- Category: Interviews
- Published on Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:45
- Written by Debbie Glover
Debbie Glover interviewed Tim Child, Hugo Myatt and David Learner in 2002. Clips are available here
Early in 2002, Debbie Glover interviewed Tim Child (creator of Knightmare), Hugo Myatt (who played Treguard) and David Learner (who played Pickle). This was for her college video production.
Now, you can see video clips and transcripts of the interviews, which reveal some more fascinating behind the scenes information which you may not have heard before. A huge thanks to Debbie for letting us use her interviews on the site.
Tim Child in The Televirtual Studios
Hugo Myatt in A Pub in Central London
David Learner in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk
In the Beginning
The strange thing is that Knightmare came about from a bit of an accident. I'd been a first of all a newspaper journalist and then a TV journalist and TV news reporter for many years. But I also started inventing TV shows, and in 1983 I invented a new sort of consumer based motoring show about motor cars. And we spent a lot of time and money and trouble on it - it was a very good show. But unfortunately it failed, it didn't get taken up by the network, and I was very very angry about it being turned down, and as they turned it down they said to me what you should really have done is invented a game show, because there is always a market for game shows.
When the first thoughts about Knightmare came into being, there were a number of useful co-incidences. The first coincidence was that my older sister Hilary was working for Clive Sinclair, and in fact she was his quality assurance manager when they were building the very early home computers, and so I also became interested in video games that were running on very early home computers. And I was amazed to find out, though we were in television, we weren't doing anything which was as complex or as ambitious as some of the things that were going on in very early video games. So there was that factor.
So first of all what I wanted to do was to put people into some sort of virtual world. And I was a bit of a Tolkien and Hobbit freak and things like that and I was always very keen on fantasy. So a fantasy world would be the most durable and the most fun.
So early and rather crude Spectrum and ZX81 video games like Attic Attack which was about running round a dungeon collecting objects and basically falling down wells into different levels were the first inspirations for Knightmare. The trouble was what you could get away on 8-bit computers was one thing, if it was going to be television it had to be much, much better pictures, and that was really the reason why we ended up working in Colour Separation Overlay as it was called then - Cromakey, and building high-fidelity dungeon pictures basically from painted scenes by David Rowe.
I had got to know Tim Child, the creator of it, purely socially. I was actually invited to do the very first pilot - the pilot was not intended be broadcast, but was just to see if the show could actually work. It was only a 15 minute pilot. Assuming it was going to be, I had an old boat and I was lying under it replacing planks, and Tim also had a boat in the yard and spotted one of mine and came over and said "Hugo we've got this idea, we want to see if we can make it work, it'll be about a days work, I'll give you a few quid for it, would you like to come a try it"?
I said yes, I say yes to everything, and I went along one evening to his house and he briefed me, and honestly I didn't understand a word he was talking about, but being an actor you always say yes. We did this 15 minute pilot and I began to understand it, but quite frankly I thought that was the end of it. I took my few bob and went back to repairing my boat. And about 6 months later, he phoned me up again and said "Hugo, we're going to make a full length half hour pilot, again it probably won't be broadcast, but it's to see whether our improved format will work and whether we can use the pilot to sell it to television companies. It's a few bob in it for you".
So I said "Great, when do you want me to do that?" So another 6 months past and Tim phoned again and said "We got a series" and I said "Oh, congratulations", and he said "No, no, we've got a series, you and me".
The first time I worked with Tim Child - the producer of Knightmare, was on a little known show called "The Satellite Game" which we produced for BSB. BSB eventually became Sky. At that time Knightmare had done three series and I'd caught it briefly on a Friday afternoon and seen this guy with a helmet on, and horns, walking through fantastic environments and being asked questions by mistrial voices, and I thought heck, this is live theatre, but on television, and its using children to think. And I'd previously worked with children, enjoyed working with children, so I said to Tim during Satellite Game "I don't suppose you'd thought of introducing a sort of like assistant to Treguard, the dungeon master". And he said "Funnily enough, yes" and I said "Can I audition for it", he said "Oh, all right".
So I auditioned for the part of Pickle, along with various others. I was doing some filming of something else down in Canterbury, and I got a message to call my agent, my agent rang up and said, "You're playing Pickle, this is the money, this is how long it takes". I was just gob smacked. I wanted to do one series. I stayed for three.
I wanted to do one series of Knightmare. Any actor getting any job "Hey, its you're agent, you've got half an hour's voice work, do you want to do it?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, I'll do it!", And that's it - it's a one hit wonder. You go as an actor from job to job, you don't know where the next job is coming from. Your agent rings up and says "You're doing Knightmare, Series 4" Wooh, fantastic! That means I'm working for 4 weeks! It can't, that's unreal! If I stayed for two more series...
Knightmare was a huge part of my acting life, but my acting life was so many things. It was live theatre, radio drama, it was voice over work, it was videos, even a movie. There were so many things I wanted to continue to do as an actor. Knightmare absorbed me for three years and then it was time to go.
I remember tuning in for the first episode (after Pickle's departure). I thought for old time sake I'll look at the first episode. And I remember Treguard coming into the dungeon in Studio E, where we spent so much time. He came down the stairs and said "Pickle, Pickle!"
You half expected me to come out underneath somewhere and appear as I had done so many times before. And suddenly Pickle wasn't there and there was this character called Majida. She was brilliant.
Treguard needed that foil, somebody else to bounce off. Tim saw that and gave the role to Pickle, Pickle passed the baton on to somebody else, in this case Majida. Majida served exactly the same purpose as Pickle did and she did it very well.
A Typical Day
I'm not quite sure whether there was ever a typical day on the Knightmare set, but in a good day we would have got through around about ten chambers. The big problem is that although the chambers lined up with identical geometry, there was a lot of setting up to do, and this really used to disrupt the game. So what we had was a sort of a 'time out' green room area where the team who were in the game were isolated off from everyone else and they would go there between game play.
My typical day for me was rehearsing and briefing the actors on the point of the game we had reached so they wouldn't make any mistakes that were prejudicial to the game itself. Popping into the green room every 15 minutes or so to try and keep the team happy because they would get very board sometimes by waiting, sometimes an hour between going back into the dungeon. Very difficult for them - some of the teams kept their concentration up superbly and others less so. And basically worrying most of the time that what we were producing was good and that the game itself was remaining vaid throughout.
A typical day on the set started at around 5.15am in the morning when I would get up (I was staying in various digs around Norwich when we were filming), I would blearily head towards the shower and try to make myself look presentable. By 6.30/7am I was in make up chair for what felt like an hour and a half, and turned out to be an hour and a half, because it took an hour and a half to create Pickle and blonde wig, pointed ears, hand cast, fantastic make up, which transformed me wonderfully into Pickle.
I was lucky enough to be driven in, quite early, then I spent about an hour in make up. I always had a huge amount of learning to do, because for every single take, I couldn't go wrong, it had to be dead right each time, so I was always sitting in the dressing room studying lines. The rest of the company and various actors who came and went over the years knew me as a bit of a misery because I didn't talk to them much because I was always learning the lines - endless lines I had to know for the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day which had to be done in one.
At some point you would get a cup of coffee and the rest of the actors would blearily come in.
Then eventually we would get into the studio and do a walking rehearsal without the children of just roughly what we were going to do in that particular sequence. And then the children would come up, I'd meet them.
You'd pick up, you'd knew vaguely which scenes you were going to be doing and you'd probably met the children beforehand because you were filming scenes with the children. But you had to pick up where the story left off - it was all done in sequence.
The programme was made more or less like a string of sausages in the sense that it didn't have beginning and endings - we put those on afterwards, so the show would gradually continue throughout the day.
You'd work through to lunchtime, you had an hour for lunch and then you'd wind up, finishing the afternoon around 5/5.30pm, 6pm sometimes.
We released the teams around about 5pm - they are only allowed to work at their age a certain amount of time, and then we'd usually roll on with the actors, preparing a few set scenes like spy glasses with Lord Fear for the next day, and for later bits of the game that we knew were coming out.
It was exhausting, an exhausting schedule. I would be in bed by about 9/9.30pm and this would go on for four weeks during the summer. Mad, absolutely mad schedule, and you were thinking all the time, and it was hurting all the time. And you went a long with the adventure with the children because you didn't know how far they were going to get, and you were willing them to do well all the time, but they dictated what you did, they dictated the day. Then they'd go off and go to pizzas and bowling and I don't know. Occasionally we used to go to the pub but more often or not I was in bed.
There were so many of them and they usually involved tremendous mistakes, although it was recorded, it was live for record. I'm afraid my most memorable moment is not one that I can share with you.
There was a certain amount on improvisation involved in the script, and because Hugo (Treguard) and myself (we'd gone to the same school) and so we had a lot of catching up to do, but we had a good on-screen relationship that worked very well indeed and we'd toss around ideas with the script. We would open and close Series 5 with a bit of banter, and I had developed this kind of character where I would be a bit abusive to the televisual audience, and there was a memorable moment where at the end of one programme, Hugo who'd usually signed off said "Alright, you do it do it then" and I looked straight to the camera and said "I say you lot, bog off!". It wasn't so much that, in the gallery I head Sue, the production assistant go "HAHAHA", and I think you can hear that now on the tape.
In the early programmes I remember a young girl who was a dungeoneer, who did exactly what she was told by the advisors and marched towards the edge of the blue screen very determinedly and straight into a wall and let out a string of expletives, some I hadn't heard of!
My other memorable moment - we had a chap called Dickon who was part of a winning team with some lads down at Torquay. They had to pick up a goblin horn, otherwise they could not go forward. And I remember Dickon getting the horn and me coming out with the memorable line "Dickon's got the horn Master!". Its silly things like that that you remember.
I think it could have continued almost indefinitely, but the big problem was that we are reaching a technical hiatus. Knightmare in the end was what we call 'mixed reality' - it used techniques which are now called 'Virtual Studio' but we didn't know the names for them then as we were pioneering. So what we were doing was we were putting real people in an artificial world, and we were letting them role play in that area. It was only a matter of time before we had to go the whole hog and put people in a virtual world, but not as themselves, but as representations of themselves.
Now here we are in the 21st century and finally we can do that. So the next show that happens whether its from this team or somewhere, will really be the one which picks up the gauntlet where Knightmare left off. I personally don't think it is going to be a children's show because I think the new demography for that is probably at about the age group where children's TV at the moment leaves off, and the upper limit is I hope about my age.
I think it ended at exactly the right time. Everything has its season. We're coming now to the end of how many series of Friends? Dallas overstayed its welcome. The good die young and I think in this case the good had eight series and was brilliant. And it will stay alive in everyone's memory because it went out in a blaze of glory.
I certainly think the programme could have gone on at lease another couple of seasons, it wasn't time and technology at the time they were using was getting more exciting and they had superb ideas.
It wouldn't have the following now - it wouldn't have this huge dedicated website if it had meandered on.
Each series got better and better with the technology and there was more to come, and it was sad that it ended when it did, and a surprise I have to say to everyone involved.
Knightmare was then, and Tim Child's creativity is now and whatever project he's working on - it will be a success.
I think there are a lot of reasons which probably intrude the return of Knightmare as a children's show on mainstream British television. The first reason is the age group of children who watch shows like that on CBBC or CITV has changed. When I was first making this show back in the 80s, the demography was from around about aged 6 to 17. Now although they will claim more, in truth it is about 6 to 11, and the older children have migrated into the video game area, or into niche television or into youth television or into cable, and therefore the older age group who I would have really needed to appeal to in Knightmare has gone from that area.
Pickle was then. Marvin was then. It would be like re-marrying an ex-wife, sometimes it can work, but there is a season for everything, and I've had Pickle, I've had the best of Pickle. I couldn't repeat Pickle! I hope no one else repeats Pickle as well. I think it would be ghastly if I suddenly saw the blonde wig and pointy ears and somebody else prancing around, I'd get a real shock! I'd say "Excuse me!"
I think its extremely unlikely (that I would play Treguard again). I would be regarded as being too old, too fat and it would have to be son of Treguard.
Something else, yeah. I'd revel in the opportunity to do something else that was that creative, but again how often do those opportunities arise.
I think that we are ready to do different now and that means a different sort of show, but it could be just as magical or even better.