Today (29 August) is the 35th anniversary of the launch of the British version of one of my all-time favourite game shows Blockbusters, so I thought that I would take the opportunity to have another look back through the show’s history. Blockbusters was based on an American game show that ran from 1980-1982, and it was first shown in Britain on ITV on 29 August 1983.
Well I say that… actually it depends on what ITV region you were in. The scheduling of Blockbusters is somewhat complicated, and some regions (including my one Thames) didn’t show the first edition until a week later on 5 September. Blockbusters was originally shown five days a week on ITV (and six days a week for a short while), usually after CITV at 5:15pm, and every edition was introduced by the famous theme “Quiz Wizard” by Ed Welch. The first series was also repeated on Challenge a few years ago, and it was terrific to watch.
The host of Blockbusters was of course Bob Holness, someone who had been working in TV and radio since the 50s, he was also among the launch presenters of BBC Radio 1 in 1967, and he could often be seen in TV Times promoting the show. The idea of the game was a team of two against a team of one, and of course the gameboard featuring the blue and white hexagons that wasn’t computer-generated, so it was a rather impressive feat of engineering.
Contestants from schools across the UK took part to win prizes, and Blockbusters soon grew in popularity (and thanks to some of the more unusual answers from contestants, Blockbusters also seemed to regularly appear on outtakes shows). Around 1986 the famous dance that was occasionally performed at the end of the show was created. An impressive new opening sequence was also introduced around this time. There was also a lot of merchandise released, including various board games, quiz books, computer games, and even an annual.
In 1987 there was a spin-off series called Champion Blockbusters where contestants who had won the star prize on the final Gold Run returned to compete against one-another to win more prizes, and we also found out what they were now up to. This series was shown on Saturday evenings on ITV, unfortunately no full editions seem to have turned up online. Champion Blockbusters ran for four series and ended in 1990.
In 1992 there was a special edition of Blockbusters that was shown as part of the charity telethon Trading Places, where people swapped jobs for the day. So this meant that Bob became a contestant, with fellow game show hosts Jim Bowen and Leslie Crowther also appearing as the opposing blue team. Bob revealed that the best thing about hosting Blockbusters was that because he was stood behind a big desk he didn’t have to wear any trousers.
In 1993 Blockbusters was still being shown on ITV. But when Carlton replaced Thames as the ITV franchise for weekdays in London, they decided to move the show to 3:20pm before CITV, meaning that ratings slumped and the decision was made that there would no more series. Bob said that it was “an appalling move by a crappy company”. However, when the final edition came Bob finished off with some dignity, saying “I’ve enjoyed it I think more than anything I can remember in my career”, and after about a decade Blockbusters came to an end, joining an elite group of British game shows of which over 1,000 editions had been made.
But wait! Because in 1994 Sky One decided to buy the show, meaning that Bob unexpectedly returned for one final series (which was repeated in some ITV regions in 1995, and also on Challenge). After that Blockbusters has been revived three times, on BBC2, Sky One, and Challenge (and it also featured in ITV1’s Game Show Marathon). There was also an interactive DVD game voiced by Bob. I’m still a huge fan all these years on and I’d simply like to conclude by saying Happy Anniversary to this classic game show!