Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Three

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8 Episode 3.13

Guest Panellists: Roy Hudd, Beryl Reid, David Jacobs, Judy Geeson, William Rushton and Patricia Brake.

Willie Rushton makes his second of just three appearances on the show, one of the few panel games he didn't appear on that often. Rushton was a satirist, actor, and co-founder of Private Eye, but to a certain generation he's probably just regarded as a "professional panellist". It's a shame, in a way, a situation perhaps not helped by March that same year seeing his last major TV project - Rushton's Illustrated - cancelled before the final episode went out. However, as a small child he always appealed, regardless of whether it secretly broke his heart - though by all accounts Rushton was never bothered, and enjoyed the social aspect of panel shows.
     Although the audience are warm to Willie (there's a Blankety Blank question...), he does hit a lot of dead laugh areas throughout. It's not entirely his fault, as, while nearly always entertaining, Blankety Blank isn't exactly intellectual television, and by far the biggest laugh of the night comes with Roy Hudd's desk falling to bits. In contrast, some of Rushton's remarks are a little too esoteric for a mainstream audience; even Terry Wogan's mention of "Semprini" is met with almost no response.
     One joke that Willie makes that isn't heard by the audience is an attempt to get a laugh out of the word "pylon" sounding ever-so-vaguely like "piles". However, Roy Hudd takes this almost non-joke and milks every last laugh out of it, of which there are surprisingly many. Hudd is a little "full on" by the time the show ends, but this is generally a good-natured instalment.

7 Episode 3.11

Guest Panellists: Brian Murphy, Beryl Reid, Henry Cooper, Isla Blair, Les Dawson and Isla St. Clair.

Les Dawson might be an acquired taste for some, where his mixture of old school "mother-in-law" routines, erudite ramblings, gurning and mock yelling may not be for everyone. Such things are to be expected, as comedy is very subjective, and many may find Dawson's niche a little old-fashioned, certainly by today's standards. Which means that, while he's well-loved here at The Anorak Zone, it's understandable if you might not agree.
     Yet he wasn't afraid to experiment, regularly writing, and trying to expand his scope, such as playing a 100-year-old woman in an adaptation of an Argentinian drama (1991's Nona), or appearing in a series of three plays by Alan Plater, The Loner (1975), a series which was so good it was seriously considered for an article on this site, and is well worth a watch. Dawson's association with the series is obviously more noted for when Terry Wogan left, and he took over as host, but he appeared twice as a panellist, both here and in the 1980 Christmas Special.
     Les made pains to make the show very "family friendly" during his time as host, and gets into the spirit of things in the Christmas Special, but there are signs he might be trying a little too hard here. In particular, there's a moment where he says that Terry is to entertainment "what Julia Andrews is to Deep Throat". Unless Les knew something about the Watergate scandal that the public didn't, his remark provides fellatio to a 7:55pm family audience. Elsewhere, Les shouts a swearword in mock anger that's censored - although it appears to be "bloody", it's not censored when Rolf Harris mutters it the following week, but then it could just be the delivery.
     Lastly, Brian Murphy returns to the show for the first time since series one, again sporting a hairpiece, albeit a slightly subtler one than before. An indication of how far in advance the episode was recorded sees Terry ask about Mildred - Mildred actress Yootha Joyce died on the 24th August 1980, long before the episode's 13th November broadcast date.

6 Episode 3.14

Guest Panellists: Tony Selby, Sylvia Syms, Patrick Moore, Maureen Lipman, Kenny Everett and Pearly Gates.

A fun episode, featuring the sole appearance of Viola Billups from the sensational Northern Soul group The Flirtations, along with the only appearance of Tony Selby. Viola appears under the stage name "Pearly Gates", and shows herself to be thoroughly useless at the game, her infectious laughter whenever she repeatedly gets one wrong an amusing addition to a fun show.
     What elevates this one so far up the rankings is the second female contestant, Jan Beardsall, a truly eccentric personality. It's not clear if Beardsall is just nervous, under the influence, or simply a bit odd, but she spends her time joking, dissolving into fits of giggles, and hiding behind Terry.
     Series three has more than its fair share of highly watchable contestants. Included among them are Episode 3.2's Haydn Arbury, who looks so nervous and wide-eyed it's as if he fears a sniper's bullet; and Episode 3.8's Jack Ryan, the contestant who tells Terry his kids won't be watching the show as they'd be too ashamed. But out of them all, Jan might be the standout, if only for the puzzle of wondering what exactly was in going on in her head.
     Finally, trivia lovers who want to see the written side of Terry's question cards get their wish here, just after Kenny Everett does what he's most known for. While other episodes feature glimpses, this one's a real close up, revealing the card isn't typed, but handwritten in black ink, complete with red ink for the "blank".

5 Episode 3.12

Guest Panellists: Rolf Harris, Libby Morris, Jimmy Krankie, Ian Krankie, Shirley Anne Field, Tom O'Connor and Madeline Smith.

For the first time, the ratings for every single episode of a Blankety Blank series have been traced via archive newspapers and magazines. If we discount the festive-boosted ratings of the Christmas Special, then the average viewing figure for the remaining episodes was 14.7 million, with an eleventh place ranking in the TV chart. This episode is particularly significant in that it gives a serious indication of how competitive television was at the time, as the highest-rated non-Christmas episode of the run: 16.35 million tuned in, and it wasn't even able to break the top ten, having to settle for 12th place.
     As discussed with Les Dawson, then comedy is subjective. Yet the Krankies, making their first of five appearances on the show, seem to defy all laws of comedy logic. Are they genuinely funny, funny in an ironic way, or funny in a "you laugh because it's so bad" way? Possibly you may not even find them funny at all, but this bizarre act - a man dresses his 4'5 wife up as a 10-year-old schoolboy - somehow operates a bizarre Schrödinger's world of being simultaneously amusing and unfunny at the exact same time.
     Also on the panel is Rolf Harris, producing retroactive nausea as he kisses contestant Beverley Barnes multiple times over her left arm up to the elbow, before raising his hands in a triumphant pose. Lastly, in terms of trivia, Terry claims that this episode is the first time a tie-breaker has ever been contested with both players having zero points; as anyone who has read the articles on series one and two will know, forgetful Terry is mistaken in this regard.

4 Episode 3.8

Guest Panellists: Roy Hudd, Noele Gordon, Larry Grayson, Sylvia Syms, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Lorraine Chase.

This was Larry Grayson's sole appearance in the third series after a couple of series two guest spots, and he helps make it an infectious episode with a strong sense of fun. The whole thing gets off to a strong start as soon as the aforementioned contestant Jack Ryan tells Terry his kids won't be watching, and with the panel behind the contestant, there's much ribbing of Terry. Even Noele Gordon, who had a reputation, deserved or not, for being difficult, is in tears of laughter throughout.
     Finally, mentions of the show in various autobiographies have been quoted throughout these articles, not to pad them out, but to give a bit of context from those involved. As Lorraine Chase was the most-featured panellist, it seems remiss not to include her take, although she didn't write a standard autobiography. (Her 1999 co-written book Money & How To Make More Of It does suggest that her "airhead" routine was maybe more of an act than might be believed.)
     Yet while Lorraine might not have talked about Blankety Blank in print, she did give a brief mention of it in Channel 5's 2019 special, Britain's Favourite Game Shows: "Terry Wogan was always very, very at home. I mean, he just was never caught short of a word to say. He was always light-hearted, bright, generous."

3 Episode 3.5

Guest Panellists: David Hamilton, Diana Dors, Norman Collier, Isla St. Clair, Arthur Askey and Sandra Dickinson.

This is the episode where Arthur Askey starts the show by fumigating his seat because Paul Daniels uses it, much to amusement of the panel and the audience. However, beyond this bit of pointed schtick (which Arthur claims is "only a joke") it's a very pleasant, amiable edition, with Askey leading everyone else in a sing song. This last point is key, as, while Arthur's seat usually showcases someone who wants to dominate proceedings, Arthur realises he's part of a panel, and they work together to entertain the viewers.
     Making their debuts in this episode are Diana Dors and Norman Collier. Diana would only appear once outside this third series, but Collier would become something of a semi-regular, appearing eight more times after this. Despite the fact that his microphone always seems to be faulty whenever he's on the show, Norman doesn't let it deter him, and joins in with the fun.
     Things to look out for include Terry admitting he'd accidentally spat past a contestant's head in the second Supermatch Game, and a rare testy moment around 18 minutes in, where Diana Dors encourages David Hamilton to show an alternative answer he'd written down. Terry, seemingly sensing it was inappropriate, says "no", before urging Dors to "come on now".

2 Episode 3.7

Guest Panellists: John Junkin, Annie Ross, Norman Collier, Molly Weir, David Jason and Liza Goddard.

So, this is the episode where Norman Collier does the "Al Jolson" part of his act. The UK of the time was markedly different in sensibilities from America... just over two years before this episode aired, the BBC had broadcast the final episode of The Black and White Minstrel Show; in contrast, it had been almost four years since the US had screened the final part of Roots.
     Blankety Blank belongs to a different time, a place where pretty much anything is fair game, from Terry Wogan's ethnicity, down to jokes about Sandy from Crossroads in a wheelchair, or Beryl Reid describing herself as "retarded". It wasn't necessarily bad, or evil, it was just a very different world. This particular episode starts off in this vein, with Terry and David Jason (at one point, embarrassingly giving professional stand-up Collier tips on how to be funny) both putting on stereotypical "camp" voices for laughs, while a contestant with the surname "Bent" brings the house down.
     It's quite difficult to get people who didn't live through the era to understand just how this took place. Five years later Collier was a guest on a customarily ropey edition of The Little and Large Show, doing the same act, with the same episode featuring a performance by The Drifters. Quite what the classic soul act made of sharing the stage with a man doing this kind of routine is not known, but such things weren't always done at the time, as bizarre as it seems in hindsight, with any degree of malice; there simply wasn't even really much thought behind it.
     There are some comedians of the age who get singled out for what is perceived as a political slant that would affect their work. Jim Davidson, most famously, gets pilloried for his character of "Chalky White", but this did not exist in isolation. This is not to defend Jim Davidson by any means, but merely to point out that his act was far from exclusive or unique for its time, no matter who he votes for. Kenny Everett, perceived as being from the opposite worldview, or at least apolitical (despite attending a Conservative Party conference) would spend episodes of his shows putting on Jamaican accents and dark make-up, or doing an "Indian guru" character up until 1982. The Goodies are similarly problematical in this regard, even though they get to state that their instances were for satire.
     So, Collier and his impression? Well, it's complicated. Obviously it's not necessarily the kind of thing you'd expect to see on TV in 2021 (though the team behind League of Gentlemen and Psychoville experimented with blackface of debateable irony) but how does it stand up? On one hand, it would offend many, though Collier's genuinely good-natured spirit seems to give it a non-malicious edge, within reason, coupled with the absurdity of the outfit and his peculiar body language.
     What's more, there's even the temptation to reclaim it as ironic, given that Collier isn't exactly mocking a black singer, but actually parodying someone who used blackface as part of their act. It's a stretch, and a complicated situation, so maybe it's just best to remember that if you're watching this third series of Blankety Blank, you're watching something that's now over forty years old, and leave it at that.
     Lastly, Rentaghost fans might note the presence of Molly Weir in this episode, along with Christopher Biggins in 3.4, following on from Aimi MacDonald in series two. Although Weir seems pleasant, she doesn't really get much chance to register in this edition, but her company is warm.

1 Episode 3.16

Guest Panellists: Roy Hudd, Beryl Reid, Patrick Moore, Rula Lenska, Les Dawson and Madeline Smith/ David Hamilton, Katie Boyle, Windsor Davies, Shirley Anne Field, Jimmy Tarbuck and Sandra Dickinson.

A warm-hearted, 40-minute Christmas special that topped the charts with 19.05 million viewers. Terry really holds this one together by force of will, laughing and dancing, and showing all the enthusiasm that made him such a great host of the show. Featuring two sets of panellists, the energy doesn't quite carry over - you're never going to improve a show by removing an existing panel and replacing it with David Hamilton and Jimmy Tarbuck, after all - but the fun spirit continues, helped by the off-beat worldview of Sandra Dickinson.
     Some Blankety Blank episodes entertain because they're genuinely funny, others work well because there's the awkward clash of egos and slight tension that make them oddly compelling. But perhaps the best Blankety Blank episodes work because there's genuine warmth at the heart of them, and this is a likeable, actually quite charming edition.
     It is, in essence, a redux of 1979's Christmas Special, with much of the same sequences, including, notably, the double panel bit. Yet it seems slicker and more focussed here, the costumes more elaborate, the decorations more ornate. While neither were recorded at a seasonal time, this edition feels like it was, and feels more like an authentic Christmas show, even if it had been demoted to a Boxing Day schedule. There are also some surprises in a panto horse skin and a Santa suit - so as to avoid potential spoilers, the identity of both can be found by hovering your mouse over the episode screenshot above for the "hidden text".


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