Broadcasting legend Bob Holness dies at 83

Bob Holness
Bob Holness
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BROADCASTER Bob Holness, famed for his “I’ll pave a P, please, Bob, catchphrase, died today aged 83, his family said.

Bob Holness, best known as the genial host of hit quiz Blockbusters, died today aged 83.

His family said he “passed away peacefully in his sleep”.

Holness, who suffered a number of strokes and had been in a nursing home, leaves his wife Mary, three children and seven grandchildren.

His family said: “Iconic television host and broadcaster Bob Holness passed away peacefully in his sleep during the early hours of the morning, aged 83, after his health deteriorated following a number of minor strokes over the past few years.

“Although Bob will be best remembered for being the host of the cult television programme Blockbusters, it should be mentioned Bob was also an accomplished theatre actor and his radio broadcasting career spanned over six decades.

“The famous Pinner resident was beloved by students everywhere for his catchphrase ‘I’ll have a P, please, Bob’.”

Holness was born in Natal, South Africa, but grew up in Kent after his family moved back to England.

He returned to South Africa as a young man to begin a career as an actor and broadcaster that saw him star in radio plays, including one where he played an early version of superspy James Bond.

In a 2008 interview, he told the BBC: “Well, that just came up through a hole in the floor. I was doing lots of radio plays at the time but I wanted to do something a bit different so when James Bond came up I ventured in and said yes. I had never even heard of him at the time but it became an amazing part to play and the response from listeners was terrific.”

He returned to England in 1961 and became a familiar face on television, but it was roles as chairman of BBC1’s Call My Bluff and host of Blockbusters that made him a household name.

The quiz, which ended in 1993, featured student contestants answering a series of trivia questions based on the letters of the alphabet.

A regular feature of the show saw Holness trying to keep a straight face despite facing sniggering students asking him: “Can I have a P please Bob?” - a question he claimed never to be fed up with hearing.

He said: “People say ‘Don’t you ever get fed up with it?’ but I didn’t. I loved everything to do with the show so it always got a very positive reception from me, however many times I heard it.”

The arrival of dance drug Ecstasy on the rave scene also saw Holness regularly asked for an E by his student contestants.

One mark of his popularity was the widespread urban myth, believed by many, that he played the trademark saxophone solo on the Gerry Rafferty hit Baker Street.

It is believed to have been started as a spoof by journalist Stuart Maconie in music paper NME in 1990.

Earlier today, Maconie tweeted: “Genuinely sad about Bob H. And now off for a run with phone switched off.”

DJ Steve Allen, who worked with Holness on LBC where he presented the breakfast show, said he was “the consummate professional”.

He said: “He was the man who put his suit on for the breakfast show. You smelt his aftershave before you saw him in the building, he was one of those sort of people. He was absolutely charming. No-one would ever deny he was the perfect radio host. I was with him for many, many years at LBC. He was just one of the nicest men. It’s terribly sad. Much, much missed and much love to Mary his wife and the rest of the family.”

Douglas Cameron, who presented the breakfast show with Holness for 10 years, said he was “tailor-made” for the job.

He told LBC: “Bob Holness talking to a neighbour at his home in north-west London would be the same Bob Holness interviewing somebody on AM. That was the nature and strength of the man.

“I last saw Bob at a Water Rats function just over a year ago and he was a shadow of the man who was once the darling of the airwaves, but he still had that indomitable spirit about him.

“He was always there for a laugh and a joke and people would say ‘How are you feeling Bob?’ and he would reply ‘I’m fine, I’m fine’ when really he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. But Bob’s spirit remained with him until the last.”