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How Mr. Blobby Helped Me Get Over the Premature Death of My Father

Having lost my dad suddenly at the age of four, I developed a strong bond with the bizarre, anarchic character that bordered on a kind of remote surrogacy.
July 6, 2015, 9:00pm

The author with his (surrogate) father

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

When people hear that you once considered bizarre television character Mr. Blobby a surrogate father figure, the words "troubled childhood" instantly pop into their heads. But that pink and yellow-spotted lump of terrifying rubberized 90s excess was just that to me in my childhood years.

Visiting Mr. Blobby Land—now a routinely mocked depressing ruin within the woodland of Somerset, but then a sort of Disneyland by way of a nightmare playground for kids whose parents didn't want to take them to Florida—felt like a one-way ticket to the promised land back when I was a toddler in the summer of 1994. Walking down the streets of Crinkly Bottom and waving at the flamingos, eating yellow and pink spotted cupcakes, and even watching members of the Blobby species take a shower are among my earliest memories.

My mother used to joke about the tears I shed when the real Blobby—in retrospect, probably a sweating bloke named Dave in a rubber suit—unexpectedly emerged from behind a bin and gave me an enthusiastic hug and free cap.

An example of the sort of fun you could have at Blobby Land

That visit to Blobby Land was just a few months after my father unexpectedly passed away due to a heart defect in his mid-30s—a traumatic experience that just happened to tie in with the meteoric rise of Mr. Blobby. Seriously, it just happened that way. I asked doctors, and they're pretty sure the two events are not in any way related.

In the wake of dad's passing, I obtained Blobby curtains, Blobby mugs, Blobby sweaters, Blobby birthday cakes, Blobby Y-fronts, Blobby teddies, Blobby bedding, and Blobby toothpaste. And while I'm sure there are people out there my age who are hip enough to cite something like OK Computer as their first musical purchase, mine proudly came with a cassette of the pink and yellow one's famously lambasted Christmas number one. For my fifth birthday my older brother even dressed up as the beast, with the help of a decorated pillowcase, turning my living room into Mr. Blobby Land and my family garage into a wheelbarrow-based Noel's House Party rollercoaster.

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It was only recently, when looking through a bag of family photos, that I realized my way of dealing with the grief of losing my dad was to latch on to Blobby and never let go. When I tell this to Blobby's creator, Michael Leggo, who served as BBC's head of light entertainment in the early 90s, he jokes: "We scarred you for life, didn't we?"

Long before his days of offering pseudophilosophy to simpletons opening numbered boxes, Noel Edmonds—with Leggo's assistance—was the undisputed star of Saturday-night television. Running for 166 episodes, Noel's House Party on BBC1 was Saturday night entertainment personified, birthing the live interactive format that now pays Ant and Dec's mortgages.

And, as Leggo tells me, it was the show's practical joke on This Morning presenter Eamonn Holmes that ignited the Blobby flame. "We used to do a practical joke segment called 'Noel's Gotcha,' and we had one where Eamonn Holmes thought he was getting paid to record a training video for car salesmen," he explains. "Eamonn was going through sales scenarios with an actor dressed in the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster costume for comic effect, but, unbeknownst to him, halfway through we switched the monster with Noel."

At this point, Leggo says, Edmonds, dressed up as everybody's favorite sugary cereal mascot, demolished the set, ruffled a furious Eamonn's hair, and behaved like a "complete arsehole. When the reveal happened it was such a great moment; something just clicked."

A woman in a Blobby pillowcase terrorizes the children

So in the summer of 1992, armed with an A5 sketchpad and some Crayolas, Leggo got to work. "I just doodled a pear-shaped thing with felt tip and colored it in, and having used 'Blobby' as a mean word in the past, it was a natural fit. I rang Noel and explained what I had come up with, and he said, 'You're on to something.' At that point, I really had no idea what I was unleashing on the nation."

Blobby quickly became a regular fixture of the Gotcha segment, making a mockery of ballet with dance sensation Wayne Sleep and kicking footballs at sad frog-man (and then Tottenham player) Garth Crooks. Due to his growing popularity, he stepped up from Gotcha sketches to co-presenter duties on Noel's House Party.

The BBC had Blobby appear on everything from Match of the Day to Barry Norman's film reviews show, where Hollywood stars filmed short segments pretending the character was an actor comparable to Brando.

Actor Barry Killerby was hired to play the role full-time and helped to shape the character's trademark menacing voice. Meanwhile, BBC Worldwide licensed Blobby for extensive general merchandise, leaving Americans in fear that he could dethrone their national treasure, Barney.

Leggo remembers: "I think the point we realized things had gone crazy was when Blobby arrived by helicopter at a race course. Noel was hosting a Garden Party event, and when Blobby got out the helicopter 15,000 people were going absolutely crazy—it was like Princess Diana had showed up."

And there was that Christmas single. Its surreal music video—which sees Blobby accosting children, getting a semi-erotic sponge bath, playing with demonic-looking infant Blobbies, and pissing off a chauffeur played by Jeremy Clarkson to the lyrics "Your influence has spread throughout the land"—used to have me sliding across the living room floor with joy. Leggo remembers: "Two weeks before Christmas we went in at number one, one week before Take That knocked us off, then on Christmas week we knocked them back off. Take that, Gary Barlow, I thought."

However, Leggo's son wasn't as impressed as the four-year-old me. "My eldest son, James, was about the same age as you," he tells me. "As I was the intellectual guardian of Mr. Blobby, I would bring home a truckload of toys, and I gave him this four-foot high inflatable Blobby. He had a terrible nightmare that it was coming to get him."

It also seems to have been a bit of a nightmare for the man inside the suit. A quick IMDb search shows that pre-Blobby actor Barry Killerby had some pretty serious roles, even co-starring in a World War II drama. Leggo explains: "Barry was key to Blobby's success, but he was nauseated by people going on about it, as he's a serious actor—he still won't do any interviews about Blobby. It's the past for him."

However, Blobby's rock-star status wasn't to last, and when Noel's House Party got canceled by the BBC in 1997, his popularity waned. No longer sustained by a prime-time show, he was relegated to Jim Davidson's Generation Game cameos before the nation tried to forget he ever happened.

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When I re-watch historic Mr. Blobby clips on YouTube now, I want to feel ashamed—dirty, even—at how I was so utterly won over by a character whose popularity the New York Times famously described as "proof of a nation that had gone soft in the head."

This was an actual attraction at Blobby Land.

Yet, I find myself giggling like it's 1994. Blobby is an anarchist. A pre-internet meme-making, Andy Kaufman-inspired troll, whose sole purpose was to humiliate the questionable craft of Z-list celebrities. A creature whose rebellious anti-establishment blues—well, anti-BBC, too—made working class children smile from Portsmouth to Glasgow at a time when Britain was still recovering from Thatcherism. I like to think my dad would have been sort of proud that a toddler was emotionally-fathered by such a renegade.

Leggo isn't quite as enthusiastic—"When I do tell people I'm his creator, they either want to kick me or hug me," he says—but he isn't completely shut off to the anarchist comparisons, and admits he was thinking about an animated Blobby comeback "a few years back."

He concludes: "I wouldn't call Blobby performance art or political, but he was certainly all about anarchy, a little punk rock if you like. He was larger than life and never played by the rules—I think that's what resonated with people. I just hope my children don't put 'blobby, blobby, blobby' on my gravestone."

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