The Legacy of Mr Blobby
No television programme has created theme parks, or a character, like Mr Blobby — Noel Edmonds
Anyone living in the UK during the 90’s will recall the grinning psychedelic face of Mr Blobby. A fixture of the most popular Saturday night show of all time, Noel’s House Party, Blobby began inauspiciously as a fictitious children’s TV personality. For the ‘Gotcha’ part of the show, Blobby was presented as a ‘real’ character to dupe and embarrass celebrities. He became a regular, and arguably, the star of the show — bringing in 17M viewers at his peak. With his flapping, vacant eyes, like a half-sentient Fiat 500, Blobby captivated the nation.
It wasn’t long before Mr Blobby was ubiquitous. Neville Crumpton, a marketing executive, was amongst the first to profit from the character. His young son was transfixed by Mr Blobby, and in an enterprising move, Crumpton contacted the producers of Noel’s House Party to see if they had made any move to develop merchandise. The show’s producer was not in any position to profit personally as a BBC employee, so he referred him to BBC Worldwide. Crumpton secured eight of the twenty licenses available to market Blobby. Within months, Britain was awash with Blobby merchandise — from pencil cases to inflatables, it was Blobbymania.
The pink and yellow cash cow was pumping money into the coffers of a few. Noel Edmonds was the BBC’s highest salaried presenter throughout the 1990s and held 50% of the rights to the Blobby merchandise. Let’s not forget that Mr Blobby’s Christmas song knocked Take That off the No.1 slot in November 1993. It wasn’t a charity single — and it went platinum. That’s no mean feat for a song that has been described as one of the worst records in music history, and will have handsomely lined the pockets of those involved.
Some commentators have called him a metaphor for a nation gone soft in the head. Others have seen him as proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash — Elizabeth Kolbert, NYT
At the height of Mr Blobby’s celebrity, a theme park was opened in Cricket St Thomas, Somerset. Annexed to a stately home which already boasted an animal park, it was a popular attraction, with ‘gunge mines’, Mr Blobby’s house ‘Dunblobbin’, some Narnia tunnels (sure) and also ‘Throttled Cock Farm’ (not even a joke). It attracted 600,000 visitors in its first year (1994) but was closed down after less than five years. Turns out a massively annoying pink costume wanker has a limited shelf life. Yet the venture wasn’t isolated. Edmond’s company, Unique Group, pushed for two further theme parks — one in Morecambe, and one in Lowestoft.
The Morecambe Visitor published a three-part series on the financial debacle that has rippled through into this decade from the failed theme park in Morecambe. Back in 1993, Noel Edmonds and Mr Blobby visited Morecambe to turn on the illuminations. Crowds swelled into Morecambe in droves, eager to see the stars of their Saturday nights. Excited by the sudden boom in tourism, the Council met to discuss the possibility of a Mr Blobby theme park in Morecambe. With an overwhelming majority vote of 39–1, it was decided in 1994 that Lancaster City Council would enter an agreement with Noel Edmonds’ company Unique Group, and on July 30, 1994, it opened its doors to the public. It was widely viewed as a coup for Morecambe-at the height of Noel’s House Party’s fame, they had drawn it’s star to their dwindling seaside resort. Morecambe had suffered significant losses in visitors after both piers were destroyed, and the Blobby invasion was a beacon of hope. Initially, the contract stipulated a 50/50 split of profits between the two organisations, but mid-negotiation that changed to 60/40 (Unique/Lancaster) with Unique also demanding a fee of £40,000 for creative work. The Council firmly believed that Mr Blobby could bring in crowds of 300,000.
Despite backing from Fuji, Mars and British Rail, the park was a disappointment. Not only were visitor figures low, but the park itself was lacking. Huge wait times occurred between Mr Blobby’s appearances, and visitors were left twiddling their thumbs, reluctant to spend money in the mediocre cafe, and unable to buy anything as the shop had not yet been built. Locals railed against the inflated price of entry considering the absence of attractions and after just four months, the site was closed down. The council began legal proceedings against Edmonds and Unique, and thus began the ‘Blobbygate scandal’. Unfortunately for the council, by 1995 the High Court had thrown out all but two of claims against Unique (one of which being that Mr Blobby had a sub-par suit). By 1997 the case was lost and the council’s doomed venture had cost the taxpayer £2m.
District Auditor Clive Porter reported at the end of his five-year investigation into the failings of the attraction that “wave of optimism and enthusiasm for the Crinkley Bottom project severely clouded the judgement of members and officers (of the council)”
Edmonds himself rarely talks of the ventures, and if he does it is only a rosy-hued personal memory. Whilst he moved on to his cult of positive thinking, and then Deal or No Deal, the communities he persuaded to invest in his pink and yellow vision have struggled to pick up the pieces. The partnership in Somerset involved the takeover of a dairy, which suffered significant losses when the theme park closed down — close to £40M was owed which led to both the hotel and the safari park having to close and sell. It is only in the last two years that the Taylor family who still farm the land were able to recover from the lawsuit and now run holiday cottages on the site.
It was only Pleasurewood Hills that escaped the Blobby blight — perhaps simply on the basis that it pre-existed. The Lowestoft theme park simply changed one of their permanent buildings from a haunted house to Noel’s house.
Inevitably, the two closed parks fell into disrepair. Many years passed with raves and free parties being held in both Cricket St Thomas and Morecambe, and then the UrbEx community snuck into the falling down ruins of Dunblobbin. Occasionally, the press would pick up the story again and laugh at the decrepit nostalgia that clung to the edges of Britain, like moss on a long-still stone.
And what of Blobby himself? When Noel’s House Party was cancelled in 1997 he was relegated to play second fiddle to Jim Davidson on The Generation Game. Perhaps he went into hiding, wrestling his demons at Dunblobbin. Perhaps he will appear as a talking head at the end of the decade on The Top 100 Pink Things of the 90s (Channel 4), his skin glowing in the soft light of a nation’s childhood memories. Or, perhaps, this was truly his last party: