I was sad to learn that Bob Holness died yesterday. It is no exaggeration to say that Blockbusters was probably my favourite programme when I was a child.
As it happens, I have been watching a good few episodes of Blockbusters recently, as it is currently being shown on Challenge. It is striking just how engaging it is as a quiz show.
The decision for contestants all to be aged between 16 and 18 was a masterstroke. The cheeky humour of the contestants gave the programme a slightly informal atmosphere.
It also allowed Bob Holness to excel in his role. I am sure this is what made Blockbusters so successful. He was exactly how you would like a teacher to be. He had a cheery manner and would go out of his way to encourage the contestants if they were not doing well.
He was as fair a quizmaster as you can imagine. But he was firm enough to let you know that he was always being sincere. He was, despite his charm, perfectly authoritative.
It’s clear that the success of the programme rested largely on Bob Holness. That is evident from the fact that later series, presented by Michael Aspel and Liza Tarbuck, did not have an ounce of the charm of the original and did not last very long. The British series also significantly outlasted the programme from the USA that it was based on.
More incredibly, the programme did not treat the youth as some kind of alien species. The questions were not dumbed down and the contestants were respected as people. The questions were intelligent. It was a programme that above all rewarded knowledge, like a proper quiz show should.
Last year, my old university classmate Jon argued that the time since Blockbusters went off the air has seen a “moral decay of British society”. It’s certainly difficult to deny that, in the post-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? world, TV gameshows have taken a turn for the worse. Programmes like Deal or No Deal and The Weakest Link reward greed and suspicion, not knowledge.
Bob Holness himself railed against this phenomenon. When Call My Bluff was axed while he was presenting it in 2002, he noted that it was part of a trend towards quiz shows geared towards “avarice rather than education.”
Challenge is bringing back Blockbusters later this year. Let us hope it retains the spirit of the original series.
Goodbye Bob. Cheers!
I was such a fan of Blockbusters when I was a child that I even got the Junior Blockbusters board game. The difficulty of the questions was probably at the right level for me at the time (I must have been about 8 years old). But when I brought the game out to play with some friends recently, I found out why the junior version of the game cannot really be played by adults.
“What ‘L’,” I earnestly began reading, “is something that comes in the post?”
Hilarity ensued. I would love to have bought the adult’s version instead.
Being manufactured in the late 1980s, the board game also contained questions about the USSR, which don’t quite work today!