I’ll Have An RIP Please Bob

Bob Holness died today. He was 83.

For those of a particular age (basically my age or thereabouts) he was a fixture of our adolescence, a familiar face, a comforting presence in all of our homes and lives. Like a kindly uncle, a bit long in the tooth and a bit straight-laced but widely liked and respected by the kids because, unlike some others of his age, he seemed to genuinely like us.

Bob, as he was known (because that was his name), was the host of Blockbusters, an ITV quiz show aimed at teenagers which was aired Monday to Friday every week at ten past five throughout the important years of the 1980s (until Home & Away came along and knocked it back after the news). The format of the game was brilliant in its simplicity and utterly compelling. At its heart was a central conceit to see if two brains could be better than one – which clearly depended on the brains. A team of two would battle it out against a solo competitor in a word based game played out on a grid that looked not unlike a piece of honeycomb. (Similar to the one below):
The contestants would ask for a letter (getting the previous answer correct gave you control of the board) at which point Bob would ask a question where the answer would begin with said letter. Fastest finger on the buzzer gave you the chance to answer. If you answered correctly the hexagon would light to your colour and the objective was to have a row on connected answers either left to right (if you were the team of 2) or top to bottom (if a team of 1). As the meercats might say: Simples (squeak).This of course gave rise to the wonderful opportunity for contestants to say (altogether now): Can I have a P please, Bob?Which, of course, is comedy gold when you’re at the peak of your adolescence.

Almost as funny as the time a girl said orgasm instead of organism – although I didn’t find it funny at the time because I didn’t know what an organism was.

Yes, Blockbusters was a bit naff, yes the prizes were rubbish, although not as bad as Blankety Blank and yes the contestants were not always the coolest kids from their respective schools and clearly overdid on the lucky mascots. But none of that mattered. Blockbusters was simply must viewing, primarily because this was in the days before satellite and cable so choices were fairly (by which I mean incredibly) limited.

And you had to watch something. Didn’t you?

This was the golden age: John Craven still owned Newsround, Blue Peter badges still had currency, Jim was still fixing it and Why Don’t You were telling us to stop watching the tv and go and do something a little less boring instead. The era of Christopher Biggins doing a jungle safari show years before he would go into the jungle for real. It was the era of Neighbours and Home & Away; Des and Daphne, Mrs Mangel, Jason & Kylie getting married in a soft focused Angry Anderson video. Not to mention the era of Zammo getting wacked out of his mind on heroin forcing us all to JUST SAY NO.

And among it all, rounding off our post-school televisual experiences before the boring stuff about Mrs Thatcher and Neil Kinnock on the news, came Blockbusters. Good old, gentle Bob with his gentle nature and his innocently competitive quiz show.

Now, Bob wasn’t only famous for Blockbusters. It is a well known fact among those who were teenagers during this period, that Bob Holness was not just a great quiz show presenter but also a fine saxophonist. The man who played Sax, no less, on Gerry Rafferty’s masterpiece, Baker Street. What a guy, what a legend.

Everybody knew this about Bob Holness. Even when we knew it was a total myth.

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