Hearts and wallets open to the latex lures of Mr Blobby: Will Bennett reports on a marketing exercise of giant proportions

COME TOMORROW, a seven- foot pink and yellow latex rubber figure whose only obvious talent is for falling over may beat Elton John, Take That and Meat Loaf to the top of the pop singles record charts.

If Mr Blobby does make it to the number one spot it will be the greatest triumph in a career that has been meteoric since he first appeared on Noel Edmonds's Saturday television show, Noel's House Party, just over a year ago.

A clever marketing operation, and the British appetite for undemanding humour, has turned Mr Blobby, originally a short-term ruse for preying on celebrities, into a cult figure generating profits worth millions of pounds.

A video of Mr Blobby decorating his home, working out in a gymnasium and going shopping has sold 200,000 copies since it was launched three weeks ago, making it BBC Enterprises' fastest-selling video.

The record, simply called Mr Blobby, is selling half as much again as every other single, according to a spokesman for HMV record shops yesterday. Bookies taking bets on the Christmas number one say they stand to lose thousands of pounds if it stays at the top of the charts.

The HMV spokesman said: 'Every now and then a record comes along with novelty value that appeals to everyone, and this is one of them. At Christmas time everyone's taste disappears and they go for fun records.'

Manufacturers have bought licences to produce bubble baths, Blobbycopters, Blobbymobiles, blow-up Blobbies, boxer shorts, board games, badges, dolls and even wallpaper. One store chain has been selling 16,000 Mr Blobby cakes a week.

The BBC cannot quite believe the scale of its success, while the canny Mr Edmonds, who recently signed a pounds 20m deal selling his television shows to the corporation while retaining the rights to them, is said to be getting half the profits from merchandising.

For those who have managed to avoid Mr Blobby on their screens so far, it should be explained that he was invented last year by Michael Leggo, executive producer of Noel's House Party, which has 17 million viewers.

But Mr Leggo has not shared in the resulting profits because he is a BBC employee.

The pink rubber suit with yellow spots, green rolling eyes and a silly grin was originally devised as a disguise for Mr Edmonds to ambush celebrities such as Wayne Sleep and Will Carling, who were unwise enough to venture on to his show.

But then the character took on a life of its own and Mr Edmonds vacated the costume in favour of Barry Killerby, an actor who until then had been noted for his fine Shakespearian deliveries.

All Mr Blobby ever says is 'Blobby', so Mr Killerby has had to work hard on his intonation.

Soon newspapers were running stories that Mr Blobby was getting more fan mail than Mr Edmonds and had put in for a bigger dressing room. The presenter gave jokey interviews saying that Mr Blobby was letting the whole thing go to his head and was threatening to take over the show.

The public began to respond and Mr Blobby won a poll to pick a new England football manager. Councillors in Morecambe, Lancashire, signed a deal for him to promote the seaside resort after 35,000 people turned out to watch him switch on the town's Christmas lights.

The BBC says that it has struck a quirky vein in the British psyche. Katie Rosser, a licensing executive with BBC Enterprises, said: 'He is the most universal family character you could find and he appeals to everyone from toddlers to great-grandmothers.

'He is totally harmless, good fun and doesn't do anything that would upset anybody except possibly Will Carling. He is a sort of oversized three-year-old.'

Others take a more sceptical view. Martin Lloyd-Elliott, an arts psychologist, said: 'It is simply that people are being subjected to such marketing and hype that some of the mud sticks.

'The character is in quality no different from two dozen others of that kind. This is not reflecting our culture, some mysterious section of the British psyche, but is a transparent con.'

Mr Edmonds said recently: 'Mr Blobby is destined to become one of the great symbols of our time. Generations gone by had Marilyn, Elvis and James Dean, and we have Mr Blobby. It says a lot, doesn't it?'

(Photograph omitted)

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