In the Summer of 1998, instead of playing football with my twelve year old friends, I was having a Knightmare. Successfully passing the audition process, we arrive at the reception of Anglia Studios in Norwich. Here we meet the current team from Oxfordshire (who will go on to be the first team to conquer the dungeon). The production always holds one team in reserve as they never know when the next team will finish.
Taking us down to the studio to begin our adventure, we cross the floor over cables and past cameras to the three stools that sit in front of the chest. Treguard sits behind us and we do a run through of the first room to get rid of any nerves. I look up from the television in the chest, which is the same as for the viewer at home, and see one of the production staff walking around in red slippers.
Tregaurd invites Tony to step boldly forward and after the first room, the filming ends and the illusion is broken. We are taken back to the green room and wait for them to set up the next room. And this is the pattern of filming. Two minutes of excitement followed by a long wait.
Our quest can be watched on You Tube (search: Knightmare Series 2, Episodes 5 and 6), which is far more interesting than me describing it, but there are three rooms that I want to tell you about and the story behind them.
Some of the dungeon is designed in advance. For example, the fact that we are on a quest for the crown, necessitates certain rooms. But the production company are also trying out new rooms on us as they go along.
On our first day in the dungeon, Tim Child (creator and producer) enters the green room, asking if any of us play chess, to which we reply ‘yes’.
The next room we enter contains five doors, three of which are locked. Of the other two, one has a picture of a playing card before it, the other a knight from a chess set. A choice between luck and skill. We chose skill and in the next room discover a giant chess board, where we are the white knight faced with a black bishop.
Now we are okay at chess and we get through the room but it takes three and a half minutes to get to the exit. For a programme like Knightmare, it is unheard of to spend so much time in a room (barring clue rooms) with little action or dread. Hence to the best of my knowledge, this room was never used again. If you listen to Treguard in this sequence you can almost hear the producers in his ear urging him to hurry us up.
There is speculation on other sites about whether we actually ‘died’ in Level 1 and this is a good place to address it. In the room where we grab a chicken for life force, laser bolts break holes in the floor. We rush to get Tony out and he runs towards the edge. The camera cuts to us as Tony actually steps into the abyss. You can see it in my reaction, when I turn to Treguard with a look of ‘we lost didn’t we?’ Dean puts his hand over his mouth and Craig says ‘Oh God.’
In the reaction sequence afterwards Craig shows how we were tipping over the edge with his hands. Maybe they gave us a break. Or maybe we corrected quickly, before the computer programmer could end the game, as Knightmare is filmed live and there are no retakes.
In our penultimate room, we encounter a catacombite, a skeletal creature blocking two doors.
Treguard: “You needed the gauntlet to subdue this monster, it was the challenge you were told to accept but you declined it.”
At this point we know that our quest is over and we are forced to go through the other door. This is the hardest time for us because we know we are not going to win; that our ‘death’ is in the next room, but it still has to be filmed. Needless to say we are all gloomy waiting for our execution.
We trudge down to the studio for our death. The way that it is edited you don’t see our faces (which are pretty fed up) until Mogdred has killed us and our life force is spent.
Mogdred: “Welcome to one of Mogdred’s little play pens, dungeoneer. Play a while. Play forever!!”
Cue the rolling eyeballs and two chime bell.
The final room we film is the sequence outside the castle in a valley. All illusions are finally shattered here as we stand in a blue room waving our scrolls (which state that we have achieved Dungeoneer Class Level 2), whilst a small monitor in the corner shows the computer generation around us.
Treguard: “Join us again for Knightmare… And just keep telling yourself, it can’t be real, can it?”
For me, an eleven year old boy in the summer of 1998, it was real. Very real.
More details about our audition process, a strange coincidence and our tour of the studio can be found on my website tonyleewilliams.com, where you can also view images of my rare limited edition Knightmare jumper with the life force face that glows in the dark!
Tony is currently editing his first book, parts of which he wrote up a tree in India, in a converted blue horse-box which he called home for six months and in the pub where (it is claimed) Ian Fleming wrote ‘You Only Live Twice’. He is also launching an interactive story where the public choose what happens every 1000 words, on his website tonyleewilliams.com