OK… this is something I very rarely own up to, and should the videotape of it ever to come to light, I’d be mortified… but given today’s news I think it’s time I steeled myself to talk about it in public.
So here goes. Many, many years ago, when I was a sixth form student, I was on Blockbusters. I still have the sweatshirt somewhere and the 1983 edition of the Blockbusters dictionary to prove it. (And my mother has it stuck on the end of a video recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, which I really should seek out and destroy).
In spring 1983 word had gone out around sixth form that they were looking for contestants for a new quiz show, asking for volunteers. Unfortunately for me, my A Level politics tutor was organising it, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so the next thing you know I’m sat in a room in Cambridge answering general knowledge questions at the audition, and then me and a guy called Sunil from the lower sixth were chosen for what we we told was “the sixth form answer to university challenge”. Bear in mind this was the first series, it hadn’t yet been shown on TV.
We got the call that they needed another pair, and were whisked down to Borehamwood for the recording, into a studio full of bright lights, a big flashing screen with letters on, and a cheesy presenter who seemed really old, and kept getting his make-up touched up between shots. I was horrified. I’d been sold University Challenge; this was the quiz show equivalent of Sale of the Century! We were told by the producer that a catchphrase had developed during the series being filmed, and asked to say ‘can I have a P please Bob’. I was having none of it. Bear in mind that I was a Russian-novel reading, John Peel listening, overcoat-wearing teenager, who no doubt took myself far too seriously. I didn’t do bright and bouncy, let’s all smile for the cameras stuff!
The first question was answered by my team-mate, the second by our opponent, a boy called Jeremy. I panicked a bit – what if I didn’t manage to answer a single question?! But then my team-mate froze, or his hangover got the better of him (we’d been out up in a hotel the night before, alcohol was consumed) and he didn’t open his mouth for the rest of the show. It was me against Jeremy, and although I think I actually answered more questions than he did, because we had to go across the board and he only had to go down, he triumphed – and yes, I am still kicking myself that I pressed the buzzer to the T question and couldn’t remember the word “tutu” for a dancer’s dress made of stiffened fabric.
Our failure was somewhat to my relief actually, as the thought of standing in the spotlight doing a Gold Run was just hideous… I can still remember what I was wearing: a green/pink checked shirt, khaki green sort of army trousers, and distressed brown leather pointed toe ankle boots with lots of buckles and straps on them. It’s a very good thing that people only got to see me from the waist up.
This was spring. I then went off to university in Liverpool in the autumn, and by then the show had become a cult classic amongst students. Three weeks or so into the term the rest of my halls of residence, all saw me appear on screen in the communal TV room – ‘that’s the girl in the Passage T-shirt who doesn’t talk to us!’ – and, it seems half of Liverpool saw it too. I was accosted my strangers in the street. It was all very embarrassing.
As I say, my first impressions of Bob Holness weren’t favourable. He seemed like the archetypa game show host, in the Bob Monkouse mould. Bad jokes, cheesy patter, bouffant hair, all a bit 1970s – and a rather strange choice to present a show aimed at teenagers. I never became a Blockbusters aficionado, but somehow what Bob Holness had, worked and he became a cult figure – even to the point that an urban myth developed that he’d played saxophone on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker
Street”. (Stuart Maconie made it up, but now even he has trouble convincing people it’s not true). So RIP Bob. Unlike half of my Twitter stream, I still can’t bring myself to say ‘Give us an RIP please Bob…”