Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Five

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7 Episode Four

Guest Panellists: Jonathan King, Judith Chalmers, Leslie Crowther, Liza Goddard, Ken Dodd and Sandra Dickinson.

An episode that brings two new panellists in the form of Ken Dodd and Jonathan King. As discussed with Entry No.9, legal issues are largely avoided in these articles as much as possible, not only to avoid any potential legal ramifications, but also to not make discussion of a light entertainment quiz show too "heavy". If they are mentioned, a strict "stick to the reported facts" policy is adhered to, so that what is covered is only discussion of what has been proclaimed by law.
     However, it's possible to feel a touch of sympathy for King, as there are some anomalies and odd grey areas in his case. His take on events can be watched for free online at Vile Pervert: The Musical, where he plays multiple characters, and shows he hasn't lost his ability to write a catchy tune. However, King doesn't often help himself, a man who admits to being a provocateur who doesn't want to be liked, exposes himself within the first two minutes and sets "Good News Week" by Hedgehoppers Anonymous to footage from 9/11.
     The 2008 film, with King portraying characters who are obviously based on real people, such as PR agent "Waxy Maxy" and salacious tabloid journalist "Flame Mitchell", was watched as "supplemental material" to this episode, though if you really want to, you can also view the three sequels that King has since released.
     Yet despite what one may think of King, or his music career, it has to be said that he's a bit of a dud as a panellist, at least on his first appearance. Seemingly channelling his inner Daniels, he plays the role of "smart arse", and is a little obnoxious, insisting on referring to the host only as "Wogan". There's the sense that he's actually quite a decent guy, just guilty of trying too hard, and it not quite coming off. So the jury's out for now (no pun intended) and King's value as a panellist will be reassessed during his two return appearances in later years.
     Much better as a panellist is Ken Dodd, contributing well to the programme without swamping it, and showing the skill to get several correct answers. As a comedian, Dodd is someone that I've never really "got" here at The Anorak Zone, but, despite this, I do respect what he does, whatever it is, and I want to get it. His cover version of "Happiness" is very pleasant, and he seemed like a decent guy, his tickling stick routine there for genuinely innocent fun, and not an extension of his own untamed ID, as Emu often was in the hands of the otherwise brilliant Rod Hull. Note that his tickling of Sandra Dickinson, prompted entirely by Terry, only sees her getting a tickle under the chin, instead of a Pandora's Box that would possibly have been opened if the tickling sticks had been under the jurisdiction of Paul Daniels. (That's the second criticism Paul Daniels has received for this episode, an edition of Blankety Blank he doesn't even appear in.)
     If there's one shadow that hung over Ken Dodd it was his trial for tax evasion in 1989, for which, it must be remembered, he was acquitted. Keeping money in suitcases, Dodd's defence was one of bewildered innocent; though it must be noted here his humorous reaction to a contestant revealing himself to be a tax officer, illustrating that while he claimed to know pretty much nothing about tax in 1989, seven years earlier he at least recognised someone who enforced it. This is not in any way to suggest that the court should have been watching episodes of Blankety Blank as legal evidence, or to suggest any stance on the outcome either way, but it is a notable occurrence.

6 Episode Six

Guest Panellists: Tim Brooke-Taylor, Ruth Madoc, Fred Housego, Lynsey de Paul, Bernie Winters and Lorraine Chase.

Back in the early days of the 1980s, celebrities (at least, celebrities of the level of appearing on Blankety Blank) used to do fairly regular autograph signings to tie in with local shopping events. Run down church halls where you could queue to get Frankie Vaughan's autograph then buy a jigsaw in a jumble sale. It was a less sophisticated time, and, despite nostalgia posts on social media stating how great it was, it really wasn't as much fun as such posts suggest... falling off a slide and cracking your head on solid concrete isn't something to be championed as a standout part of childhood, and if today's kids don't know the pleasures of incurring mild concussion, then good luck to them.
     With this in mind, then on a personal note I believe I've met around 3-8 of the panellists on Blankety Blank. This isn't a brag - after all, I recall one of them was maybe Frankie Vaughan, and I queued as a small child not even knowing who he was, before buying that second hand jigsaw and finding three pieces missing. But memories are hazy, and while I've definitely bumped into Larry Grayson and Derek Griffiths outside of signing sessions, others I'm not so sure about. I still chill to hear tales of Jim Bowen doing a store opening on a rainy day, only a collection of Bendy Bullies breaking the complete isolation he experienced. That day the abyss didn't stare back at Jim, it was a plastic model of a cartoon bull with a pint tankard.
     However, one of the panellists I definitely have met was Bernie Winters, who brought along his St. Bernard Dog, Schnorbitz, to open a local pet shop. Bernie's funny on Blankety Blank, playing "teacher's pet" to Terry and constantly plying him with food, but that day he didn't seem so happy. Complaining that writing "Schnorbitz" on all the autograph cards was giving him a sore wrist, he seemed quite the grump, and not quite the genial man he was onscreen.
     However, on reflection, I was just a small child, eager to see Schnorbitz, the completely silent partner in this "double act", a kind of canis familiaris Syd Little. Schnorbitz was asleep, but Bernie could have been delivering a tour-de-force in deadpan miserablist humour, the ironic nature of which was lost on a boy of around 10 years old who just wanted to see the cute dog.

5 Episode Two

Guest Panellists: Jack Douglas, Pat Coombs, Patrick Moore, Wendy Richard, Kenny Everett and Anita Harris.

On the face of it, series five of Blankety Blank can seem a bit "more of the same", as the gang of regulars have now been established. As Henry Cooper put it in his 1984 autobiography H For 'Enry, "there is a regular little club of people who appear on the programme". And, true to form, a lot of those regulars do put in shifts: Lorraine Chase appears four times, while Beryl Reid, Kenny Everett, Patrick Moore and Larry Grayson all show up three times each.
     However, this fifth series actually introduced 20 guest panellists new to the show. While four of them only made a single appearance in the entire run (Vincent Price, Jim Davidson, Maggie Philbin and Jimmy Edwards) many of them went on to be regulars, or semi regulars. Dana (who appears three times this year) and Lynsey de Paul eventually put in ten shifts each before the programme ended, while Floella Benjamin managed eight, and Danny La Rue seven.
     There's also panellists introduced in this fifth series that would go on to be semi-regulars, with Suzanne Dando, Sarah Greene, Ted Rogers and Bonnie Langford managing half a dozen appearances throughout the entire run. Such statistical rambling leads us to the only series five episode with no new faces. Sure, some were still fairly fresh, with Wendy Richard making only her second appearance, but it can be taken as "business as normal".
     However, it's very much a show of two halves. For the first set of contestants, the studio audience are unusually muted, not really taking to Terry's mock-bullying of the female panellists, and it does feel like it's all trying a little too hard. Such matters bring to mind the origins of the show, where it began as a more pedestrian and sincere affair, not overindulging in the need to get a constant stream of laughs.
     Yet the second half really picks up. Kenny does what Kenny does, but it comes as something of a surprise for once... there's also an outtake doing the rounds from this episode, where Kenny has written "Terry is a poof" on a card, with Terry joking "not everybody knows that", before Kenny tells him "By the way Ter, thanks for last night" - all left on the cutting room floor.
     But perhaps the standout is another eccentric contestant. Gwyn Evans stands in front of Terry during the Supermatch so that the back of his head is to the camera and Terry can't be seen, which is funnier and more bizarre than it sounds. But his real standout moment is before his first question, he asks if he can blow his nose, before letting out a series of massive nose blows into a tissue. As with contestants of this nature, there's always a perhaps natural suspicion that they're not for real, with even Terry saying "Did you ever get a feeling that you were being sent up?"
     Before we move on to the next entry, there's a bit of essential trivia with these last two episodes, as they both (5.2 and 5.6) brought back the series two "ready sticks" to indicate the panellists had written their answers down, as opposed to a light-up panel. The first two episodes to be filmed, recording on series five commenced on 27th June 1982, and it's not known why the sticks made a comeback, however brief. Did the lights not work that day? Did they decide to bring them back, and then change their minds? This information is maybe lost to time, and although the ready sticks also appeared, festively adorned, in the Christmas Special, that's a different proposition to a regular episode.

4 Christmas Special

Guest Panellists: Roy Hudd, Diana Dors, Larry Grayson, Dana, Jimmy Edwards and Lorraine Chase.

A festive edition with Jimmy Edwards, a popular comic actor and regular quiz show participant who nevertheless didn't appear on Blankety Blank again. At this stage Edwards had only recently been outed three years beforehand, at a time when homosexuality had been decriminalised in the UK for less than a dozen years.
     In 2013 as part of Channel 4's Frankie Howerd: The Lost Tapes, Barry Cryer noted that Edwards and others in showbusiness had remained closeted for most of their careers, purely as self-protection: "They didn’t come out, there was no hypocrisy involved. If they’d come out, or been outed, they would have been ruined and gone to prison. I mean, it was just a hideous era, they were haunted, hunted men."
     Perhaps its such matters that make Edwards ill-fitting in this edition, as, now 15 years into that decriminalisation period, the word "fairy" is milked for every laugh it's worth. It doesn't help that the rest of the panel are regulars, or have at least appeared on the show before, and Larry Grayson is sat top right, taking full advantage of every opportunity for coded asides.
     Such "in plain sight" acknowledgement of homosexuality isn't something that Edwards indulges in, though he and Grayson were of the same generation. In the final event, it's a fun Christmas episode where Edwards, despite the chosen screenshot of him smiling, doesn't really seem to know what to do.

3 Episode One

Guest Panellists: David Hamilton, Beryl Reid, Larry Grayson, Carol Drinkwater, Vincent Price and Patricia Brake.

With series five, things were a little different. Not just in the "busier" set, but in Terry's own direction. Back in March 1980 he'd been a guest host of Friday Night, Saturday Morning, interviewing his beloved J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman. The BBC were suitably impressed, eventually giving him his own late-night Saturday chatshow during May and June 1982.
     Although Terry was never much of an interviewer, he was likeable, and the show was light-hearted fun. Unfortunately, Terry leaving Blankety Blank after the sixth series coincided with Wogan becoming a prime time, thrice-weekly show, which saw poor Terry transmogrify into a tedious old fart who clearly didn't even much enjoy his own show; a somewhat jaded, quite boring establishment figure who was scarcely recognisable as the same man who presented Blankety Blank.
     While Terry's sad decline into TV wallpaper was still thankfully a few years into the future at this point, the two converge here, as Vincent Price had been a guest on the last episode of the first series of Wogan, which aired just two-and-a-half months before this edition of Blankety Blank. If Hollywood actor Price seems like a surprisingly good fit for Blankety Blank, joining in with the fun, it might be because his Wogan appearance saw him declare: "I'm the biggest Anglophile in the whole world. I really love it, I just love it."
     Elsewhere, while some of the panellists have made snide remarks about Terry not actually being that quick-witted - even on the show itself - he usually gets through the programme fine, especially considering he's not a comedian. Yet here, there are several instances where he seems a step or two behind, and a somewhat below par performance by Terry isn't helped by David Hamilton trying - and repeatedly failing, time and time again - to be funny. Thankfully, while this has perhaps an above-average number of tumbleweed moments, the slack is more than picked up by Larry Grayson, who proves to be on good form throughout.

2 Episode Thirteen

Guest Panellists: Stu Francis, Pat Coombs, Roy Kinnear, Nerys Hughes, Ken Dodd and Tessa Wyatt.

A nice fun, pleasant edition where everything seems to come together. It's not the Citizen Kane of Blankety Blank, but it works because the panel are on such good form. There's Roy Kinnear in his only series five appearance, playing the curmudgeon to good effect, and Ken Dodd provides a strong contribution. What really helps is that the panel work together, complementing each other, rather than one trying to dominate for the sake of their own vanity.
     The very cynical and hard-hearted might like to cite Terry's remark about Ken Dodd that "He didn't get where he is today by flinging [money] around", but such matters aren't worthy of comment here and so won't be mentioned. Crackerjack presenter Stu Francis makes his debut on the show, and proves unable to get a laugh when not playing to his usual audience of under-12s. Yet there's something quite appealing about this situation, the amount of dead laughs he produces - and his continual willingness to keep on trying, despite no success - that really charms.
     Francis would release a single the following year, based around his "I could crush a grape" catchphrase, and there perhaps seems something morally questionable about a man in his 30s trying to make an extra living from the pocket money of small children, especially when it's being plugged on a non-commercial channel. However, proving that kids do, in fact, have more sense than money (or that a pre-teen market is not that lucrative) Stu's single failed to make the UK Top 100 on its initial release, or when it was rereleased in 1985. Despite this, "I Could Crush A Grape" does, like Stu himself, have some inane charm, and is relatively catchy for novelty singles released by Blankety Blank panellists - a larger than expected number. 1983 would see the release of the worst of them, and it wasn't Stu's... but that's a story for another time.

1 Episode Ten

Guest Panellists: Henry McGee, Katie Boyle, Patrick Moore, Bonnie Langford, Frank Carson and Tessa Wyatt.

For all the slating that Paul Daniels received in these articles, it has to be acknowledged that he brought a special kind of energy and tension to episodes that others didn't. When Paul was involved, however much you might want to throw your TV out of the window, one thing that kept you watching was wondering who he was going to irritate next.
     In what is, in all honesty, a very bland fifth series of Blankety Blank, Frank Carson becomes an unexpected saviour of the show. Comedy is subjective, so while I cracked up at most of Frank's incessant interruptions, your take on it might vary, but what can't be denied is the effect it has on the rest of the panel. Katie Boyle is slating Frank right from the start, and things get so bad that Tessa Wyatt says "not Paul Daniels again!" after Frank has annoyed pretty much the entire panel. Bonnie Langford, new to the show, takes it all in good spirit, while Henry McGee, also new to the show, looks bored and heavily irritated by it all.
     Yet the biggest clash comes between Frank and Patrick Moore. An earlier remark of Patrick's had caused Frank to somewhat cattily remark that it was unlike Patrick to ad-lib, and a later dig sees Frank pretend to twice punch Patrick Moore in the head. It's an exceptionally awkward moment, as Frank doesn't particularly look like he's joking, while Moore ends the situation by getting his glass of water and throwing it in Frank's face, drenching Tessa Wyatt in the process. Frank then pretends to throw a third punch, which makes it even more uncomfortable.
     Contestant David Burnell shows himself to be a good sport and joins in with the fun, and when Frank has a dig at him as well, Terry remarks "Yes, Frank can take it as well as dish it out." Terry's open hostility even extends not just to his goodbyes to the viewers, promising them that Frank won't be on next week, but outside this episode, telling Kenny Everett that he was only on the show because Frank Carson pulled out at short notice. However, in Kenny's case, Terry was just joking... Frank appeared seven more times on Blankety Blank, but none of them were with Terry as the host.
     It's not a pleasant episode in many respects, and, while Frank starts off getting laughs from the studio audience, they're soon cheering when people start putting their hands over his mouth to stop him talking. In many ways, it's a good thing that Blankety Blank stopped having awkward, uncomfortable atmospheres like this edition... but when it doesn't happen, it's really easy to miss it when it's gone.
     Before we say goodbye to the fifth series of Blankety Blank, let's end on one last point of nerdist trivia for the hard core Blankers out there. Terry remarks in this episode on how often the female contestants win the coin toss to decide who gets to go first, something he claims happens with "extraordinary frequency". Although counting every single coin toss throughout the entire run of Blankety Blank would be too anal, even for The Anorak Zone, the coin toss ratio in this fifth series sees the women winning 19-9, or 67.86% of the time.


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