Total Knightmare

Most of my website is about U2 stuff, but I thought I'd devote this little corner to my other main fandom, Knightmare.

If you're (gasp!) not familiar with it, Knightmare was an immensely popular children's TV show in the UK, which aired from 1987 to 1994 on CITV and still gets repeated on Challenge (Freeview channel 46). It was a unique and groundbreaking programme, set in a medieval fantasy world – part gameshow, part comedy-drama, constantly evolving over the course of its 8 series. There are tons of things to love about Knightmare, many of which are even better appreciated through adult eyes.

Teams of children would attempt to complete a quest, which involved one of them (the 'dungeoneer') journeying through a series of magical environments via bluescreen technology. Because this contestant could only see the blue studio and not the superimposed locations, they had to be guided by their friends who were following the adventure on a viewscreen. The quests incorporated all sorts of mental and physical challenges – navigating obstacles, solving riddles and puzzles, answering general knowledge questions, choosing objects that may be needed later, casting spells, and interacting with a variety of characters. Very few teams were successful, as mistakes were easily made and usually resulted in the dungeoneer meeting some grisly fate!

Knightmare is a lot of fun to watch – the perils are convincing enough to make for edge-of-seat viewing, you can play along with the quizzes, there's an ever-changing cast of likeable characters, and the programme is frequently hilarious for both scripted and unscripted reasons. Sadly it has never had an official DVD release, but it can often be found on video sharing sites and is well worth checking out!

I first saw the show when I was 4 or 5 years old, and found it terrifying and enthralling in equal measure, with many scenes permanently burned into my memory. It ended when I was 11, and by the time I reached adulthood, I missed it terribly and longed to see it again. Imagine my delight when YouTube came along and I rediscovered all 8 series in the summer of 2010! Thankfully it had aged well and lost none of its original appeal – in fact, I love it more now than I ever did as a kid. :) This also led to me finding the Knightmare discussion forum, where a loyal fan community still exists and is surprisingly active and creative.

My own contributions to the fandom have been scattered all over the place, but many of them can now be found through this page!


Lexicon / Articles

The Interactive Knightmare Lexicon is an online encyclopedia of all things Knightmare, created by Forester in 2004. Any fan can sign up and add to the knowledge base, which is expanding all the time – it's a handy resource and great fun to browse. The entries I've written can all be found here.

Occasionally I also submit news items to the Knightmare website (some of which include small additions by the editor). My longest piece of writing was an article about the overlap between Knightmare and Doctor Who, published just before the latter's 2013 Christmas special.


Filming Locations

The rooms in Knightmare were originally hand-painted by artist David Rowe (who has put together a fascinating book of all the artwork and production notes). From the fourth series onward, they instead used footage of real castles and other places in England, Wales and Spain. Issue 30 of The Eye Shield fanzine introduced a feature called Knightmare Locations, in which Jake Collins visited some of them and shared his own photographs of familiar scenes from the show.

Inspired by Jake's efforts, I embarked on a quest to identify all the remaining locations, and eventually found most of them! As well as writing about them in the Lexicon, I've plotted them all on an interactive Google Map. The only ones that have eluded me are these scenes filmed outdoors and on a ship – let me know if you recognise them!

When I get the chance, I enjoy visiting the locations myself and taking photos which I match up with screencaps for comparison – click here to see the ones I've been to.


Fan Videos

Two memorable things happened in 1991: one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes released his chart-topping single 'The One And Only', and everyone's favourite Knightmare character Lord Fear was introduced as the main villain. In October 2010, I decided to combine the two in a music video, my first fan creation. I had never used Windows Movie Maker before, and was pleased that it turned out as well as I had imagined. I was particularly tickled by the CGI Brollachan's perfect lip-synching to one line, which was entirely accidental but very appropriate! As a surprise bonus, the actor Mark Knight got to see the video and contacted me to express his approval. :D

I made another fanvid in July 2012, set to the early U2 single A Celebration. The song appeared on a DVD I was watching, and when the "walls of Jericho" line reminded me of Knightmare, I suddenly noticed how many of the lyrics would fit together with clips from the show! (It was also a great excuse to promote this criminally underrated track.) The musical montage seemed a nice way to celebrate the programme's 25th anniversary that year.

Speaking of which... while you're on YouTube, be sure to watch the 25th Anniversary Documentary by James Aukett, featuring interviews with a selection of the cast, crew and contestants. I was very excited about this project and offered a few suggestions, which James kindly thanked me for in the credits.

Don't miss the "official" Knightmare music video, Slow Hand, made up of behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes from Series 8!


Fan Fiction

The Knightmare Fanfic Compendium (or KFC) contains links to all the fan stories I've found online. They were published in many different places, often in instalments, and no-one had put together a detailed index before. I compiled the list in 2011 so I could read them all in chronological order, then uploaded it for the benefit of other fans. I keep it up-to-date and have added alphabetical title and author lists. You will also find links to the audio projects and roleplay forums run by members of the KM community. Thanks to David for his suggestions, including the name of the page!

Before I read anyone else's fanfic, I wrote one of my own – The March Of Progress, completed in December 2010. It was my way of dealing with the withdrawal symptoms when I had no more episodes left to watch, and was simply my vision of a fantasy 9th series, where unwelcome changes were fixed and my favourite departed characters made a comeback! There's a mixture of stuff from different seasons, along with some original innovations. It was the first fanfic I ever published, and I didn't know much about good writing techniques at the time, so it's pretty amateurish – but I had fun dreaming it up, and some people have told me they enjoyed reading it. I'm still fond of the humorous dialogue in places!

Another silly thing I wrote was Caei's Quest in November 2011. Caei is an amusingly eccentric bot who used to appear in the Knightmare chat room on IRC. (If you want to join us, chat sessions happen on Sunday evenings from around 7 or 8pm UK time. You'll need to use an IRC client such as Mibbit – server irc.knightmare.org.uk, channel #Knightmare.) One week I made a passing remark about how she'd be difficult to write as a fanfic character... and then found myself thinking of funny ways to use her catchphrases in a typical Knightmare quest. Thus a whole spoof script was born, with Caei as the dungeoneer and the other bots as her teammates (along with a chat room 'Guest' she often mysteriously mentioned). It's full of in-jokes and will make no sense if you're not a regular visitor. :p

I've been working on another, much better fanfic since early 2011, but the initially simple idea grew to epic proportions and the whole thing needs a brutal rewrite, so I don't know when it might be ready to share. I also have lots more fanfic ideas at various stages of planning – the problem is finding the time to actually write them all!


Songs

There's a whole subsection of the Knightmare forum dedicated to writing song parodies (or 'filks'), which happens to be something I've dabbled in over the years. Here are the ones I've written about the show:
1) 'Africa' by Toto. One of my favourite songs, but a tricky one to parody! The lyrics reflect various changes and features that were introduced in Series 8, including rune lock puzzles (and the tediously fiddly Reach wand), the use of trapdoors and FLOAT spells instead of flying on Smirkenorff to change levels, the dragon Bhal-Shebah pursuing dungeoneers, the abundance of fireballs, the lack of seating for the advisors, Lord Fear's two new towers, the much-derided 'Life Force Pie', and the controversial shortcut which allowed the last couple of teams to save time by skipping Level 2 entirely! The dreaded Corridor of Blades mentioned in the chorus is surely the most popular and memorable of all the Knightmare challenges.
2) 'You Can Call Me Al' by Paul Simon. Another difficult song choice, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head! This one is all about Barry's famously popular quest at the end of Series 7, referencing such scenes as his encounter with Brother Strange (a monk who collects proverbs), getting a rare freebie from Rothberry the apothecary, Hordriss neglecting his magic class to spend time with Marta (who was really Lissard in disguise), the perilous Play Your Cards Right puzzle, and Barry choosing a troll hammer to save Knightmare Castle instead of his own quest object. The chorus was inspired by his amusing conversation with the witch queen:

Greystagg: "You may call me in times of trouble. My calling name is Gwen. Three times you must call to bring me – and I shall call you in the same manner. What is your calling name?"

Dungeoneer: "...Barry."

3) 'Hotel California' by The Eagles. The first lines ever spoken on Knightmare were "Welcome, watchers of illusion, to the castle of confusion", and Lord Fear's henchman Skarkill has the catchphrase "LOVELY!", so the chorus just fell into place. The reference to the Dreadnorts also worked particularly well, since they were always threatening to take one of the dungeoneer's body parts ("perhaps an arm, perhaps a leg, maybe even a head"). The final line refers to Treguard's catchphrase "The only way is onward; there is no turning back". I think this is one of my favourite parodies – I've even recorded myself singing it, though I don't intend to upload it here!
4) 'January' by Pilot. January was a dungeoneer in Series 6, whom I always remembered because I loved this song and had never seen a real person with that name before! (I'm guessing she may have been named after the song?!) The parody is dedicated to her quest, which involved rescuing both a shrunken Motley and a frozen Sidriss, with the latter then rowing them to safety and agreeing to restore Motley's normal size. January later found a magic ring that could do "a rather good take-off" of Lord Fear, and wisely refused to let Julius Scaramonger buy it from her, persuading him to accept a firestone instead. Alas, her quest came to a very disappointing end when she offered the ring to Sly Hands instead of using it!
5) 'Crumbs From Your Table' by U2. This is about the Series 2 dungeoneers Akash and Anthony, who both struggled with the wall monster's riddles, earned no hints and chose the wrong clue objects from the table, leading them to the same sticky end. Akash and chums were arguably the worst team ever, failing to answer a single riddle correctly (among other hilarious cock-ups), not picking up an ice-pack they needed for Lillith, and trying to appease her with a gem even while she was sending the dungeoneer to his death! Anthony's quest wasn't much longer, as his entire team misread a potion label as 'poison' and rejected it in favour of an empty humbugs jar. Needless to say, that wasn't what Lillith wanted, and she once again crumbled the ledge he was standing on!
6) 'Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)' by The Alan Parsons Project. The line "Abandoning reality, unsure of what he'll find / The traveller in me is close behind" reminded me of all the young Knightmare viewers glued to their TV screens while the dungeoneers ventured into a perilous world of illusion. :) The chorus was inspired by Duncan's death in Series 5, when he tried to reach Level 2 via the Descender (a magical, voice-activated lift). The team were supposed to count the floors and tell the device when to stop, but messed it up and sent him to the wrong place – namely the Corridor of Blades, which immediately sawed him in half!
7) 'The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air' theme by Will Smith. I think every person of our generation knows this rap off by heart, and Martin Harder attempted to write a Knightmare version but didn't get very far. I had a go myself and was quite amused by the end result! This is a brief summary of Treguard's backstory as revealed in the first Knightmare novella. His ancestral home, Dunshelm Castle in the north of England, was captured by Baron Vestan of Brittany and then transformed into a death trap by the devilish Gruagach. The book follows Treguard's quest to reclaim his birthright and ultimately become the new Dungeon Master.
8) 'Proud' by Heather Small. Based on one of the funniest scenes in Knightmare's history! Series 2 dungeoneer Neil had encountered the evil Mogdred, who cast a SHROUD spell rendering him invisible. The team's task was simple: 'dispel' the magic by calling out the letters of SHROUD in a jumbled order. However, for some reason they kept leaving out the letter 'O', and were baffled as to why it wasn't working! Treguard was supposed to be restrained by Mogdred's power and unable to speak, but tried to give them a hint by groaning "O!" – only to be completely ignored as they thought he was just making random noises. *g* After several failed attempts at dispelling, the team thought they must have to do something else, such as offering Mogdred one of their clue objects! The penny didn't drop until Treguard finally said "Let-ter O". (The advisors then smugly congratulated themselves on defeating the villain... before dying a few rooms later in similar circumstances, when they forgot the name of their own spell!!) The 'SHRUD' incident also inspired a Beatles parody by David, which was made into a brilliant music video by a couple of his Twitter followers. :D
9) 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E' by Tammy Wynette. This one focuses on Alex's team from Series 5, who were given many hints by Treguard and let off for mistakes on several occasions. Among other things, they only summoned Sir Hugh to rescue the dungeoneer after Treguard practically told them to, then needed prompting again to explain their predicament to him! Later they were given a BAG spell to capture Elita's missing voice, but tried to use it on a floating skull ghost instead. And when they did find Elita's disembodied mouth hurling insults at Alex, they didn't realise what it was, and thought it was asking them a riddle!! The production team eventually killed them off when they were deemed too slow in crossing a causeway. "Spellcasting: D-I-S-M-I-S-S" is one of Treguard's most memorable catchphrases, used to send the teams home when they're dead!
10) 'Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye)' by The Four Seasons. A lament for Series 2 dungeoneer Jamie, who was killed off for no good reason in the eyes of most fans. This perfectly competent team came unstuck when they were tasked with collecting three fragments of a broken MEDAL spell, only to be chased out by the robotic Automatum before they had any chance to do so, with Treguard urging them to "Exit now". A couple of rooms later they used their FREE spell to save Gretel from a spider's web – and Jamie promptly became trapped himself, with neither spell available to let him escape. Thus he perished through no fault of his own, leaving fans to wonder if he'd done something to upset the show's producer Tim Child!
11) 'Centerfold' by The J. Geils Band. Another one about Barry's Level 2 task, in which Hordriss had become infatuated with the tavern wench Marta, and was horrified to discover that Lord Fear's scaly seneschal Lissard had assumed her form in order to deceive him. For some reason this idea popped into my head while I was listening to it on the radio one day!
12) 'Always On My Mind' by Elvis Presley. A piece of silliness inspired by the mention of "Grimaldine karaoke" in Knightmare Chat one week – this immediately sprang to mind as a suitable song for the character, who often describes himself as "always of the green". I could imagine a dungeoneer singing it at his funeral, suddenly feeling bad about their awkward past encounters! (The actor who played Grimaldine was... perhaps not the best at improvising, and tended to remain unhelpfully silent until they asked him precisely the right question.)
13) 'Rio' by Duran Duran. A tribute to one of the better teams in Series 3, whose dungeoneer was called Leo. Includes references to the dice room which started every quest that season, Mellisandre falling through a trapdoor before she could warn them not to turn left in a certain corridor, Leo performing various actions to create magic steps in Merlin's throne room, the team's perfect scores in most riddle challenges, their defeat of Medusa (who had turned a previous team to stone) and successful intimidation of Hordriss, and Motley being persuaded to push Leo in a minecart down to Level 3. It also mentions that the 'silver spurs of squiredom' (the original prize in Knightmare) were very rarely won. Despite getting further than most of that year's teams, Leo's fate was sealed when a gargoyle asked a particularly difficult question about the Avebury stone circle, with which the team were not familiar. Without the gargoyle's help, they had to guess at the right path, and our hero tragically fell off a cliff to his death!
I also wrote an original song called The Greater Game with lyrics inspired by Knightmare; sadly I have no musical skills, so the only place to hear it is inside my head. :P  For a song about Knightmare that you can actually listen to, check out Tree Friend Tree Foe by Bolt Action Five – it's awesome! And I highly recommend GuruMediator's Treguard Mix and Face The Dungeon Door videos, setting clips from the show to music. :)

At least one member of the cast is a gifted singer-songwriter too. I love Drops Of Glittering Hope, a 2004 album released by Jules Bryant who played Gwendoline and Aesandre in Series 5. You can stream a handful of tracks for free: Winds Of Change, Her Heart, My Blue Heaven and Hold My Hand.


Visual Humour

I played around with a South Park character creator in 2010-2011, trying to cartoonify some of the Knightmare cast – the results can be seen here!

Click here for some silly image macros I posted on the Knightmare forum in 2013.