This article was originally published in The Courier on 19th October 2013.
The One and Only Cilla Black: Wednesday, STV
Up All Night: The Nightclub Toilet: Thursday, Channel 4
Viewers watching with a scorecard were kept busy last week, when The One and Only Cilla Black dutifully encompassed everything you'd expect from a brassy tribute to this veteran entertainer. References to her friendship with The Beatles? Check. A faux-nostalgic return to her humble Liverpool roots? Check. Gushing pre-recorded tributes from celebrity chums who couldn't be bothered turning up? Check, check, check.
Hosted by her friend Paul O'Grady, it was officially a celebration of “our” Cilla's 50 years in the biz. But beneath the sycophancy – the studio audience were in raucous ovation mode throughout – it turned out to be an inadvertent chronicle of her decline.
The wealth of archive footage reminded us that Cilla was once a rather endearing personality. Her original appeal lay in her fun, giggly, girl-next-door charm; she was one of us on the inside, plucky, smart and unpretentious. It was as contrived as any other showbiz persona, but it worked: this tribute showed why she made such a smooth transition from pop star to TV royalty. She was good.
And yet it also showed that somewhere along the way she hardened into something far less likeable. Despite being the queen of Saturday night throughout the '80s and '90s, presiding over fondly-recalled behemoths such as Blind Date and Surprise Surprise, she developed a visible undercurrent of nastiness. Although handy with a waspish put-down, there was a tangible element of genuine disdain to the way she treated the harmless buffoons on Blind Date. For someone renowned as a gregarious people person, she doesn't seem to like them very much.
Pairing her with O'Grady provided an interesting study in contrasts. Like Cilla, he's an acerbic Scouser, and yet he tempers his barbs with the kind of innate warmth that she lost years ago. She couldn't even enjoy her own tribute without looking slightly bored and ungrateful, like the Queen at the launch of a planet named in her honour.
When she closed with an appallingly sentimental, warbled ditty about her working-class childhood, the audience rose to their feet as if they'd just witnessed Vera Lynn flattening Hitler. All I saw was the Cilla brand at its most transparently cynical. That's showbiz.
Brought to you by the sensitive artisans behind the Big Fat Gypsy franchise, Up All Night: The Nightclub Toilet was a similarly exploitative documentary in which, under the disingenuous guise of social anthropology, human beings were treated as objects of ridicule.
Filmed in a busy nightclub loo, it was little more than a witless parade of drunk people having staggeringly banal conversations. There was no drama, depth or comedy, just yawning tedium. Oh, they tried to justify its existence by paying lip service to the Nigerian toilet attendants who politely endured well-meaning customers while earning a pittance. But the tragedy of their situation – one man fled his homeland after losing his family in unspecified circumstances – is anathema to shallow, tawdry programmes such as this. It was too preoccupied with the supposed hilarity of drunken banter to say anything meaningful about the plight of immigrants.
And well done, Channel 4, on showing an overweight woman struggling in a toilet cubicle, mere seconds after she'd talked sincerely about her inferiority complex. Stay classy, always.