“Do you have the speed the strength the heart to be a winner? It’s not for beginners. Deep down in your soul. Are you a gladiator?” (Stars From Little Creations, 2020).
The hit 90s Gladiators show is making a huge comeback this year. The family entertainment show is set to return on BBC One by Hungry Bear Media and MGM Television UK(Gladiators, 2023). Prepare yourself for a whole new generation of Gladiators.
Originally airing on ITV between 1992-2000 with each series containing eight heats, four quarter finals, two semi-finals, and a grand finale. Contestants compete against each other and the mighty Gladiators in various sport-like events. Famous events include Duel, Hang Touch, Pyramid, and The Wall. At the end of each episode, contestants would go head-to-head in the famous Eliminator.
Gladiators was filmed at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham where nearly one and a half million people came to watch and usually attracted fourteen million viewers! (Gladiators, 2023)
Taking you back to 1992:
The year it all began. The debut of 12 ‘super humans’ otherwise known as the Gladiators were mostly sportsmen and women in 1992. Later, many bodybuilders became Gladiators. Only four gladiators Cobra, Saracen, Wolf, and Lightning remained until the final series.
The first series was presented by Ulrika Johnson and John Fashanu who became the regular presenters for many years until Jeremy Guscott took over from John Fashanu in 1997 till 2000 (Gladiators, 2023). John Sacs gave commentary for the events and Olympic coach John Anderson was referee.
Most episodes are available to watch on YouTube for free. Click here to watch the first episode of the Gladiators: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv4VcUfGq74&list=PL1XgLXtRHrrQ-vjMyupTsJNjxQaqszKZP
How did they select Gladiators?
The production team had the difficult but thrilling job of finding the fittest people in the UK to become Gladiators. Not only that, but they also had to find “the contenders to face them, design and build the Events and create the Gladiators arena” (Gladiators, 2023).
The process to become a Gladiator was challenging and tough for the participants. Every participant had to compete in a series of physical tests to see who would come out on top. Tests such as rope climbing, beam jumps, bar squats, cargo nets, climbing walls, sprints, and they even had to lift their whole body over a beam of 10 feet above the ground! (Gladiators, 2023).
“Saracen managed to climb the rope three times, without using his legs, faster than one person could climb and come down the rope at once” (Gladiators, 2023).
Each participant had to undertake a video interview. After, the producers chose the gladiators. Every gladiator had an identity which needed to fit in with their style and personality(Gladiators, 2023).
Do I have any favourite Gladiators?
Hands down… Cobra was my favourite Gladiator. Cobra was the funniest of the Gladiators, he would always crack jokes and mess about on the show. I liked that he didn’t take himself too seriously, he was just there having fun. One of my favourite moments was in the 1993 series every show he came out with a sheep (a stuffed animal not a real one!)
Cobra was the king of high kicks when he entered the arena! You knew when Cobra came out it was going to be an entertaining one. He was very agile and fast compared to the other male Gladiators.
When it comes to female Gladiators, I always struggled picking a favourite but if I had to pick one it would be Lightning. She was so exciting to watch especially on Hang Tough. Lightning was the Queen of Hang Tough and she was never beaten on the event in any UK series (Gladiators, 2023). She was ‘simply the best’ (her theme tune when she entered the arena) (Gladiators, 2023).
There was a Gladiator for everyone, and thousands were inspired by them. They have been known to be real life superheroes!
Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolf?
I bet if you asked anyone about the show Gladiators, they would instantly think of the famous baddie Gladiator, Wolf. Not only was the show about competing and sports, but it also had to be entertaining, and Wolf gave that. Since series one, Wolf was known as the baddie of the Gladiators and probably one of the most popular too. Wolf hated losing and would pull all sorts of mean tricks to the contenders, audience, presenters, and even the referee. I’m pretty sure he has ripped up banners from audience members. Michael van Wijik (Wolf) took on this ‘baddie’ persona for entertainment and he was absolutely brilliant.
Moving onto the contenders:
Just like the Gladiator selection, the production team needed to find contenders to go against the Gladiators. They received “around 22,000 applications per series of the show”(Gladiators, 2023). About 16,000 were invited to try-out and only thirty-six contenders would be selected to be on the show (Gladiators, 2023). They had to face a series of physical tests and if they passed all of them, they faced an interview in front of a camera to show their personality.
One of the most rememberable contenders was female winner of the 1994 UK series Eunice Hunhart. A proud Liverpudlian who was very determined to make it all the way to the final. She even became a Gladiator (Blaze) in 1995 for the live shows. Since her time on Gladiators, Eunice is a stunt double for likes of Angelina Jolie and has appeared in over 100 films as a stunt double (Calderwood, 2022).
Twenty-seven events appeared during 1992-2000 of the UK gladiators (Gladiators, 2023).Some events included many Gladiators – I’m sure you can imagine how tough that was. Every event was designed and built to perfection and there were many challenges to ensure everything fit into the arena. The design team made a small plastic model of the events to make sure every inch was accurate (Gladiators, 2023). One of the well-known events ‘The Wall’, where contenders had to climb a ten-metre-high wall while a Gladiator chases them to try and stop them from getting to the top (Gladiators, 2023). The small model of The Wall ‘was detailed even to the point of calculating every ridge and crack in The Wall’ (Gladiators, 2023).
My Favourite Events:
I enjoyed watching the contenders either succeed or struggle in The Wall and Powerball. I would yell at the TV saying I could do a better job even though I was a child! A lot of the events were dangerous and definitely wouldn’t pass the health and safety check today! Some of my favourites were of course the more dangerous ones like, Pole Axe, Pyramid, Hang Tough, and Pendulum.
In 1994, Pole Axe was introduced where the contender and Gladiator climbed a 10.4 metre pole while the pole revolved creating a spiral route (Gladiators, 2023). The first to climb and reach the top must press the button which retracts the other opponent who falls from a 10-metre drop… with no harness!
Why did I enjoy it?
When I was younger, I was very sporty and competitive, so I loved anything to do with either of those things. In 2008-2009 Gladiators did make a brief return on Sky One which was a revival of the original show. Being a kid, at the time I watched the revival and didn’t know there was an original Gladiators show until my parents told me. I did like the revival when I younger but ever since I saw the original, the revival does not live up to it AT ALL. I watched the original Gladiators on Challenge or YouTube. The remake did have some issues mainly the venue which wasn’t an arena, so it lost the whole exciting atmosphere of the original show.
I was fascinated by the Gladiators; they were like superheroes. I enjoyed the thrill of the competition!
In May 2020, a podcast all about the show Gladiators emerged with former Gladiator Jet, Journalist David Blackmore, and producer Paul Noddings. The podcast is joined by special guests including the original gladiators, producers, contenders and many more. The podcast celebrates the show’s success thirty years later by hearing stories from guests. (Blackmore & Youdale, 2022).
I’ve listened to every podcast; I’ve enjoyed hearing the stories directly from the Gladiators. I was lucky enough to be involved as an audience member of the thirty-year anniversary special episode where almost every gladiator was on the call! From this I have spoken to a few Gladiators on Instagram… shoutout to Cobra for following me!
Link to GladPod: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/gladpod
Nothing is as good as the original. So, the original Gladiators will always be the best. But I’m looking forward to 2023 comeback of the Gladiators and can’t wait to see what they do. It would be very cool if the original Gladiators are involved somehow!
Filming starts 1st June – 11th June and I’m lucky enough to have received free tickets to go!
One last time:
“Do you have the speed, the strength, the heart to be a winner? It’s not for beginners. Deep down in your soul. Are you a Gladiator?” (Stars From Little Creations, 2020)
Blackmore, D. Youdale, D. (Hosts). (2022, October, 10). The One With The 30th Anniversary. [Audio podcast]. GladPod. https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/gladpod
Calderwood, R. (2022, August 29). What happened to Gladiators’ Eunice? Contestant turned pro became Hollywood stunt double. The Mirror. https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/what-happened-gladiators-eunice-contestant-27856206
Gladiators. (2023). Gladiators is back in 2023. Gladiators TV. https://www.gladiatorstv.com/gladiators/bbc/
Gladiators. (2023). Classic Gladiators. Gladiators TV.https://www.gladiatorstv.com/gladiators/classic-itv/
Gladiators. (2023). Events. Gladiators TV. https://www.gladiatorstv.com/events/
O’Shea. (2017, March 2). UK Gladiators – Series 1 1992 – Heat 1 [Video].Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sv4VcUfGq74&list=PL1XgLXtRHrrQ-vjMyupTsJNjxQaqszKZP
Stars From Little Creations. (2020, May 10). ITV Gladiators Theme Tune [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tr8dEiuVd4
Images sourced via Facebook.
Written by Beth Nethercott