Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Thirteen

Blankety Blank returned from September 1989 to March 1990 for a run of 21 episodes. Unknown to those making it at the time, it would turn out to be the last series of the original run, with the show cancelled afterwards.


What led to the series being cancelled? How did Les take the news and what did he do afterwards? These are just some of the questions we'll try to answer. Please join me as we look behind the scenes and rate the series from worst to best...

21 Episode

Guest Panellists (in panel order): Joe Brown, Janette Krankie, Ian Krankie, Anthea Turner, Bernie Clifton and Janice Long.

The final series of the original run isn't vintage Blankety Blank by any means, for reasons we'll go through, but it's certainly watchable stuff. There are no bad episodes, and many of them could be moved around in the ranking. Generally this first page is more the run-of-the-mill entries, and the last page is the best of the bunch, but they're all of a decent enough standard.
      Part of the reason why it works so well, perhaps, is that this final series has a large amount of variety among its guest panellists - 120 separate people appeared throughout the 21 episodes, with only six of them appearing more than once. Those six made just two appearances, and were: Floella Benjamin, Danny La Rue, Vicki Michelle, Rose-Marie, Dave Lee Travis and this episode's Joe Brown. Les makes a couple of oblique references to Joe's daughter in this edition, as Sam Brown had reached No.4 in March 1989 with a re-release of her single "Stop", and her cover of "Can I Get A Witness?" was No.21 on the day this edition was recorded. (It would peak at 15.)
      Joe teases Les, asking him how he gets away with using so many old jokes, then notes that he doesn't get away with it. While still amusing, the fact that Les hasn't updated his act for around two decades is starting to drag him down at this stage. While the BBC cancelled Blankety Blank, it did seem they still wanted to use him, as he was asked to take over from Bob Monkhouse on a revival of Opportunity Knocks, the talent show where he first got his own big break. (Les began to incorporate a Hughie Green impression into Blankety Blank from series nine onwards, and it makes its 22nd of 24 appearances here.)
      Les has regularly been championed here, and he's a great Blankety Blank host - but not a good quiz show host. Having a show he can run down works, but attempting to sincerely front a serious quiz show format and he's found wanting, as he's unable to adapt his persona to the format. So it is that the would-be bright new things of Opportunity Knocks sat down to join Les after performing to listen to some of his mother-in-law jokes. Yet it wasn't all Les's fault, and the cancellation of Opportunity Knocks seemed an inevitability. The show had been badly sliding in the ratings even under Bob Monkhouse, though only a complete nerd would go through all 49 episodes in order to work out the average ratings and chart positions.

      ... Okay, so under Monkhouse the first series in 1987 was a hit, averaging tenth place and 11.62 million viewers. The 1988 run saw the audience fall away rapidly, dropping to an average of 32nd place/8.76 million viewers, while Bob's final run in 1989 worked out as 37th place/8.57 million. It was something of disaster that Les very definitely wasn't able to reverse, with his version a flop, attracting an average of just 51st place/6.59 million. Les's version of Opportunity Knocks wasn't renewed, something Les learned of the same time he heard that Blankety Blank was also cancelled - a story we'll delve deeper into as we go along.
      Lastly, in terms of trivia, then between June and July 2023, three episodes were chosen to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Les's death, with this, 10.22 and 13.20. (All three were listed under a different number, as they followed their respective Christmas Specials, and it seems the BBC don't count the Christmas Specials as "numbers", just in case you were wondering.) This particular one had the guidance warning of "Contains Discriminatory Content", which would likely to be Les joking with Janine Krankie (again, bizarrely not in her "wee Jimmy" persona) as being too short to be a dwarf. It's certainly a watchable episode with a few chuckles, though as can be seen by its last place ranking here, it's an odd one to choose for a repeat.

20 Episode

Guest Panellists: Frankie Vaughan, Wendy Richard, Bruno Brookes, Tina Baker, Bernie Winters and Pamela Power.

Les signs off with a thank you to the show's "viewer from Cheltenham" in 15 of the 21 episodes this series, even if it's just, as here, to let us know he's moved (in this instance, to Leeds). It's a decent enough joke, maybe a little lazy to do it so often this time, but more importantly, it's no longer funny when it has a ring of truth to it. Joking your show has no one watching when you're in the Top 10 or Top 20 is a decent enough gag... but when you fail to make the Top 100, as this episode does, it's a saddening development.
      The heavily declining ratings and the reason behind them are also something we'll explore as we go on, but it's humbling that this week even some afternoon children's programmes were getting higher ratings, with the 100th most-watched show of the week an episode of irritant Mr. Majeika, which had 4.4 million tuning in.
      Throughout this last run a total of 28 panellists would make their only appearance on the show, while a further 4, including Anne Charleston and Anthea Turner, would appear just the once on the original run but then return for the Lily Savage revival version. Two of the "one time only" panellists appear here, with Tina Baker, the newspaper writer who talks about soap operas on breakfast television, and actress Pamela Power. At the time Power was most known as the DHSS Clerk in Bread, a show that was still popular despite recasting two characters, and a Christmas Special the month before had been 8th in the charts with 16.5 million viewers.
      This is a fairly lifeless episode that gets by almost solely on Les's rapport with Frankie Vaughan and Bernie Winters, but it should at least raise a smile. Recorded on 25th June 1989 (a giveaway is that a question is about a summer heatwave) this edition and 13.17 were actually "remounts", where they were due to be recorded the day before, but pushed back a day due to BBC strikes.

19 Episode Nine

Guest Panellists: Bernard Cribbins, Barbara Windsor, Phillip Schofield, Lorraine Chase, Christopher Biggins and Vivien Stuart.

The return of Blankety Blank royalty with Lorraine Chase. For the first seven series (109 episodes) she appeared 27 times, almost exactly a quarter of all the episodes. From series eight-thirteen (110 episodes) she appeared just twice. For these last two appearances as a "non regular", Chase's seat has been changed to the lower left, instead of the bottom right of all her previous appearances.
      Making her sole appearance and taking the bottom right seat is Radio 2 DJ Vivien Stuart, of which little information seems to be out there, and is introduced by Les as "A young lady whose face isn't familiar yet." As television attracts more tabloid attention than radio, Stuart appears to have escaped the headlines throughout her career.
      Then there's the last of three appearances from Phillip Schofield. Schofield was first covered in the write-up of series eleven, where it was noted the version of him in 2022 didn't seem as likeable as the version that presented kid's shows back in the '80s, but these things were generally skirted around, and mainly involved perceived bias in his interviewing on This Morning and the obvious growth of ego. Slating the panellists on this show is - while generally meant in fun and tongue-in-cheek - not something these articles particularly like to indulge in, so I felt a little guilty.
      Yet since the last article things have, of course, blown up massively, with Schofield entering Twatter's self-elected public jury and trending for what seemed like weeks, hitting the tabloids and eventually leaving his job. With that in mind, a few minor digs that he'd got a bit full of himself and was nicer on Going Live! are probably insignificant in comparison. As we've seen, and continue to see, celebrities get placed under the court of public opinion, and it must be an incredible strain for them, regardless of the details behind such issues.
      Back in happier times, we have a fairly lively episode of Blankety Blank, that gives us a sign of the times where Les doesn't know what muesli is. One slightly ironic thing about this run of Blankety Blank is that Les does a joke where he goes to call the contestants "suckers", then corrects himself - yet also talks about how he dislikes the word "tie-breaker" for its "Americanese". The "suckers" gag is one that is used in 12 episodes this run (a further 3 as a variation, such as "twits"), and is, of course, a very American expression.

18 Episode One

Guest Panellists: Duncan Norvelle, Vicki Michelle, Gary Davies, Cheryl Baker, Terence Alexander and Frances Edmonds.

This final series of Blankety Blank's original run saw Les at a much happier time in his life, at least on a personal level. With the recordings starting on 21st February 1989, Les had just turned 58 and was due to get married for the second time.
      Yet Les does seem lower on energy than previous runs, and when Duncan Norvelle gets some laughs, Les doesn't seem to want to trade jokes with him. He gets on with Norvelle, but it doesn't seem as if he really wants to get involved with a man who can think on his feet. Les admitted to losing confidence after his various bouts of ill health, stating in No Tears For The Clown that: "Quite often when I mixed with other comedians, I'd felt insecure and unable to compete with them".
      Some trivia is that Les drops the swearing in the last series, save for this first edition, where we get to hear him saying "bloody" and "crap". He also says "tarradiddle" three times, something that becomes habitual as he says the word another ten times throughout the remaining episodes.
      The teddy on display in the screenshot is, incidentally, Duncan's "belated" wedding present for Les's wife. Such a declaration brings about an odd game with time, in that, while this was screened long after Les's 6th May 1989 wedding date, it was recorded on 21st February, so Duncan was clearly pretending for the viewers. (Another item of trivia is that the next episode to be recorded, appropriately enough the second, was listed as being shot on the 22nd February, not the usual two-in-one-night recording schedule that the series normally went in for.)

17 Episode

Guest Panellists: Vince Hill, Floella Benjamin, Michael Groth, Gail McKenna, Charlie Williams and Sue Lloyd.

Gail McKenna appears on this edition, making her the last of the Page 3 girls to join the show. While Page 3 now seems archaic, it's worth remembering that it stopped less than a decade ago at time of writing, and that Gail's first photographs, taken when she was just 17, would now be a criminal offence. By the time of her Blankety Blank appearance Gail was twenty, and the year of broadcast she reportedly became a born again Christian and stopped her glamour modelling career.
      We're looking at these Blankety Blank episodes via a perspective of time, yet this wasn't just isolated to the 1980s. Although this edition and nine others were broadcast in the 1990s, no Les Dawson episode was recorded in that decade... a decade that would lead on to the rise of "lad mag" culture.
      Also making their sole appearance is Michael Groth, most famous for That's Life!, and at the time of recording was working on a kind of spin-off with Esther Rantzen, Hearts of Gold. (Hearts of Gold focussed on those who had done good deeds and charitable works, so only the truly cold-hearted would describe it as a dreary, turgid show you'd switch off as soon as it came on.)
      This is a promising edition, with the whole panel prepared to heckle and berate Les, but at this late stage of the programme he no longer involves them to the level he used to, and instead concentrates on getting the quiz element moving. This was the fifteenth show from the run to be recorded, and there are signs that Les, if not exactly wanting to get it over with, isn't interested in working overtime.

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