Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Three

Blankety Blank's third series ran in the September-December slot during 1980. The ratings had begun to slip slightly from the highs of the previous two series, though as the programme was still averaging over 14 million viewers an episode, its popularity remained high.


Some new faces on the programme included Norman Collier, Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin, The Krankies and future host Les Dawson. Please join me as I rank the third series, from worst to blank...

WARNING: The second page of this article features a screenshot of archive television that some readers may find offensive.

16 Episode 3.9

Guest Panellists (in panel order): David Hamilton, Libby Morris, Peter Jones, Dilys Watling, Paul Daniels and Patti Boulaye.

The dark-skinned Patti Boulaye makes her only appearance on the show here, and is subject to a number of remarks from Daniels about being "different", "blushing", and telling the viewers to "do not adjust your sets". It's an odd state of affairs, because, while the age of the show would normally be highlighted to note such things being "of their time", it is - as with everything Daniels does - relentless. Besides which, such discussions would mean finding some contextual defence for Paul Daniels, which isn't necessarily a desirable achievement.
     If there's a scale of Paul Daniels, from, say, some of his best magic shows and his rapping in the theme tune to Wizbit at the top, down to, maybe, his awkward interview with Ali G, then his series two appearances were just over the halfway point, towards the top... his series three performances are very much the bottom of the scale.
     Also on the panel in a generally miserable half an hour is David Hamilton, serving as a laughter vacuum, where even the easily-pleased audience fail to raise a titter. Then there's Peter Jones, a good panellist, but not given chance to shine in a world where his offbeat, somewhat quizzical sense of humour is lost in a relentless mire of Daniels shitnanigans. This was Jones's first appearance since the first series, and also his last. It's perhaps fair to say that the programme had changed, for better or for worse, and that Peter's more laid-back style of panellist didn't quite work as well when extracted from the more sedate confines of the original run.
     Of note here is that the winning contestant goes down to the front of the panel for the traditional "shake hands with the celebrities" bit, only for Terry to hurriedly rush after her, and drag her back by her arm. Possibly it's that the faces of the panellists would have been obscured in the blocking, but it's an odd moment of what looks like directorial alarm for Terry, some genuine reaction in an otherwise tedious instalment.

15 Episode 3.3

Guest Panellists: Roy Kinnear, Julia McKenzie, Albert Pontefract, Nyree Dawn Porter, Lennie Bennett and Judy Carne.

In series two, the idea of a scale of celebrity on the show was touted, from genuine stars down to jobbing pros there to fill a seat. Lennie Bennett perhaps bridges the tier between "minor comedian" and "chancer" more than most, but he has his moments here. A particular standout is him accusing Terry of drunkenly discussing people he doesn't like behind the scenes, claiming Terry had said "Bob Monkhouse, because he's a threat". It's a remark that gets a laugh and no denial from Terry, though Bob would later appear as a guest on Terry's chatshow with no animosity between them.
     Bennett jokes with Terry about how to host the show, but it's not mean-spirited, and eventually their career trajectories went in different paths: while Terry was in his pomp, commercially, if not critically, with his own primetime chat show, Bennett saw out the 1980s in that special brand of TV Hell: the daytime, weekday quiz show. Lucky Ladders could be a fun watch, but it was something of a comedown for a man who jokingly gives Terry hosting tips in this edition, and ends the episode by doing a strip tease.
     One panellist that might not be known is Albert Pontefract, here making his sole appearance on the show. Pontefract had appeared in episodes of Lennie and Jerry, and would later do some guest spots on Bennett's Punchlines!. As with Lennie and Jerry, there's scant material available relating to Pontefract, and so the quality of his work largely remains a mystery outside of his appearance here. Perhaps by coincidence, then while only ten celebrities made "one-and-done" appearances during series three, half of the panel in this episode contained guests who never appeared again: Judy Carne and Nyree Dawn Porter joined Albert here for their sole turns.

14 Episode 3.2

Guest Panellists: John Junkin, Barbara Kelly, Patrick Moore, Maureen Lipman, Paul Daniels and Madeline Smith.

Series three is where the digs at Paul Daniels start to become explicit. It's the one where Arthur Askey fumigates his seat after learning it's the same one that Paul uses. By the time series four comes around, Mike Reid makes his debut on the show, telling Terry he came on to work out who had "the warmest personality - either you or Paul Daniels".
     Here, Paul jokingly holds up one of the quickly-discarded hand held "ready" signs from series two, his question of "I'm not in the last series?" answered by Terry as "Well you wouldn't have been if I'd had me way." By the time the show is over, four of his fellow panellists have slighted Paul to greater and lesser extents, including Patrick Moore, assuring Terry that one of his answers of "bitch" is meant to be a female dog, and not Paul. When you've got the presenter of The Sky At Night complaining about having to put up with being on the same show as you, and slyly calling you a "bitch", you know things have gone wrong somewhere.
     The problem with summarising any third series episode featuring Paul Daniels is that said summary can only refer to him, as his incessant antics take over the entire show. As pictured, he has some kind of stretchable silly putty that he keeps throwing towards Terry's head, with John Junkin looking nonplussed behind him. Although Junkin couldn't have taken it too seriously - he was the announcer for the first of Daniels's three quiz shows, Odd One Out - he gets the largest share of the digs at Paul, including openly telling Terry that "I want to hit Paul Daniels... quite a lot."
     Perhaps the most illuminating moments come when someone else steals a laugh off Paul. Junkin says he's working on a conjuring act to make Daniels disappear, and that it's working "very slowly". It's a remark that goes down well with the studio audience, causing Daniels to repeatedly say "I'll make a note of that one", as if irked that someone else got a laugh and the attention. A later dig from Terry will see Paul accuse him of "rehearsing those ad-libs", an ungracious remark that sees no reaction from the audience.
     Yet despite all this, it must be acknowledged that, for whatever bizarre reason, Paul is very popular on the shows with the audience. When the panellists are announced, he gets by some way the biggest cheer, and his tiresome impression of a parrot, repeatedly squawking "pieces of eight!", gets a massive laugh. It's like an inexplicable parallel reality, where the concept of mind-tearing irritation is transformed into populist laughter.
     Elsewhere on the show, there's a poor contestant with the name of "Snodgrass" who gets laughed at by the studio audience, and one of many examples of traditional gender-based prizes that got a laugh in the 1980s. Whereas in 2021 a woman winning a DIY set wouldn't be regarded as particularly unusual, in 1980s Blankety Blank a man winning, as here, a sewing machine, brings the house down.

13 Episode 3.10

Guest Panellists: Jack Douglas, Diana Dors, Bernard Cribbins, Rula Lenska, Lennie Bennett and Karen Kay.

The real appeal of Blankety Blank at this stage are the moments that are genuinely spontaneous, where the only real control over proceedings is the editor's scissors. However, if you had to write an episode of Blankety Blank from this vintage, it'd probably turn out like this one. A fine, watchable episode, but one that ticks off the standard tropes, almost to order - Wogan getting heckled, Terry doing one of his impressions, people slagging off the tatty prizes, etc.
     Perhaps one of the best bits of the whole show is just how relentlessly cheap the set is, and how frequently it goes wrong. While the revolving set is incredibly inspired, it nearly always judders to a halt, with signs of the contestants wobbling in their seats as it does so. Better still is the reveal of the question and top three answers in the "Supermatch Game", where at least one of the pull back slides usually gets stuck along the way. There's a particularly bad instance of this here, with Wogan quipping: "Slickly pulled across there, and somebody's just lost a finger, I can hear from the screaming inside."
     Lastly, two pieces of trivia. One is that many television programmes of the age, particularly on the UK's PAL system, suffered from distortion patterns with certain designs, such as striped shirts. Lennie Bennett wears a grey jacket made up of small black dots, which reacts badly with the camera, causing distortion or "Moiré" patterns every time he moves.
     There's also the matter of Jack Douglas claiming Terry looks like J.R. Ewing and handing him a Stetson to try on. Although Dallas was a colossal hit at the time (second in the charts this week with 20.25m, just behind To The Manor Born), and "who shot J.R.?" was arguably the TV trendline in those pre-meme days, it's a little saddening to see Blankety Blank effectively selling itself to promote the BBC's new import, this being just one of five instances in the third series where it's either mentioned or part of a question, and far from the last.
     Terry mentions Dallas in his autobiography, Is it me? In it, he tells of how he was asked to promote a spin-off, Knots Landing, on his radio show, to give it a boost that he'd given the parent show. "Rightly or wrongly, I was perceived in the BBC as the main architect in the runaway success of Dallas with the British viewing public." Terry also goes on to say how ridiculous and brilliantly awful he found Dallas to be, comparing it to The Eurovision Song Contest. But with him talking so often about Dallas on his radio show, Blankety Blank, and his chat show, it does create the impression, as he partly admits, that he was a bit of a shill for the BBC.

12 Episode 3.1

Guest Panellists: Barry Cryer, Katie Boyle, Val Doonican, Janet Brown, Kenny Everett and Lorraine Chase.

Kenny Everett was in the closet for all of his Blankety Blank appearances, not coming out until 1985. When this particular episode was recorded, Kenny had only separated from his wife the year before, and it's perhaps retroactively saddening to see him going through what could be regarded as self-denial via the medium of jokes.
     In the previous year's Christmas Special he'd written "Wogan is a faggot" on the back of one of the ready signs, and here he has a touching reaction towards Lorraine Chase teasing him. After she puts down "chimp pansy" for an answer about Kenny, making note of the fact that "I forgot the pansy", Kenny's quite heart-breaking response is "I'm normal, I tell you!"
     Kenny of course does his routine with the microphone here, and it's already become his trademark. Even at this relatively early stage, the schtick has a "rehearsed" feel to it, and eight months later Terry appeared on Kenny's ITV show, by this time retitled The Kenny Everett Video Cassette. In "Star Quiz", one of the more banal elements of a generally fun Thames show, Kenny gunges various celebrities after they take part in an impossible quiz. With Terry getting his own back and bending Kenny's microphone, he gets the response "screw the game, hit him with the gunge!" By the time of series four, Terry's microphone notably isn't even real any more, his voice unaffected when Kenny repeats the trick.

11 Episode 3.6

Guest Panellists: Windsor Davies, Beryl Reid, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Carol Drinkwater, Alfred Marks and Barbara Windsor.

A perfectly serviceable, pleasant episode of the quiz. Tim Brooke-Taylor makes his debut on the show, and provides a range of cheeky interruptions to Terry that never stray over the line into Daniels territory; there's plenty of awkward moments with contestants, off-screen clatters and no one interested in winning the prizes. Overall, it's a fine instalment, just ranked fairly low down because it lacks a true standout moment in terms of laughs, or a clash of egos. Words like "pleasant" and "amiable" sum up this one.
     For the third series, then a handful of celebrities made three appearances (including Lorraine Chase and Paul Daniels) but the most-featured panellist was Beryl Reid, with five guest spots. In three of four possible games she's chosen by contestants to play the final "Head To Head" (she's unavailable for this section in the Christmas Special), a pivotal part of the game. After the main game and two "Supermatch Games" have been played, the contestant with the highest points from the Supermatch is given a final "blank", with just one panellist to match with. If they get a correct match, they win the star prize - which, in this case, was a dishwasher.
     Reid made special note of this particular Head To Head in her 1984 autobiography, So Much Love. Observing that there's "very little time" to study the contestants in the Head To Head, Beryl noted that she hadn't got the contestant's football-related answer of "semi [final]" correct, and that she may have done if "I'd studied him a bit more carefully". (Hardcore Blankety Blank fans - Blankers? - may like to know that at the end of three series, Beryl Reid had taken part in the Head To Heads a total of eight times. For the first two series she had a 100% success rate, but with her wrong answer here and another in Episode 3.4, her success rate drops to 75%.)

10 Episode 3.15

Guest Panellists: Pete Murray, Barbara Woodhouse, Bernard Cribbins, Jill Gascoine, Paul Daniels and Lorraine Chase.

Certainly far, far from the most entertaining episode of Blankety Blank - your foot might stray near the screen while it's on - this is, nevertheless, possibly the most interesting edition of the third series.
     The reason for this is that it features Paul Daniels, and a Paul Daniels, even by his standards, very much at a relentless pace. The heckling, attention-demanding and overly tactile nature with his fellow female panellists begins right from the start and doesn't let up for a single minute. Bearing in mind that what we see on screen is an edited version of what may have taken two or three hours to record, and the genuine ennui of Terry Wogan can not only be openly glimpsed, but fully understood and appreciated.
     Terry's comic persona for the show is usually one of put-upon host, pretending to be anguished by all the various celebrities he struggles to keep control of, and it's a nice motif for humour. However, in this edition there are several signs where the mask almost completely slips, where an interruption during his questions is not met with a witticism, but a serious look in the direction of the panel in a cry for silence. By the end of the programme, he looks genuinely fed up and tired of it all, and it's difficult to blame him. This was also the last episode of the run to be recorded, which may have been a factor.
     The only respite is that this is, at just 26'45 minutes, by some way the shortest of the third series, a situation that occurs due to the way both games are easily contested. Speaking of the games, then a great deal of the humour of Blankety Blank comes from the questions being potentially mistaken for innuendo with a word removed - satirised as "Ooer Sounds A Bit Rude" in the lacklustre Mayall/Edmondson/Planer sitcom Filthy Rich & Catflap. However, not only is the double entendre quotient of the programme quite low throughout the whole of the third series, then, unusually, there's not a single question in this particular episode that could be regarded as having an explicit double meaning.
     This isn't a pleasant episode of the series. Paul Daniels is completely obnoxious, not bothering to show his answer in one game, and accusing a contestant, without self-awareness, of being "a clever clogs, a smart Aleck". Lorraine Chase is sadly drawn into Daniels's orbit of unfuniness, remarking after Paul has been talking into her metallic earring that "I'm only grateful it isn't Kenny [Everett], he might have bent it". Chase normally has a warm reception from the studio audience, but for once one of her quips sees almost a tumbleweed blow through the studio.
     Chase could come again; everyone is allowed one off night. However, this was the end of the line for Paul Daniels and the series... it's not known if his other TV work got too much, but after three deeply irritating appearances during series three, he appeared just once more the following year, then never featured again. Watching this one, it's all got way too much, and the overriding feeling is that, for his appearances in series three at least, then Daniels simply acts like a complete and utter blank.

9 Episode 3.4

Guest Panellists: Lord Charles, Ray Alan, Beryl Reid, Christopher Biggins, Pat Coombs, Tom O'Connor and Liza Goddard.

Featuring the sole appearance on the show of Ray Alan and Lord Charles, it's strange to look back and think that Alan's act wasn't regarded as being as "hip" as Keith Harris's at the time. As both had begun in showbusiness when they were technically children, then both had more experience than might be apparent, particularly in the "overnight success" of Keith Harris: Alan had been performing since the 1940s, while Harris made his debut as a small boy in the 1950s.
     Harris - who didn't appear this year, and wouldn't return until the sixth series - was a young man in his early 30s, who would go on to have a top 5 hit single with Orville the Duck and his own massively popular TV show. Alan, in contrast, while a very skilled performer, was approaching 50 and working with an act that had been on TV since the 1960s.
     This is not in any way to denigrate Ray Alan, but just to illustrate the changing perspective of time; both ventriloquists can now be watched purely for their abilities in what they do, whereas when these shows went out, they were viewed through a bizarre prism where Keith Harris was a major celebrity and bone fide pop star.
     A generally good-natured show sees Ray Alan look a bit taken aback when Tom O'Connor suggests that "Nookie" doesn't play... though possibly he was slightly offended at being compared to Roger De Courcey, a man who had appeared on television since the mid-70s, seeking to prove that you could be a successful ventriloquist even if people can see your lips moving. (Lord Charles, possibly not coincidentally, later gives Tom a bit of smack talk, calling him "Des".)
     An unusually rude episode for the time sees Terry shush Christopher Biggins from talking about incest, before alluding to beastiaiity, while there's more talk from Beryl Reid about her active "man under the desk" and how she wants to "add some sex" to the programme. This does show something of the class war of the time, as Lord Charles can say "arse" three times without censorship.

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