1 9 7 9 – 1 9 9 0 (UK)
1 9 9 7 – 2 0 0 2 (UK)
Debuting on 18 January 1979, Blankety Blank – the British version of American show The Match Game – which was loved by 20 million viewers but was not the BBC’s sort of thing and proved a source of embarrassment to them.
Their Annual Report graciously accepted that it was “harmless fun handled skilfully by Terry Wogan“, then added, “yet the prominence of its success in the schedules led to suggestions that the whole network had become trivialised”.
Terry Wogan had to agree: “It’s a bit noisy, all those bells ringing and lights flashing – the sort of thing ITV usually do”. But given the chance to ad-lib, waggle his preposterous stick-like “wand” microphone and send up the proceedings, he was soon a household name.
The value of the prizes was never more than £250 at the start, and Terry was able to scoff at them. “I don’t want them to be any good,” he said. “That would mean us all having to concentrate”.
Terry had some influence over the panellists. The seating arrangement went like this. Front row: a strong character in the middle flanked on his right by a pretty actress and on his left – in the ‘idiot seat’ – usually a dumb blonde. Back row: a comedienne in the middle, and on her right a witty but less dominant funny man, and on her left a personality such as Patrick Moore.
Many celebrities found the show more difficult than it looked. Tracey Ullman hated being on – she was expected to be funny but was terrified – and Paul Daniels was accused of hogging the show.
Wogan believed that Lorraine Chase, Freddie Starr and Kenny Everett (who once produced a packet of Spanish peanuts called ‘Bum’ in the middle of a question) helped the show take off.
Terry had won the best prize going on British television during his five years there. He never looked back.
Les Dawson took over in 1984, ceremonially breaking the wand microphone on his first appearance. He began kissing the women contestants and stepped up the jokes about the prizes. Many deserved it.
The door of a dishwasher fell off in front of the audience during the recording of one show. “Some prizes are so bad they’re left in the foyer,” Dawson said. A 72-year-old woman won a bodybuilding kit, and the BBC refused to let her swap.
The show was revived for a Christmas special in 1997, with Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady) at the helm. A series followed in 1998, and a year later the title was changed to Lily Savage’s Blankety Blank. The programme moved to ITV in 2001.
Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady)