- Category: Commentary
- Published on Friday, 07 September 2012 16:13
- Written by James Aukett
James Aukett’s retrospective on the show’s history from 1987 to 2012.
Let us start from the beginning. Monday 7th September 1987 – I look at the children’s TV schedules to find a listing on Children’s ITV for a brand new programme called Knightmare. Now obviously I don’t remember the exact words that were used to describe it in the listing, but the words “adventure” and “quiz show” still strike me this very day, and it seemed that it would be the ideal programme to watch after school.
Tuning in would prove my theory spot on. Watching a blindfolded contestant, or “dungeoneer” to give them their proper name being guided through this castle by three team-mates/advisors proved to be interesting and enjoyable, and it was all happening within a very believable atmosphere. Being as young as I was back then, I was genuinely convinced that this kid who was wandering around this castle would actually die a few rooms later on, only to then reappear and be rejoined by his team-mates before all four of them magically disappeared to wherever it was in the UK that they came from. A new team would appear, and the same protocol would apply – one of them becomes the dungeoneer and gets blindfolded by a helmet and is sent into this castle to be guided by three advisors who would be guiding them from the comfort of a screen situated within a dungeon antechamber. Yet hardly a minute in and the action, dungeoneer and advisors all completely froze. A cliff-hanger, you may well call it. Only the host of this programme called Knightmare was still physically active, encouraging us to tune in next week to see what happens next.
This host would become the staple throughout Knightmare’s entire run. He went by the name of Treguard, and the actor who played him, Hugo Myatt, instantly made him an icon of children’s TV folklore. Welcoming us, the watchers of illusion (or, “viewers” to put it more simply) to the castle of confusion, he would remind us on what had happened on this team’s adventure so far, before everything came back into action and play resumed. Whilst it was on, he would give advice to the team on the immediate happenings they encountered, be it puzzles, riddles or even encounters with other characters that inhabited Knightmare Castle. There were other factors to consider too, teams had to take clue items on occasions for further on in the dungeon, they may even needed to use magic or spells to resolve a situation.
Focusing on the word “magic” for a short minute, this is what Knightmare had made me believe it truly was. The fusion of Tim Child’s creative mind, David Rowe’s captivating dungeon paintings that made the experience of going through each room genuinely convincing, and of course Hugo Myatt as Treguard as the on-screen overseer as events unfolded had all combined together to make a wonderfully enchanting masterpiece that had me coming back every week to watch this fantasy adventure take place from the television situated in my living room.
The run lasted from September up until the end of October. But the following September, it came back on to our TV screens and I was once again reminded of how much I had enjoyed this show when it originally appeared the previous year. It was all happening again – compulsive viewing of this team exploring this extraordinary dungeon setting that would bring in new characters and obstacles to accompany those that had featured in the previous series. This time though there were some extra elements of tension, we had an antagonist and arch nemesis in the form of Mogdred (although he was briefly mentioned in the first series as the alter ego of the kindly wizard Merlin, both characters were played brilliantly by veteran actor John Woodnutt). Then you had the sinister threat of a ghost appearing to this eerie soundtrack, and later on in the series teams had to be quick on their feet when they were chased by the mindless mechanical warrior, or Automatum – Edmund Dehn’s superb and threatening portrayal of this character is well received and acknowledged by members of the Knightmare.com forum. For those who were clever enough to make it as far as the third and final level, there was also the sheer terror of the Medusa that appeared on some occasions, where without the necessary clue object, whole teams and not just the dungeoneer could be killed and turned into stone.
There was certainly a winning formula to Knightmare, and on the rarest of occasions it would even yield winning quests for those teams who got through the third and final level. Whilst the majority of the first series had teams simply attempting to achieve squiredom, eventually quest objects would be brought in (and on the odd occasion, a quest “objective” in the form of freeing a maid) such as the crown or sword. There was only one ever quest to redeem the talisman, and unbelievably it was one of those quests which was won!
Returning to the winning formula, Knigtmare had proved itself to be so successful, not just with myself but most certainly with others that the second series would run from September up until the middle of December, and I mustn’t have been the only one to have asked for Knightmare presents for Christmas (books, board/computer games and other merchandise would eventually be produced over the show’s run). Such was this winning formula that when Knightmare returned for a third series in 1989, the show had moved from Monday to Friday afternoons – for me, this was the perfect way to finish off a week at school and also an ideal run-up to the end of the year, being that the show would continue to be broadcast from September to December). The third series would see almost an entire change of personnel – only Hugo Myatt, John Woodnutt and Tom Karol remained from the previous series. Some of the new actors that were brought in would become one-series wonders whilst Clifford Norgate (Hordriss) and Paul Valentine (Motley, although this character was replaced by Fidjit for one series) would remain with the show until the very last episode. There were also other new concepts brought in such as the walking through dwarf tunnels and a trapdoor or mine cart ride to travel between levels, which were alternatives to the common method of the wellway.
Each subsequent series would bring along its own new developments. For series 4 for example, Treguard would be accompanied by an elfish assistant within the antechamber, who went by the name of Pickle, the additional humour being provided by David Learner. The dynamic duo would provide some alternative banter as each quest went on, as opposed to Treguard just mainly communicating with the dungeoneer and advisors. Pickle however, didn’t confine himself to the antechamber as he did make one cameo appearance within the actual quest surroundings! Notice that I didn’t say dungeon here, as this series also took Knightmare to new environments and horizons. Quests would expand beyond the confines of the dungeon and wind through outdoor, medieval-themed settings. The locations for these would be based around castles situated with the UK, and additionally Spain – it worth pointing out that Knightmare had a Spanish counterpart entitled El Rescate Del Talismán, as well as a French equivalent of Le Chevalier Du Labyrinthe. I would compare and contrast between all three versions, but that’s another different essay which can be done at another time. For now though, whilst somewhat violating that classic Knightmare quote of “The only way is onward, there is no turning back” I am returning to the subject of castle locations, which would be filmed and then go on to be placed on the blue-screen chromakey backdrop – dungeoneers and other characters would be filmed inside the pure blue-screen setting with Anglia Television’s studio at Norwich (where Knightmare was filmed) with the dungeon and outdoor settings being added and edited in afterwards using the chromakey technique. By the way, if you’re wondering exactly which castles were used as backdrops for Knightmare, Annie aka Canadanne has constructed an excellent map detailing where most of them are located – you can find it here.
The outdoor scenes were enhanced by an object known as The Eyeshield, which the dungeoneer would strap on their arm and carry along with them as they went about their quest. Here it would make out the dungeoneer’s movements as they walked along a long stretch of forest or corridor. We all know that the Eyeshield scenes were again pre-recorded beforehand but it gave an extra depth to the quests and made their running times last longer. Despite the show still running from September to December, whilst series 2 and 3 could respectively boast twelve and thirteen teams each, this number would never again reach double figures in the subsequent series that followed.
Oh, and we also saw the delightfully nerve-shredding Corridor of Blades make its appearance for the first time as well as the perfect panic-inducing Block and Tackle. Now they were challenges where teams really had to be quick on their feet, the latter giving us one of the most famous and memorable deaths in Knightmare history. And in Series 5 we then had the causeways, hexagonal floor puzzles that required skill and precision as well as the need for speedy movements. More than often every level of a team’s quest would involve a causeway, and these were one of the best quest destroyers where one false step or slow reaction time would see the dungeoneer fall to their doom.
The fifth series also gave us a host of significant new approaches, all of these would stay on until the very end of the show’s run. Starting off with the dragon Smirkenorff where the dungeoneer would ride on him to start off their quest or transfer between levels. As each series would go on, Smirkenorff would eventually gain a voice (provided by Clifford Norgate) - this would provide more interaction between him and the dungeoneers. We also saw the introduction of scrolls, usually placed to provide information for teams on their quests. Mostly these would give clues on which items to take, or state little nuggets of information that would be useful for later on in the quest. The other two introductions would become pivotal changes in how a team went about their quest. We had a device known as the spyglass, which looked like an ordinary magnifying glass but when held up in front of the Eyeshield would let us eavesdrop in on a conversation, and with the exception of one scene would always lead to us looking at a new powerful figure of evil – this would be none other than the leader of “The Opposition”.
The Opposition leader would be an evil overlord who went by the name of Lord Fear – who was genially acted out by Mark Knight. Lord Fear had taken over from Mogdred as the key threat of Knightmare, and whilst in his debut series he would usually be only seen through the spyglass, he would go on to have a far more prominent role, stating out his intent to unleash his terror at the very beginning of each series that followed, and also bring about a monster destined to attempt to destroy Knightmare Castle in an end of series climax. He would also become the final encounter for those teams who were able to reach the end of Level 3, guarding the quest object with menacing prowess and on the odd occasion would interrupt proceedings between the end and start of different quests. This also saw Treguard shift from a neutral overseer of events to the champion of all forces good within Knightmare, aka “The Powers That Be”. Undoubtedly the best aspect of Lord Fear was that as each series went; he would build up a devious sense of humour and deliver a range of excellent one-liners in his varying plots to thwart the quest in progress. Mark Knight didn’t limit himself to the main bad guy of the piece; he would also act out other characters that a dungeoneer would encounter – in particular the wonderfully memorable Ah Wok in Series 6.
Yes, Series 6. We would see a new opening title sequence that commenced the beginning of each episode, and although the helmet worn by the dungeoneer would change in the next series, this new sequence would start of every episode of Knightmare until the very end. Perhaps one other thing that has nagged at me was the number of quests for the crown in this series, at the time this was where the team were able to choose which quest item they went for – four out of the seven teams in this series went for the crown, including one team who opted to go for it immediately after the previous lot had successfully redeemed the object in question! I was surprised Treguard or Pickle didn’t say something along the lines of “Hmmm, hasn’t the crown recently been won by us – why not try going for a different quest object!” Even a black square over the crown tile would have sufficed, come to think of it. It is also worth noting that out of the other three teams, none of them opted for the cup with one choosing the shield and the other two opting to try and get the sword. Which is perhaps why teams were designated a specific quest object to redeem by Treguard in the following series (although one team did actually get to choose) in an attempt to address this necessary balance.
Moving away from that, the other noteworthy appearances of the sixth series were the Dreadnort, another interaction that was brilliantly voiced by Clifford Norgate. Remaining with the actor himself, his other character Hordriss would see the introduction of his scatterbrained sorceress daughter Sidriss, played with aplomb by Iona Kennedy and more than often was a perfect accompaniment to Paul Valentine’s characters.
Series 7 would see quite some changes. The change of the dungeoneer’s helmet we have already talked about, but Pickle was replaced by the genie Majida as Treguard’s assistant. And Lord Fear got a new assistant or seneschal as he was referred to. This was played with a wickedly sinister tongue by Cliff Barry; his green-skinned Atlantean Lissard would provide more brilliantly humorous comedy exchanges for Lord Fear to deal with. Like Mark Knight, Cliff also played other characters that would interact with the dungeoneer throughout their quest, including the magnificently mysterious proverbial monk Brother Strange. We also saw the introduction of computer-generated Eyeshield sequence as dungeoneers who made it to Level 3 would have to negotiate their way through Lord Fear’s new domain of Goth, which contained the hair-on-end creepiness of Play Your Cards Right. And I guess I can’t really continue without mentioning Barry Thorne, regarded by many as the greatest dungeoneer to have graced Knightmare. His intuitive humour and working his way with the show’s characters alongside his conversations with his own advisors meant that he truly made everything his own. No wonder then that his team lasted for three whole episodes, won their quest and additionally aided and abetted the climax of the seventh series. That is quite some achievement.
Now we come to Series 8. Knightmare would return to a more central dungeon setting (although the Eyeshield sequences remained), dungeoneers would carry an additional item known as the Reach wand, and Lord Fear would reside in a new location known as Marblehead, meaning that Goth was somehow “demoted” from Level 3 to Level 2. But, ahem, to pardon the pun this would be cut out completely with the Corridor of Blades appropriately acting as a shortcut from Level 1 to 3. Lord Fear and Lissard also had a new environment within Marblehead for spyglass sequences, with an introduction of fireballs to automatically counteract dungeoneers attempting to spy. It’s difficult to summarise this one, it wasn’t all bad but it would ultimately have a significant impact on Knightmare’s future. The most significant of these was that the series as a whole would only run from September to mid-November, with a new Tim Child/Broadsword production taking over and I think it best not to delve any further into this one.
We arrive at 1995 and come September I’m browsing through the Friday afternoon schedules in eager anticipation of a new series of Knightmare. Only that, something called Fun House was occupying that end-of-week slot – yes, it was a show that had been another mainstay of Children’s ITV schedules for quite a while albeit elsewhere during the week, but seeing it in the place of my favourite children’s TV show without knowing what had happened to Knightmare itself was almost enough to make my stomach turn. As the year’s final months went by I kept checking those Friday schedules in the hope that Knightmare would return, but no sign. The following year it was again nowhere to be seen, and it soon became apparent; Knightmare had become no more.
So after a lull of a few years, time flies past and I finish both school and college, and at the dawn of a new millennium I am now doing something known as a full-time job. Then I begin to adapt to something being introduced to the world called the internet. A few months of “surfing” (as it was commonly known back then) where most of my world web browsing was spent on a website for a mid-90s band called Gene, I look elsewhere and come across a post for Knightmare. This post contained a link to a website that had the address of www.knightmare.clara.net.
Clicking on the link would lead to something quite extraordinary. An entire website that contained a feast of information on my favourite children’s TV show, the work of another Knightmare fan who went by the name of Nicholas Lam. I would be spending countless days thereafter looking up information and watching clips streamed through a 56k dial-up modem on Real Player. Back then the only other things you had web-wise were things known as a forum and guestbook, but it was enough to tell others about your own personal memories of the show.
The website would eventually become Knightmare.com, new information would come in and subsequently the website would get updated as a result of that (some of which I contributed to). More excitingly, two or three years down the line and I would eventually escape the confines of posting on the internet at home and actually meet other Knightmare fans in person, through the means of participating in something known as the Knightmare R.P.G. My character Gabriel, had to be somewhat unique as far as Knightmare was concerned, as his portrayal gradually shifted from good to evil over the years, shouting phrases like “WHAAAATTTT????”, “IMBECILE!!!!” and “YOU STUPID, STUPID DUNGEONEER!”
Sadly not much of the Knightmare RPG is available to view online (back then, I hardly had any basic video editing skills). But it did introduce me to a wonderful group of people who shared the same passion for the show as I did, and beyond the R.P.G the “Knightmare community” was officially born, where we could continue to meet up and socialise, whilst keeping alive the spirit of a truly great show, some of the community even joining me to live on the outskirts of London for a while.
This has also encouraged me to help spread the memories of Knightmare to others even further. Besides one occasion where I got Knightmare mentioned on a radio show, over the past few years I have also embraced the development of social media on the internet, creating pages and groups on these dedicated to Knightmare. Undoubtedly the most successful of these has on Facebook, where the page I created now has over 10,000 fans and likes, which definitely means a lot so thanks to everyone for that!
And here we are in the present day, where 2012 marks 25 years since the first episode of Knightmare was broadcast on our television screens. Indeed it may have ended a long time ago, but it’s refreshing to see that the memories of such an epic show still remain fresh in more people’s minds than ever before. I remain positive that it will still be remembered fondly in the many years that follow, and become an inspiring beacon of encouragement to new generations of people. Somewhat similar to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, one might well say.
Lastly, you may want to know why this piece is entitled “25 years of Knightmare: Part 1”. Well, my own work in celebrating Knightmare’s silver jubilee is far from over, and by the end of this year you should hopefully see something else by myself to mark the occasion. I do hope that you stay tuned within the next few months to see what exciting prospect this other part brings.
A cliff-hanger, you may well call it.