Which H was the second man to play Bond?

The answer is Holness, Bob Holness, latterly the presenter of Blockbusters, who died yesterday
  • @iburrell

Bob Holness, the avuncular host of the cult television quiz show Blockbusters, has died after a broadcasting career that spanned six decades and saw him become only the second person to play James Bond.

He was familiar to a generation of students who tittered as contestants on the word-based show asked the dignified presenter "Can I have a P please, Bob?" which became a widely used catchphrase. Holness, who was 83, was also the presenter for six years of the popular BBC panel show Call My Bluff.

He was born in South Africa, and though he moved to Britain as a child, returned to the country of his birth to begin his broadcasting career in the 1950s. His opportunity to play the famous Agent 007 in a South African radio adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel Moonraker "just came up through a hole in the floor" in 1956, he said in a BBC interview in 2008.

"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." He said that he had never previously heard of the Ian Fleming character but that it "became an amazing part to play and the response from listeners was terrific".

Holness, who had suffered a series of strokes but died peacefully in his sleep yesterday morning, joined the BBC in 1961 and worked with such notable broadcasters as Douglas Cameron and Terry Wogan. Later in his career he hosted Anything Goes for the BBC World Service. But ITV's Blockbusters, which finished in 1993, brought him to national attention.

The TV show coincided with the rise in dance music culture and some contestants would mischievously ask him for an "E", in reference to the drug ecstasy. But he never lost his temper during the show.

Asked by reporters if he had become tired of being asked for a P by one of the show's contestants, the urbane presenter replied: "I loved everything to do with the show so it always got a very positive reception from me."

In a statement his family said: "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."

DJ Steve Allen, who worked with Holness on LBC where he presented the breakfast show, described him as "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."

Mr Cameron said in tribute to his former colleague: "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 until the last."