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Blockbusters (UK game show): Wikis


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Format Quiz Show
Created by Steve Ryan
Mark Goodson
Starring Bob Holness (ITV, Sky One)
Michael Aspel (BBC Two)
Liza Tarbuck (Sky One)
Country of origin  United Kingdom
No. of series 14
No. of episodes 1200+ (ITV)
TBC (Sky One: Bob Holness)
60 (BBC2)
100 (Sky One: Liza Tarbuck)
Producer(s) Central Independent Television
Talbot Television
Fremantle Productions (UK)
Grundy Productions
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel ITV (1983–1993)
Sky One (1994–1995)
BBC2 (1997)
Sky One (2000–2001)
Picture format 4:3
Original run 29 August 1983 (1983-08-29) – 23 March 2001 (2001-03-23)
Related shows Blockbusters (US version)

Blockbusters was a television game show in which contestants answered trivia questions to complete a path across or down a game board of hexagons.


Differences from the US Version

Although Blockbusters originated as an American series, it had a more successful run in the UK, where it was shown from 29 August 1983 (5 September 1983 in some regions) to 4 June 1993 (this was the finishing date in the London area only — see below) with Bob Holness hosting. The show was always transmitted on the ITV network, although the first series was repeated on Channel 4. The show, made by Central Independent Television, was played by sixth form students with prizes accrued for the students and their colleges. The rousing theme music for this version was by Ed Welch, and soon became one of the most recognisable television themes of modern times. The team of two players were not related in this version. It ran in a 'straddling' format, allowing for games to last a different length of time, meaning that episodes would often begin and end mid-game, and matches often crossed over into two episodes. The show was screened at 17.15 Monday to Friday, intended to fill the half-hour timeslot between Children's ITV and the ITN News at 5:45. A similar timeslot was also allocated on Saturdays for a while. The show was broadcast regionally with ITV regions able to opt out for local material.

As a career actor, Holness played up the role of being an 'old duffer' to the young contestants, which helped win him a cult following amongst students, with catchphrases that included "Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?".

In a famous clip in the UK version, a contestant was asked "What 'O' is the generic word for any living animal or plant, including bacteria and viruses?" The contestant realised that the answer was organism, but in a momentary lapse he instead replied "Orgasm". After the ensuing laughter, Bob replied, "There are reasons, which I won't go into, that I can't accept that particular answer." Another notorious and often-repeated clip features a contestant mistakenly saying "Kama Sutra" instead of "kamikaze", with Holness replying in an amused manner, "No — oh no, that's something quite different," and a contestant responding to the question "What 'L' do you make in the dark when you are not sure of the consequences of your actions?" with the answer "love" instead of "leap".

The show's first pilot series, in 1983, was recorded at the ATV Elstree Centre (which was still owned by Central until 1984 when it was sold to the BBC). Subsequent series were produced at Central's Nottingham "Television House" studios, however at least one season (1989–90) was filmed at Central's Birmingham studios.

After finishing on ITV, the show continued for a few years on the satellite channel Sky One, though some ITV regions continued to show the series in an earlier slot at 2.50pm during 1994. Reruns from 1991 and 1992 have been shown on Challenge. Carlton Select also showed old shows while that channel was still operational. Recently a DVD Interactive Game version has been released with Bob Holness reprising his position at the helm. The DVD is based on the same format as the TV show, with virtual set design and game graphics matching the original Central version of the programme.

Other versions

Subsequent series have been made for adult contestants by format holders FremantleMedia (credited as Grundy Productions), broadcast by BBC Two in 1997 (presented by Michael Aspel) and Sky One again in 2000 (presented by Liza Tarbuck). These versions failed to capture the same degree of popularity as the Holness incarnation.

Famous contestants include Jon Tickle[1] and Stephen Merchant.


Gameshow Marathon

On Saturday 14 April 2007 at 20.40 Vernon Kay hosted a networked edition of Gameshow Marathon on ITV1 in which celebrity contestants revived the classic 1980s Bob Holness version of the show. It also featured the famous Central Television "Moon Ident" and an edited version of the show's opening titles.

Other countries

The Australian version of Blockbusters was broadcast on the Seven Network, where players from two schools competed over the course of a week (five episodes), in a rolling format - where games could be started in the middle of an episode, and stopped and continued on the next episode. The school team earning the most points (based on questions answered from the main game, except tie-breaks) won a major prize for their school, such as an encyclopedia. The show was hosted by Michael Pope. It ran in Australia from 1990 to 1993.

SVT in Sweden had their own version very similar to the UK one. 2 mot 1 was a weekly afternoon programme forming part of SVT's youth output. The programme was produced in Malmö and hosted by Stellan Sundahl until he died from a heart attack in 1999.

Both Hebrew and Arabic language versions have been made for Israel.

There was also a German version called Super Grips. It aired from 1988–95, first on the BR network, then on the Dritten Network for the rest of the run. Frank Laufenberg was the show's original host; he was later replaced by Ingo Dubinski.

An Italian version was broadcast called Doppio Slalom on TV5 from 1985 to 1990, hosted by Corrado Tedeschi then Paolo Bonolis in 1990 only.

BlockBusters (the UK edition) was such a sensation with the entire English speaking expatriate community in Dubai, U.A.E, that the city nearly came to a shutdown during its evenings telecast on Channel 33[2]. Although there was no separate local TV version, the local paper, Gulf News, ran a yearly Blockbuster quiz competition often hosted by Bob Holness himself, between 1988 and 1994[3].

This popular game made its comeback to the UAE again by Gulf News in 2008 and is currently running a second year in 2009 as a live show during the month of Ramadan festivities.

The Gulf News Blockbusters story goes back to 1988. The contest is based on the hugely successful game show of the 1980s called Blockbusters, which was aired by BBC. This show was telecast on Dubai TV too and was very popular.

In 1988, Gulf News adapted the show to its present format and ran it as a month long event, with the heats during Ramadan and the finals after Eid. The contest was organised year after year until 1994, with the average participation of over 1100 persons. The quizmaster of the BBC show, Bob Holness, was flown down to host the finals too.

After a 14-year long hiatus, the contest was revived last year as part of the newspaper's 30th anniversary celebrations.[4]

Main game

A solo player competed against a pair of contestants, thus setting out to prove if two heads really were better than one.

The game board consisted of 20 interlocking hexagons, arranged in five columns of four. Each hexagon contained a letter of the alphabet. A contestant would choose one of the letters, and would be asked a general-knowledge trivia question whose correct answer began with the chosen letter. (A typical question was something like, "What 'P' is a musical instrument with 88 keys?" The answer would be a piano.) In the UK, the phrasing that contestants would use to ask for a letter has entered the language, and is frequently heard to this day. It is also the source of a mildly amusing pun - "Can I have a 'P' please, Bob".

The game board is designed in such a way that a tie game was not a possible finishing result, even if all 20 hexagons were filled, there would always be one winner.

The game began with a toss-up question to play for control of the board, starting with a letter that was chosen at random. The teams or players could buzz-in during the middle of reading of a question. If a player or team got the correct answer, they gained control of that hexagon and were given the chance to choose another one. If the contestant answered incorrectly, the opposing team or player was given a chance to answer it after the host re-read the question. If nobody answered it correctly, the host asked another question whose answer began with that same letter.

The solo player attempted to complete a vertical connection of white hexagons from the top of the board to the bottom; that required at least four correct answers. The family pair attempted to connect a path from left to right with blue hexagons, requiring at least five spaces. The first side to connect their path won the game. The first player or team to win two games won the match. In the UK version, when either party was one correct answer away from completing their path, the hexagons forming their path would flash to indicate this. If both were one correct answer away, all lit hexagons on the board would flash, indicating that the situation was effectively "Blockbusters either way", and the next player to give a correct answer would win the game.

In the Australian edition, two students from each school played in each match. Like the 1987 NBC edition, the shorter path alternated between the teams in the first two games, and a 4x4 tie-break gameboard was used in the event of the first two games in a match being split between the two teams. Five points were earned towards the school team's weekly total for each question correctly answered, with no points scored during tie-breaks (nor for Gold Runs).

In the UK edition, sixth-form or college students played in each match, and each correct answer won £5. In the case of the two-player team, each player won whatever money the team accumulated.

Gold Run

The winner of the match went on to play the Gold Run bonus round; if the family pair won, only one player on the team could play. The board consisted of a pattern of hexagons similar to that of the main game, but the hexagons had 1 to 5 letters inside them; those letters were the initials of the correct answer. (For instance, if a contestant chose "BS" and the host said "Where people kiss in Ireland", the correct answer would be "Blarney Stone.") If a contestant guessed correctly, the hexagon turned gold. However, if the contestant guessed incorrectly or passed, it turned black, blocking the player's path; it was then up to the contestant to work around it. The object was to horizontally connect the left and right sides of the board within 60 seconds (or before blocking off all possible horizontal connections).

In the UK, the winner of the match played the Gold Run, and won a special prize, usually a holiday, for completing the run. For every unsuccessful attempt, money was awarded for each correct answer. Defending champions could keep going for up to five matches undefeated, in order to win an even bigger prize. In later series, presumably so they could get through more contestants over the course of a series, this was reduced to three consecutive successes. If the Gold Run wasn't won, each correct answer paid £5 (later £10). The UK version featured a famous short piece of music (three sharp notes played on a horn) if a player ran out of time on a gold run, often producing amused reactions in the studio.

In the Australian version, Gold Run questions had two-word answers, as opposed to varying numbers of words, with a successful run resulting in a small prize for that player and his team-mate. As there was no consolation prize for each question in a failed Gold Run, the game would be terminated early if the board became completely blocked from black spaces.

Title sequences

  • The original 1983–1986 title sequence featured flipping hexagons with various images on them running down an encyclopaedia page.
  • The title sequence used from 1987–1993 is a city homage to the 1982 film Blade Runner.
  • Occasionally the full version of the theme at the end of the week featured a shot of the studio audience, who would rather bizarrely perform the hand jive to the closing title music.[5]


Series Start date End date Episodes
29 August 1983
4 June 1993
31 March 1997
28 August 1997
30 October 2000
23 March 2001

Notes and references

External links


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