Monday, 3 August 2015
In the late 1990's, somehow, I found myself a semi-regular cast member of "Cilla Black's Moment of Truth", a big Saturday night shiny floored game show. It was originally adapted from a Japanese show called "Happy Family Plan", and ended up being cancelled because people thought it was too cruel to the contestants, but it ran for four seasons and I cropped up every so often in all of them. There I am, in the picture above, looking like a Lidl Derren Brown.
My job on the show was to devise and demonstrate a physical challenge that the contestant had to learn within a week, and perform on the show in front of a live studio audience, in order to win big prizes. It was a fun thing to be involved in, and I ended up pulling tablecloths, flipping spoons, throwing hats, stacking glasses, flinging cocktail shakers, and all manner of possibly learnable skills.
The best part of being involved, though, was getting the chance to work closely with Cilla Black. The first part of each challenge was a pre-taped outside broadcast. Cilla would arrive at some poor unsuspecting schmucks house, with me in tow, and genuinely knock on their door unannounced with a TV crew. The rest of the family would know what was about to happen of course, but the one doing the challenge would be blissfully unaware. It never stopped being huge fun watching someone answer their door on a drizzling wednesday evening to find Cilla bloody Black standing there all smiles and "'ALLO CHUCK, BET YA DIDN'T EXPECT THIS, DID YA? WELL? GOING TO INVITE ME IN?"
Of course by that point the post-Blind Date Cilla revival had fully happened, and she was basically the queen of ITV. Totes an icon, but still, to the public, a brassy working class girl. People would recognise her, be totally starstruck, but at the same time feel completely fine about yelling something friendly and saucy at her, safe in the knowledge that she'd grin and yell something back, which she always did. Good quality to have, that.
I was even less of a nobody than I am now, but from day one she was warm, friendly, and fun to work with. When she could see I was nervous, she was encouraging, and when she could see me getting cocky, she'd say something to tease me back down to size. She taught me the right way to kiss her hello on camera, and, wonderfully, by season two, when I was becoming part of the team, started calling me "Our Mat".
When you're filming, especially on location, there's a lot of standing around, so we'd occasionally chat. I got to tell her that her version of "Anyone Who Had a Heart" was one of my wife's all time favourite records, and she was genuinely pleased to hear it, telling me that some people had forgotten that she was a singer. I was glad I got to do that.
Click this and watch a beautiful young Cilla belt it live, and remember her for what she was truly born for, and I'll remember her for the time she watched me perform a trick live on the show, in front of an audience, perfect first time, and then, when we went to commercial, telling the crowd "It didn't bloody work once in rehearsal! Luck!", before shooting me a huge wink.
Always loved this portrait of her by one of my favourite photographers, Jane Bown.