBC shown in the Seventies. With Blind Date she found herself a staple of Saturday nights, with only a temporary suspension of broadcasts when her husband, Bobby Willis, died of cancer three years ago.

But she was unhappy when the show was moved for the Premiership football, even though it was later restored.

She was also distressed by inaccurate reports that a successor was being lined up. And she found herself in contract limbo after her lucrative golden handcuffs deal with ITV, said to be worth £1m a year, ended recently.

While spokesmen for ITV insisted yesterday she was not leaving in anger, the cavalier resignation to a live audience suggested Black was making a point. She said she wanted to leave before it became a chore.

"Over New Year, I thought a lot about what I wanted to do in 2003, and decided that it was the right time to move on from Blind Date," she told viewers. She is certainly unlikely to disappear from public view. She has signed a contract to produce her memoirs and is bringing out an album this year. ITV executives have made clear that they still hope to work with her.

Paul Jackson, director of entertainment at Granada which makes the shows, said: "This year Cilla will be celebrating 40 years in showbusiness and we hope to be celebrating with her. We wish Cilla nothing but success for the future."

Only last month Black had said she did not believe anyone else could replace her. "I am a sacred cow," she said.

But with dating shows still attracting good audiences, the revamped Blind Date is regarded as having potential by executives all too aware how hard it is to find light entertainment hits.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...