British Game Show Wiki
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Hosts
Bob Holness (1983–1994)
Michael Aspel (1997)
Liza Tarbuck (2000–2001)
Simon Mayo (2012)
Dara Ó Briain (2019)
Announcers
Andrew Lodge (1983–1986)
Peter Tomlinson (1987–1994)
Susan Rae (1997)
Dan Strauss (2000–2001)
Simon Mattocks (2012)
Broadcast
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ITV: 29 August 1983 – 4 June 1993
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Sky One: 18 April 1994 – 30 September 1994
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BBC Two: 31 March – 8 August 1997
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Sky One: 30 October 2000 – 23 March 2001
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Challenge: 14 May – 3 August 2012
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Comedy Central: 21 March – 4 December 2019
Packagers
Central (1983–1994)
Fremantle UK (1997)
Grundy (2000–2001)
Thames (2012, 2019)

A game of skill and strategy, where the game board was a honeycomb filled with letter and a single player played against a team to see if two heads really are better than one.

For the ITV series, both Sky One series, and Comedy Central series, this show was played with teenage contestants; for the other two versions, adults played.

Gameplay

A 4×5 board of 20 hexagons is presented, with a letter in each hexagon. A letter is chosen at random to start a game. The answer of the question begins with the letter chosen (the only exceptions are X and Z, which are not featured on the board at all). For example, if the letter T were chosen, a sample question might be: "What 'T' is a sport made famous by Serena & Venus Williams?", in which case the correct answer would be "Tennis". The player who buzzes in first gets a chance to answer the question. If correct, the space is marked with their colour. If they are incorrect, the opponent(s) get(s) a chance to answer (should the solo player miss, only one half of the team can answer, with conference). If nobody answers correctly, another question is asked whose answer begins with that same letter. Each correct answer also win money, which in the team's case both players receive. The amount in all versions prior to 2019 was £5, which has been increased to £20 for the Comedy Central run.

The object of the game is to make a connecting path from one side to the other. This is classified as achieving "Blockbusters." The solo player has to connect from top to bottom (white to white), which can be done in as little as four correct answers. The team has to connect side to side (blue to blue) in as little as five moves. When a side is close to winning the game, their appropriate coloured hexagons flash; sometimes, however, all the earned hexagons flashed; this situation is called "Blockbusters either way" (in later series of the Holness era, this was renamed a "mutual space" on the board). The first side to make the connection wins the game, and the first side to win two out of three games wins the match and the right to play the "Gold Run". If the team advances to the bonus round, only one of them can play (alternating turns with each additional match won (only possible in all versions prior to 2019)).

In the Comedy Central series, certain correct answers award booby prizes, referred to as "spot prizes". In addition, whereas all previous versions broke tie games with a third game, the Comedy Central series has the "Hexagon Standoff", which is one final question. Whoever buzzes in with the right answer wins, while a wrong answer gives the match to the opponent(s).

Gold Run

The winning player has to connect from left to right (gold to gold) in 60 seconds or less. The difference here is that the hexagons have multiple letters on them (two to four letters), and naturally, they represent an answer of more than one word (eg: "CT", First host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?: Chris Tarrant). Correct answers mark the chosen hexagons gold. There is no penalty for incorrect guesses but passes put up blocks and the player must work around them. If the contestant can make the connection, they win a prize; if they can't, they receive cash (£10 in all versions prior to 2019, £50 in the Comedy Central run) for each correct answer. If the contestant is blocked out at any time, he/she can still continue and try to build up the money for every correct answer until time runs out. Win or lose, the host goes over any missed and/or passed questions, and another match begins.

In all versions prior to 2019, Gold Run prizes increased with each new attempt by the same champions, and were based on how many of them were played to that point; not how many they won. (i.e. contestants who won the last Gold Run won the major prize guaranteed, regardless if they lost any previous Gold Runs).

The Comedy Central series offers a choice of two categories for its Gold Run, and winning awards a holiday.

Championship Format

Defending champions could keep going for up to five matches undefeated, in order to win a major 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 remained at five matches. In the Comedy Central series, all shows are self-contained.

Prizes

In the first two series, all contestants who appeared on the show received a Concise Oxford Dictionary and a sweatshirt (both having the show's logo on them). By the third series, the computer game based on the show was added. Within a year, the sweatshirt was replaced with a cardigan (again, with the show's logo on it) in a choice of colours, and an embossed filofax (later an electronic organizer) accompanied the dictionary. In the first Sky One series, it was changed to a Blockbusters Encyclopedia and T-shirt. In the BBC Two 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 received an Elonex E-book reader. In the Comedy Central series the players receive a hoodie and reuseable mug.

Trivia

Starting in 1986, at the end of every Friday programme, everyone in the studio (including host Bob Holness) did a dance called the Hand Jive. This is because five programmes were recorded every day, and a future contestant got bored waiting his turn for several shows a day; so they did this dance before they went home. The way the dance went was as follows:
Knee-clap
Hand-clap
Hand-over-hand (×2)
Potato-hands (×2)
Elbow-point-twirl (×2)
(Repeat ×3)

Knee-clap
Hand-clap
Clap in the air.

The Hand Jive was dropped when the show moved to the BBC in 1997.

From 1987–1990, a spinoff show called Champion Blockbusters was produced, and ran for four series. It was played similar to the original version, except that the contestants were former champions who had all won Gold Runs and/or reached the five-match maximum.

The BBC version of Blockbusters was the only version where the team was not represented by the colour blue; they were represented by the colour purple instead.

Merchandise

Blockbusters spawned a number of items of merchandise. 12 quiz books were released from the show[1] which also led to a spin-off: "Blockbusters Gold Run Volumes 1-5" being produced.[2]

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.[3] 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).[4] A computer game version of the show was also created for the Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro 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.[5]

Gallery

Music

Theme: "Quiz Wizard" by Ed Welch

NOTE: Although the theme was updated as the years went by, the BBC version was the only version that did not use it. Instead, it used a similar sounding theme (presumably it was the same theme, but with changes in the notes).

Making the Title Sequence

The special title sequence for Blockbusters took almost a year to get from its conception onto the television screen, and there were many people involved along the way.
The sequence began with the concept, which was intended to be a journey starting with a view of the Earth from space and ending in the Blockbusters studio.
The initial step was to break down the 42 seconds of title music into phrases and any points where synchronization with the visuals was specific. This was done by transferring the opening music onto magnetic track which enabled me to time the music to the frame. Next came the storyboard which was a shot by shot illustration of the content of the titles. I then drew up designs for the buildings in the cityscape, and this included a drawing of how the city would be arranged in anticipation of the camera moves.
Then Central's model makers constructed the buildings from foam board and perspex, and covered them with metallic foils. Light-boxes were wired inside some buildings where either transparencies or windows were seen. A strip of foil with pinholes was placed between the buildings with underlighting to give an appearance of traffic on the road. The cityscape was approximately twelve feet square, and the studio set about five feet square, while the corridor to the studio was only three feet in length but distortion of the perspective gave it a much longer look. The figureheads which surround the real studio were also moulded in miniature.
When complete the models were transported to the studio in London to be filmed. They were shot on a computer controlled motion control rig, which is a camera set-up designed for special effects work. The rig stood about ten feet high and weighed two tons, rolling back and forth on tracks, and despite this weight was accurate to thousandths of an inch. Each camera move was assessed on a video monitor linked to the camera.
The opening Earth shot was done using a white globe mounted against black velvet with a slide of the Earth detail projected onto it. Streaking and slit-scan effects were later added to this shot to create the background. The cityscape had to be filmed in a sealed studio filled with special smoke and lit from below, internally and from above. Everything was shot single frame and the movements all controlled by computer. Several tests were filmed to correct exposure and rates of move, then modifications such as the roll (giving the feeling of being in a helicopter as we turn into the main street) were added to the computer data. For the corridor model I had the ceiling made with removable slats so that as the camera travelled along, each one could be taken away to allow the movement without losing the enclosed feel of the corridor itself. The picture on the walls (to right and left) and the gameboard were all a Sequence of transparencies alternated, skip-framed and all were matted-in using false walls, backlighting and multi-passes.
The final model (the studio set) was the most difficult to shoot because to create the Illusion of the figureheads travelling back into their position on the set each one had to be filmed individually, blacking out the remainder of the set every time. They do not move at all, the camera tracks back, using a different move for each sculpture on separate passes. We had a shaped neon strip made for the back of the set and used fibre optics to light the heads.
This was the first stage of shooting the title sequence. Once the model shoot was seen to be correct it was assembled in sequence and the computer animators 'rotoscoped' the relevant frames of film to use as a guide for the plotting of the animation for the flying hexagons. Rotoscoping is the tracing off of frames from the model shoot, the buildings, corridor, studio, etc. These drawings let the computer know where things are on the film and so where the hexagons ought to be at any given frame. Once we had decided how many hexagons were needed on the flight paths of each, teh computer plotter drew each once onto sheets of acetate. These were then painted black and white film.
This brought me to the third stage of the process which involved the combining of all the elements onto one film. At this point we had film of the model shoot and the high contrast of the hexagons. For duplicating purposes on the opticals, special film stock was required - interpositive. Another negative was made by running the original negative with the high contrast creating a matte onto the new negative, enabling us to then 'burn in' the colour using back lit sheets of acetate (called 'cels') and coloured gelatine. Each of these corresponded to the position in each frame of the flying hexagons. All the cels and various film stocks used has to run in sync and again this was shot on another special camera rig using aerial-image and bi-packing.
Finally the music track was recorded on one inch video tape in sync with the telecined film. The transferring of the film onto tape was done on a steadigate system which copies the film one frame at a time to eliminate weave, and then digitally colour graded. The addition of the word Blockbusters was taken from a video rostrum from lettering, white on black, and coloured electronically, then keyed into the one inch master tape.
And that, briefly, is how the Blockbusters titles were made!!

Inventor

Based on the American game show of the same name by Steve Ryan.

Additional Pages

List of Blockbusters episodes and specials

References

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