20 June 2014


"Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?"

Sorry, I couldn't resist it!

The original US version of Blockbusters debuted on 27 October, 1980, the brainchild of TV game show purveyor extraordinaire Mark Goodson. The American version was open to adult contestants of all ages. Our version, made by the Midlands ITV regional service Central, began on 29 August, 1983 - and quickly became a hit. 

After the American version of the show had been spotted, Central TV produced a pilot for a UK version in 1982. The pilot followed the American format and the 16-18 rule regarding the age of contestants did not apply. It was some months before the student age group was decided on and the decision was made to go ahead with a series of the show. The UK version went into production in 1983.

The show was very hi-tec by the standards of the day, and pitted two contestants against one.

Some people questioned this system, and Bob Holness, the UK show's presenter, said in 1986:

"People often ask me about this, and I say that it's to see if two heads are better than one and, anyway, the single player has less questions to answer than the team of two. I usually find that the single player wins because they've got one mind. Very often you can see team players delay before pushing the buzzer, because they've got to work together."

The contestants making their way across the board and taking the hotspot for the Gold Runs in the UK version were, as we said earlier, sixth formers, but the show attracted many and varied viewers: my seventy-something gran watched, as did my fifty-something postman, and my nine-year-old sister. Everybody, it seemed, was fascinated by Blockbusters.

Blue against white... are two heads better than one?

Bob Holness was terrific, whether introducing the contestants, their mascots, or asking the questions. And do you remember the Blockbusters hand jive which often took place as the end credits rolled? 

Despite Blockbusters being a show centred on teenagers, Bob himself was not a trendy young thing. He was a middle aged man, well mannered and groomed, who is remembered fondly as a caring host by many of the show's contestants. In those days, most quiz show hosts weren't trendy, but it mattered not with Bob. I always felt his genuine warmth and charm - and his reassuring manner, no doubt born of his maturity - made him ideal to present Blockbusters.

On how he got the job, Bob commented in 1988:

"When Central TV were looking for someone to host Blockbusters I was thought of. It was remembered that I'd done TV programmes of much the same sort, such as Junior Criss Cross Quiz which I compered in the 1960s and which was also a question and answer show. One led to the other."

The difference being that Bob achieved far greater fame through Blockbusters. It was simply a great show with an ideal host. 

Bob later said: 
Blockbusters, which began in the Eighties, was my favourite time in television. Its success was such a huge and pleasant shock because no-one ever predicted it. In fact everyone scoffed at the show when it first was mooted and for the first few screenings.

“They had to fight even to get it a teatime slot but in the event that was ideal. Its appeal was to all ages, from older children who’d just got in from school to parents and grandparents. I think that’s what caused its success – it really was true family entertainment.”

A snippet from the TV Times, August 1985. "Blockbusters" was going from strength-to-strength. Bob had just recorded eighty editions in one month, and another forty were lined up for November! I was a big fan of Mr Holness and the show and collected the series of quiz books which accompanied the series. They really proved their worth on long train journeys!
There were quite a number of these "Blockbusters Quiz Books" - I still have about eight of them. 

A signed "Gold Run" book. 

Bob gained  his own mascot on the show at Christmas 1983 - Harold the Hedgehog, a present from his wife.

 Interviewed in 1986, Bob explained his attitude to the contestants:

"I never call them kids. I call them youngsters. I think 'kids' is patronising. And I encourage them to be individualistic. Over the years, they've come to realise how far they can go. They can be a bit cheeky and they don't get knocked down."

Bob felt that he got on very well with young people in general: "I used to be one myself!"

During the 1986 interview, he also chatted about some of the memorable mascots that had appeared on the show:

"We've had jars of piccalilli, seaweed, a half-eaten apple, and even a three-foot high doll of me, with a suit and everything!"

As the '80s went on, the show saw several changes. One of the fondest remembered innovations was this highly distinctive opening sequence, in which we left planet Earth and took off for a futuristic alien city, where the shows apparently took place. The model city, evocative of the 1982 film Blade Runner, was designed by senior graphic designer Graham Garside and materials used in the construction work included foam board and perspex, covered with metallic foils.

Other fondly remembered visual features of Blockbusters were the figureheads hung around the studio, which, over the '80s years, included Zeus, Toyah Wilcox, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. These were designed by Derek Howarth and made of polystyrene, cut with hot wires and shaped with rasps and files. 

Here's a question:

What 'E' composed the theme tune to the UK version of Blockbusters?

The answer is Ed Welch and the theme tune was called Quiz Wizard.

The British Association of Toy Retailers 1986 Game of the Year - a boxed version of "Blockbusters". Bliss - now we could all have a 'P' at home. Sorry.

Oh those glory days of 1980s computers! You could play "Blockbusters" on them, of course! The pictured version of the "Blockbusters" computer game is for the Commodore 64.

Two 1980s contestants on "Blockbusters". The young gent with the mullet and the young lady with the pink bunny mascot tell Bob all about themselves.

 The letter  'C' is flashing - let's play "Blockbusters"!

 In the late 1980s, Bob spoke about how the show had changed since its debut in 1983: "I'm much more relaxed than I used to be. Blockbusters today features contestants who actually know 'the name of the game'. They know what's expected of them and they know how far they can go in their talks with me. At the beginning it was an unknown quantity, the young people then had no yardstick. But today they can come out with things like, 'Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?' "

From the "TV Times", April 1987 - Bob makes a spectacle of himself! The "Blockbusters Abroad" special followed several Gold Run winners on their prize holidays.

Bob goes trendy - he looks ready to challenge snooker ace Dennis Taylor in those glasses! 

In 1988, Bob was asked: "Is it true you have a jar of mints on the set?" He replied: "How did you hear about that?! The mints started right at the beginning of the show and they're now a feature of the programme - though they're never seen. I put a mint out for each contestant at the start of a show, just to make them feel at ease. Once they held them up to the camera - sending me up a little!"

The one and only "Blockbusters" annual, on shop shelves in late 1988 ready for 1989. In his introduction, Bob wrote:

... let me just say that I have enjoyed presenting 'Blockbusters' more than any other television or radio programme I've done...

Bob with the famous hexagonal board in 1989. Probably the strangest question asked on "Blockbusters" in the 1980s, and perhaps ever, was: "What 'C' has 4 stiff-standers; 4 dilly danders; 2 lookers; 2 crockers and a wig-wag?" The answer, which, not surprisingly, stumped the contestants on the night is "Cow" (4 legs; 4 teats; 2 eyes; 2 horns and a tail!).

A new question for you:
"What 'T' was a 1980s pop group with a link to Bob Holness?"

Find out here.

UPDATED 20/6/2014


Anonymous said...

I love Bob Holness! A true gentleman, don't get many of those on the screen these days

keith wellens said...

would love to see ITV bring back the original seies back it was fab

Unknown said...

It's on challenge every day at the moment. 1983 now. All mullets and hairspray. Brilliant! !

Drew said...

Ah, happy days indeed!

Pink Fluff said...

It was good to come back from school and watch Blockbusters. I'm watching it on Challenge now.