Long before smartphones became our primary way of finding love, we relied on our mates to hook us up with someone suitable. Pics were harder to come by - and although vanity is nothing new, even one generation back it was not the done thing to have a self-portrait handy in case your friends wanted to play Cupid. So all you had to rely on was luck, your friends' ability to be truthful about just how hot and interesting someone was, or - if you were extra lucky - you could go on TV. And 270,000 people applied to do just that.
For 18 years, from 1988 to 2003, the nation was glued to the telly as Cilla Black played Cupid to hopefuls and sent them off on a blind date they'd never forget. Now, Blind Date is back, this time on Channel 5, with Cilla's bezzie Paul O'Grady on matchmaking duties.
Magazines and newspapers all over the world have tried to recreate the Blind Date magic - with the undisputed don being Guardian Weekend's own gladiatorial horror show, also called Blind Date,, which I'm particularly fond of - but what is about watching two randoms squirm in agony, or make eyes at each other, so compelling?
We're too picky to go on one ourselves
We like to think we might go on a blind date one day. And then we spend an hour on Tinder swiping left because everyone has the wrong type of fringe or didn't have a favourite Shakira single. We use apps and set strict criteria and filters so we only see people who might like what we like or think like we think - or live near enough so we don't have far to travel home once it goes horribly wrong. With a blind date, however, the whole lot goes out of the window. Or, more likely, splats against the window because we forgot to open it.
They remind us of simpler times
As we become more disillusioned by technology and get sick of seeing the same old faces, we're increasingly looking for ways to make the dating process unpredictable again, to bring back serendipity. We romanticise what it was like to wait for a total stranger in a pub, wearing a pink carnation perhaps, without so much as seeing a photo of them. And then we remember the horror on someone's face as the Blind Date screen went back and we're suddenly glad it's happening to someone else.
We love a car crash
Let's not beat about the bush here - the thing about throwing together two unlikely lovebirds is that there's a good chance it's all going to implode. Yes, we are watching through our fingers, but we're still watching. We wait eagerly for the moment of impact, and then there it is. A dating volcano. BOOM.
We're hopeless romantics
We want to believe, don't we? Yes, we're jaded cynical eye-rollers baying for blood, but we also want that fairy-tale finish. Look, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella pretty much fell in love with their various Prince Charmings on a whim - you didn't catch them on Bumble, did you? Wanna rule the kingdom? Only a blind date will do.
We love a villain
We like to think of ourselves as good people. We wouldn't be mean or talk trash to anyone. It's why soap operas are full of villains with withering putdowns, endless sass and an appetite for murder and we like to boo the Wicked Queen at the pantomime - our inner bitch thrives vicariously on a blind date baddie chucking a few zingers at their hapless victim.
We love an underdog
He's got bad hair, iffy dress sense and coughs into his hand. If he turned up to date us, we'd be faking our own death by the main course. Put him on a blind date with someone else however, and he's our hero, our best buddy. We're rooting for him, pledging to take him put for a drink, willing to fight anyone who dares criticise him.
We like to take sides
Elections don't come along that often - well, usually - and we don't all have the stomach for a boxing match. No problem! All you need if you're looking for a contest is put two strangers in a restaurant, behind at least five sets of cutlery, some free wine and a couple of sharing plates. We'll cheer when their bad joke gets a laugh, we'll clutch our stomachs in agony as their flirting flatlines. The drama! The hope! Every blind date has a matador and a bull. Who gets gored? That's the issue.
We like a surprise
A blind date is totally unpredictable. Sometimes it's like a "choose your own adventure" book, but with all the pages torn out, ripped up and stuck back together with porridge. Sometimes, we'll look at our hopefuls and reckon we can guess how it's going to go. She's a bookish introvert who likes canal holidays; he's a musclebound party boy who finds a raffle ticket too intellectually challenging and goes to Shagaluf five times a year. And yet, a few shy smiles, a couple of drinks, and they're bonding over the fact they'd both love a miniature Schnauzer - only a blind date would bring them together.
We can spot a fake
A blind date is people-watching with a twist. It can be like we're on the date with them. We like to think we can work them out, see through their banter and spot a player, a liar or a phoney. We've all been there, shouting at our screen or hurling the magazine across the room in despair as another lothario gets away with it.
We might see someone we know
Before Big Brother and reality took over the entire world, the only chance you'd get to grab at your 15 minutes of fame was to either get a XXX answer on Family Fortunes or go on Blind Date. Appear on Saturday night Tv in 1991 and you could be dining out on it for years. Don't believe me? Ask Amanda Holden! She was on it!
People say weird stuff
Nerves are a killer. But you know what that means: they'll say anything! "I've always been very fond of spirulina." "I have a poster of Piers Morgan on my bedroom wall." "I once lost my underwear on the dodgems." Honestly, wait long enough - not that long, actually - and someone will say something they'll regret for ever. While we watch.
They tell us about ourselves
Whether we're willing to admit it or not, they're kind of a little but of all of us, really, aren't they? Except the guy who chewed with his mouth open - we'd never do such a thing.
- Blind Date returns, on Channel 5, Saturday 17 June, 7pm
- Most weeks I write a review of the Guardian's Blind Date column on my blog Table Manners? ImpeccableSuggest a correction