"Welcome, Watchers of illusion, to the Castle of confusion..."
Twice in as many weeks I've found myself discussing Knightmare in the comments section of front page articles, receiving replies from people who remember it well and those who are blissfully unaware of its existence (Understandably, as I don't believe it was syndicated outside of Europe)
Knightmare was a staple of UK childrens television. A gameshow that exploded onto way back in 1987, appearing in the much-coveted "after school" timeslot on advertismenti-funded channel ITV. Created by Tim Child's company Broadsword and produced by Anglia TV, Knightmare was unlike anything that had been on television to that point, and kids absolutely lapped it up.
The show was a hybrid of a gameshow, videogames and DnD-style roleplaying. The basic premise was that a team of four kids (roughly aged 11-15) would attempt to conquer a dungeon known as Knightmare Castle, situated in the fictional world of Dunshelm. One of the team became the "dungeoneer" and wore a viking-styled helmet that blinded them (not literally, as that would be fucking hideous)
The dungeoneer would be then verbally guided through a sequence of computer generated corridors and rooms by their three friends, watching on a monitor (or "magic mirror") back in the dungeon's antechamber.
The team would encounter a host of traps, situational dangers and a cast of varying dungeon inhabitants, who would either help or hinder the team on their quest, and all played by awesomely over-the-top jobbing actors, working real hard for their equity cards. The advisors would have to keep their dungeoneer alive by solving riddles, collecting items, casting spells and avoiding the physical dangers chroma-keyed onto the green-screen set.
If you haven't shit your pants at the above image, you're a stronger reader than I was an 7 year old
If the team was able to guide their dungeoneer through three "levels" of deathsville, then they would conquer Knightmare Castle, usually vanquishing some final boss, and the be free to leave Dunshelm as heroes. Should they fail, then the dungeoneer would come to a predictably sticky end (But don't worry kids, they were always shown alive and well afterwards, lest young viewers be traumatised by the senseless child slaughter)
The entire journey was overseen by a dungeonmaster, Treguard of Dunshelm, played with delicious malice by Hugo Myatt. Treguard remained in the antechamber with the advisors, offering exposition and advice, and clearly hurrying them on when they were taking far too long to get their shit together.
Treguard is the backbone of the show, and has a special place in the hearts of anyone who was a fan. The character was wonderfully dry and delightfully sardonic, and his "Oooooh Naarrrrsty" catchphrase, uttered whenever a player was killed off, is stuff of legend. Treguard was joined in later series by annoying assistants, a pixie named Pickle who was the Scrappy-Doo of the series, and a genie girl called Majida who welcomed me, hormones raging, into puberty.
I wrote into the show to get an 8x10 photo of her.
The key to Knightmare's success, as well as its contemporary use of fantasy settings and state-of-the-art (Amiga 500) graphics, was that it was Rock. Fucking. Solid.
Over the course of 8 seasons and 112 episodes, only eight teams ever completed the dungeon. Death would sometimes come from missing essential items and clues, though usually (and hilariously) the grim reaper beckoned due to the kind of inept teamwork that would see your best buddy walk you headfirst into a pit of snakes or the fangs of a giant, super-imposed, tarantula.
This made the show essential viewing, as you simply had to be there to witness the rare moment a team completed the game, as well as gagging to see the more obnoxious kids blunder their way into total annihilation.
The show maintained steady ratings well into the 90's but, as is often the case, fooled around with the format a little too much in the later years, and, as the show's original viewerbase matured, ratings steadily declined until Knightmare's cancellation in 1994.
Despite its ultimate end, Knightmare is a stalwart veteren and oft-remembered masterpiece of children's programming. Its conceptual and technological ideas were beyond anything that had come before. From its badass opening sequence to its awesome-o visuals and its rare representation of death on kids TV, it was light years ahead of its time.
Branded merchandise was available in the form of a series of choose your own adventure books, a board game, and some terrible computer ports that bore little resembalance to the original show.
Knightmare never received a DVD release, but many seasons are viewable on YouTube. The show remains an indelible mark in the minds of those who loved it, and last year successfully kickstarter'd a fan convention.
Watched today, Knightmare can be scoffed at with ease, coming off a bit slow, simplistic and occasionally clumsy in execution. But for me, my friends, and the legions upon legions of other kids who watched it when it aired, it was absolute gospel.
"The only way is onward...There is no turning back..."
Thanks for reading.Way more information I chose not to add can be found at the encyclopedic Knightmare.com The show can be experienced in ugly videos on Youtube. Were you a fan of Knightmare? What did you watch as a kid? Any other kids gameshows stand out for you? What are your memories of post-school television? Any and all stories and opinions are gratefully received.
The floor is open, so sidestep to the left, and grab the mic, friends