“Mike, you’re in a room. There’s a cauliflower on the floor.”
Children aren’t very good at improv. That’s why there were never any on Whose Line Is It Anyway.
Basing CITV adventure game Knightmare around the improvised encounters of a temporarily blinded child guided on a parlous quest by three friends with a shaky grasp on the precise qualities that distinguish left from right, then, was a risky approach. You just couldn’t rely on early nineties kids to pull their weight in Knightmare’s improv scenes. It turns out a diet of Willy Wonka’s Dweebs and Vanilla Ice lyrics isn’t conducive to thinking on your feet.
That meant the weight of responsibility fell on the shoulders of Knightmare’s recurring actors. It was up to them to patiently partner the show’s young contestants through its dramatic scenarios and on with their quest. That’s a tall order under any circumstances, but marshalling the unpredictable responses of a pack of twelve-year-olds while staying in character dressed as a pound shop Frodo and fighting off a computer-generated pixie is medal-worthy.
In lieu of medals, we offer Knightmare’s recurring quest characters this fond tribute. Hugo Myatt’s terrific Dungeon Master Treguard may have anchored the show, but the oddballs encountered by each Dungeoneer on their quest were what made it so entertaining…
Brother Mace – Michael Cule
Brother Mace was ace, and I’m not just saying that because it rhymes. Appearing in series four and five, Mace was a portly monk who falls into the ‘Basically Biggins’ sub-section of male Knightmare characters (the female sub-categories being ‘Cersei’, ‘Xena’ and ‘West Country Wench’). He was played by Michael Cule, who also voiced Doorkis the permanently depressed door and Fatilla The Hun among others, one of the show’s funniest and most reliable improvisers. Mace is a poetic luvvie-type prone to speaking in Latin and he’s pretty much gold every time he turns up.
Bonus fact: Prior to Knightmare, Cule played a Vogon guard in the 1981 Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
Gwendoline the Green Warden – Juliet Henry Massy
This off-brand She-Ra was in charge of the forest surrounding Knightmare Castle in series five and woe betide anyone who poached a deer or rustled a squirrel on her watch. An aggressive huntress, Gwendoline wasn’t above threatening to turn dungeoneers into pincushions courtesy of her bow and arrow if she thought they were contravening the laws of the woods.
A sort of peripatetic primary school teacher, Gwendoline was also tasked by the Powers That Be with routing out ignorance, hence her habit of setting riddles to those she encounters, and gifting them with passwords in return. In Gwendoline, Juliet Henry Massy brought another memorable character to life underneath Knightmare’s much-used long, curly blonde wig.
Lord Fear – Mark Knight
A technomancer who replaced Mogdred as Knightmare’s major villain from series five onwards, Lord Fear was played with enjoyable vim by Mark Knight (also Sir Hugh de Wittless and the-probably-best-glossed-over-these-days-due-to-cultural-insensitivity Chinese trader Ah Wok).
Leader of “The Opposition”, Lord Fear was usually spied upon by, rather than interacting with, the dungeoneers. As such, he was in the habit of discussing evil plans and revealing vital passwords in conversation with whichever henchman was attending him that series (usually Cliff Barry’s Lissard). A firm believer in delegation, Lord Fear’s HR policy needed some work. His minions never took much defeating, and neither did he.
Something of a misogynist and a teeny bit of a perv (well, he’s evil, what do you expect?), Lord Fear referred to witches as “unwashed flying midwives”, and relished the thought of going up against the feisty Stiletta: “I like a girl with spirit. It’s great fun breaking it.”
Romahna – Jacquelin Joyce
Romahna’s white top, metallic belt, bronze shoulder-pads and leather face mask look was Working Girl meets The Phantom Of The Opera. A proto-Daenerys Targaryen, she was Knightmare Castle’s dragon wardress and therefore you needed to stay on the right side of her fire-shooting crossbow if you wanted a dragon ride to the next level.
The same actress, Jacquelin Joyce also played Marta the West Country barmaid, a much friendlier type than Romahna, and a disguise once taken on by Lord Fear’s reptilian henchman, Lissard.
Hordriss The Confuser – Clifford Norgate
Clifford Norgate’s Hordriss was one of Knightmare’s longest-serving quest characters, appearing from series three to eight. In the course of that time, this Prospero-type graduated from wizard to arch-mage, his red and white badger-striped bouffant growing in stature as he rose up through the magic ranks. An eye-catching dresser, Hordriss favoured a red velvet robe, statement jewellery and a bold eyebrow. That’s when he wasn’t disguised as a massive tortoise.
If Knightmare was Harry Potter, Hordriss would be a death eater for sure. Not because he’s evil (his alignment shifted from ambiguous to good over the course of the show), but because of his wizardly arrogance. Put simply, if you weren’t a mage, you were nothing in Hordriss’ books. Also note his slighly weird Donald Trump vibe when it came to describing how hot he thought his cruelly but fairly nicknamed daughter, Sidriss the Confused, was.
Bonus fact: Clifford Norgate was the voice of The Nimon in classic Doctor Who.
Gundrada the Sword Mistress – Samantha Perkins
Despite only appearing in series four, Samantha Perkins’ Gundrada the Sword Mistress stood out from Knightmare’s female quest characters in two ways: one, because she’s the only one who sounded exactly like Miranda Richardson’s Queenie in Blackadder, and two, because she’s not wearing a blonde wig.
Gundrada was a fierce warrior with a penchant for decapitation and a palpable hatred of dwarves and goblins. She also displayed remarkable confidence for someone whose armour was made from plastic.
Sylvester Hands – Paul Valentine
Part of the villainous Opposition and sometime servant to Lord Fear, Sylvester Hands was a cowardly thief played by Paul Valentine (also the actor behind Motley the Jester and The Boatman) from series five to eight. Not the brightest of chaps, he was usually easily defeated and readily gave up his secrets.
Dialogue-wise, Sly Hands was part Gollum, part Worzel Gummidge. Hygiene-wise, he should have picked up the bar of soap instead of the magnifying glass back in the level one clue room.
Stiletta – Joanne Heywood
A Sloane Ranger cosplaying as Xena, Stiletta was a jolly hockey sticks warrior thief whose skin-tight leather-look mini dress was the real reason the dungeoneers had to wear that helmet. Put a thirteen year old boy in front of with that costume with his vision unimpeded and let’s just say he might be distracted from the task, er, in hand.
Stiletta, so named for her fondness for knife-play, was a third level warrior thief with a strong moral code and a taste for fighting. Joanne Heywood brought the requisite level of camp friendliness to the role.
Rothberry the Apothecary – Mark Knight
Another ‘Basically Biggins’, Mark Knight’s Rothberry the Apothecary was a late addition to Knightmare, appearing in the final two series. He’s a stall holder and part-time alchemist with a largely friendly manner who earns a place on this list by dint of Mark Knight’s amusing improvisations. He’s the chap to go to if you’ve a gold bar burning a hole in your pocket and a potion that needs purchasing.
Mogdred/Merlin – John Woodnutt
The haunting villain of Knightmare Castle until Lord Fear replaced him in series five, Mogdred was played by John Woodnutt, an actor with a long screen career including multiple roles in Doctor Who.
Woodnutt, done up in stark white makeup with a black hat, imbued Mogdred with a genuinely eerie sense of menace. His looming face would appear in the air to cackle at dungeoneers and send them off on the wrong path.
Mogdred’s counterpart, Merlin, was another classic Knightmare quest character, also played with terrific fun by Woodnutt.