Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Two

Prev 3

6 Episode Four

Guest Panellists: Rolf Harris, Barbara Kelly, John Inman, Karen Kay, Lennie Bennett and Una Stubbs.

A major part of the appeal of Blankety Blank is the suggestion that its brand of free-falling chaos is all relatively unscripted and spontaneous, even though it's clear at stages some involved have the odd pre-planned line. However, the artifice comes close to collapsing completely here, in what is an otherwise pretty entertaining show.
     First of all there's a "surprise" entrance from Larry Grayson, invading the studio with a replica of Terry's wand microphone, just after Lennie Bennett had talked about him. Although Terry protests "I wish they'd tell me about these things", it all does feel a bit too pre-rehearsed, even if Larry's entrance does give a fascinating glimpse of the studio audience for the first time, revealing a crowd almost exclusively made up of the "blue rinse and curlers" set.
     But the real "scales falling from the eyes" moment comes when a Supermatch Game has the word "Blue", only for one of the answers, "Moon", to be revealed upside down. Lennie Bennett rushes over and stands on his head to read it, which amuses the audience, who wouldn't have seen the unscreened second pilot where the exact same thing happens. Such matters also cast doubt on the veracity of the "we asked a studio audience..." claims underpinning the Supermatch part of the quiz, even if one of the answers is different.
     In terms of new contestants on the show, then Rolf Harris, Canadian actress Barbara Kelly and John Inman all show up for the first time. Rolf's inclusion is retroactively unsettling, yet despite the specific era in which Blankety Blank was made, it remains largely free of the shadow of Yewtree, even though certain episodes weren't repeated on Challenge TV, seemingly due to featuring panellists undergoing unfounded allegations. Inman gets in a great dig to Karen Kay when she tells him he'll be "free to play with someone else": "Trouble is, I never know who you are". Kay does multiple impressions in this instalment, three of which were completely unrecognisable here at the Anorak Zone.
     Unfortunately, Barbara Kelly doesn't seem to grasp that the various bits of chaos and interruptions (of which, in fairness, this episode there are many) are of at least equal importance to the quiz itself. Pointing to the contestants after one such diversion, she tells Terry "Back to those lovely people over there", before suggesting they just get on with the show. Lastly, look out for the very serious Royal Navy contestant Victor Chamberlain in the end titles, pumping out his arm to "wave" with fervoured intensity.

5 Episode Nine

Guest Panellists: Richard O'Sullivan, Barbara Kelly, Patrick Moore, Sue Lawley, Paul Daniels and Amanda Barrie.

Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking sights of recent times came in 2018 when Meghan Markle visited a retirement home for actors, only to find an aged Richard O'Sullivan sat at a bar. It's a stark reminder of mortality, and, while Blankety Blank is a trivial game show where 90% of the quiz answers could be "willy", it too exists as a reflection of our ultimate fate.
     This particular episode isn't too disheartening in this regard, and in fact the first episode of the series (as of February 2021) where none of the panellists are still alive is Episode 5.8. But just to look at Terry Wogan fooling around with Patrick Moore, Barbara Kelly and Paul Daniels is to effectively watch the long-past work of electronic ghosts.
     O'Sullivan doesn't seem to particularly know what to do in his sole appearance on the show, and Amanda Barrie is similarly quiet, another guest who appeared just the once in regards the original run, but did return for a couple of guest spots during the Lily Savage revival. Lastly, there's Sue Lawley also making a "one and done" turn on the panel, but Lawley does amuse with her irritation towards Paul Daniels. Daniels, in fairness, does amuse on occasion, and, with his insistence that he'll be "sophisticated" and on his best behaviour, is a much more bearable prospect than usual. Though such things could, of course, come down to relative values.

4 Episode Eleven

Guest Panellists: Windsor Davies, Aimi MacDonald, Henry Cooper, Françoise Pascal, Larry Grayson and Dora Bryan.

The sole appearances of Dora Bryan and Françoise Pascal, as well as the debut of a new regular, retired boxer Henry Cooper, who would be an always-reliable presence. While Henry might not put anyone on the floor in hysterics, or particularly stand out among some of the "busier" personalities, he's amiable and enthusiastic, one of the, after a fashion, "supporting players" on a panel who are just as much, if not more, important as the scene-stealing "turns". He gets a round of applause in this edition when Aimi MacDonald takes ages in a round, claiming she's just getting it. "You will if you don't write an answer down" quips Henry, back in the days where threatening to lay out a woman was a sure-fire laugh getter.
     In his 1984 autobiography H for 'Enry, Cooper spoke briefly about the show, as well as revealing that any jokes he was given to say on Celebrity Squares were written for him, a different world to the ad-libbing of Blankety Blank. He was an old golfing buddy of Terry Wogan, and stated that "Terry Wogan's programme is one I especially enjoy doing. There is always a good atmosphere in the studio." Mind you, Henry never appeared in an episode with Paul Daniels.

3 Episode Fifteen

Guest Panellists: Jack Douglas, Beryl Reid, David Jacobs, Judy Geeson, Cuddles the Monkey, Keith Harris and Pat Coombs.

A fairly unusual episode in that Beryl Reid, usually an enthusiastic "supporting player", here elevates herself up to a "main turn", initiating almost Daniels-levels of interruption. Although joking around, she is in a somewhat Bolshy mood for this one, which may or may not appeal. It's an unusually difficult showing from her, trying to dominate, whereas the laughs (and high ranking) of the episode come more from elsewhere, including the general high spirits.
     Reid actually gave an idea of the behind-the-scenes workings of the show in her autobiography, So Much Love, observing: "You really don’t rehearse it at all, you do some almost silly questions with the people on the panel that you’re not going to meet and they record two shows at once, so you meet the people on the second show’s panel, as it were, and not any of those in your own, to influence them. So you just try and answer the questions and play the game."
     It's a curious tale that doesn't seem to quite add up - if they're recording two episodes in one night, and no one gets to rehearse with the panellists they'll be appearing with, then how would that be logistically possible? Surely there'd have to be six practise teams in one night in order for no one to be rehearsing with some teams they'd later be recording with? However, the "two shows a night" schedule is corroborated elsewhere.
     In terms of trivia, then this is one of two episodes in the second series to feature a fly in the studio. Never mentioned by anyone involved, you can nevertheless see one buzz past Beryl Reid's head six minutes in, as pictured above, ironically just as she says the word "flies". Diane Keen also gets a similar visitation during Episode 2.3. However, the fly's biggest star turn is just before the "Head to Head" game, where it zooms right in front of the camera lens.
     Lastly, while the act of Keith Harris may seem a little corny to some, there's undeniable skill involved, in particular a routine he did on one of his own shows where he accidentally swapped his voice with that of Cuddles the Monkey. Here he gets to show that he Cuddles is also a decent mimic, putting on a beret and doing a Frank Spencer impression. While pretty much everyone was doing Frank Spencer impressions in the 1970s (Karen Kay sometimes 50 times a show), this is the first time that it's been performed via ventriloquism.
     There are suspicions that Terry Wogan isn't overly keen on having ventriloquists on the show, as he doesn't tend to spend too long chatting with them, and, when he does, he'll make slightly disparaging remarks of the "gottle of geer" variety. Yet even Terry breaks here, unable to be anything but impressed by such antics.

2 Episode Three

Guest Panellists: Roy Kinnear, Julia McKenzie, Percy Edwards, Diane Keen, Paul Daniels and Lorraine Chase.

The debut of Roy Kinnear, Percy Edwards and Julia McKenzie on the panel. Although McKenzie would show up three more times over the next couple of years and Roy went on to be a regular, this is the sole appearance of Edwards, who throws himself into it with his customary bird noises. On the bottom row are three guests making a return from the first series: Diane Keen, Paul Daniels and Lorraine Chase.
     Out of all his appearances on the show, then while he's also reasonable in #2.9, this is Paul at by far his most palatable. This doesn't mean he isn't irritating on many occasions, and Roy Kinnear looks wearied by him, but there really is the sense that Paul is doing everything he does for the good of the show rather than his usual self-promotion. Interruptions are generally timed right, and he comes out with some genuinely quick-witted remarks and shows off a neat magic trick as part of one of his answers. If there's one real misstep, it's his decision to castigate the spelling of his fellow panellists, though, this said, it is surprising how many of the panellists throughout the whole of Blankety Blank struggle with even basic English. (Though, before we're quick to judge, we don't know their backgrounds - Beryl Reid, for example, was Dyslexic.)
     Paul refers to the show in his 2000 autobiography, My Magic Life, with a particular focus on this episode, which was the first time he'd even been seen (via a TV screen) by future assistant/wife Debbie McGee. As perhaps to be expected, the autobiography is high on self praise and low on genuine introspection, at least as far as his panel appearances go.
     Discussing this episode, Paul observed: "Superman, The Movie had just exploded on to our cinema screens and everybody was talking about it. Before the programme, I told Terry's scriptwriter the gag about Superman being stupid because he wears his underpants on the outside. I had taken a bit of a gamble, hoping that the scriptwriter would tell Terry the gag before the show. [...] I pulled my shirt open to reveal the 'S'. Bang on cue, Terry said, 'Superman's an idiot, he wears his underpants on the outside!' I immediately stood on my chair, exposing my red Y-fronts and said 'what's wrong with that?' The huge explosion of laughter was so loud, that the sound engineer hadn't time to turn his buttons down and the sound went into distortion."
     If you're really looking to pick a statement like that to bits, then it doesn't show Terry in a particularly good light, being almost depicted as a stooge fed lines, whereas Paul, of course, comes out on top. Yet this once, Paul gets a pass, as he generally adds to the spirit of the show, rather than detracts from it. He even styles his wig into Superman's kiss curl, which is syrup-based dedication to the part. Besides which, if criticising Paul's appearances on the show is what's desired, then there's always series three to come...

1 Christmas

Guest Panellists: David Jason, Wendy Craig, Patrick Moore, Shirley Anne Field, Kenny Everett and Sandra Dickinson/ Roy Kinnear, Beryl Reid, David Hamilton, Liza Goddard, Lennie Bennett and Lorraine Chase.

Arguably the silliest episode of Blankety Blank ever made, which is some going, this Christmas Special sees two sets of contestants, snowball fights, and Terry flying through the air. The level of artifice is high (the first set of panellists obviously have to leave in order to "disappear", and Terry and the second lot have to get strapped into harnesses at the end) but as it's Christmas, it scarcely seems to matter.
     The Christmas editions of Blankety Blank, although actually filmed much earlier, always felt like a special occasion for the show, and it's nice to see Terry having such a good time. A lot of the panellists don't look all that comfortable being hoisted in the air (Roy Kinnear particularly), but Terry's clearly loving it. It's a shame to think that he went on to a so-so chat show, which was a time passer at best for most of its run, and which even Terry didn't seem to enjoy all that much.
     One thing that must be acknowledged when discussing the ratings of Blankety Blank is that things were very different in these pre-BARB days. BBC and ITV had their own separate systems of measuring audiences, and would often disagree as to which system was more accurate. The BBC's version seemed more internal, less disclosed, so due to availability in archive newspapers, the ratings cited in these articles are from ITV's version, JICTAR (Joint Industry Committee for Television Advertising Research).
     This probably explains why Terry Wogan's recollection of the viewers for this one is different, although he possibly got it confused with the 1980 Christmas Special, which did top the chart: "The star attraction of BBC TV’s Christmas 1979 was Blankety Blank, and it did not let them down; it topped the season’s ratings for that year." Actually, it didn't, at least according to JICTAR, though came in an impressive fifth place with 15.55 million viewers. The BBC/ITV debate would continue for a couple more years, until BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) came along in August 1981, with less accusations of non-neutrality.
     In regards speculation as to the much-debated question as to whether Terry wore a wig, then or later in life, then there is a fair amount of stray hair showing under his swept fringe in this one, plus a point where a stray strand hangs over his forehead. But for this very vital and universally important debate, it should be acknowledged that not only would the sides be very unlikely to be affected by male pattern baldness, only the scalp, but episodes of his chat show clearly showed a bald patch on the back as he got older. So, did he wear one? Well, maybe, but it would have just been a hair piece for the front section, no more. Lastly, on the subject of trivia, Sandra Dickinson's then-husband Peter Davison can be seen in the audience 37 minutes in (next to graffiti with David Jason's name) throwing a "snowball" at Terry.


Prev 3