Gladiators. A staple Saturday night family treat, it was first broadcast in 1992 and proved massively popular throughout the 90s. The show consisted of well ‘ard members of the public who applied to the show because they believed they were fit and strong enough to beat the heroes the show was named after. They were then pitted against this group of strong, tough Titans in a number of challenges of physical strength and skill. Entrance to the show was via several incredibly difficult fitness tests, and appearing on the show itself was no picnic.
Exhausting physical challenges
Typically there were four contestants per Saturday night show. They all competed in a number of exhausting physical challenges, each attempting to beat their assigned Gladiator at every given opportunity. Every challenge won contestants a number of points, the highest amount being gained when the contestant managed to actually beat their gladiator. The points were added up and contestants went through to the Eliminator assault course at the end of the show. More points meant a larger head start. The fastest contestant to get through the Eliminator was declared the winner. Their prize?
A place in the next round to do it all again.
Unforgettable theme tune
The theme was a soft rock-style guitar song which no one alive in the 90s will be able to forget. It brought families racing to their sofas, much like the Romans of the real Gladiator days, eager to laugh at fellow members of the public being thrashed by Jet or Cobra, or occasionally to cheer as an ‘ordinary’ human being managed to get one over on Warrior or Rhino. Nothing could beat the excitement as the opening credits faded and gave way to the gladiators themselves racing on, jogging past the camera in their pre-game sports jackets and waving or making ‘tough’ gestures to the audience at home.
Presented by Ulrika Jonsson and ex-professional footballer John Fashanu, the show also had a set of cheerleaders called G-Force, a referee and a commentator, much like a genuine sporting event. It also made temporary stars of the gladiators themselves. Some, like swimmer Sharron Davies, came from a professional sporting background before joining the Gladiator team, others were recruited from nowhere for their good looks as well as their athletic prowess. Female gladiators had to look muscular but pretty in a bikini-style outfit, while their male counterparts usually had skin tight all-in-ones which showed off their rippling pectorals. Each one had a distinct character, like love-to-hate-him Wolf, who regularly got in referee John Anderson’s bad books by throwing a tantrum if things didn’t go his way, Jet, the one all the men drooled over, and the ‘nice’ tough guy, Saracen.
Scandal and intrigue
The characters were generally adored by their Saturday-night-telly-fans, who loved to gossip about the latest Gladiator result over coffee at work on a Monday morning. The show was not without scandal and intrigue though, including speculation about relationships between some of the gladiators (Trojan and Zodiac had a child together in 1997), romances between gladiators and presenters (Hunter and Ulrika anyone?) and disgraced gladiators who were discovered to be taking steroids (Shadow was fired from the show in 1995). Phew! The show was pre-reality tv, but provided the British public a similar level of scandal to get their teeth into whilst perusing the Sunday morning tabloids each week.
Sadly, Gladiators went off-air in the year 2000. A revival in 2008 only lasted a year, proving that Gladiators was yet another show which could not survive outside of the 90s bubble. However we can’t argue that the British lust for gawping at those with athletic prowess on a Saturday evening whilst lounging on our sofas gorging ourselves on Chinese takeaways is a thing of the past. Similar tv shows exist today which show that nothing has really changed.
Total wipeout anybody? Ninja Warrior? We still love a tough guy!