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Spring 1985, and Tim Child, a journalist, reporter and occasional development producer for Anglia TV in Norwich, had a silly idea.

As a journalist, he’d taken to producing a regular weekly review of the fledgling UK 8-bit home computer games industry. The justification for Anglia was that much of this industry seemed to be originating from within its regional boundaries. Sinclair and Acorn were both in Cambridge; Commodore had its UK HQ in Northamptonshire.

Everywhere, people seemed to be coding computer games and spotty boys were becoming adolescent millionaires.

At the time, Tim's elder sister was working as a middle manager for Clive Sinclair on the Spectrum computer range, and this contact gave him his first brush with home computers.

First, Ultimate's Atic Atac, and then Hewson's 48k interactive movie, Dragontorc, convinced the Anglia producer that if adventure gaming was possible in a machine as limited as a Spectrum, then the graphic power of modern television could capitalise on the idea and revolutionise the genre.

The idea for Knightmare was born.

Next, a number of key problems had to be solved. How to create a complex artificial world? How to populate it? How to experience it? How to explore it? How to make it work as television?

From the outset Tim Child wanted to use computer graphics to create his first dungeon, but the trouble was that in 1985, computer graphic imaging (CGI) was in its infancy. The Quantel paintbox had only just been developed (Anglia was yet to purchase one), and most computerised images were sadly disappointing compared to the real thing.

Tim knew what was needed, and it wasn't the gaudy, crude 4-8 colour illustrations which current computer games were offering. What he actually needed, were the fabulous, atmospheric fantasy illustrations that decorated the outside packaging of said crude computer games. He found some examples, and called the publishers in a bid to identify the artist. The answer was soon forthcoming.


Most of the front covers Tim admired were the work of David Rowe. On contact, the artist was intrigued by the journalist and his ideas, and soon both were pouring over plans and sketches for a Rowe-painted dungeon. Tim particularly admired David's skill with an airbrush, which he used to create the most realistic of dank, stony surfaces.

The next problem was how to introduce real people into David's air-brushed world.

Here, the former news journalist borrowed from the TV technology, which allowed weathermen to appear nightly in front of a changing graphic representation of the weather forecast. No problem: for weather map, read dungeon. This practice involved pointing a camera at a saturated blue screen or flat; placing a person between the camera and the flat; de-selecting the colour blue in the television picture spectrum, and replacing it with another image. Bingo! - or more appropriately - background!

The technique is called Chromakeying in commercial TV, and Colour Separation Overlay, or CSO by the BBC. Auntie always liked to be different, even then!

The next hurdle was a far greater obstacle. Weathermen or women do not have to wander around weather maps, exploring the isobars, but adventurers need to move about. The immediate answer was quite obvious. Build a Chromakey blue dungeon and you can go where you will.

The trouble was, although the theory should work well, Tim Child knew that the practice amounted to a very difficult and very painstaking way of acquiring television scenes.

The harsh lesson was close at hand. Tim was preparing to construct his first dungeon in Anglia TV’s Studio A, whilst half a mile away in Norwich, a team of programme-makers in the company’s other large production unit, Studio E, were just recovering from nearly a year spent trying to shoot Alice in Wonderland in CSO.

Once again the solution was being offered up by the spotty youths that programmed the 8 bit computer games. Because RAM was at a premium, Tim had noticed how Spectrum graphics were designed to take up minimum space in the program. To achieve this many scenes or rooms in early spectrum dungeons, were actually close to identical, even if they were different colours (well, a choice of four), and boasted different contents. Geometrically, they were identical!

To exploit this factor, Tim commissioned a template, in the form of a standardised grid pattern, to which all scenes in the dungeon would conform. A copy was sent to David Rowe, and the artist commenced drawing a dungeon, in which each of many diversely differing chambers could be played in the same simple chromakey blue chamber which was now under construction in the Anglia TV studio.

For the first experimental dungeon, David produced 5 rooms. They included the first of many Wall Monster Rooms, and a Wellway.Atic Atac had used wellways to transfer the players between levels, and Tim stole the idea for his pilot programme.


But with each solution, came a new problem.

The fantasy dungeon now existed; a human player could explore it, but that player could not see the CSO creation!

Solution: why not blindfold the explorer and get his/her teammates to guide him/her remotely? How many teammates? Well, three seemed a good number.

The first of Tim Child’s chromakey experiments took place in the autumn of 1985. A group of Anglia TV scenic technicians were recorded, walking around in one of David Rowe’s dungeon scenes. Unlike their colleagues on the Alice shoot, their feet were placed firmly on the ground.

Next came a much bigger step. Child wanted to make a full 15 minute pilot to show to Children’s ITV. The pilot would need to illustrate gameplay and programme presentation.

By now it was called Dungeon Doom, and it needed a Dungeon Master.


During this period, Tim Child was still acting as line producer on Anglia's regional news magazine programme, About Anglia. About Anglia's presenter was a former singer, Christine Webber, and Christine was married to an actor called Hugo Myatt. Tim had met the bearded Hugo and thought he might make a fair Dungeon Master. Even better, he knew that Hugo (like many actors) was between jobs and would take the trial role for very little money, in the hope that it might lead to something bigger.

Dungeon Doom was recorded in early 1986. Hugo Myatt introduced the show and the guinea-pig team consisted of Tim Child’s nephew, the two daughters of an Anglia colleague, and one of their school chums.

The finished results were edited together but ‘something’ was missing. Tim decided to change the show's name and improve on the crude opening titles. The name Knightmare seemed to say it all about a scary dungeon game, which used a knight’s helmet as a blindfold.

The game had borrowed shamelessly from the computerised adventures marketed for the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64 and BBC B computers, yet lacked some of the authentic technology they boasted. Atic Atac had an on-screen life-force clock which indicated the health status of the player by representing the carcass of a chicken. If you got down to bare bones you died!

Tim wanted something like it for Knightmare, but Anglia TV had no graphics computers.

But the designer of the rival BBC East News Magazine, a certain Robert Harris had acquired an early 8-bit broadcast-quality Spaceward Computer, and with it he was persuaded to produce the first (and only) computer graphics sequence which the Knightmare pilot was to show.

The finished pilot was viewed by the ITV Childrens’ committee a month later. Nothing like it had been seen before, but the committee was searching for something fresh, and decided to risk a short series of 8 half-hour programmes.

A year later and much had changed. With a second series promised, Tim Child was preparing to quit Anglia TV and form an independent production company called Broadsword. David Rowe had little time for painting video game covers; he was hard at work creating dungeons. Robert Harris had quit BBC East and was setting up his computers under the banner of The Travelling Matte Company, with the promise of a contract from Broadsword.

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