Title screen for original version of show (1986-93)
|Also known as||All New Blockbusters (2012)|
|Created by||Steve Ryan|
|Presented by||Bob Holness (1983-95)|
Michael Aspel (1997)
Liza Tarbuck (2000-01)
Simon Mayo (2012)
Dara Ó Briain (2019)
|Theme music composer||Ed Welch (1983-95, 2000-01, 2019)|
Paul Boross (1997)
Rage Music (2012)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||11 (Bob Holness)|
1 (Michael Aspel)
1 (Liza Tarbuck)
1 (Simon Mayo)
2 (Dara Ó Briain)
|No. of episodes||1340 (Bob Holness)|
60 (Michael Aspel)
100 (Liza Tarbuck)
41 (Simon Mayo)
|Production location(s)||ATV Elstree (1983, 2019)|
Television House (1984-89, 90-95)
Central House (1989-90)
Granada Studios (1997)
The Leeds Studios (2000-01)
Sky Campus (2012)
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production||Central in association with Talbot Television and Goodson-Todman Productions (1983-95)|
Fremantle (UK) Productions and BBC North (1997)
Thames (2012, 2019)
|Original network||ITV (1983-93)|
Sky One (1994-95, 2000-01)
BBC Two (1997)
Comedy Central (2019)
|Picture format||4:3 (1983-2001)|
16:9 (2012, 2019)
|Original release||29 August 1983 -|
5 December 2019
Blockbusters is a British television quiz show based upon an American quiz show of the same name. A solo player and a team of two answer trivia questions, clued up with an initial letter of the answer, to complete a path across or down a game board of hexagons.
The programme premiered on 29 August 1983 on ITV and ran for ten series, ending on the ITV network on 19 May 1993. It has since been revived for four additional series, the most recent of which was a comedy version hosted by Dara Ó Briain, which premiered on Comedy Central on 21 March 2019.
Blockbusters was created by Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions and originated as an American series in 1980. The UK version was created after Central Independent Television producer Graham C. Williams spotted the show in 1981 and produced a pilot in 1982. The difference was that instead of adults, who appeared on the American edition, the UK edition was produced for sixth formers.
Bob Holness was the original presenter staying on for the first ten series of the first incarnation and a 1994 revival on Sky One. Holness commented in 1988: "When Central TV were looking for someone to host Blockbusters I was thought of. It was remembered that I'd done TV programmes of much the same sort, such as Junior Criss Cross Quiz which I compered in the 1960s and which was also a question and answer show. One led to the other." A 1997 edition featuring adults was produced for one series on BBC Two with Michael Aspel presenting. Sky One brought Blockbusters back under its original rules in 2000 with Liza Tarbuck at the helm, and the Challenge series was presented by Simon Mayo.
In the final episode of each day, the contestants were allowed to do a hand jive during the end credits, therefore only appearing on each Friday's episode. The hand jive first appeared in 1986 after one of the contestants was bored while sitting through filming several shows a day waiting for his turn. It lasted for the rest of the original series' run. The hand-clapping sequence was referenced by Half Man Half Biscuit in their 1991 song "Hedley Verityesque".
The original game board was powered using 40 slide projectors, each with its own set of slides for the different Letters and Gold Run questions, and took up the entire height of the studio. Slides were preloaded onto carousels with enough slides for about 3 - 5 shows. Carousels took about 30 minutes to change over. There were 15 different board combinations (5 sets X 3 games per match) which meant the same letter combinations would reappear. The letter 'Q' was only on one board, the letter 'Y' on two boards. All 15 boards followed in the same sequence but if the third game in a set was not needed (as it was best of three) the carousel would skip onto the Gold Run (missing the third board) and then onto the first game of the next set of three.
The original theme music was written by Ed Welch, who also updated the music for the second Sky series in 2001. The first Sky series kept the same opening titles used from 1987 on the original ITV run (as it continued to be produced by Central). The original theme in C major was an upbeat pop track incorporating piano, strings, drum machine and various other 1980s synthesized sounds reminiscent of the day - the four-note opening motif of Beethoven's 5th Symphony is mixed into the theme at the precise moment the composer's head appears on a flipping hexagon.
The BBC version in 1997 used a piece of music written by Henry Marsh and Paul Boross. It is said by some that the theme is similar to the original theme with notes swapped around but for unknown reasons, the BBC either couldn't or wouldn't use the original theme; therefore, they composed a theme as close to the original as possible but different enough to avoid possible allegations of copyright infringement.
Rage Music created the version used by Challenge, which is an updated version of the original theme, primarily using an electric guitar.
The original 1983-86 title sequence featured flipping hexagons with various images on them running down an encyclopedia page. The title sequence used from 1987 to 1994 is a city, paying homage to science-fiction films such as Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner (1982). In the 1994 Sky series the opening titles were cut short, not featuring the hexagons flying over the studio like the 1987-93 titles.
The title sequence used in the 1997 series with a complete different theme tune (although as mentioned above, it might have been similar to the original theme but with several notes swapped around) featured a golden head with hexagons showing clips. The title sequence used in 2000-01 featured people throwing and catching the letters that spell "Blockbusters" using the Ed Welch theme again.
The 2012 title sequence features references to all previous title sequences, mainly hexagons - but also with more subtle features like the golden head (as seen in the 1997 BBC version), and the planet Earth and a city-like structure as seen in the popularised 1987-95 versions.
Like the 1980 U.S. version, a solo player competed against a pair of contestants, and hence setting out to prove or disprove the old adage that two heads really were better than one.
The game board consisted of 20 interlocking yellow hexagons, arranged in five columns of four. Each hexagon contained a letter of the alphabet (except X and Z). A contestant would choose one of the letters, and would be asked a general-knowledge trivia question whose correct answer began with the chosen letter. (A typical question might be, "What 'P' is a musical instrument with 88 keys?" The answer would be a piano.) The phrasing that contestants would use to ask for a letter has entered the language, and is frequently heard to this day. It is also the source of a pun - "Can I have a 'P' please, Bob?"; 'having a pee' being slang for urinating.
The game board is designed in such a way that a tied game was not a possible finishing result. Even if all 20 hexagons were filled (which did occur at least twice, once in the very first series, and once in the first Sky version) there would always be a winner.
The game began with a toss-up question to play for control of the board, starting with a letter that was chosen at random. The teams or players could buzz-in during the middle of reading of a question. If a player or team got the correct answer, they gained control of that hexagon and were given the chance to choose another one. If the contestant answered incorrectly, the opposing team or player was given a chance to answer it after the host re-read the question. If nobody answered it correctly, the host asked another question whose answer began with that same letter. Each correct answer won £5. In the case of the two-player team, each player won whatever money the team accumulated.
The solo player attempted to complete a vertical connection of white hexagons from the top of the board to the bottom; that required at least four correct answers. The pair attempted to connect a path from left to right with blue hexagons (purple during the Aspel era), requiring at least five spaces. The first side to connect their path won the game. The first player or team to win two games won the match. When either party was one correct answer away from completing their path, the hexagons forming their path would flash to indicate this. If both were one correct answer away, all lit hexagons on the board would flash, indicating that the situation was effectively "Blockbusters either way" (later referred to as a "mutual space" on the board), and the next player to give a correct answer would win the game, unless the contestant chose a panel which would not give them the win, which was sometimes used as a safety tactic to avoid handing the initiative to the opponent in case they gave the wrong answer.
All players received a "Blockbusters" Concise Oxford Dictionary and sweatshirt in the original ITV series. By 1985, the Blockbusters computer game was added. Within a year, the sweatshirt had been replaced by a "Blockbusters" branded cardigan in a choice of colours and a "Blockbusters" embossed filofax accompanied the dictionary (replaced by an electronic organizer by 1988). In the first Sky One series in 1994 it was a Blockbusters Encyclopedia and T-shirt. In the BBC Two 1997 series it was a fountain pen. In the second Sky One series it was a Blockbusters Dictionary and a CD ROM. In the Challenge series the players receive an Elonex E-book reader.
The winner of the match went on to play the Gold Run bonus round; if the pair won, only one player on the team could play, with the turns alternating at each Gold Run. The board consisted of a pattern of green hexagons similar to that of the main game, but the hexagons had 2 to 4 letters inside them; those letters were the initials of the correct answer. (For instance, if a contestant chose "BS" and the host said "Where people kiss in Ireland", the correct answer would be "Blarney Stone.") When the contestant guessed correctly, the hexagon turned gold. However, if the contestant passed, it turned black, blocking the player's path; it was then up to the contestant to work around it. The object was to horizontally connect the left and right sides of the board within 60 seconds (or before blocking off all possible horizontal connections).
If the players were successful they won a special prize. If the Gold Run was not won, each correct answer paid £10. Defending champions could keep going for up to five matches undefeated, in order to win an even bigger prize. From the seventh ITV series, it was reduced to three, so that more contestants could take part over the course of a series. In the first Sky One series this was changed back up to five matches and reduced to three again on BBC Two. In the second Sky One series, it increased to five again. For the Challenge series, the maximum amount remains at five matches.
A famous short piece of music (three sharp notes on a synth-like horn in a slapstick style) was played if a contestant ran out of time on a Gold Run, often producing amused reactions in the studio; the same three notes played on an electric guitar act as the time's-up buzzer on the Challenge version.
4 series of Champion Blockbusters were made from 1987 to 1990, in which gold-run winners were invited to return to battle against other gold-run winners.
In 1994, Sky One created a new series with original host, Bob Holness. It was produced by Central, which had made the programme since 1983, and sponsored by Thomas Cook. This series featured a bonus question for any player who chose a particular letter and correctly answered that question, thereby earning the right to answer a £5 follow-up question. Sky One brought the series back again in 2000, this time produced by Grundy (which owned the format) and presented by Liza Tarbuck, but it failed to capture the same degree of popularity as the Holness incarnation. The format stayed the same in both versions.
BBC Two used adult contestants, instead of sixth formers. This version was broadcast in 1997 and presented by Michael Aspel; the show stayed with the same format. Famous contestants included Stephen Merchant.
This is the only version to use purple hexagons; all other versions still used blue to represent the pair of players. The solo player still played white hexagons. The Gold Run used a blue background in this version and the Liza Tarbuck version.
On 14 April 2007 at 20:40, Vernon Kay hosted a networked edition of Gameshow Marathon on ITV1 in which celebrity contestants revived the classic 1980s Holness version of the show. It also featured an edited version of the show's opening titles.
It was announced on 10 November 2011 that game show channel Challenge would revive the show in 2012, under the name "All New Blockbusters", with adult contestants rather than students. Forty episodes were recorded from 9 to 19 February 2012 with Simon Mayo hosting the show.
The series started airing on 14 May 2012 with the first episode dedicated to the memory of original host Bob Holness, who died on 6 January 2012. The series also featured contestant Claire Scott who made her third appearance on Blockbusters.
The show aired at 20:00 every weekday with an omnibus showing split over Saturday and Sunday mornings, plus a repeat showing of the previous night's episode at 17:00. The series was put on hold for a few weeks and resumed transmission on 9 July 2012, starting with a celebrity special featuring Konnie Huq (who had previously been on the original Blockbusters) amongst others. During the break, the first 20 episodes were repeated, with the "All New" removed from the title.
On 22 October 2018, it was reported that Blockbusters would return once again. Produced by Thames TV, the format will remain the same. It was announced on 3 December 2018 that Dara Ó Briain would host the revived version for Comedy Central. 20 new episodes, broadcast over two series, were recorded in the winter of 2018 and will include two celebrity specials. The first episode will air on 21 March 2019. The new reboot aired on Comedy Central at 20.00 on Thursday 21 March 2019 with Dara O'Briain. The format has been modified so that each episode is a standalone contest between a complete panel of three contestants. The prize money has been increased from previous incarnations, to £20 per correct answer in the main game (£100 for celebrity edition) and £50 per correct answer in an unsuccessful Gold Run (£150 for celebrity edition). Spot prizes exist in this series, occurring once per episode when a certain hex is selected. If each side wins one game each, the deciding game of past formats has been replaced with a sudden death playoff entitled the Hexagon Standoff. The two teams try to answer one question, if they get it correct they go to the Gold Run, however if they answer incorrectly the opposition goes through. In the Gold Run the contestant has a choice of two categories for their question board. All contestants take away a Blockbusters-branded hoodie and "reusable cup". This version uses a white background during the Gold Run and passes turn the space dark blue.
In 1986, Waddingtons created a board game version of the show, which was named Game of the Year in 1986 by The British Association of Toy Retailers. This led to several successful spin offs; a "Gold Run" Card Game, a Junior Blockbusters board game (a children's edition) and a Super Blockbusters board game (essentially, a second edition standard game with its own set of "Gold Run" cards). A computer game version of the show was also created for the Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.
In 2006, a DVD Interactive Game version was released with Bob Holness reprising his position at the helm. The DVD is based on the same format as the TV show, with virtual set design and game graphics matching the original version of the programme.
Blockbusters was one of the first British game shows to run in a 'straddling' format, which allowed for games to last a different length of time, meaning that episodes would often begin and end mid-game, and matches often crossed over into two episodes. The show was generally screened at 5:15pm Monday to Friday, filling the half-hour timeslot between Children's ITV and the ITN News at 5:45, with a similar timeslot allocated on Saturdays for a while. The show was always aired on the ITV network, although the first series was repeated on Channel 4 during the summer of 1984, in the Countdown slot. Blockbusters was never networked across ITV's sixteen regions, this meant that it was occasionally possible to retune the television to a neighbouring region and watch a different episode. Blockbusters did share its time slot with other game shows such as Ask No Questions, Connections, and Winner Takes All. Episodes were recorded in two blocks one during the summer and another during November.
All regions aired Series 1, some stations moved Blockbusters to an earlier slot because the 5:15pm slot was taken up by soap operas.
The show was delayed by all ITV regions until January 1990 as no slots were available to air the show. This was because Home and Away took over the 5:10pm slot and Emmerdale was now being aired at 6:30pm, before it was moved to 7:00pm in January 1990. Anglia, Central and TSW were airing repeats from September to December 1989.
Granada moved the time slots around during this period, In the Autumn 1990, the series was moved to 5:10pm, on occasion moved 15.25 to allow episodes of Families to have the 17.10 slot. The series was moved again to 6:00pm from Wednesdays to Fridays in 1992. UTV reduced its time slots to one episode a week from January to October 1992, then from 26 October 1992, it was aired at 3:20pm from Mondays to Fridays. TVS reduced its time slots to two episodes a week for most of 1990, but during 1991-92, it went back to three episodes plus an additional episode around Saturday lunchtimes. TSW also dropped its time slots to two episodes per week every so often; however, in a bid to catch back up the series, it was moved to 5:10pm from Mondays to Fridays in September 1992. For around 18 months in 1991-92, Tyne Tees started airing more local output at 6:30pm time slot, which resulted in fewer episodes per week. When Tyne Tees and Yorkshire decided to merge their scheduling from January 1993, Tyne Tees increased its episode output to catch up (In November 1992, it was airing four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays), but had to drop over 50 episodes.
A number of new ITV companies come into being, which resulted in regional news being extending to a full hour from 6:00pm in some areas, meaning a number of stations moved the series back before CITV and, in some areas, it petered out with only one edition being shown per week.
After the tenth series, Blockbusters was no longer networked on ITV. But it continued for one more series on the satellite channel Sky One. Five ITV regional channels showed this series.
Challenge TV aired Blockbusters starting from September 1996 during the final months of The Family Channel and was the first game show broadcast on the relaunch from the Family Channel to Challenge TV on 3 February 1997 showing reruns from Series 9, it was repeated in February to June 1997, January to May 1998, September 1998 to January 1999 and May to September 1999.
In 2004, Saturday Night Takeaway showed clips from a 1992 episode with a contestant who was in the audience did not get very far on the show and only won £10. Following requests on the (now "defunct") Challenge forums to air the show, Challenge managed to acquire Blockbusters from June 2004 to June 2006, but they only showed the first 25 episodes from Series 10, which generated low ratings. Carlton Select also showed old shows while that channel was still operational.
Challenge reacquired Blockbusters but this time, they acquired 72 episodes from Series 10, and broadcast them during 2011. On 8 May 2014, they acquired the very first series, which aired from 26 May. On 4 January 2016, Challenge began showing Series 11 (the first Sky One series), acquiring 179 of the 180 episodes in the series.
The format has been remade in a number of countries during the 1980s and 1990s: