If you come from the UK then you’ll instantly associate the quiz show Blockbusters with Bob Holness and a bunch of teenage contestants. If you come from the US however, then you might associated it with a more adult crowd of contestants and host Bill Cullen. The US version of the quiz show was shown in the early 1980’s and enjoyed moderate success, but the UK version managed to attract a huge following of young and old from 1983 for the rest of the decade.
Bob Holness was host of the UK version, and was the friendly uncle you wished you had sort of person. He treated the young contestants, most of whom were just finishing sixth form and about to go on to University, as adults and never talked down to them. The show was basically a general knowledge quiz, but aimed to find out whether two brains were better than one by having one contestant take on a team of two. The quiz was played out over a grid of hexagons with letters on. Initially one hexagon was chosen at random, and Bob would ask a question whose answer began with the letter on that hexagon. For example:
Question: What B is the sound commonly associated with bees?
Not all of the questions were as simple as this, but it was the simple ones that often caught the contestants off guard. Whoever got the question right was then allowed to choose the next letter from the board, which often led to the oh-so-hilarious “Can I have a ‘P’ please Bob?“, a quip which Bob generally just ignored. Getting a question right also changed that hexagon to the teams colour, and the idea was to make a link from one side of the board to the other and attain “Blockbusters!”. The single contestant had to make a chain from top to bottom of the grid, which could be done with just four correct answers, whilst the two man team had to go from left to right, needing five answers. Players could also choose letters tactfully in order to block their opponent.
Contestants were pitted against each other for a best of three competition, and the victors would then get a chance to stand on the hotspot to have a go at the Gold Run. Only a single contestant could partake in the Gold Run, which required a left to right chain of hexagons to be formed by answering questions that this time had multiple word answers. The hexagons had the initial letters of each word of the answer, and the contestant had to complete the board within a time limit. Unlike the normal game if they passed or got a question wrong that hexagon became black, which made it harder to complete a chain.
Prizes on the show varied in value. Questions were worth a small amount of cash in the normal part of the show, whilst completing the Gold Run awarded prizes from driving lessons to holidays. Winning teams stayed on the show from episode to episode, but were only allowed to stay for a maximum of five Gold Runs, when they would be forced to stand done to allow new contestants on.
The show has even attempted a couple of returns since originally finishing in the 1990’s. Sky One ran a series with Bob Holness still at the helm shortly after ITV closed it down, then BBC2 had a version for adult contestants hosted by Michael Aspel, then finally Liza Tarbuck hosted another series on Sky One. Most recently in 2007 a one off edition was filmed as part of Vernon Kay’s Gameshow Marathon on ITV. You can also buy home board game and DVD quiz editions.
Finally, no article on Blockbusters can end without mentioning the little dance carried out by audience members at the end of some of the shows. This consisted of a number of hand movements including clapping and holding your elbow in one hand whilst wiggling your arm about. It’s easier to watch than to describe…