Original version: Bob Holness

BBC 2 version: Michael Aspel

2000 Sky version: Liza Tarbuck


Central for ITV, 1983 to 1993

Sky One, 1994-5

BBC 2, 1997

Sky One, 2000


First letter first

The UK version of this original American show consisted of twenty lettered hexagons. If a contestant nominated a particular space (say, W), host Bob Holness would read out a question in the format "What W is the most north-westerly state in mainland USA?"

Master of ceremonies, Bob Holness

Buzzing in and answering the question correctly meant that space would be turned your colour. One player had the white spaces, and a team of two players had blue. The idea of the game was to fill in as many spaces as necessary so that a contiguous line of your colour went across the board horizontally (for the blue team) or vertically (for the white player, who could make the journey in one less space than the blues to compensate for their single-ness).

Getting a question correct also allowed you to choose the next letter. As you can see from the diagram, the single player had a shorter route than the pair of blue players.

The contestants desk

The board is constructed in such a way that ties weren't possible, although a frequent occurrence was the "mutual space" whereby both sides needed the same one space in order to complete their line across the board.

One of the blue team contestants buzzes in

On the run

The side who won the best of three matches went on to play the Gold Run. In this game, the participant (either the white player, or a nominated player from the blue team) had to work their way across the board from left to right within 60 seconds. The hexagons had letter combinations such as "MTOC" and the contestants had to guess what these stood for using clues given by the host. e.g. "Famous humanitarian from India" would be "Mother Theresa of Calcutta".

Bob Holness in the early days

Regardless of whether the player won the Gold Run or not, the champion(s) went on to play another team or single player. Winning successive matches earned a chance at further Gold Runs with increasingly impressive prizes. A fourth Gold Run tended to be a holiday break somewhere in Europe, while winning the fifth and final Gold Run led to an excellent adventure holiday somewhere in the world. A failed Gold Run meant that the contestant(s) would get £10 for every correct answer. Correct answers during the main game were worth £5.

In the later series of the ITV version of Blockbusters they made an effort to cut costs, err... we mean, of course, get through more contestants by limiting players to three rounds only.

Set and match

There are a couple of features of the set that are worth mentioning. The first is the game board, which was quite a feat of engineering. It took up the entire height of the studio, and was powered using 38 slide projectors, each with their own set of slides for the different letters, colours and Gold Run questions.

The second is the giant figureheads that adorned the top of the studio. There was a whole set of them, featuring famous people from the past. They were all made out of polystyrene that had been modelled using a hot metal wire. The chief Greek god Zeus took pride of place.

Zeus overlooks the proceedings on Blockbusters

Channel hopping

The show was dropped by ITV after ten years, only to be snapped up by Sky (with Holness still at the helm) shortly afterwards, though these episodes were also shown in some ITV regions. A spin-off ITV series, Champion Blockbusters, invited former winners back to play again. BBC 2 experimented with a cheaper afternoon version for adults which did not have the charm of the original show.

Michael Aspel tried his luck with a modern version of Blockbusters

Key moments

The students showing off their "lucky mascot" toys they had brought with them.

When Bob once asked, "What 'L' is a sum of money you borrow from a bank?" a girl answered, "Can I have a loan, please, Bob?" Bob's response was to get his wallet out straightaway!

The famous out-take (below) where a contestant answered a biology question with the response "Orgasm" instead of "Organism", and the lesser-known one where another student offered the answer "Kama Sutra" instead of "Kamakaze".

"How am I going to explain this to Mum...?"

The oh-aren't-we-wacky-students always did the weird clappy-wavy dance thing (technical term: "hand jive") that ended each fifth programme. This is because five programmes were recorded during one day, and the producers let them do it as the final thing before they went home.


"Put yourself on the Hot Spot, please!"

"Gold to gold in 60 seconds or less".

"Let's play 'Blockbusters'!"

"Don't go away!"

"He/she'll be doing that Gold Run - not right now, but in a couple of minutes' time - don't you dare go away!"

There was a lot of joking around with the way in which contestants nominated the next hexagon to play for. It started with "Can I have a P please, Bob?" and progressed to "I want U, Bob" (which only the girls said, strangely enough). The 80s druggies got their kicks with "I want an E, Bob."


Blockbusters started life in the USA in 1980, one of the many Mark Goodson game-shows. The idea was spotted by a producer who piloted the show in the early 1980's in the UK.

Theme music

Composed by Ed Welch. A music clip is available from the Vintage TV themes site.


One of the contestants for the pilot show was David Elias, a quiz-setter by profession who won a series of Countdown. However, when the series was commissioned it was decided that teenagers at sixth form or in college should take part. Hence, he was the oldest ever contestant on Blockbusters.

Blockbusters was notable for being the first show on British TV to run five times a week. Many thought this was overkill, but this was subsequently shown to be wrong as the show ideally slotted into the invariably tricky 5.30pm slot. [This was in the days when Home and Away was a purely Australian institution.]

In addition to the main Zeus figurehead that was above Bob, there were many others which were displayed in the studio on a rotation basis. These included: Abraham Lincoln, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Tina Turner, Mother Teresa, George Bernard Shaw, Amy Johnston, John Wayne, Harold Macmillan, William Shakespeare, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Meryl Streep, Einstein, Lenin, Harrison Ford, Mao Tse Tung, Kenny Dalglish, Bob Geldof, Beethoven, Martina Natratilova, Hilga Ogden, Woody Allen, Toyah Willcox, Confucius, Queen Elizabeth I, a Punk Rocker, Moses, Daley Thompson, Marilyn Monroe, a Teacher, an Astronaut, a Diver, a Rastafarian and Tutankhamen. They were made out of polystyrene, and moulded by cutting out the relevant sections using a hot wire.

Some of the polystyrene figures from Blockbusters being auctioned off

The format was so successful in Dubai that shops and offices closed early so that everyone could rush home to see it. In the mid-90s, there were two editions of the show for kids in Israel - one in Hebrew, one in Arabic.

Mathematically speaking, it doesn't make any difference which space a contestant picks at any point in a game. Since whoever selects a space, it is decided by an equal race to the buzzer (so that whenever in the game a space is chosen, the same team should theoretically win it), and because a completed game board can only have one winner on it, the process of playing can be thought of as uncovering the final grid to "see" who wins. Therefore, the best tactic is arguably to simply choose the spaces that will delay the ending of the game and hence accrue a player the most cash. (Or of course, to choose the letters with the most potential for hilarious innuendo.)

Bob's trademark "sign off" of saluting his right hand into the air (usually accompanied with "Goodbye now!" or "Cheers!") was compained about by viewers who thought he was imitating the Nazi "Zeig heil" salute.

In later series, a bell would ring indicating when an advertising break was about to talk place. Bob would read out one more question before going into the ads. What purpose this served is unknown.

During the rehersals of the first Sky One series, when someone did a test Gold Run they'd put up gag prizes; two of them included an old rusty lawnmower, and the contents of the producers' drinks cabinet (a couple of cracked tumblers and an almost-empty bottle of booze).


Several Blockbusters quiz books were published by Sphere. A very successful board game was also made. In 1989, an annual was printed although this was the only one to be published to our knowledge.

Web links

Wikipedia entry

Thomas Scott's contestant diary

Article about the US version


Picture 1 - A later version of the set.


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