Saturday, 7 January 2012

Let's play Blockbusters!

The death of Bob Holness has left me feeling rather sad; such happy tea-in-front-of-the-telly memories from long ago. Here is a lovely tribute from George Melly, written in 1988:

'"Let's play Blockbusters!" cries Bob Holness, and whenever possible I'm watching. Nor am I alone. I've discovered that this teenage quiz show has an enormous number of closet fans of all ages, and that when it's off the air we, its addicts, suffer badly from withdrawal symptoms.

What really gets us is the controlled hysteria of Bob Holness himself. Bob has grey, expensively cut hair and junior executive glasses. He wears unadventurous ties and apparently has the run of a whole Burton's warehouse of sports jackets. His manner is that of a fairly popular prep-school house master, but what makes him irresistible is his belief that everybody in the whole world watches Blockbusters ...

He is a master, too, at making sure we come back after the commercial break ("Don't go away now") and at ensuring the game finishes at a decisive moment of tension. He pulls out with a convincing flourish the card with the clue on it, eveything hangs in the balance, and only then he tells us that we'll have to wait "until the next edition of Blockbusters" to find out what happens.

Like all schoolmasters, Bob has his favourite joke. When someone says "I'll have a 'P', Bob", his eyebrows shoot up and he gives vent to a little cough. I suspect he's been told to give this one a rest, but he can seldom resist it ...

Of course, Bob isn't the only point of Blockbusters. There is the burst of Dr Who-like electronic music which precedes and punctuates it, the setting with its bas relief terracotta plaques of "great thinkers", the intermediary and solitary rounds of "gold run", which can yield extra and valuable prizes.

There is the tension as a competitor or competitors draw close to winning five successive heats, the maximum they may aspire to, the Pearl and Dean like logo in which two lozenges whizz through the streets of a sci-fi city towards the studio. There's the deceptive simplicity of some questions ("Yes, it's as simple as that"), the subtlety of others. There's the greed by proxy; it's possible for the champion or champions to win more than £300. There's the shameful pleasure of gloating at the downfall of the smug or unattractive.

But above all, there is Bob. Standing mildly in the quiet, grey space between hero and anti-hero, he is a schoolmaster from yesterday controlling the kids of today, a parental memory of what once was, and a parental fantasy of what might still be, if only ... Mr Chips with everything.'

The Listener, 28 April 1988


  1. Nice post. I got a big dose of nostalgia when I heard the news of Holness. Blockbusters was great fun :)

    Another funny thing about it was the opening titles & music, which ended with the voice-over saying "And here is the host of blockbusters..."

    ...accompanied by the sight of a fake sculpture of the mighty Zeus himself! Or at least so I remember it.

    "Goodbye my childhood.."

  2. I loved the delight of George Melly
    But you never had tea in front of the telly

  3. Telegraph video tribute sub-editor proofreading fail:

    "...but it is as host of quiz show "Blockbusters" that he will be remembered for."