Worst to Best
Blankety Blank
Series Sixteen

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of Blankety Blank moving to ITV. With Lily Savage as the host, the series ended on the BBC in 1999 and moved across to the rival channel in January 2001.


A slight jump ahead in time here, as we look in at the series when it was in its first revival, with Paul O'Grady's alter ego "Lily Savage" as the host. However, don't worry, fans of vintage Blankety Blank... we'll return to Terry and Les sooner than you think.
Yet as a warning, then if you're a fan of the Lily Savage era of the programme then this isn't a positive article, but more of a post mortem on what went wrong. Much disliked here at The Anorak Zone, this is three pages explaining why. If you're on board with that, then please join me as I rate series sixteen from worst to.... worst?

WARNING: This revival version of Blankety Blank contains multiple instances of what would be regarded as "adult material", and so the discussion accordingly covers such matters.

20 Episode Eight

Guest Panellists (in panel order): Steve Penk, Anne Charleston, Harry Hill, Gayle Tuesday, Dermot O'Leary and Josie D'Arby.

Brenda Gilhooly makes one of six appearances on the show as "Gayle Tuesday", a fictional Page 3 girl invented for a stand-up act. Whatever the thoughts regarding what is pretty much a one-joke act, the inclusion of "Gayle" on the show is an odd one, as it means a completely imaginary person is answering the questions. And as "Gayle" is supposed to be chronically stupid (that's the joke) she must provide a series of "dumb" answers, in order to stay in character.
      It's an unnecessary level of artifice, in that the studio audience and the viewers at home are expected to laugh at all her wrong answers, not because she's a panellist genuinely getting them wrong, but because her character dictates she can't get them right. This level of fabricated characters is extended towards fellow panellist Harry Hill, who, while not a fictional character like Gayle per se, does exist as an exaggerated comic persona. The nearest the original series came to such things was arguably Episode 8.11, which featured Duncan Norvelle and Jimmy Cricket, though they were still giving answers they genuinely thought might make a match, rather than comically-enforced "surreal" or "stupid" answers.
      Completing this feeling of pointless artificiality is Lily herself. Fine for four or five minutes on a stand up show, but painfully limited on a quiz show where any sense of recognition or life experience is null and void, given that she doesn't actually exist. Every time Paul O'Grady commands the stage in a wig and high heels, telling people "When I was a girl...", it's time wasted on nonsense which could be spent involving the panellists more in the show. (In a note of fairness, Les Dawson's mother-in-law died in 1975, so a fair percentage of his Blankety Blank material was based on fantasy, too.)

19 Episode Seven

Guest Panellists: Victor Ubogu, Judith Chalmers, Craig Phillips, Gillian Taylforth, Eamonn Holmes and June Whitfield.

There are issues with the use, or misuse, of innuendo in this sixteenth series, as will be discussed throughout the article. Obviously such matters are subjective, so you may find Lily hilarious and think this article has been sponsored by the local Sunday School Association. Though one curious issue is that the writing team for the run of Charlie Adams, Dennis Berson and Rick Vanes often don't even seem to realise it's a part of the show. Here, in a show with seven "blank" questions, only one could conceivably be mistaken for a double entendre with a word removed.
      Yet the reason this one ranks so low isn't the absence of old-fashioned, "cheeky" humour, but the joy-crushing jadedness of Lily. When Les Dawson said how much he hated the show, it was part of the joke, but when Lily complains about how the show will "take all night", or lists which bits she particularly can't stand playing, it's hard to laugh when it seems like there's truth in jest.
     Despite writing multiple autobiographies, Blankety Blank gets only a brief mention in Paul O'Grady's memoirs, just three pages in 2015's Open the Cage, Murphy!: "Apart from The Golden Shot, Blankety Blank was the only game show I really enjoyed. Terry Wogan, with his car aerial microphone, made it his own, then the incomparable Les Dawson took over and, following the tradition, sent the whole thing up. That was the joy of Blankety Blank. It was designed to be gently mocked, with its star prizes of matching luggage and an up-to-the-minute hostess trolley and fondue set that would make you the envy of your friends and neighbours. More importantly it was a show that had lots of potential for a character like Lily in the driving seat, even if I did have big shoes to fill."

18 Episode Nine

Guest Panellists: Jeff Stewart, Tricia Penrose, Patrick Mower, Julia Sawalha, Kevin Woodford and Nadia Sawalha.

Blankety Blank's light-hearted yet flimsy premise of "some of the questions sound a bit rude" can only really exist in a vacuum of sterile environments. The Lily Savage era brings a 6.50pm family audience talk of rape, prostitution, oral sex, pornography, sadomasochism, vibrators, Viagra and erogenous zones, while a contestant who can fit her fist into her mouth as a party trick is told "I could get you a lot of work, my girl."
     Such matters, surely raising many peoples' Inner Mary Whitehouse, completely corrode the fundamental basis of the show's humour. After all, who can get a laugh out of a question that sounds ever-so-vaguely like the answer could be "willy", when the host has already asked a contestant for a graphic description of a vasectomy operation?
     Yet the show plumbs new depths here, where Lily claims to have seen a horror film that she thought was about cooking, called "I Spit On Your Gravy". As such a film doesn't exist, the joke would only make sense to the audience if they knew it was a pun on the title of 1978's I Spit On Your Grave, a film that not only shouldn't be referenced in a family show, but was also so old that it could have been referenced in the Terry Wogan era. ("... and then the eejit got it chopped off in the bath.")

17 Episode One

Guest Panellists: Joseph Millson, Tracie Bennett, Phil Tufnell, Julie Goodyear, Keith Duffy and Liz McClarnon.

Blankety Blank got a couple of series and two Christmas specials with Lily between 1997 and 1999, during which time it was retitled "Lily Savage's Blankety Blank". The rebranding saw the ratings pick up a little, though not to any spectacular level - Episode 15.11 was the only BBC episode with Lily to reach the Top 40.
     Despite never really catching on in the charts, or at least coming close to recapturing its heyday, it was reported that the show leaving the BBC and coming to ITV 17 months later wasn't actually as a result of it unperforming in the ratings, but contract negotiations with Paul O'Grady. In the 26th November 1999 issue of Broadcast Magazine, it was stated that: "Pearson Television has confirmed it is in talks with ITV and the BBC over the future of Grundy gameshow Blankety Blank. The negotiations were prompted by host Lily Savage signing a two-year deal with ITV last month. Savage is said to be keen to continue fronting the show, which has aired on BBC 1 since it started 20 years ago and was previously presented by Terry Wogan and Les Dawson. A decision is expected in the new year."
     Although the show transferred to ITV, there's surprisingly little reference to the new set up in the show itself. Episode three has Lily say: "Where would we be without a laugh, eh? The BBC." but there's little else. In terms of Lily's hosting, then there are some frustrations in this edition. One minor irritation is that questions throughout the show's entire history would often change the name of real people or fictional characters in the questions, presumably just to avoid potential litigation. The Wogan era would get silly laughs from characters like gardener "Percy Growbags" and so on, but here a question about "Barry Potter" sees Lily ask "isn't it Harry Potter?"
     Yet the real issue here is Lily doing an impression of Linda Blair from The Exorcist, saying "your mother knits socks in Hell". If the audience doesn't know the line being parodied ("Your mother sucks cocks in Hell"), then the joke makes no sense. But if the audience does know the line being parodied, why is it being parodied for a family audience? Lastly, while the ratings are looked at in more detail in a later entry, this series opener got the highest amount of viewers, over half a million more than any other episode, with 7.42m switching it on.

16 Episode Six

Guest Panellists: Tommy Walsh, Adele Silva, Frank Thornton, Liz Dawn, Leslie Grantham and Jayne Middlemiss.

While there are still signs of a lack of sincerity when Paul O'Grady appears as himself, he's a much warmer and likeable proposition than when in character as Lily, as evidenced when he returned to host a special one-off charity version of the show for Comic Relief in 2011. There's a possibility that had O'Grady presented the show proper as himself, then it wouldn't have got dropped in 2002, but this is something that can never be known.
     O'Grady actually says so little about the show in his autobiographies that Terry Wogan seems to refer to his era more. In the much-referenced Is it me?, Terry discusses the BBC resurrecting the show in 1997, and how he thought it was a mistake: "In recent times, the BBC revived it yet again, with Lily Savage, but this time it seemed a bridge too far." In 2007's Wogan's Twelve, he expresses how much he liked O'Grady and enjoyed his company, noting that this didn't extend to Lily: "I never really liked Paul as Lily Savage, precisely because he was too savage, too tart for me, as that character."
     Intriguingly, Terry also states that the BBC asked him to return to the show after Les Dawson had died. As Dawson died after the series was already axed, this would mean it was a post-1993 offer, so presumably the same show that eventually went to Lily.
     There is a genuine question as to how much O'Grady really liked the show. He claims that it's only one of two quiz shows he was ever a fan of, but then there's the question of Blind Date. In the Liverpool Echo, January 2013, he was quoted as saying he "hated" Blind Date: "In fact, I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole." Fastforward to June 2017, and it's Blind Date with Paul O'Grady.
     A lack of sincerity has dogged O'Grady's performances throughout his career. While he has some ability, it was always incredibly clear which celebrities he wasn't interested in during his chat show, and nearly every episode of Blankety Blank ends with Lily saying goodbye like a friend who doesn't particularly ever want to see you again. Although the character is supposed to be brash, very little warmth is allowed to come through.

15 Episode Three

Guest Panellists: Nick Weir, Deena Payne, Richard Dunwoody, Jane Rossington, William Tarmey and Rhona Cameron.

Looking at the series in production order can be fairly illuminating, especially considering the programme's "two shows a night" filming schedule. Only three of the episodes (1, 4 and 10) were put out in the order that they were made, with everything else widely mixed, so that the final episode of the run was actually the second to be recorded.
     Julie Goodyear's four appearances were shot in the first two blocks, with Keith Duffy in both shows 1 and 2, and Sherrie Hewson in shows 3 and 4. Nick Weir and Bill Tarmey both did shows 5 and 6 together, while Liz Dawn and Jayne Middlemiss were both in shows 7 and 8. Liz Dawn continued her recording schedule (alone, this time, with five different co-panellists in both) with episodes 9 and 10.
     Siân Phillips was the guest who got to do two in the same night for 11 and 12. Donald Sinden and Carol Smillie got to share the stage for shows 15 and 16, while Harry Hill and Anne Charleston did both their appearances in shows 17 and 18. Finally, June Whitfield and Eamonn Holmes were there for both the final two recordings of the series, which went out as episodes seven and nineteen. Only shows 13 and 14 (broadcast as episodes 15 and 9) featured no overlaps between the two. Gayle Tuesday was prepared to show up for four separate weeks, a dedication which perhaps shows why she got the gigs.
     Here with the fifth show in recording order is that combination of Weir and Tarmey, along with comic Rhona Cameron, who doesn't really get to say much at all. In fact, so utterly forgettable is this episode that I had to double check to make sure I'd even seen it. Even in its dullest episodes, Blankety Blank skirted along on the basic concept that a lot of its questions sounded like innuendo when a word was removed. Yet oddly, this incredibly simple concept seems to have been misunderstood by the creators. Not only do the three writers for series 16 create many "clean" questions, but when they do finally include a ruder one, often it's explicit, or the "blank" will be the double entendre, as if they don't understand how it works. This is particularly prevalent here, where Lily utters the face-palming line of: "the temptation to say something rude, isn't it? Maybe it's just me." No, Lily. It's not just you. It's the entire point of the programme.

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