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Surprise Surprise! was devised by ITV for Cilla Black – her first series in more than eight years – after she appeared on Wogan in 1983 and took over the show.
Big Christopher Biggins – described as ‘posh’ to her ‘dead common’ – helped explain to people that surprises had been fixed for them, the result being a mixture of laughter and tears you found either heart-warming or stomach-churning.
Cilla also appeared in little filmed stunts and sang. Critics booed, but letters poured in – 170,000 during the first series – from people hoping to set up a surprise for a relative, friend or enemy. The result was a show that delighted 15 million viewers every Sunday.
The second series dropped Christopher and boosted Cilla.
Only when the series took her to Zeebrugge at Christmas 1987 to the hospital where ferry disaster victims had been treated, and she led staff and survivors through the streets of Bruges singing Little Drummer Boy, were there a lorra complaints.
This was bad taste, said some viewers.