Hand holding a microphone

Knightmare Interviews

By Alan Boyd

Early in 2002, Debbie Glover interviewed Tim Child (creator of Knightmare), Hugo Myatt (Treguard) and David Learner (Pickle).


The interviews reveal some fascinating behind the scenes information. A huge thanks to Debz for letting us use her interviews on the site. Clips are available throughout.

Tim Child in the Televirtual Studio, from Debz Glover's Interviews.
Tim Child in The Televirtual Studios

Hugo Myatt in Central London. From Debz Glover's Interviews.
Hugo Myatt in A Pub in Central London

David Learner at Framlingham Castle, Suffolk. From Debz Glover's Interviews.
David Learner in Framlingham Castle, Suffolk

In the beginning

DownloadCreator of Knightmare, Tim Child, talks about what triggered the idea (208.97kB)

The strange thing is that Knightmare came about from a bit of an accident. I'd been a first of all a newspaper journalist and then a TV journalist and TV news reporter for many years.

But I also started inventing TV shows, and in 1983 I invented a new sort of consumer-based motoring show about motor cars. We spent a lot of time and money and trouble on it - it was a very good show. But unfortunately it failed, it didn't get taken up by the network, and I was very very angry about it being turned down.

As they turned it down they said to me what you should really have done is invented a game show, because there is always a market for game shows.

First thoughts

DownloadTim Child describes where the first ideas for Knightmare came from (370.56kB)

When the first thoughts about Knightmare came into being, there were a number of useful coincidences.

The first was that my older sister Hilary was working for Clive Sinclair, and in fact she was his quality assurance manager when they were building the very early home computers, and so I also became interested in video games that were running on very early home computers. I was amazed to find out, though we were in television, we weren't doing anything which was as complex or as ambitious as some of the things that were going on in very early video games. So there was that factor.

So first of all what I wanted to do was to put people into some sort of virtual world. And I was a bit of a Tolkien and Hobbit freak and things like that and I was always very keen on fantasy. So a fantasy world would be the most durable and the most fun. So early and rather crude Spectrum and ZX81 video games like Attic Attack which was about running round a dungeon collecting objects and basically falling down wells into different levels were the first inspirations for Knightmare.

The trouble was, what you could get away on 8-bit computers was one thing; if it was going to be television it had to be much, much better pictures. That was really the reason why we ended up working in Colour Separation Overlay as it was called then - Chromakey - and building high-fidelity dungeon pictures from painted scenes by David Rowe.

Treguard

DownloadHugo Myatt talks about how he got the role of Treguard (650.48kB)

I had got to know Tim Child, the creator of it, purely socially. I was actually invited to do the very first 15-minute pilot just to see if the show could actually work. I had an old boat and I was lying under it replacing planks, and Tim also had a boat in the yard and spotted one of mine and came over and said:

"Hugo, we've got this idea. We want to see if we can make it work. It'll be about a day's work. I'll give you a few quid for it. Would you like to come and try it?"

I said yes. I say yes to everything. I went along one evening to his house and he briefed me, and honestly, I didn't understand a word he was talking about - but being an actor you always say yes.

We did this 15-minute pilot and I began to understand it, but quite frankly I thought that was the end of it. I took my few bob and went back to repairing my boat. About six months later, he phoned me up again and said:

"Hugo, we're going to make a full-length half hour pilot. Again, it probably won't be broadcast, but it's to see whether our improved format will work and whether we can use the pilot to sell it to television companies. It's a few bob in it for you."

So, another 6 months past and Tim phoned again and said "We got a series" and I said "Congratulations". And he said "No, no, we've got a series - you and me".

Pickle

DownloadDavid Learner talks about how he got the role of Pickle (443.48kB)

The first time I worked with Tim Child, the producer of Knightmare, I was on a little-known show called "The Satellite Game" which we produced for BSB. BSB eventually became Sky.

At that time Knightmare had done three series and I'd caught it briefly on a Friday afternoon and seen this guy with a helmet on, walking through fantastic environments and being asked questions by mistrial voices. And I thought heck, this is live theatre, but on television, and its causing children to think.

And I'd previously worked with children, enjoyed working with children, so I said to Tim during Satellite Game "I don't suppose you'd thought of introducing a sort of like assistant to Treguard, the dungeon master". And he said "Funnily enough, yes", and I said "Can I audition for it?" He said, "Oh, alright."

So I auditioned for the part of Pickle, along with various others. I was doing some filming of something else down in Canterbury, and I got a message to call my agent. My agent said, "You're playing Pickle, this is the money, this is how long it takes". I was just gobsmacked.

I wanted to do one series. I stayed for three.

Pickle's departure

DownloadDavid Learner on his time on Knightmare and how it ended (1.08MB)

Any actor getting any job: "Hey, its your agent, you've got half an hour's voice work, do you want to do it?" "Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah, I'll do it!"

And that's it - it's a one hit wonder. You go from job to job. You don't know where the next job is coming from. Your agent rings up and says "You're doing Knightmare, Series 4" Woah, fantastic! That means I'm working for four weeks! That's unreal! If I stayed for two more series...

Knightmare was a huge part of my acting life, but my acting life was so many things. It was live theatre, radio drama, it was voiceover work, it was videos, even a movie. There were so many things I wanted to continue to do as an actor. Knightmare absorbed me for three years and then it was time to go.

I remember tuning in for the first episode (after Pickle's departure). I thought for old time sake I'll look at the first episode. And I remember Treguard coming into the dungeon in Studio E, where we spent so much time. He came down the stairs and said "Pickle, Pickle!"

You half expected me to come out underneath somewhere and appear as I had done so many times before. And suddenly Pickle wasn't there and there was this character called Majida. She was brilliant.

Treguard needed that foil, somebody else to bounce off. Tim saw that and gave the role to Pickle, Pickle passed the baton on to somebody else, in this case Majida. Majida served exactly the same purpose as Pickle did and she did it very well.

A typical day

DownloadTim, Hugo and David describe the daily routine of filming Knightmare (1.15MB)

Tim Child

I'm not quite sure whether there was ever a typical day on the Knightmare set. In a good day we would have got through around about ten chambers. The big problem is that although the chambers lined up with identical geometry, there was a lot of setting up to do, and this really used to disrupt the game. So we had a sort of a 'time out' green room area where the team in the game were isolated off from everyone else and they would go there between gameplay.

My typical day was rehearsing and briefing the actors on the point of the game we had reached so they wouldn't make any mistakes that were prejudicial to the game itself. Popping into the green room every 15 minutes or so to try and keep the team happy because they would get very bored sometimes waiting, sometimes an hour between going back into the dungeon. Very difficult for them - some of the teams kept their concentration up superbly and others less so. And basically worrying most of the time that what we were producing was good and that the game itself was remaining vaid throughout.

David Learner

A typical day on the set started at around 5.15am in the morning when I would get up (I was staying in various digs around Norwich when we were filming). I would blearily head towards the shower and try to make myself look presentable. By 6.30/7am I was in the makeup chair for what felt like an hour and a half - it took an hour and a half to create Pickle. The blonde wig, pointed ears, hand cast, fantastic makeup, which transformed me wonderfully into Pickle.

Hugo Myatt

I was lucky enough to be driven in, quite early, then I spent about an hour in make up. I always had a huge amount of learning to do, because for every single take, I couldn't go wrong, it had to be dead right each time, so I was always sitting in the dressing room studying lines. The rest of the company and various actors who came and went over the years knew me as a bit of a misery because I didn't talk to them much because I was always learning the lines - endless lines I had to know for the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day which had to be done in one.

David Learner

At some point you would get a cup of coffee and the rest of the actors would blearily come in.

Hugo Myatt

Then eventually we would get into the studio and do a walking rehearsal without the children of just roughly what we were going to do in that particular sequence. And then the children would come up. I'd meet them.

David Learner

You'd pick up; you'd knew vaguely which scenes you were going to be doing and you'd probably met the children beforehand because you were filming scenes with the children. But you had to pick up where the story left off - it was all done in sequence.

Hugo Myatt

The programme was made more or less like a string of sausages in the sense that it didn't have beginning and endings - we put those on afterwards, so the show would gradually continue throughout the day.

David Learner

You'd work through to lunchtime, you had an hour for lunch and then you'd wind up, finishing the afternoon around 5/5.30pm, 6pm sometimes.

Tim Child

We released the teams about 5pm - they are only allowed to work at their age a certain amount of time. Then we'd usually roll on with the actors, preparing a few set scenes like spyglasses with Lord Fear for the next day, and for later bits of the game that we knew were coming out.

David Learner

It was exhausting, an exhausting schedule. I would be in bed by about 9/9.30pm and this would go on for four weeks during the summer. Mad, absolutely mad schedule, and you were thinking all the time, and it was hurting all the time. And you went along with the adventure with the children because you didn't know how far they were going to get, and you were willing them to do well all the time, but they dictated what you did, they dictated the day. Then they'd go off and go to pizzas and bowling and I don't know. Occasionally we used to go to the pub but more often or not I was in bed.

Memorable Moments

DownloadTim, Hugo and David describe their favourite moments in Knightmare (823.43kB)

Tim Child

There were so many of them and they usually involved tremendous mistakes, although it was recorded, it was live for record. I'm afraid my most memorable moment is not one that I can share with you.

David Learner

There was a certain amount of improvisation involved in the script. Hugo (Treguard) and myself, we'd gone to the same school (and so we had a lot of catching up to do), but we had a good on-screen relationship that worked very well indeed and we'd toss around ideas with the script.

We would open and close Series 5 with a bit of banter, and I had developed this kind of character where I would be a bit abusive to the televisual audience. There was a memorable moment where at the end of one programme, Hugo who'd usually signed off said "Alright, you do it do it then" and I looked straight to the camera and said "I say you lot, bog off!".

In the gallery, I heard Sue, the production assistant, go "HAHAHA", and I think you can hear that now on the tape.

Hugo Myatt

In the early programmes I remember a young girl who was a dungeoneer, who did exactly what she was told by the advisors and marched towards the edge of the blue screen very determinedly and straight into a wall and let out a string of expletives, some I hadn't heard of!

David Learner

My other memorable moment. We had a chap called Dickon who was part of a winning team with some lads down at Torquay. They had to pick up a goblin horn, otherwise they could not go forward. And I remember Dickon getting the horn and me coming out with the memorable line, "Dickon's got the horn, Master!"

Its silly things like that that you remember.

The return

DownloadTim, Hugo and David describe whether Knightmare should make a return. (1.09MB)

Tim Child

I think it could have continued almost indefinitely, but the big problem was that we are reaching a technical hiatus.

Knightmare in the end was what we call 'mixed reality' - it used techniques which are now called 'Virtual Studio' but we didn't know the names for them then as we were pioneering. So what we were doing was putting real people in an artificial world and letting them roleplay in that area.

It was only a matter of time before we had to go the whole hog and put people in a virtual world, but not as themselves, but as representations of themselves. Now here we are in the 21st century and finally we can do that. So the next show, whether its from this team or somewhere, will really be the one which picks up the gauntlet where Knightmare left off.

I personally don't think it is going to be a children's show because I think the new demography for that is probably at about the age group where children's TV at the moment leaves off, and the upper limit is I hope about my age.

David Learner

I think it ended at exactly the right time. Everything has its season. We're coming now to the end of how many series of Friends? Dallas overstayed its welcome. The good die young and I think in this case the good had eight series and was brilliant. And it will stay alive in everyone's memory because it went out in a blaze of glory.

Hugo Myatt

I certainly think the programme could have gone on at lease another couple of seasons. It wasn't time, and technology at the time was getting more exciting and they had superb ideas.

David Learner

It wouldn't have the following now - it wouldn't have this huge dedicated website if it had meandered on.

Hugo Myatt

Each series got better and better with the technology and there was more to come. It was sad that it ended when it did, and a surprise, I have to say, to everyone involved.

David Learner

Knightmare was then and Tim Child's creativity is now. And whatever project he's working on - it will be a success.

Tim Child

I think there are a lot of reasons which probably intrude the return of Knightmare as a children's show on mainstream British television. The first reason is the age group of children who watch shows like that on CBBC or CITV has changed.

When I was first making this show back in the 80s, the demography was ages 6-17. Now, although they will claim more, it is about 6-11, and the older children have migrated into the video game area, or niche television or youth television or cable, and therefore the older age group who I would have really needed to appeal to has gone from that area.

David Learner

Pickle was then. Marvin was then. It would be like re-marrying an ex-wife. Sometimes it can work, but there is a season for everything, and I've had Pickle. I've had the best of Pickle. I couldn't repeat Pickle!

I hope no one else repeats Pickle as well. I think it would be ghastly if I suddenly saw the blonde wig and pointy ears and somebody else prancing around, I'd get a real shock! I'd say "Excuse me!"

Hugo Myatt

I think its extremely unlikely (that I would play Treguard again). I would be regarded as being too old, too fat, and it would have to be son of Treguard.

David Learner

Something else, yeah. I'd revel in the opportunity to do something else that was that creative. But again, how often do those opportunities arise?

Tim Child

I think that we are ready to do different now and that means a different sort of show - but it could be just as magical or even better.

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