Knightmare was a show created by Tim Child that was broadcast for 8 years on CITV on a Friday afternoon. It can be broadly be described as a game show, but the game is very different to what you see in other shows. For starters, contestants don’t compete against each other. They work as a team to defeat the dungeon and the people who inhabit it.
One of the contestants, the dungeoneer, would don the “Helmet of Justice”, which would obscure their vision. The main reason for this is that the dungeon itself was projected onto a CSO (i.e. blue screen) background. The other three contestants would then guide the dungeoneer through the dungeon. If they got through all three levels of the dungeon, overcoming all of the obstacles thrown in their path, then they would win.
Helping them would be the dungeon master, Treguard, played by Hugo Myatt, and, in later series he would be joined first by Pickle, played by David Learner, and then by Majida, played by Jackie Sawiris. In later series they would have a named antagonist to go up against, Lord Fear, played by Mark Knight.
I discovered the show during its second series, and was very quickly hooked. It wasn’t like any other show I had seen before. The medieval setting appealed to me, as did the idea of going on quests and working your way through a dungeon. It soon became a highlight of my week at the start of the weekend.
Often in TV shows that feature good guys going up against bad guys, you can be fairly certain that the good guys will win out in the end. No matter how bad things go for them, they will win through, somehow. But not so in Knightmare. In this show, the good guys would often lose, and winners were few and far between.
Causes for defeats were varied, from not taking the right item from a clue room, to casting the wrong spell at the wrong time, to getting sawn in two in the Corridor of Blades (I always found the Corridor of Blades to be tense). Sometimes it could be something silly that could end a quest – here’s one of the most well known defeats, which has probably stayed with the contestants involved ever since:
So, when the good guys were in peril, they were genuinely in peril (at least in terms of the game). There were no second chances. If they made a mistake and got themselves “killed”, there was no going back. That was it. Game over. In fact, one of Treguard’s best known sayings was, “The only way is onwards, there is no turning back!”
This sense of peril, unlike any other kids show that was on at the time, helped to make the show exciting. When you see the contestants in a room with a bomb in it, or in the Corridor of Blades, or being chased by goblins, you felt tense for them. You knew they could lose at this moment. You wanted them to get through safely. And on the rare occasions when a quest was successful, you knew it was something special, that they had earned their victory.
As well as the TV show, there was a series of tie-in books, and I got all of them, and still have them on my bookshelf today (possibly to be discovered by a little person sometime in the future...):
With the exception of the last book in the series (which was a puzzle book), these books featured a short novel at the start, and then a choose your own adventure part at the back, where you could go on an adventure in the dungeon. It was these that I would always turn to first, and they weren’t always that easy – the one in “The Labyrinths of Fear” was especially tricky.
I can say that Knightmare was one of the first properly geeky things that I became a fan of, and it led me on to a love of role-playing video games, and a love of fantasy novels. Which is why I’m so pleased that Knightmare getting a well deserved repeat! Challenge TV have recently started repeating the show at 10.30pm on Fridays. Once again, it’s something to look forward to at the start of the weekend.
Knightmare will always be one of my favourite programmes of all time, and one that I will never forget...
Next Week: Doctor Who?