Ask anyone who was a child in the late 80s what their favourite TV programme was back then and you’ll probably hear the names of shows like Count Duckula, Fun House, He-Man or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The latter there being slightly after my time, but nevertheless the acrobatic marine reptiles named after famous dead painters along with the others have earned their place in modern pop culture and to a lesser extent, the honour of being on the fronts of t-shirts from Primark because regressing is cool, kids.
However one show that anyone who was into fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, chess and Lord of the Rings will remember with a love that is normally reserved for family members will be ITV’s Knightmare. And just how fun and exciting was Knightmare? Okay, I’ll tell you. In an age that predated the PlayStation, Game Boys and Pokémon, Knightmare was bloody exciting.
I have so many wonderful memories of when I was eight years old, arriving home from school and the most important thing to me on those afternoons was the twenty minutes or so that Knightmare was on. My blood would run cold when the gong sounded and Treguard the dungeon master, played with wonderful pomp and theatrical terror by Hugo Myatt, would proclaim ‘complete temporal disruption’ and the fun was over for another week. Knightmare was without doubt the best kids’ TV game show of my era.
So for the benefit of the Teletubbies generation or for those of you that were having your own children at the time of its first broadcast in 1987, here’s a quick guide to what happened in Knightmare, how it worked and why the hell I still love it so much to this day.
Consisting of a team of four friends, three of them would sit around a television monitor encased in a treasure chest in a studio armed with clipboards, and verbally guide the fourth friend (the ‘dungeoneer’) through – what they could see from their point of view – a simulated virtual reality world of an enormous dungeon. To progress from one room of the dungeon to the next, each one they entered would have its own challenge in it not too dissimilar to the attributes of The Crystal Maze, all testing the team’s skill, mental or physical abilities. The only snag was that the dungeoneers were blinded by an enormous Viking’s helmet they wore, namely, the Helmet of Justice. It covered their entire head allowing the wearer to see objects on tables or on the ground that were only directly beneath them. As they played through the first level they would find out if their quest was for the sword, chalice, crown or shield.
Every room had a puzzle, whether they had to answer a set of three riddles given to them by a wall monster, dodge perils like catacomb bites or selecting the correct two objects out of three choices on a table to aid them further on their quest. If they picked the wrong item they may have found a few rooms along they would die in the game because they had chosen a dagger over a bottle of stardust. What good is a weapon to you if you can’t see?
Dodging giant cobras in pits and convincing gargoyles that they are attractive weren’t the only things the players had to master. They were also under extra pressure to complete their quests by the threat of their Life Force running out, which was essentially a graphic of a head that as time ebbed away would lose its helmet, skin with eventually the skull breaking up and two eyeballs remaining. If the Life Force got to this stage then they were dead, but they could prevent this from happening by placing food items in the knapsack that they wore. Fancy some funny Knightmare deaths? Course you do! Ooo, nasty!
Although Knightmare was completely computerised it also had a few real-life actors playing crones, witches, maids, wizards and jesters, all there to either help or hinder the dungeoneers in their quests. But the best part of Knightmare were the graphics. It’s only now I’m older I’ve obviously realised that everything seen on Knightmare was created with blue screens and animatronics, but believe me as a child where Star Trek back then was like Avatar is today, Knightmare’s special effects and graphics left me rapt every week . Yes, I know, it was pretty obvious but when you’re eight years old Knightmare was just the best thing ever because there had been nothing like it before.
The teams were interesting too, sadly not every child who went on knew the answers to questions like who fought the War of the Roses or how was the Greek goddess Athena born, but they slogged their way through the mazes and puzzles of the dungeons with all the guile and skill they could. Astonishingly, out of 112 episodes there0 were only eight winners which averages out at one per series. Many of my friends who are my age all remember Knightmare and the first thing they say when reminiscing about it is that they wanted to be on it.
Remember, The only way is onward, there is no turning back.
You can relive the best part of your 80s childhood this very evening on Challenge on Sky as reruns of Knightmare begin tonight at 10:30pm, directly after Fun House! Don’t sidestep to the left, click here for details!