Blankety Blank – Series One

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Those hardy souls who’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter feed recently will have noticed that I’ve been tweeting screencaps from the first series of Blankety Blank (I cater for very niche interests it has to be said ….)

Although I’ve a great deal of time for the later Dawson incarnation, my heart really belongs to the Wogan era of Blankety Blank. And thanks to Challenge broadcasting a selection of shows a few years ago (although they could really do with digging out some more) I’ve now got most of the first series available whenever I need a BB fix.

And I do tend to give them a spin quite regularly. Why should a quiz game, no doubt seen at the time as rather disposable, still work so well for me today? I’ll try and explain …..

The presence of Terry Wogan is an obvious plus. Relaxed and jocular, he’s nevertheless quite happy to be the butt of endless jokes from the more boisterous panel members (Paul Daniels springs to mind). On the one hand this shows a refreshing lack of ego, but Wogan was canny enough to realise that by playing the victim he could gain a good deal of audience sympathy (which he does). But whilst he may be a ham (witness his endless array of funny voices when reading out the questions) he’s an endearing one.

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The range of guests across this first series is another major plus. There’s plenty of faces that you’d expect to see on a show of this type (Bernie Winters, Lennie Bennett, Lorraine Chase, etc) but it’s the more leftfield choices which really catch the eye. George Baker and Ron Moody are two actors who would appear to be fishes out of water in this sort of environment, but both throw themselves into the spirit of the game with gusto.

The real stars are some of the more regular players. Beryl Reid appears to be gloriously disconnected from reality whilst Peter Jones’ cutting wit always entertains. It’s always good to see Bill Tidy and his cartoons whilst David Jason (not really a quiz game regular outside of BB) seems to acting a part (that of the abrasive quiz game celeb) but he’s still good value.

But goodness, Paul Daniels is irritating. I’ve always been very appreciative of Daniels the magician, but he’s at his impish worst here. Position five, where Daniels sits, quickly came to be seen as the place where you plonk the comic/disruptive element (lest we forget it was Kenny Everett’s favourite seat).

I have to confess that I found the presence of the likes of Shirley Ann Field, Alexandra Bastedo, Diane Keen and Wanda Ventham to be rather pleasing ….

Jon Pertwee only made one appearance during this first series, but it’s a good ‘un. He decided to come along dressed as the Doctor (or maybe that was his usual evening leisurewear) and couldn’t help but aim a sly dig at Who mid way through. It clearly always rankled with him that Tom Baker was more popular in the role than he was.

The Generation Game had already presented us with the spectacle of the contestant as star, but Blankety Blank is more of a throwback to an earlier age. Most of the contestants (bar the odd confident chap – such as the Taxi Driver of the Year) seem more than a little overawed. This is best seen during Terry’s introductory chat, which always tends to be brief and to the point.

Generally Terry has three questions for them – finding out the quaking contestant’s name, the place where they live and then either their job or whether they’re married. For some, even this brief (but very gentle) interrogation seems like a terrible ordeal.

It’s interesting that much later quiz/panel shows have come in for criticism due to the dominance of male players. Blankety Blank never had that problem – the celebrities were always split equally as were the contestants. True, it’s noticeable that Terry is always keen to clutch the younger, female contestants tightly (plus they also run the risk of attracting the attention of the likes of Paul Daniels) but it was the 1970’s, so that sort of treatment was no doubt par for the course.

If you haven’t seen it for a while, then you could do much worse than seeking it out on YouTube. Genuinely entertaining, series one of Blankety Blank is something of a keeper.

All Star Comedy Carnival – 1972. Part Two

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Christmas With Wogan

I think this could just be the greatest piece of television ever.  Things start sedately enough, with a song from Carl Wayne and Penny Lane (oh, their names rhyme) but after that the fun really begins.

Recorded on the set of Lunchtime with Wogan (all of which sadly seems to have been wiped) you can see that they’ve attempted to get the audience into the Christmas spirit by handing out some party hats.  But since there weren’t enough to go round, the camera tends to focus on the handful of lucky souls who do have one.  The audience shots are fascinating by the way (average age seems to be about eighty).

This segment is a celebration of ATV, so Crossroads naturally features quite heavily.  The sight of Amy Turtle (Ann George) pushing a tea trolley would surely melt even the hardest of hearts whilst Nurses Price and Shaw (Lynda Bellingham and Judy Buxton) from General Hospital also shuffle on.

The fun just keeps on coming as Peggy Mount, Hugh Lloyd, Leslie Crowther and Sylvia Syms appear as two ordinary couples who have been pulled out of the audience to play a game.  The sight of Crowther and Wogan attempting to shovel Mount’s ample form onto a high stool is something that will live long in the memory.

Larry Grayson, resplendent in a black cloak and mask, is brought on as the mystery guest. He has to recite his most famous catchphrases whilst the others attempt to guess his identity.  Simply sublime.

And just when you think things can’t get any better, Meg Richardson (Noele Gordon) arrives …..

Easily worth the price of the DVD alone, this is a rare Christmas treat.  Indeed, had the whole show come from the Wogan studio I would have been quite happy (although had this happened no doubt it would have been wiped along with the rest of his shows).

The Wandsworth School Choir are up next, entertaining Jimmy and the studio audience with The Holly and The Ivy.  Then Jimmy gets in the act and joins them for a trot through Do-Re-Me.  Bob Todd, as a drunken milkman, causes a little havoc for Jimmy.

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On The Buses

Like Love Thy NeighbourOn The Buses was one of those programmes which pulled huge contemporary audiences but hasn’t (in critical terms) aged well.  Although unlike Neighbour it does run regularly on ITV3, so clearly somebody still seems to enjoy it.  Like a number of later episodes, this was written by Stephen Lewis (Blakey) and Bob Grant (Jack).  Reg Varney is conspicuous by his absence, but he seems to have left the show after the 1972 run.

If you enjoy broad slapstick and incredible feats of mugging to the camera then this should appeal.  The story – a goose has been left on the bus and they have to stop it escaping – is the cue for everybody, including Olive (Anna Karin) and Mum (Doris Hare), to get covered in soot and flour.  For me, a little of On The Buses goes a very long way, so this is another series that I don’t have in my collection (but I don’t feel I’m missing out).

Jimmy welcomes David Nixon, who restores a touch of class to the programme.  It’s a mystery why Nixon’s existing magic shows aren’t available on DVD as he’s such an affable entertainer.  He does the eggs in the glass party trick which Tommy Cooper also attempted on his 1973 Christmas Show.  Tommy managed to get two out of four eggs in the glasses whilst David went one better – three out of three.

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Sez Lez

Les Dawson is on fine monologue form here.  “I bought my mother-in-law a nice fireside chair which cost me twenty five pounds and the first time I plugged it in, it fused”.  The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and Les’ dancers (Les Girls) also get in on the act.  The band are clearly all professionals as the sight of a group of attractive young ladies leaping about in silk pyjamas doesn’t put them off, not one little bit.

A moustachioed Tony Jacklin has a chat about golf with Jimmy.  They also sing ….

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The Fenn Street Gang

Spun out of Please Sir! after it became painfully obvious that the actors were no longer convincing as schoolchildren (they were well into their twenties by this point) The Fenn Street Gang followed their misadventures, post school.  Never as popular as Please Sir!, possibly due the fact that the characters no longer had a reason to be together and therefore the plotlines had to be split up, it still racked up an impressive thirty eight episodes.  This sketch has a good excuse for a reunion – Christmas dinner – and it passes the time nicely enough, although it’s not exactly an all-out showstopper.

Jimmy leads everybody, including Moria Anderson, Rod Hull & Emu and David Nixon, in a rousing singalong of White Christmas.  A traditional end to a real selection box of a programme – not every chocolate is especially tasty, but luckily there’s only a few hard centres.

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