Chaotic. Anarchist. Marmite.
These are the words that come up repeatedly in my interviews about a divisive British cultural icon.
He’s seven-foot tall. He’ll smash anything breakable. He’s got massive, terrifying eyes. He sounds like a Dalek on speed. He wears nothing except a spotty bow tie. He has a very limited vocabulary. He’s bright pink with yellow spots. He is… Mr Blobby.
Now a cultural signifier of the 90s, Mr Blobby burst onto our screens in October 1992 as a character on the BBC’s Saturday night show Noel’s House Party. Hosted by Noel Edmonds, it had a “Gotcha” segment where they would prank celebrities. That’s where Mr Blobby came in. He was only supposed to last one series. But somehow, that’s not what happened.
Now, 29 years later, Mr Blobby is back (although some would say he never really went away). In December this year, he’s starring in a panto production of Peter Pan at the Chrysalis Theatre in Milton Keynes. (Oh yes, he is!). As the country braces itself for Blobby’s return, this is the story of how a chaotic pink bowling pin on legs became a very British phenomenon.
How do you come up with a character like Mr Blobby – one that terrifies and delights people in equal measure? His creator was Michael Leggo, who produced and directed Noel’s House Party. In the late 80s, Leggo worked with Edmonds on Noel’s Saturday Roadshow. After three series, the BBC wanted a new version, something a little more “people-orientated”. And so, Noel’s House Party – set in the fictional village of Crinkley Bottom – was born.
“One of the bold pronouncements I made was that we would do a ‘Gotcha’ on every show,” says Leggo. The “Gotchas” had to tread the line of being funny, but not cruel – “like a good-natured best man speech at a wedding”, he tells VICE. In series one, they would prank unsuspecting celebrities and Edmonds would present them with a “Gotcha” award.
“It was an overnight success,” says Leggo. “But then I had to think, how can we keep feeding these ‘Gotchas’? That’s when I came up with the idea for a fictitious children’s character.” It was sparked by a sketch in series one, when Edmonds dressed up in a Honey Monster-type suit and pranked Eamonn Holmes, eventually taking the costume head off to reveal himself.
Armed with a piece of A5 lined paper and a mauve felt tip pen, Leggo set to work on creating a character. “I did this stupid sketch. It was a pear-shaped thing with a rough position of the eyes and the proportion of the legs,” says Leggo. “I said to the costume designer: ‘Can you make something like that up?’” The yellow dots weren’t his idea – those came later. But why “Mr Blobby”? “The word ‘blobby’ is just part of my family’s shorthand for something a bit shapeless,” he says. He could have never predicted that his sketch would be the start of a character who would run and run (and very often, fall over).
In fact, the whole point was that Mr Blobby could only work for one series. The formula was this: They’d get in a celebrity for a scene with a children’s TV character (or so they thought). An actor would dress up as Mr Blobby, without the head, and rehearse the scene. The actor would disappear to put Blobby’s head on and swap places with Edmonds. “We could only do these pre-recorded before the shows went out. As soon as you transmit one, the secret’s blown that Noel’s inside the costume,” says Leggo. “I was hugging myself that we got eight.”
Mr Blobby was a success – and people wanted more of him. Paul Pascoe was Edmonds’ solicitor from the late 80s and eventually became his business partner at his entertainment company Unique (Pascoe is company director, Edmonds is no longer involved). He remembers the moment Edmonds realised Blobby was a hit: “Noel said to me: ‘Bobby is going to be huge.’” When he asked why, Edmonds replied: “‘We get three post bags of mail each week and 70-80 percent of the postbag is to do with Blobby’,” says Pascoe.
Leggo says Blobby was a “runaway success”, even though not everyone liked this slightly nightmarish-looking character. “He was completely Marmite – people loved him or hated him, but you couldn’t escape him. It was impossible to not have an opinion about him,” he says.
But who was the man in the pink suit? When Mr Blobby became a regular character, Leggo called an agent, looking for an actor. They said there was only one person for the job: a guy called Barry Killerby. On the face of it, Killerby was an unlikely fit. “When I got him in to talk, he was in Measure for Measure,” says Leggo. “He was a serious Shakespearean actor.” Killerby went from Shakespearean soliloquies to playing a character that originally only ever said “Blobby” or “Blob”.
But Leggo says it was Killerby’s body language as Blobby that was key. “Barry was a huge part of Blobby’s success,” he adds. Leggo’s favourite Blobby scene is when Edmonds tells Mr Blobby that the show is going to New York, but he isn’t going. “Barry as Blobby throws a two-year-old’s temper tantrum,” says Leggo. “It’s very physical – it’s the essence of Blobby. It’s a demonstration of everything that Barry brought to the character. Without Barry it could have just been a big pink rubber thing.” Pascoe agrees: “His ability to create gestures that conveyed humour while in this thick latex suit… He was brilliant.”
My attempts to contact Killerby for this piece have gone unanswered, which doesn’t surprise Leggo or Pascoe. Leggo says that it was just a job for Killerby. “It’s why he’s never done interviews about it. I don’t think he ever will,” he says. Pascoe has no idea where Killerby is. As far as he knows, he wanted to continue life as a “broader actor”. Killerby’s most recent non-Blobby role on IMDB was a recurring slot on the 2000s children’s TV series ChuckleVision.
Still, Killerby played Mr Blobby for around 20 years. With him in the suit, Blobby’s role expanded way beyond “Gotchas”. “You could do anything with him,” says Leggo. One of the wildest moments he remembers was when they armed Blobby with a catapult. “It was like an old medieval weapon of war, and he would fire sponge cakes into the audience,” he says. “They loved it! They wanted to sit in the seats where they’d get zonked by Blobby with cream and jam cake.”
It’s hard to overstate the success of Noel’s House Party. At the time, Saturday night TV was a big deal. People would stay in to watch the show. As Leggo says, it was “appointment-to-view television”. At its peak, it drew in 15 million viewers. Alan Yentob, BBC One controller at the time, described it as “the most important show on the BBC”.
Soon, Blobbymania began to take on a life outside of Noel’s House Party. It started with merchandise – pasta shapes, lunchboxes, teapots, ties, mugs, bubble bath, knitting patterns, lampshades, cans of lemonade. According to Pascoe, research from the 90s showed that, at the time, almost every household in the country had at least one piece of Blobby merchandise.
As a BBC employee, Leggo was not allowed to profit from the constant stream of merch. But as Blobby’s creator, he was his intellectual guardian, so he had to approve every single product. On day, his young son freaked out over an inflatable Blobby he brought home. “After that, we had no Blobby stuff in the house, I had to store it in my car. If anyone had seen the boot of my car, I’d have looked like a Mr Blobby salesman. I had umbrellas, placemats, you name it, in the back of my car – it was all the prototypes,” he says. “It was funny to think there were whole business plans built on Mr Blobby t-shirts.” Pascoe also recalls an abandoned plan for a chain of Mr Blobby restaurants that would – inexplicably – specialise in healthy food.
It didn’t stop there. In 1993, Leggo got a call. Would Mr Blobby be interested in doing a single? Leggo said yes, on one condition: “I rather grandly said: ‘We’d only consider doing a single with Mr Blobby if it’s going to be Christmas number one’. He said: ‘You’re on’.” The song, called “Mr Blobby”, was released in November 1993 and is generally agreed to be one of the worst songs ever recorded. But at the time, with Blobbymania sweeping the nation, it was a hit. Two weeks before Christmas, the song was number one. Then Take That knocked it off the top spot with “Babe”. In a final plot twist, “Mr Blobby” re-entered at number one, ruining Gary Barlow’s Christmas in the process.
Watching the video now, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Blobby gets given a sponge bath, smashes up a drum kit and has Jeremy Clarkson as his chauffeur. “When the Blobby single was released, I think that’s when people who didn’t already hate me for creating Blobby filled the rest of my wax doll with pins,” says Leggo.
Eventually, Noel’s House Party ratings dropped and after eight series, the show ended in 1999. Over the years, Mr Blobby lost his shine. Between 1994 and 1996, Unique licensed the brand to open three Mr Blobby theme parks. (Yes, three.) By 1997, they were all shut down. A 1994 article in The New York Times said Blobby was “proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash”. The piece also mentions an incident where Mr Blobby threw a six-year-old’s birthday cake on the ground. The girl’s dad punched Blobby. The Sun ran a story with the headline “Dad Gives Mr. Blobby a Smack in Gobby”.
Throughout the 90s and the early 00s, Blobby made appearances on Live & Kicking and The Generation Game. Then, after a few quiet years, he started to get wheeled out as a 90s cultural reference point. In 2012, he appeared on a 90s episode of The Big Fat Quiz of the Year (and scared the shit out of Jack Whitehall). That was Killerby’s last credited TV appearance as Mr Blobby. It seems, by that point, he’d had enough. But the requests for Mr Blobby were still trickling in. How do you find someone to replace the guy who’s played Mr Blobby for 20 years? Hold open auditions? Not exactly.
Paul Denson, 35, was working for Unique as a video editor when someone mentioned to him that the Mr Blobby costume was still in storage. Denson was asked if he would run the Mr Blobby YouTube channel and occasionally wear the suit to make video content. As a child of the 90s, he thought it sounded like fun. He says it was surreal putting on the suit for the first time.
“I was a fan as a kid, but it wasn’t like I’d been trying to become Mr Blobby for my entire life, it just fell into my lap,” says Denson. “Never in a million years would I have thought this would happen.” The smell inside the suit was pretty overwhelming, too. “It had been in storage for a while and it had its own aroma… that old, musty smell.”
At first, Denson just played Mr Blobby on YouTube. His first public appearance was at a “Revenge of the 90s” club night in Bristol. But things stepped up a gear when a request came in for Alan Carr: Chatty Man. “Someone said: ‘Well, you do it now, don’t you? Because you’ve got the costume’. I was just slowly nodding,” says Denson.
The producers had Gary Barlow booked and they wanted to bring him face to face with his old pop chart rival. The show was filmed in front of a live audience. Denson was apprehensive. “It was a big gig,” he says. “I haven’t really got an acting background. I mean, I’ve got a B in GCSE drama.”
There’s also the fact that when you’re in the suit you are essentially blind. Denson says you can peer through Mr Blobby’s mouth but you have to be wary of being seen. But he decided to give it a go. He had no idea that in his first TV appearance as Blobby, Gary Barlow would attack him, pulling the leg of his costume off.
“You could tell he was genuinely pissed off that this character had the audacity to rub it in his face,” says Denson. “I don’t blame him for turning on Blobby, but I’m in the costume and I have no idea that he’s pushing me over. You’ve got no chance of winning a fight like that.”
In the last few years, the Blobby resurgence has seen him appear in adverts for Tesco and Virgin Trains, as well as on Loose Women. But how did his 2021 pantomime booking come about? Pasoce says that in Blobby’s prime, he was a panto regular. One year, he did six different productions. So when Pascoe got an email from Steven Gordon-Wilson from 1702 Productions asking if Mr Blobby might appear in his production of Peter Pan, he was intrigued.
It was Gordon-Wilson’s childhood memories of seeing Blobby in panto that inspired him to cast the 90s character. “I still remember it. It fills me with joy and terror in equal measure,” he says. There are 48 performances of Peter Pan planned and Unique said the current Blobby costume wouldn’t make it. They’re having a new one made by the company behind The Masked Singer costumes. When I speak to Gordon-Wilson, he is eagerly awaiting its arrival. “I’ll be sitting in my garden dressed as Mr Blobby. My neighbours will think I’m mad but I’m not going to be able to resist.”
Denson, unfortunately, won’t be playing Mr Blobby in the panto. Instead, he’ll be running a “Blobby school” with some of the cast. “On at least one performance, Mr Blobby will be played by me, because I’m not turning that opportunity down,” says Gordon-Wilson.
When it comes to the show, Gordon-Wilson has big plans. “I’m trying to work out if it’s physically possible to fly Mr Blobby,” he says. “If the curtains open and Mr Blobby flies over people’s heads, that would be extraordinary.” When I mention this to Leggo, he laughs. “Good luck with that! He’s got the aerodynamic properties of the breezeblock.” In another nod to the 90s, Gordon-Wilson is writing a gunge scene. “I think Captain Hook will end up in the gunge tank with Bobby pulling the lead,” he says.
Leggo describes Mr Blobby as a “loveable anarchist” and maybe, given the last year and a half, that’s what we need right now. I ask Gordon-Wilson, why Mr Blobby and why now? “I think right now, while people are in a weird place, having a bit of nostalgia is just right,” he says. “It reminds us of a simpler time, when all we had to worry about was Noel Edmonds.”
What does the future hold for Mr Blobby? “I don’t think he’ll achieve the craziness he did in the past, but I do think that over the next couple of years, he will become a celebrity again,” says Pascoe. He casually floats what might be the maddest Blobby idea yet: “What about Mr Blobby and Love Island? I mean, anything is possible.”
The post ‘A Loveable Anarchist’: The Oral History of Mr Blobby appeared first on VICE.