What made Gladiators great?
Contenders: ready! Gladiators is coming back to Sky One, and it got Mark weepy-eyed about how much he enjoyed ITV's stab at it.
The news this week that Gladiators is to make a welcome return to our screens brought to mind several questions. Will the Wolf, Jet et al have any role at all to play in Gladiators: The Next Generation (my title for the show, not the official one)? Will the new presenters be a patch on John ‘Awooga’ Fashanu or Ulrika Jonsson? How many people will still not be able to make it up the Travelator?
Yes, questions a-plenty. But let’s not look forward just yet. It’s time to look back with my top seven reasons Gladiators was TV gold.
1) Fash and Uli
Would Gladiators have been the success it was if it wasn’t for the stalwart presenters? Probably, but they certainly added much to the mix.
Prior to Gladiators, Ulrika was famous for being GMTV’s weatherwoman while Fash was an unknown quantity in the TV stakes. Sure he’d put in some tough tackles on the football pitch, but could he ask some tough questions to the contestants taking on the UK’s most glamorous hard men (and women)? The answer, thankfully, was no.
Fash was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of THE worst presenters ever to have graced our screens. Pointless question followed pointless question as contestants, fresh from being humiliated by a comprehensive Gladiatorial beating, were quizzed on how they felt it went. Still out of breath, and clearly just wanting to go for a lie down, I’m surprised more of them didn’t swing for him, screaming ‘Awooga’ yourself, fool!’ Jeremy Guscott did the honours for a season or two after John left, but it was never the same.
As for Ulrika, well quite frankly she was pretty damn hot back then so tuning in to see her winning Scandinavian smile every week was always a pleasure, and she held the fort together very well.
2) Awooga!What would have previously the non-sensical ramblings of a madman took on new meaning during Gladiators. Fashanu’s call to arms, Awooga could be heard every five minutes on the show, as the big man would scream it at every opportunity. The best was when he would end the show, smiling into camera shouting it at the top of his lungs. Amazing.
3) The events
Before Gladiators, did anyone know what a pugil stick was? If you had heard the term Travelator, would you have had any idea that that rather grand title was for what amounted to nothing more than a very large, very steep running machine? The events in Gladiators were just brilliant, my personal favourites being Hang Tough (essentially two grown adults hanging from a bunch of rings before grappling each other with their legs) and Duel (grown adults attacking each other with super sized cotton buds while standing on podiums).
Where did they come up with these games? The worst of the bunch was surely Atlaspheres, in which contenders and Gladiators ran inside (hamster-style) huge metal spheres, navigating them around a course in an attempt to score points by landing the things on pods dotted around the place. I’m pretty sure that this kind of thing never went on in Roman gladiatorial arenas.
4) The Gladiators
Jet. Saracen. Shadow. Wolf. Panther. Blaze. Amazon. Trojan. Hunter. Vogue. Nightshade. All will go down in history as some of the finest characters to grace Saturday night TV. Blokes will remember Jet the most, on account of her being extremely fit. For the women, Hunter was the main man, until he shacked up with Ulrika and broke hearts everywhere.
My personal favourite was Shadow – him with the evil eyes. Whenever he took anyone on at Duel, I feared for the contender’s life as Shadow was an unrelenting, remorseless fighting machine. Like Arnie, but without the catchphrases.
Fan-favourite Wolf never did it for me. The guy was old, cranky and had an eighties perm to go with his fake tan. As for the rest, Saracen and Lightning used to take part in many of the events, probably down to the fact that they were quite attractive and popular among the audience that turned up every week to the Birmingham Indoor Arena.
5) The Eliminator
Everyone watching Gladiators thought the same thing: what’s the point in all the events as if you’re rubbish at the Eliminator you won’t win? And thus it proved week after week. The Eliminator was the scourge of many a contestant, with the Travelator in particular proving the undoing of the best of them. I remember watching time and time again as contestants who had racked up a 10 to 15-second lead over their opponent got stuck on the netting or slipped on those see-saws. It all seemed to make what came before rather pointless in fact. Still, good fun all the same.
Oh, and how many people couldn’t work those overhead handbikes?
6) John Anderson
Every game needs a good referee and Gladiators has the best of them all in John Anderson. The fiery Scot took no lip from anyone and was regularly seen having words with The Wolfman. The head official throughout the show’s run, he became as part of the programme’s history just as much as the Gladiators were and his cries of ‘Contestant, Ready!’ ‘Gladiator, Ready!’ ‘3,2,1! Followed by the blow of the whistle will live long in the memory. Wee John, we salute you sir.
As much as a part the Gladiators themselves had to play in the show, they would have been nothing without worthy contestants to fight against. Contenders had to pass a series of fitness tests before appearing on the show, as well as hold an interview to camera to see if they had the wherewithal to talk the talk and well as walk the walk.
My favourite contestant of Gladiators history actually starred in the American version of the show, as well as International Gladiators. Wesley ‘Two Scoops’ Berry was his name and he will live long in my memory for two key reasons. The first is that Wesley Berry was as big a star as the Gladiators themselves. I remember in one episode, he jumped over the car that was on offer for the eventual series winner and the crowd went crazy. The guy utterly dominated the series he took part in and gained much respect from the Gladiators in the process.
The second thing I remember about him is how he got that nickname. Basically, when he was a kid, his mum used to say to him at feeding time, ‘two scoops, just two scoops more’ to get him to eat his greens. Genius.
With all these fantastic memories, I’m really pleased that Sky is bringing it back. I just hope that the new crop of Gladiators and contestants can do the show justice.
Here’s the old title sequence to get you in the mood…