Do you remember “Blockbusters”, that cheesy gameshow hosted by the very lovely Bob Holness? It was bright and breezy, with young students pitted against each other in a battle to be the first to say “Can I have a ‘P’ please Bob?” The whole thing was accompanied by mascots perched atop desks, and frantic hand jiving to the opening and closing “da da da da” – type theme music.
Well, in the mid-nineties, I was a teaching student in Leeds, and open to any light relief from the intense round of assignments, teaching practice and general student shenanigans. My friend Claire asked if I wanted to go to an audition. Of course I did. I’d loved Blockbusters in school.
So we attended a very dismal audition in a hotel in Leeds, where we had to stand up and tell everyone something about ourselves. I was very witty, amiable and articulate (probably) and a month later, we had a phone call to say we were on! The researcher was a bit stern – “it’s grown-up, BBC2 daytime TV, so no mascots, no whacky t-shirts, no hand-jiving, and the host is Michael Aspell”.
I revised hard for the quiz show by sitting in the pub impressing boys with my second-hand copy of “The Blockbusters Quiz Book”. Must have worked – I’m married to one of them now. And I had my hair cut because I was going to be on TV.
On the day, we joined about 50 other adults, ranging in age from 18 to 70 at Granada Studios. It was very exciting, because there were lots of Corrie stars walking about, getting cups of coffee from the vending machine. I didn’t recognize them, because I was an EastEnders fan, but they looked as if I should know them. I caught a glimpse of some filming going on in a neighbouring studio and was proud to report that I’d seen Matt Lucas, who I knew as the Drummer from Vic and Bob, and the Bloke from the Renault Megane advert.
Now, if you’ve seen Blockbusters, you know that it is a strange beast, with a team of two players against a solo player. Claire and I were in a pair, and our opponent was an extremely tall geeky boy from Bristol called Steve. The filming started, and I eagerly answered the first question, incorrectly. Steve answered a couple, Claire answered a couple, and I was inwardly crying about my quiz annihilation.
“What E is the real name of actor Martin Sheen?” – I knew this – Emilio Estevez is his son! So I proudly whacked the buzzer, shouted Estevez, and I was in the game.
We won the first game, and paused for some awkward chit chat with Aspell. I mumbled something about wanting to work with street children, Claire talked about white-water rafting, and Steve declared that he wrote comedy and wanted to be a DJ. Oh dear.
Thankfully the torture ceased, and we recommenced the game. I was in the zone! I realized that this was what I was born to do – to answer random questions, and beat opponents. I raced through the second game, and then with victory within my grasp, and one solitary letter flashing on the board, Aspell announced that it was a cliffhanger, and we stopped filming.
The next day we were taxied back to the studio, more hair and makeup, fresh clothes, microphones attached, and won the round. Yippee! Steve was duly dispatched, and I stepped up to The Hotspot for a Gold Run. I swiftly worked my way across the board: POO(!) = Point of Order; PAP = Pret A Porter, SW=Snow White etc. And Bam! We had won a prize. The voiceover started off well, “we know you enjoy travelling…” but then went on to “so here are some travel books”. Oh.
So we beat the next contestant, a lovely little old lady, and won Gold Run number 2, with Helicopter flying lessons as the prize (much better). Aspell alarmingly called us “The Thelma and Louise of Blockbusters”. We then had a difficult few rounds with a Liverpudlian with very shiny white teeth, beat him, won Gold Run number 3, with a prize of a trip to Reykjavik.
Unfortunately, the juggernaut that was Roopam and Claire had to be stopped, because on the BBC version, you had to retire after three Gold Runs.
The show aired a few weeks later in between some cricket on daytime BBC2. Most people I knew missed it, so I taped all three episodes on VHS, which I would occasionally bring out to bore people with, then that was it. My life as a TV quiz superstar fizzled out, and I went back to being a trainee teacher, never to see any of my fellow contestants again…
Until ten years later. I was watching “The Office” when The Oggmonster came on came on and I realised it was Steve, the tall geeky chap from Blockbusters. I dug my VHS tape out and then uploaded it to Youtube.
Stephen Merchant’s obsessive fans got me on his Radio 6 show for a chat, which went:
“You beat me at Blockbusters, but how many BAFTA’s have you got”
Guess he got to live his dream of writing comedy and being a DJ.