Long Read Magazine

Mr Blobby Has a Cold

There are two men inside the monster, and one is desperate to get out.

At a Tesco in Watford, Mr Blobby bears down on shoppers at speed.

He has just destroyed the cake the supermarket has baked to celebrate its 100th anniversary and now he wants to force-feed it to people doing their big shop. His plastic eyes are boggling wildly. Nobody knows what he will do next.

The man inside the Blobby suit is Paul Denson. To take form, he puts on the legs of his Blobby suit first and does stretches to warm up the thick latex. (Nobody sees Blobby at this stage. One iron law of the character is that Blobby is never seen partially dressed.)

Then, the all-in-one bodysuit, shaped like a pink and yellow bowling pin. He sees only a little of the pandemonium he leaves behind out of Blobby’s toothy mouth.

‘Once I’m in the costume for a minute or so, I don’t really quite think like myself,’ he tells me, from his home in Bournemouth.

The first time he put on the costume, he was apprehensive. ‘It’d been such a long time since that particular costume had been used, so there was a musk to it – I didn’t know what has been lurking within the arms and legs. He was in a bit of disarray, missing eyes and things.’

The pressures of Blobby’s 1990s pomp demanded that Blobby be in a lot of places at once, so there were quite a lot of Blobby suits. Denson had a feeling that his suit was formerly a stunt Blobby. The legs were ripped. People would recoil when they touched his flaking body. When Denson looked at Blobby’s palms, he could see his own hands like Blobby’s bones pressing through decomposing pink skin.

Gradually, Denson started to patch Blobby up. He repainted his fading yellow spots, bought Christmas baubles on eBay to make him new eyes – spares were hard to come by – and coaxed him back to consciousness. Now, no matter how tired he looks backstage, you put Blobby under studio lights and ‘he suddenly comes to life,’ says Denson.

Bradford-born Barry Killerby was the first Blobby, the man who saw the maelstrom of Blobbymania out of that same grinning maw. Killerby, now in his sixties, has never spoken about Blobby and couldn’t be tracked down for this story despite innumerable efforts to reach him.

‘I think he’s something to aspire to, in terms of Blobby,’ says Rhodri Thomas, curator of The Mr Blobby Collection. ‘I mean, he’s perfect.’

Blobby first came smashing into view on 24 October 1992, originally conceived as a disguise for Noel Edmonds to prank celebrities with impunity on the ‘Gotcha!’ segment of Noel’s House Party. (Edmonds, who now lives in rural New Zealand, also declined to be interviewed.)

‘Noel’s always had a very distinctive face, hair and beard,’ says Blobby’s creator, Michael Leggo. ‘Quite difficult to disguise.’

Leggo had promised a ‘Gotcha!’ in every single episode of Noel’s House Party and borrowed a conceit that they’d sprung on Eamonn Holmes. They’d make up a children’s TV character who was just repellent enough to be believable, then have him cause mayhem.

Using a mauve pen on his A5 notepad, Leggo sketched a pear-shaped body with fat legs and arms, a domed head, a bow tie and a huge grin. The bbc props department added the yellow spots. The first time Mr Blobby loomed over him, eyes boggling, Leggo was ‘slightly stunned’.

‘He was big. I mean, it’s huge, larger than life.’ But he saw some softness in there too. ‘The eyelashes make it less threatening somehow.’

Leggo needed the right person to give life to Blobby. He called Jan Evans, an agent he trusted.

‘I said, this is what I’m looking for, have you got anyone like that? She said, “The only person I can think of is Barry Killerby”, who was appearing in Measure for Measure at the time.’

Leggo remembers Killerby, who also appeared in Chucklevision, as an ‘absolutely lovely, lovely man, gentle soul, dedicated actor, with a great sense of humour. But for him, he never wanted to…’ Leggo pauses. ‘He never wanted to be the character, do you know what I mean?’

There are few pictures of Killerby from the 90s. In one, he and Blobby stand shoulder to shoulder, mirroring each other’s pose. In another, he’s half-turned to the camera as he puts his key in his front door, mouth open in surprise. At his feet is a pile of bin bags containing Blobby’s lifeless body.

His Twitter account has 24 followers, and follows four other accounts. In his profile picture, he wears a black overcoat, a black cravat, a homburg hat and carries a white rose. His face is obscured. He was last seen touring a one-man Houdini tribute show around the country.

‘He didn’t want to become synonymous with Blobby,’ says Leggo. ‘He loved doing it, don’t get me wrong, but it was a job.’

It became something much bigger. This spoof of an abrasively stupid children’s tvcharacter became the most popular thing on British TV; a dark mirror to Barney the Dinosaur, who was at his apex at the time. ‘Blobby was a reaction to that,’ says Denson, ‘to say, “Well, what would England have, if it was shite?”’

In the offices of Noel’s House Party, the feedback was immediate. People loved Blobby. ‘They were getting more post than ever,’ says Paul Pascoe, Noel Edmonds’ lawyer and de facto agent between 1992 and 1995, and now Blobby’s consigliere. ‘There was the usual big mailsack of post for the show, and another three or four sacks, almost all about Blobby.’

In December 1993, the Mr Blobby single went to number one and shifted more than 600,000 copies. The Blobby brood was expanded to include a wife, Mrs Blobby, and child. (This implies the existence of a whole Blobby community with laws, religious traditions and other architecture of civic society, though the lore doesn’t extend that far. It also implies that Mr Blobby is capable of sexual reproduction.)

‘He was sort of created from the heart rather than from the wallet,’ says Pascoe. ‘I’ve always believed that, bizarrely, he sort of has this soul.’

Rhodri Thomas’s Mr Blobby Collection is testament to how big Blobbymania got. It started with a Mr Blobby pin badge bought for £3. Now the collection features more than 650 pieces of merchandise as well as interviews with dozens of people connected to Blobby.

There are Blobby teapots, Blobby ketchup, posters showing Mr Blobby and Brian Harvey from East 17 each holding a pair of skis, and a Mr Blobby video game which Amiga Power magazine described as ‘sort of acceptable, in a low quality way’.

There’s a Blobby joke book:

‘What car does Mr Blobby drive? A Blobbin Reliant.

‘Why did Mr Blobby go to Oxford? To go to the Blobleian Library.’

‘Who is Crinkley Bottom’s MP? Virginia Blobbomley.’ (There are 58 pages of Blobby jokes.)

Thomas is also in possession of an Ampex Golden Reel award – an honour given to singles recorded on Ampex tape which sell more than 500,000 copies – earned by the Blobby single. The man he bought it from was a builder who had done a lot of work for Noel Edmonds and had been given the award by him as a retirement present.

The pride of the collection is a genuine Blobby suit, bought for £600 from a man who said his dad had been a Blobby at one of the three mid-90s Blobbyland parks. Thomas puts it on occasionally and stares at himself in the mirror. The smell of decaying latex is strong. ‘You spend years being Mr Blobby’s biggest fan, and then all of a sudden Mr Blobby is staring back at you,’ he says. ‘That’s quite something.’

The physical effort involved in playing Blobby becomes obvious. ‘It’s basically like wearing shoes five sizes too big for you,’ he says. ‘You might think he’s clumsy, because that’s the character. No, it’s just because you can’t move any other way.’

The suit is too big to store anywhere. Blobby sits on a chair in the corner of Thomas’s room, his one remaining eye staring manically into the middle distance, like a more upbeat Jeremy Bentham. ‘I class him as my roommate,’ Thomas says. ‘He’s not just a costume, you know, he’s a person.’

The Blobbymania years weren’t without controversy. In February 1994, Blobby dropped six-year-old Heidi O’Callaghan’s birthday cake while attempting to present it to her at an appearance in Luton. Her father, according to one press report, ‘saw red’ and clambered on stage to attack Blobby. Later that year, Blobby accidentally broke the nose of Durham Wasps ice hockey coach Paul Smith.

But Killerby’s tenure was, for many, the definitive Blobby era. One longstanding Blobby ally told Thomas that he would watch Killerby’s Blobby night after night on stage, aside from when he was needed for TV when an understudy took the part. ‘And he said he could always tell when it wasn’t Barry, it was really clear.’

‘It’s close to a 10kg suit and you’re pretty much blind when you’re in it, sweating like a pig,’ says Pascoe. ‘Killerby’s ability – with a flick of Blobby’s wrist or a little drop of the head – to convey any human emotion was a very big part of it.’

One part-time and now defrocked Blobby, who was trained by Killerby to play Blobby at one of the aforementioned Blobbyland parks, agreed. ‘Barry had this whole character in his head: the character motivations, the way Blobby thinks and things like that. It was a very serious thing for him.’

Noel’s House Party was cancelled in February 1999. Blobby went into semi-hibernation, occasionally popping up for freelance rampages. A Blobby animated series was mooted but never made. Then, in 2012, Blobby turned up on Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz of the Nineties, put the fear of God into Jack Whitehall and hasn’t looked back.

That triumphant appearance was Killerby’s last to date as Blobby. ‘We tried God knows how many times in the last ten years or so to say, “Barry, are you interested in getting involved?”’ says Pascoe. Killerby declined. ‘I’m suspecting that he’s decided it took over his life. He was a Shakespearean actor with a plan for a career. And Blobby gobbled it up.’

Denson, who’s 36, was working in TV production for the company which owns Blobby when he heard that there was a costume going spare. He took it home and started performing as Blobby for the official YouTube channel.

But when TV producers started asking for Blobby to perform again, nobody could track down Killerby. Denson hasn’t been able to compare notes.

‘If I had the opportunity to, I would definitely take it. I’d speak to him and ask him a few questions. I’m as much of a fan of his work as anyone else. He made the character what it is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s his gig.’

The Blobbynaissance has continued without Killerby. On a reboot of The Big Breakfast this summer, Denson’s Blobby was mobbed by dozens of crew members as he pogoed, arms aloft in victory.

Last Christmas, with a panto appearance at Milton Keynes on the horizon – a production of Peter Pan, starring Eggheadscj de Mooi as Captain Hook – Denson and Unique, the company which owns Blobby’s soul, got two brand new suits made.

They’re exact replicas of the imperial phase Blobby suits, though as I spoke to Denson on the week that temperatures soared to 40 degrees, he was starting to have second thoughts. ‘If I could modify it,’ he added, ‘I’d definitely put some sort of cooling system in.’

Thomas was invited by the Blobby hierarchy to the Tesco cake rampage and by its end was covered in cake and feeling exhilarated. ‘It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time,’ he says.

Denson was lost in the performance. There were no cameras around, no greater idea of what he was meant to be doing, just a blur of sponge, icing and mayhem.

‘That was complete freedom,’ he says. ‘No one said I could just do that. It was pure joy.’

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