The Grand Knockout Tournament
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The Grand Knockout Tournament (colloquially also known as It's a Royal Knockout) was a one-off charity event which was shown on British television on 19 June 1987 (June 19, 1987), in addition to airing on American TV via the USA Network on 12 August 1987 (August 12, 1987). It followed the format of It's a Knockout (the British version of Jeux Sans Frontieres), a slapstick TV gameshow which was broadcast in the UK until 1982.
The event was staged on the lakeside lawn of the Alton Towers stately home-cum-theme park. However, the event used its own specially created immersing set, meaning that the location was not very recognisable in the TV broadcast.
Although regarded as a failure, a similar show (without royal involvement) was made the following year at Walt Disney World in Florida, featuring teams of celebrities representing the United Kingdom, USA, and Australia.
The show featured members of the British Royal Family alongside various sporting and showbiz celebrities. The celebrity participants were drawn from the realms of music, sport, television, comedy and film:
The show was conceived and organised by Prince Edward, who had been keen to develop a career in TV and theatre after he left the Royal Marines. The show featured Prince Edward, the Princess Royal and the Duke and Duchess of York as non-participating team captains, each of whom supported a different charity. The show was hosted by Stuart Hall, Les Dawson and Su Pollard, with Hal Linden providing commentary for the U.S. telecast. Paul Daniels and Geoff Capes were timekeepers. Aled Jones, Rowan Atkinson and Barbara Windsor were heralds of the tournament. The Duke of Abercorn, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Roxburghe acted as impartial judges for each of the four teams.
The contestants competed in ridiculous and somewhat humiliating games; for example, in one round, the players dressed up as giant vegetables and threw fake hams at each other. Media coverage on BBC Radio 1 was provided by Mike Smith (The Breakfast Show) and Steve Wright (The Radio 1 Roadshow). The show was produced by Alan Walsh.
The tournament was won by The Princess Royal's team, with the Duke of York's team second, Prince Edward's team third, and the Duchess of York's team finishing last.
Immediately after the event, Prince Edward asked the assembled journalists, "Well, what did you think?" The journalists, unbeknown to Prince Edward, hadn't seen the event as they remained in the press tent. They responded with nervous laughter and Prince Edward stormed out of the press conference, sarcastically thanking the journalists for their enthusiasm. Reportedly the Queen disapproved of the event and all of her courtiers had advised against it. Neither she, nor the Duke of Edinburgh, nor the Prince and Princess of Wales agreed to take part but, Edward persevered and the project went to completion. The event has become the butt of some jokes, and is remembered as a bit of an embarrassment. Nonetheless, the event raised over £1 million for the respective charities.
- Ben Pimlott "Polishing Their Image", extract from The Queen, HarperCollins (1996) reprinted on the PBS Frontline webpage