|This article relies on references to primary sources. (December 2011)|
|Created by||Tim Child|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||8|
|No. of episodes||112|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Anglia in association with Broadsword Productions|
|Original channel||CITV block of ITV|
|Original run||7 September 1987– 11 November 1994|
Knightmare is a British television programme for children and was broadcast on CITV from 7 September 1987 to 11 November 1994. An adventure game show, Knightmare involves a team of four children – one taking the role of the sightless dungeoneer, and the remaining three acting as their guide – traversing a medieval environment as they attempt to complete a quest and exit the dungeon, using their wits to overcome puzzles, obstacles and the unusual characters they meet along the journey.
The show is most noted for its use of blue screen chroma key (an idea borrowed by Tim Child from weather forecasts, where it had just started to be used) and use of 'virtual reality' interactive gameplay on television. Broadcast to high viewing figures throughout its original run, it has garnered a cult status amongst its fans since its final television episode in 1994. It was revived for a one off special by YouTube in August 2013.
The show features teams of four children (around 11–16 years old). On the call of "Enter, Stranger", the first member of the team (the "dungeoneer") enters Knightmare Castle via an antechamber belonging to Treguard of Dunshelm (played by Hugo Myatt). After giving his or her name, the dungeoneer is asked by Treguard to call three advisors, who magically appear next to the viewing apparatus (though, in Series 8, all members of the team appeared at once). Before entering the dungeon, the dungeoneer is given a knapsack to wear, in which food found along the way is to be placed, in order to replenish Life Force (see below). In addition, the "Helmet of Justice" is put on the dungeoneer's head, blocking vision except for the area immediately around. The story is that this is to protect the dungeoneer from seeing the real danger ahead.
The dungeoneer then enters Treguard's partly computer-generated, partly hand-drawn fantasy dungeon which was accomplished through blue screen chroma key — hence the need for the helmet, as the dungeoneer otherwise just sees a large blue room. The team watches the dungeoneer from a screen in the antechamber, and guides the player using hurried descriptions and shouted instructions, overcoming a variety of puzzles and traps in the dungeon. The instructions might be "Sidestep left, walk forward, take a small step to your right, pick up the key", much like many text-based computer games (for example the appropriately named "multi-user dungeons") which rely on description and commands rather than any visuals.
Spells can also be cast, which enable the dungeoneer to attack, open doors, restore life force, reveal clues, and perform other special abilities. This is accomplished by spelling the name of the spell the team wishes to cast. For example, to cast a WELL spell that reveals a wellway to the next level, an advisor calls out: "Spellcasting: W-E-L-L". It is also possible to reverse or stop a previously cast spell by dispelling, which can be done by calling out "Dispel", followed by the letters of the spell in an incorrect order, but not necessarily in reverse order. One team (Team 7 of Series 2) was confounded by bad spelling, continually missing out the letter O of a SHROUD spell that is put on their dungeoneer while the antagonist Mogdred laughs evilly, while Treguard, apparently constrained by magic, tries to tell them ("Let...ter...O!"). In their subsequent episode, that same team was killed, this time by word misinterpretation (misinterpreting a SHOVEL spell that they had been given earlier as SPADE).
There are three levels in the dungeon. The object of the game is to collect various items, meeting a selection of the many inhabitants of the dungeon along the way, and get out alive after finding a specified treasure. In some series, the teams could choose one of four treasures to pursue. The choice would only affect the first room entered, and the prize found. It was always located towards the end of level 3. There are various ways to travel between levels, including wellways, mine cart rides, lifts ('descenders'), and even airborne rides on the dragon Smirkenorff. The dungeon's inhabitants include: jesters, maids, and wizards, who help the dungeoneer; and guards, witches, and sorcerers, who either demand passwords, spells, or objects, or who simply try to kill the dungeoneer. Mary Whitehouse was initially critical of this latter aspect of the programme (i.e. the simulated deaths of the dungeoneers) after having been given a macabre description of Knightmare by the press. However, she apologised after she saw Knightmare, noting that there was no gore and Treguard always made it clear that the dungeoneers still survived in "their own time".
If the team manages to complete all three levels and master the dungeon, it is awarded with a prize, which changed over the years from the "Silver Spurs of Squiredom", to medallions (Series 4), to "Frightknight" trophies (a design of a Knight holding a sword). Unlike most other children's shows, Knightmare had no qualms over having a very high difficulty level. In its eight-year history, only eight teams managed to conquer the dungeon: two in Series 2 (teams 4 and 10), one in Series 4 (team 6), one in series 5 (team 4), one in series 6 (team 5), two in Series 7 (teams 6 and 7), and one in Series 8 (team 6). The last team to play in each series often faced an impossible quest, as the dungeon always collapsed (indicating the end of the series) before the conclusion of the quest.
While the essence of Knightmare remained the same, there was also much change and development throughout its series. In Series 2 (1988), a quest object system was introduced, so that dungeoneers now had a specific item to reclaim at the end. There were four main quest items: The Sword of Freedom (originally The Sword of Justice, retrieved once), The Shield of Justice (originally The Shield of Liberty, retrieved twice), The Cup that Heals (never retrieved), and The Crowning Glory (retrieved three times). There were occasionally others, such as "Free the Maid" (used twice, freed once) or "Find the Talisman" (used once, retrieved once).
In its early series, Knightmare lacked a single major antagonist or 'baddie'. Indeed, originally Treguard was specifically a neutral character, neither on the side of good nor evil. The closest there was to a main villain was Mogdred (portrayed by John Woodnutt), but his main duty was (according to wizard Merlin - Mogdred's 'alter ego' in the first series - in the penultimate episode of Series 2) to "scare you into making a mistake", though he did kill two dungeoneers, one in Series 2 and another early in Series 4. In Series 5 (1991), however, changes were made. The majority of the characters were split into two sides: the righteous "Powers that Be", and the villainous "Opposition", the leader of which was Lord Fear played by Mark Knight. By this time, Treguard's stance had now fully evolved into that of a strictly good character.
The life force was a combined clock and progress metre used to track the energy status of the dungeoneer (the main contestant). It could be reduced by the dungeoneer taking too long (Treguard would often tell the team "You're wasting Life Force"), taking "damage" through being attacked by monsters or hazards, taking the wrong route or making bad decisions. However, it could be refuelled by placing food in the knapsack.
In the first five series and the YouTube special, the life force was a computer animated image of an adventurer wearing a helmet. When healthy the image was complete, it would be shown against a Green background. As life force was lost the background would turn Amber and parts of the helmet would break off into pieces. Once the helmet was gone completely, pieces of skin would break off to reveal a skull underneath (though no blood was seen), now with a red background. If life force diminished further the skull would start to crumble away, ending with the eyes rolling away past the camera as a death knell tolled.
In series six and seven, the life force was a picture of a walking knight losing armour to reveal a skeleton which eventually crumbled to bits.
In the final series, the life force was a picture of an animated pie, its slices slowly dissolving. This life force only appeared whenever the dungeoneer picked up food.
The teams' deaths were indicated by the life force sequence ending, either by the second eye rolling off-screen or by the skeleton collapsing (though the latter was rarely used). Unlike the first two sequences, the "pie" life force was never used to indicate a death. Also, Team 3's death in Series 2 never used the death sequence.
During filming, the life force animation was never shown on the advisers' screen (though its heartbeat could still be heard; it was only shown within the shots of the current chamber), although changes to its status were announced by Treguard (e.g. "Life Force damaged!"). Almost none of the dungeoneers' deaths were caused by the life force clock simply running out, as there was usually an additional factor that caused the deaths. The eighth team of series 2 were the only team to have their life force run out completely, as the dungeoneer found themselves trapped in a room where they needed a divining rod to find which of four doors was the correct exit.
Certain traps and pits caused instant death, regardless of remaining life force. For example, if the dungeoneer stepped off the edge of a platform, they would "fall to his death". Occasionally, the dungeoneer's death would be animated. The most common death showed the challenger falling straight downwards while waving their arms. If they come in contact with a moving saw, sometimes it would appear that the dungeoneer got split into two pieces. These animations were made in post-production.
A Saxon Knight named Treguard, or Treguard of Dunshelm, was the dungeon master and was played by Hugo Myatt for the show's eight series. Information about his supposed background can be found in the related literature (see merchandise section). During the show, it was Treguard's job to assist the dungeoneer and his team of helpers wherever possible.
At first, Treguard directed the contestants on his own. However from Series 4, Treguard had an assistant: Pickle the elf, played by David Learner, and (from Series 7) after Pickle had "gone back to the forest", Majida, a princess and genie of Arabian descent played by Jackie Sawiris. (Majida originally claimed her name was "Daughter of the Setting Moon Whose Eyes are Like Daggers in the Hearts of Men Who Ride the Great Caravan of the Sultan".)
During the early series Treguard was portrayed as a neutral character, most notably between Series 1 and 3. During the start of Episode 14 of Series 3 (when no team had yet completed that series' dungeon) he went as far as to say "we're celebrating an unbeaten record", apparently siding against the dungeoneers. However, from Series 5 onwards there was a clear distinction made between 'The Powers that Be' and 'The Opposition', against which Treguard became less neutral, and more inclined to aid the dungeoneers to complete their quest.
Over the course of the series Treguard became known for his catchphrase "Ooh, nasty!", regularly used just after a team had died. Intended only as a passing remark, this was originally an ad lib by Myatt.
Knightmare was conceived by Tim Child in 1985, inspired by the two ZX Spectrum games Atic Atac and Dragontorc. Realising that if a ZX Spectrum could do these types of adventure game, then a television programme could revolutionise the genre, he enlisted the help of artist David Rowe to design realistic looking backgrounds with an airbrush. Borrowing the technique used in weather forecasts, Child devised a large blue room, which was set up in Studio A of Anglia Studios. The advanced computer graphic environments were created by the Travelling Matte Company using a Spaceward SuperNova computer.
Eventually, in early 1986, a 15-minute pilot under the name of Dungeon Doom was recorded. Even at this stage it featured Hugo Myatt, the husband of Christine Webber who was a presenter of Anglia's regional news programme About Anglia. A second 20-minute pilot was filmed on 27 and 28 January 1987, with the name changed to Knightmare, and 'life force' added, an idea borrowed from the computer game Atic Atac, which also influenced the show in other ways. For this he recruited Robert Harris, who used a Spaceward Computer to design an animation of a knight's head that could indicate varying degrees of damage. Child sent this second pilot to the ITV Children's Committee in February, who commissioned a series of 8 half-hour episodes.
The show was an instant hit, and a second series twice as long as the first was commissioned the next year, closely followed by a third the year after that. By the time this third series finished, Child felt the dungeon format was getting too restrictive, and he needed something new. Because of this, the fourth series saw the introduction of many 'outdoor' scenes, filmed around places such as medieval castles across the UK, and composited into the blue room using the usual chromakey technique. This series also saw the introduction of the "Eye Shield", which acted as an 'eye' for the dungeoneer. Using pre-recorded footage filmed on location, it followed the progress of the dungeoneers as they explored the dungeon. A new onscreen status bar was also introduced, generated by a Commodore Amiga 2000 computer.
At its peak in 1991/1992, Knightmare attracted approximately 4-5 million viewers per episode (at that time a very high figure for a children's TV series). By 1993, the year which saw the programme's seventh series, it was the most popular non-animated show on CITV. However, changes had recently occurred. Late the previous year, the ITV Children's Committee was replaced by a single Controller of CITV, Dawn Airey. Although she thought well of Knightmare, the average audience age of CITV was now 6-10, down from 6-15 in 1985. It was believed that the older audience was moving to satellite television and video games, and that programmes for a younger audience were needed. After two meetings, it was agreed that an 8th series of Knightmare would go ahead in 1994, but that it would be a shorter run (10 episodes instead of 15/16 episodes) and that the remainder of the season's timeslot would be taken by Virtually Impossible, a new virtual reality show from Broadsword, the same production company as Knightmare, and aimed at this younger audience. Shortly after this decision was made, Airey left for Channel 4, and was replaced as Controller by Vanessa Chapman.
Despite the diminishing older audience, Knightmare's eighth series performed well, and gained a higher audience than Virtually Impossible did later that autumn. Changes introduced in this series saw a return to the dungeon format of Series 1-3, albeit now completely computer-generated, and a new piece of dungeoneering equipment was added: the wand "Reach". This allowed dungeoneers to push, touch, and open things from a distance. At this point, there was still hope that Knightmare would return for a ninth series in 1995: a postal address for future contestants was displayed on screen after the end of the final episode. The chances of the eighth series being the last were also strong, however, and so the series ended on an ambiguous note.
In the event, Knightmare was 'rested' for the foreseeable future, partly due to the declining older audience, and partly because Tim Child felt that while Knightmare should employ high-quality virtual reality in order to remain a cutting-edge show, such technology was not affordable at that time.
Two other versions of Knightmare were also made: one in France (Le Chevalier Du Labyrinthe), which ran from 19 September 1990 to 31 August 1991, and the other in Spain (El Rescate Del Talisman) which ran from 29 May 1991 to 1994. Both versions were sponsored by Sega.
Possible versions for Germany (in 1991) and the United States (in 1993, called Lords of the Game) were also considered, with a pilot for the US version recorded. This pilot was a full-length episode featuring the original UK cast and young American actors playing the contestants. The lead contestant was played by Chad Price from Apex, North Carolina. The pilot was filmed in Ipswich, UK, in 1993. However, full series for these were not commissioned; for the US version, it was due to production companies not liking the idea of a complex chromakey-based show.
- Knightmare: Can you beat the challenge? (ISBN 0-552-52540-5, 1988)
- The Labyrinths of Fear (ISBN 0-552-52608-8, 1989)
- Fortress of Assassins (ISBN 0-552-52638-X, 1990)
- The Sorcerer's Isle (ISBN 0-552-52714-9, 1991)
- The Forbidden Gate (ISBN 0-440-86317-1, 1992)
- The Dragon's Lair (ISBN 0-440-86328-7, 1993)
- Lord Fear's Domain (ISBN 0-440-86336-8, 1994)
The first of these, Knightmare, told the story of how Treguard came to inhabit Knightmare Castle, revealed once to have been Dunshelm Castle, which Treguard owned by birthright. The next four books were intended for older readers, and took the format of half-fiction, half-interactive story. In these, the first half of the book was a novelette about one of Treguard's adventures, serving as a lead-in to the second half which comprised numbered sections where the reader directed the narrative, similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books. The next two books retained the interactive format, but were aimed at a younger audience. Throughout the interactive portions of the books the reader had to keep track of Life Force and objects collected, and some books had additional statistics or special skills to monitor. Finally, Lord Fear's Domain was a puzzle book.
There were also two Knightmare computer games released: the first was in 1987, released on the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, and Commodore 64; and the second Knightmare game in 1991, released on the Amiga and Atari ST. A PC version was proposed for 1995, but the plan was abandoned when the series finished. The latter game was an RPG similar to the Dungeon Master and Eye Of The Beholder games which, whilst well received at the time, had very little to do with the TV series besides the fantasy setting.
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Slot|
After Knightmare ended on ITV, it was quickly picked up by The Sci-Fi Channel, which broadcast all eight series starting from the channel's launch in November 1995. However, ratings were low, perhaps exacerbated by the satellite sharing that meant UK fans were unable to receive the Sci Fi Channel at the times when the show was being broadcast. (Cable television was also relatively uncommon in the UK at this time, and completely unavailable in some areas, further limiting the show's existing fanbase.) Sci-Fi's contract ran out on 31 October 1998. Knightmare's only appearances on television after that were as clips in "40 Years of Anglia" in 1999, and Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows in 2001, where it came 16th, the highest position on the list for a game show.
In December 2002, the UK satellite channel Challenge held a group of programmes called the "Christmas Cult Selection", featuring a group of classic game shows from the 1960s (The Golden Shot) right through to the 1980s. Knightmare was included in this, and the repeats started on 23 December 2002, with Series 3, Episode 1 preceded by a short 2.5 minute documentary featuring Tim Child and Hugo Myatt. Just over a week later, Knightmare went on to reach first place in an Internet poll held by Challenge, asking viewers to decide the best show out of the Cult Selection.
Reasonable ratings, combined with the high fanbase, ensured that the other seven series went on to be bought and shown over the next two years. It took until 8 July 2004 for all the episodes to be shown, when Episode 16 of Series 2 was broadcast 563 days after the repeats started. Knightmare continued to run on Challenge until 31 March 2007, when the rights to the series expired. By this time only five of the eight series were still being repeated, as the rights to Series 3 expired at the end of 2004, Series 4 on 31 May 2006, and Series 5 on 30 September 2006, the latter two following a final showing of those series.
On 5 and 6 January 2013, the final two episodes from Series 7 were shown on the CITV channel as part of its 'Old Skool Weekend', which celebrated 30 years of ITV's programming block for children. According to Radio Times, Knightmare was the second most watched programme during the 'Old Skool Weekend', only being beaten by Fun House.
On 22 April 2013, Challenge announced that they have re-acquired the first two series of Knightmare. The re-run began its transmission on 10 May 2013 at 10:30pm, shown as part of their 'Late Zone' strand. These repeats now have the ITV Studios logo at the end rather than the Anglia logo.
On 25 November 2002, only 6 days after the Challenge repeats were confirmed, it was announced that a reformat of Knightmare was to be undertaken by Televirtual, founded by Tim Child. Known as Knightmare VR, this would use avatar technology to place the dungeoneer in a full 3D computer generated world. A £40,000 National Lottery grant for the programme was awarded in July 2003.
In 2004 test images and clips continued to appear on the Televirtual website and finally on 17 August 2004, the full 13 minute pilot was posted on the Internet.
A brand new theme tune was created for Knightmare VR and for the very first time it had lyrics, Which consisted of the words "Knightmare, it's a Knightmare" being vocoded to the music. The new theme tune and all of the incidental music for it was provided by Madmanmoon, founder of Norwich-based company "Madmanmusic".
The VR pilot kept a lot of the original elements that appeared in the original show such as Wall Monsters, Clue Rooms and the dark and grimy dungeon setting. Original Knightmare actors Hugo Myatt and Mark Knight reprised their roles as Treguard and Lord Fear respectively, while several additional actors (including Nick Collett and Tim Child himself) were introduced, playing new additions to the cast.
The pilot introduced some new elements, including a new main host named Garstang, who was an orc. Treguard was now relegated to an avatar head who would occasionally appear to give the dungeoneer advice. The dungeoneer and all of the in-dungeon characters were now fully computer generated, along with the rooms themselves, which meant that the dungeoneer could now explore much larger and grander surroundings than previously seen. All of the rooms could now be seen more thoroughly from different camera angles, an element which the original programme could not do easily due to the limits of its technology.
The Helmet of Justice was no longer used, enabling the dungeoneer to now clearly see his surroundings. As a result of this, only one advisor was now needed, instead of three.
Reactions to the pilot were mixed, with some saying that the lack of a Helmet of Justice and the associated "guiding" element meant a lot of the essence of the original show was lost. The new theme tune was dismissed by some as being overly "cheesy" and unrelated to the dark sense of the programme. On 10 May 2005, it was announced that the project was to be shelved, with Child saying that he had decided that Knightmare would work best under a mixture of virtual reality and the original format.
In an interview with The Guardian in April 2013, Child said that although "(t)here will always be hardcore fans clamouring for (Knightmare΄s) return; I think it's best to let it languish in its own deep, dark dungeon".
In August 2013, a one-off special edition of Knightmare was produced for YouTube's "Geek Week" event, directed and produced by Tim Child and featuring three original cast members - Hugo Myatt (Treguard), Mark Knight (Lord Fear) and Cliff Barry (Lissard), plus Knightmare VR actor Nick Collett and actresses Isy Suttie and Jessie Cave playing new roles. The team of dungeoneers were YouTube content creators Dan Howell, Phil Lester, Emma Blackery and Stuart Ashen. Filming took place in Norwich at the original Anglia television studios.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013
A theatrical version of Knightmare was performed at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 23 July - 15 August 2013. It opened to rave reviews and a London performance has been confirmed for 27 September at the Bloomsbury Theatre. The show is produced by Objective Talent Management and stars Paul Flannery, Tom Bell and Amee Smith.
In March 2014, a group comprising the cast and crew of Knightmare and the official website knightmare.com launched a crowd funding campaign to raise money to run a Knightmare Convention in the original studios in Norwich where Knightmare was filmed. The convention is intended to allow visitors to play a room of the Knightmare dungeon using the same technology used in the show.
|Treguard, the Dungeon Master||Hugo Myatt||1-8|
|Ah Wok||Mark Knight||6|
|Bhal-Shebah the Red Dragon||Bill Cashmore (voice)||8|
|Brangwen-Shee the Wall Monster||Natasha Pope (voice)||3|
|Brollachan||Anthony Donovan (voice)||7|
|Brother Mace||Michael Cule||4-5|
|Brother Strange||Cliff Barry||7-8|
|Bumptious the Dwarf||Tom Karol||2|
|Captain Nemanor||Adrian Neil||6|
|Casper the Key||Lawrence Werber (voice)||1-2|
|Cedric the Mad Monk||Lawrence Werber||1-2|
|Despair the Gargoyle||Nick Collett (voice)||VR|
|Dooreen and Dooris||Zoe Loftin (voices)||4|
|Doorkis||Michael Cule (voice)||4|
|Dreadnort||Clifford Norgate (voice)||6|
|Elita the Cavern Elf||Stephanie Hesp||5-6|
|Ellisandre the Elf Maid||Louise Milford (voice)||VR|
|Fatilla the Hun||Michael Cule||4|
|Fidjit the Lock Master||Paul Valentine||7|
|Garstang The Orc||Tim Child (Voice)||VR/YouTube|
|Golgarach the Wall Monster||David Verrey (voice)||3|
|Granitas the Wall Monster||Guy Standeven (voice)||1-2|
|Greystagg the Witch Queen||Iona Kennedy||6-7|
|Gundrada the Sword Mistress||Samantha Perkins||4|
|Gwendoline The Green Warden||Juliet Henry-Massy||5|
|Heggatty the Witch||Stephanie Hesp||6|
|Honesty Bartram||Bill Cashmore||8|
|Hordriss the Confuser||Clifford Norgate||3-8|
|Igneous the Wall Monster (character uncredited)||Edmund Dehn (voice)||2|
|Julius Scaramonger||Rayner Bourton||5-6|
|Lord Fear||Mark Knight||5-8|
|Mistress Goody||Erin Geraghty||4 |
|Mildread the Witch||Mary Miller||2|
|Motley||Paul Valentine||3-6, 8|
|Mr. Grimwold||Bryan McNerney||3|
|Mrs. Grimwold||Tom Karol||3|
|Oakley the Tree Troll||Clifford Norgate (voice)||4-5|
|Olaf the Viking||Tom Karol||2-3|
|Olgarth the Wall Monster||Guy Standeven (voice)||1-2|
|Owen the Dragon (character uncredited)||Clifford Norgate (voice)||3|
|Pickle The Wood Elf||David Learner||4-6|
|Pixel the Pixie||Stephanie Hesp (voice)||5|
|Rothberry the Apothecary||Mark Knight||7-8|
|Sidriss the Confused||Iona Kennedy||6-8|
|Sir Hugh de Wittless||Mark Knight||5|
|Smirkenorff the Dragon||Clifford Norgate (voice)||5-8|
|Sylvester Hands||Paul Valentine||5-8|
|Sylvester the Jester||Nick Collett||YouTube|
|Theodora Snitch||Jessie Cave||YouTube|
|The Automatum||Edmund Dehn||2 |
|The Behemoth (character uncredited)||Bryan McNerney||3|
|The Boatman||Paul Valentine||4-5|
|The Giant (character uncredited)||Edmund Dehn||1 |
|The Talking Bird (character uncredited)||Tom Karol (Voice)||3|
|Velda the Elf Warrior||Natasha Pope||3|
|Veruca (aka Daisy)||Isy Suttie||YouTube|
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