Another one of the classics, Blockbusters is one of my all-time favourite game shows, and I must have watched dozens over the years. It’s not a show that needs much explanation really, it still has lots of fans, it is of course the game where two teams of contestants answer general knowledge questions to get across a board of hexagons. The board was not computer-generated in the earliest series so it was a major feat of engineering, seemingly consisting of 40 slide-projectors sat on top of one another and some lightbulbs.
The show is based on an American format that ran from 1980-1982, with a short revival in 1987. However it was more popular in this country, and there are a few reasons for that. First of all, there was the host Bob Holness, who really was terrific, and watching old episodes again I am struck by how authoritative he is, and I also enjoy his old-fashioned exclamations when the contestants got the right answers including “that’s the one, good heavens!”. He also spawned some memorable catchphrases too.
There was also the decision to make the contestants sixth-formers from across the country, playing to win prizes for themselves and the schools that they represented. A lot of the contestants on the show were very charismatic and enjoyable to watch with their cuddly mascots, and the show was always played in the right spirit, with lots of people winning some very impressive prizes, plus lots of consolation prizes including sweatshirts and dictionaries. And don’t forget that there was £5 for every correct answer too! And they all did a dance at the end.
Blockbusters was produced by Central and first appeared on ITV in 1983, becoming the first UK game show to be shown five days a week. The first series was recently repeated on Challenge and again it was rather odd seeing the show before it became properly defined, but the idea was great from the start. The scheduling of the show varied in each ITV region, and it was shown in every slot from Saturday afternoons to Friday evenings, but it did gain a lot of popularity across the country.
I became a big fan of Blockbusters from practically the very first moment I saw it on TV when I was very young, I just thought it was great and enjoyed watching as much as I could, enjoying the creative title sequence, the brilliant music, and watching the contestants show off their knowledge long before I knew any of the answers myself. There were a few changes to the format over the years, such as reducing the number of Gold Runs played to win the star prize from five to three because so many people wanted to appear and get a chance to stand on the Hot Spot.
Blockbusters ran for about a decade on ITV and there was even a Saturday Night primetime spin-off called Champion Blockbusters where winning contestants returned to play for more prizes. There was also a lot of merchandise released including quiz books, board games, an interactive DVD, and computer games. The show only ended because when Carlton came along in 1993 they moved the show from a primetime to a daytime slot, meaning that ratings fell and they could no longer justify giving away big prizes, it was a shame seeing the show leave the screens, but it wasn’t over yet.
The format of Blockbusters is so endearing that there have been four revivals. Sky One revived the show in 1994 with Bob Holness still hosting, and this version was repeated in a few ITV regions. In 1997 there was a short-lived afternoon version with Michael Aspel where this time adult contestants could take part. In 2000 the show went to Sky One again with Liza Tarbuck now hosting and only sixth-formers taking part again. Finally, Challenge themselves tried a version after a successful repeat run with Simon Mayo hosting and adult contestants again. And yet all these years later it’s still £5 for every correct answer. There’s no change.