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Blockbusters (1983-93)

Main image of Blockbusters (1983-93)
Central for ITV, 5/9/1983-4/6/1993
Over 400 x 30 min editions, colour
ProducersGraham C. Williams
 Tony Wolfe
 Bob Cousins
 Jenny Dodd
 Terry Steel

Host: Bob Holness

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Quiz series aimed at the under-20s.

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While game and quiz shows had long been a key component of TV schedules, since the demise of the BBC's Top of the Form (1962-75) there were few opportunities for younger audiences to participate. The BBC's children's film quiz, Screen Test, which launched in 1971, came to an end in 1984.

The teenage quiz Blockbusters was based on a US show of the same name. A test of speed and general knowledge, this was an unusual format, pitching two contestants against one (in the US version the pairs were related) in a race across a 20-hexagon grid arranged in five columns of four, with each segment containing the initial letter of a one-word answer. Contestants advanced by completing a string of segments linking one end of the board to the other; they could also attempt to delay their opponents' progress by seeking to capture one of the segments they needed. While the single player could theoretically cross the board with fewer correct answers, the pair had a definite advantage on the buzzer. The goal was to reach the 'Gold Run' final, in which the contestant or pair had to cross a different grid containing two- or more-letter clues to multi-word answers in under sixty seconds. Gold Run success was rewarded with generous prizes ranging from a day's rally driving to the ultimate prize of an adventure trip to an exotic location.

In a bold act of scheduling intended to dent the BBC's teatime audience, Blockbusters was 'stripped' across consecutive weekday evenings. This created a useful 'cliffhanger' when games that could not be completed during a single edition were carried over to the next (the final programme ended in the middle of a game). The strategy proved successful, winning the show an audience well beyond its teenage target. Channel Four followed a similar pattern when the first series of Blockbusters was repeated over the summer of 1984. In 1988 a Saturday edition was added, making the series the first British programme to be stripped over six nights, although it returned to five nights a week the following autumn.

The series was hosted for its entire ten-year run by the genial Bob Holness. A veteran of earlier quiz shows such as Take a Letter (ITV, 1962-64) and Junior Criss Cross Quiz (ITV, 1957-67), Holness was likened to a headmaster, and his interactions with the young, sometimes mischievous contestants were often unintentionally hilarious.

Kathleen Luckey

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