Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Sixteen

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7 Episode Two

Guest Panellists: Billy Murray, Jayne Middlemiss, Stuart Miles, Liz Dawn, Steve Penk and Lorraine Kelly.

One of the better episodes of the run where, apart from an 82-year-old contestant talking about Errol Flynn's sex life, you could genuinely stick the family in front of the TV and feel virtually no rumbling from an Inner Mary Whitehouse. The panellists also get a little more to do, with Liz Dawn from Coronation Street enjoying herself. Something of a Lily regular, she joined the show as part of Lily's first-ever episode, a 1997 Christmas special on the BBC, and makes her sixth of nine appearances here.
     The questions are also a little bit better in this edition... and worse. A question that alludes to the answer "pearl necklace" is fine, because the double meaning would go over the heads of the child audience. However, an odd question talks about contestants throwing knickers at Tom Jones concerts, but, because they're getting younger, they throw [BLANK]. The idea of having a question about a sexual-based activity and transferring it to minors is quite unfathomable, and, while the activity is no longer sexual when transferred, it does make you wonder what the question writers were thinking... especially when most of the answers come back as "nappies".

6 Episode Seventeen

Guest Panellists: William Tarmey, Fiona Dolman, Derek Fowlds, Gayle Tuesday, Nick Weir and Jane Cox.

A reasonably amusing episode of the show, though there's the suspicion that this might be due to Stockholm Syndrome after watching so many Lily Savage episodes in a row. Yet Lily seems more enthused than normal, and even drops the irritating sound effects (gunshots, explosions) she uses during the "Supermatch Game" that she does in 15 other episodes.
     However, while her interactions with Gayle Tuesday amuse on occasion, it only expands on the issue with the series: Lily rarely has real interplay with any of the panellists, but does so here because it's a friend she's worked with before. "Interplay", being, of course, the panellist getting to say something back and add to the fun, not just sit there like a spare part and dutifully smile at formulaic Savage remarks.

5 Episode Nineteen

Guest Panellists: Roy Barraclough, June Whitfield, Ed Byrne, Gayle Tuesday, Eamonn Holmes and Sarah Cawood.

One part of the show in this era that really drags are the celebrity introductions, whereby flat would-be witticisms and constant television references are used to introduce each panellist in turn. Particularly irritating if you're the kind of nerd who'd update the "Movie Connections" on the IMDb, which means you'd need to spend around an hour each episode inputting connections to Holidaymaker. It was one of the few things O'Grady mentioned regarding the show in Open the Cage, Murphy!, noting: "The show was a joy to do as it was all ad-lib, the only hard bit being thinking up twelve witty intros for the celeb guests as we filmed two shows a day." In this case, "witty intros" is basically just saying which DIY show the panellist presented, and then making a reference to how much she wants to have sex with them.
     Often the old show, in the Wogan era particularly, would just say a quick "hello" to the panel, expecting the viewers to know who they were with just a quick voiceover intro, and no explanation necessary. In fairness, as at least a dozen of the panellists in series sixteen are likely to conjure up a response of "Who?" it's somewhat necessary in this regard.
     But this is not a problem here, the most star-powered episode of the sixteenth series. Featuring on the panel are original series regulars June Whitfield and Roy Barraclough, plus comedian Ed Byrne, and recognisable presenters with personality in Eamonn Holmes and Sarah Cawood. Oh, and, of course, Gayle Tuesday. Gayle ties with Julie Goodyear and Liz Dawn for the most appearances in this series, with four each, closely followed by Donald Sinden and Sherrie Hewson, who both manage three.
     Lily once again uses Gayle Tuesday as comic foil and largely bypasses Roy Barraclough and June Whitfield, two guests who had around a century of experience between them. It's understandable, in a way, if O'Grady is used to working with someone, and was possibly slightly intimidated at the sight of Roy, given that his most famous partner was a former host of the show. Ed Byrne tries his best to add a bit of fun to the show, and, while he might not be to everyone's taste, he at least makes an effort.
     Overall this is an edition that doesn't really come off, with decent panellists again wasted, but it succeeds in being an approximation of a nearly mediocre episode. It was also one of just two this series to make the Top 40, coming in at 40th place. The other, Episode 16.16, made 38th, though generally the show was scraping into the Top 50 for much of the run, or, more often, falling outside it.

4 Episode Twenty

Guest Panellists: Ross Kelly, Gloria Hunniford, Michael Starke, Julie Goodyear, Keith Duffy and Natasha Hamilton.

One of the more interesting episodes in that the contestants are offbeat and disrupt Lily's timing. In particular, the first contestant, Imran, is hyped and keeps cutting in, messing with her rhythm. Then there's the second set of contestants, who have unusual reactions to Lily's questions, including disputing most of what's written on her cards about them.
     There's also Gloria Hunniford, an original series panellist doing what original series panellists used to do: chiming in with attempted ad-libs and jokey remarks. Unfortunately, as we'll see in the original run, each time Gloria tries to be funny, a tumbleweed blows through the studio - as this was the second episode to be recorded, it does suggest that it informed the rest of the series, as the celebrity guests weren't given as much chance to speak.
     Apart from the mathematical equation known as "The Hunniford Paradox", there's the sole appearances of Michael Starke and Natasha Hamilton. Starke, most known as Sinbad from Brookside, is usually good value, but doesn't particularly seem as if he wants to be there, though Natasha Hamilton (from pop trio Atomic Kitten, all of whom appear in this series) is decent value. Lastly, there's Keith Duffy, one of the members of Boyzone, and who made a living playing one of the Rovers Return's wooden crates in Coronation Street. Despite appearing four times in the Lily Savage era, Keith seems self-conscious and unconcerned.
     In all, it's a fairly awkward episode, that adds intrigue through its mix of minor clashes and dead laugh areas, a welcome break from the Lily-a-matic where laughter is possibly canned.

3 Episode Sixteen

Guest Panellists: Tim Vincent, Siân Phillips, Mark Moraghan, Roberta Taylor, Ortis and Terri Dwyer.

Perhaps the real sticking point of this series of Blankety Blank is how homogenous the whole run is. Every episode has the same production team, and all twenty episodes are directed by the same man, Geoff Miles. Occasionally the vision mixer might change, but that's about it. Even the lengths of the episodes, which varied widely in the original run, depending on how the game went, all fit into a 32-33m slot on the more schedule-conscious ITV.
     With the original Blankety Blank there'd be some excitement at seeing who was on the show each week, and wondering what they'd bring to the table. Here it's largely irrelevant, as the whole panel merely serves as six faceless heads to laugh at whatever coarse remark Lily is making that week. In that regard then this is another typical Lily Savage show, full of talk about "bulge", "gash", gynaecology and "big ones".
     Perhaps the worst part is that when Lily makes an effort to drop the smut for a few minutes, her references are those, not unnaturally, of a man in his mid-40s. So, in a show in the new millennium, we get routines about doctors with bad handwriting and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Presumably a reference to Spangles was left on the cutting room floor.
     One thing that keeps this episode ranked fairly highly is elderly contestant Nat Shine, who is adorable and threatens to steal the show. Yet the most striking part of the episode is a contestant with arguably the biggest monobrow in television history. Such matters would normally go undiscussed, or at least placed in the hidden text under the screenshots, but the contestant owns up to it himself, explaining that his nickname is Bert from Sesame Street.

2 Episode Four

Guest Panellists: Graham Cole, Sherrie Hewson, Rob Butler, Julie Goodyear, Antony Worrall Thompson and Janine Duvitski.

A halfway decent episode, where the panel and contestants get to interact, so you don't feel you're watching a one-woman show for a change. Contestant Paul (again, last name not given) tries hard to take his 15 minutes and run with it, but his interactions with Lily throw her off a little, and cause her to involve him more. Her remarks that he's a "count" (after a question about vampires), or that he won't be able to go on holiday abroad if social services find out about him aren't the wittiest remarks in the world, but remain perfectly in keeping with the timeslot for once. Yes, she's essentially calling him a terrible word and implying unimaginable things about him, but in a way that no child in the audience would understand. It's also, dare I say it, reasonably amusing.
      Other contestants are fun, too, including one who eloped to get married and her parents still didn't know, and most of the panel get actively involved in the quiz. As usual, there are some duds on there, but it's not their fault. Channel 5 newsreader Rob Butler is a pleasant but uninspiring guest panellist, and it's perhaps little surprise that he can't ad lib on a comedy quiz show, given that it's his job to read the news, rather than make people laugh. He's nice enough, and isn't being singled out among the many "mishires" of this series, but it's simply another example of the ITV run's inexplicable casting decisions, where a comedy game show again goes out without a single comedian on the panel.

1 Episode Fourteen

Guest Panellists: Vince Earl, Sherrie Hewson, Harry Hill, Anne Charleston, Duncan Preston and Shauna Lowry.

For once, an episode of Lily Savage's Blankety Blank works. Vince Earl and Duncan Preston make sadly their only appearances on the show, and break the restrictive nature of "say your answer and then be quiet" usually laid down by Lily. Sherrie Hewson, making her sixth of eight appearances on the Lily Savage version, is always given a loose reign to be dotty and get all the answers wrong, and Anne Charleston/Shauna Lowry provide reliable back-up. None of them exactly set the screen alight, and Hewson's schtick seems forced, but, by the low bar set throughout this series, it's a standout.
     The odd one out is Harry Hill. While Harry has undoubtedly done some creditable things on TV, he doesn't really fit in either of his two appearances on the show, preferring to silently provide the wrong, silly answers and say little, kind of like a mute Spike Milligan. This said, he gets the biggest cheer at the end, so must be doing something right, but he doesn't look especially at ease or in his "comfort zone".
     But what really makes this one work is the enthusiasm of the contestants, especially the very giggly and quite adorable Roger Wallond. Lily's input is generally better than usual here, though it's very obvious that she's not comfortable with anyone else getting within an inch of a laugh, and tends to talk all over the contestants with repeated interruptions whenever they're telling what sound like genuinely funny stories. Of course, any anecdote loses something in the telling if it's been interrupted 50 times, but generally they do quite well, despite Lily's tendency to drown out any voice that's not her own, and introducing smut into a family show.
     Criticising someone for introducing adult material into a pre-watershed timeslot isn't necessarily the mark of a prude. Adult comedy can be very funny, but within the appropriate confines. 2015's Chewing Gum, for example, was one of the most striking sitcoms of recent years, a real highlight. But if you put it on at four in the afternoon as part of CBeebies, it'd suddenly be one of the worst, just by virtue of the context. It's all about catering for specific audiences. You can comfortably rely on the fact that there'll never be an episode of Peppa Pig entitled "Peppa's First Period", or an episode of Doctor Who that makes references to oral sex, or includes the word "prostitute". (Wait, what...?)
     But more importantly, it shows a tremendous amount of skill, imagination and genuine wit to be able to amuse within the stricter, more limiting medium of a family series. Anyone can get a cheap laugh by talking about sex or swearing, but what do you do if you're not able to do those things? In the case of Les Dawson, it might be a sly "I'd 'eard about that" when panellist Richard Gibson says of his answer that "I couldn't quite get it all in." However, if you're Lily Savage, it means alluding to cunnilingus and saying the word "whores". The show had fallen a long, long way...


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