Posts Tagged ‘It’s a Royal Knockout’

Much talk this week of the Royal Family’s various TV appearances, both fictional and otherwise. I refer, of course, to a new series of The Crown (don’t watch it myself, but my partner enjoys it) and also the Duke of York’s spectacularly misjudged come-clean interview on Newsnight. You have a choice between a touch of class and something distinctly touched by the sordid. The latter interview has been widely decried for bringing the family into public disrepute.

Back in the 1980s it was all a bit less full-contact. The idea of something remotely like The Crown was unimaginable, while all it took to embarrass the Queen was… Well, apparently it all started when Prince Edward failed to meet the entry requirements for the Commandos, forcing him to consider alternative career choices. He decided to go into showbiz (honestly, this is a tale in and of itself) and ended up showing his independence and willing to throw off the shackles of his upbringing by, er, mostly making TV shows about his own family.

One of these was a charity version of the slapstick game show It’s A Knockout, which was only marginally reimagined: his version, officially entitled The Grand Knockout Tournament but known to most folk at the time as It’s a Royal Knockout, featured teams of celebrities led by peripheral members of the Royal Family. This thing is still available to view on the internet, and the intervening decades have done little to reduce its power to gobsmack. It is one of the most surreal and bizarre things you will ever see, up there with the Star Wars Holiday Special and The Naked Jungle. Attempting to review it is essentially pointless. Simply describing it is enough, and so this is what I have done below. I swear it is all true.


01:00. After some low-budget videotape wizardry and a prefatory voice-over, we get our first real sense of worlds violently colliding as the proceedings are introduced by boy soprano Aled Jones, Carry On star Barbara Windsor, and Rowan Atkinson, who appears to be in character as Blackadder. It is hard to tell whether his look of disdain for the proceedings is part of the performance or genuine. He makes it clear we are about to watch people playing silly games and repeatedly falling over. I think we would have quickly worked this out for ourselves.

03:00. Atkinson introduces Les Dawson, Su Pollard, Paul Daniels and Stuart Hall. The best you can say about this lot is that Les Dawson was a very funny and much-loved entertainer, and Mark Gatiss chose Pollard’s version of ‘Come to Me, I am Woman’ as one of his Desert Island Discs. This being 1980s light entertainment, it almost goes without saying that one of the hosts (in this case, Hall) went on to do time for sex offences.

04:20. The teams come on. First on is Prince Andrew, in a mint-green mock-tudor outfit. He seems to be really enjoying it. Then it’s his (fairly) new bride, Fergie, in blue. Thirdly, Prince Edward, in mustard, and finally, in red, Princess Anne. Each of them is leading a gaggle of mostly minor celebrities, all in Ye Olde English outfits.

06:00. Hall takes over hosting duties and brown-noses with the royals for a bit. There is some unexpected trash-talk from Fergie. Princess Anne is clearly fighting hard to retain whatever shreds of dignity she can keep her hands on, which is commendable if somewhat futile in the circumstances.

09:45. Game One: which is apparently entitled ‘Call Out the Guard’. Princess Anne plays her joker, as does Fergie. The introduction seems badly fluffed but this basically boils down to celebrities dressed as castle guards operating capstans to winch cannon across the lawn. Just to give you an insight into the calibre of the teams, representing Princess Anne in this event are Emyln Hughes, Jackie Stewart and Cliff Richard.

13:15. After a hard-fought event, Gary Lineker’s skirt falls off. He is wearing stockings.

13:45. Hall introduces the judges: the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Gloucester, the Duke of Roxburgh and the Duke of Abercorne (no, me neither). They look appropriately embarrassed but seem to be trying to make the best of it.

15:00. The scores are delivered by Paul Daniels. Princess Anne storms into an early lead.

17:10. We are treated to the spectacle of Hollywood movie star Christopher Reeve, dressed as a jester, being interviewed by Les Dawson. Maybe there is some strange and mysterious power in the institution of the monarchy after all.

18:45. Game Two, Heat One. Reeve is now making his way across a greasy pole suspended over a tank of water while Tom Jones and Jenny Agutter throw foam-rubber hams at him.

22:00. Game Three. Former heptathlete and future Gladiator (‘Nightshade’, if memory serves) Judy Simpson wins her heat in a game which involves hopping away from cricketer Viv Richards, who is dressed as a headless ghost. A much-medalled Australian sprinter does rather less well. Something to be said for being a multi-disciplinarian, I suppose.

23:45. The scoring for this game seems very complicated, and most of the participants are obscure proper athletes. That’s not what we’re here for. Prince Andrew wins in the end. Fergie is leading overall.

25:50. The next game is apparently sponsored by McDonald’s. Come to think of it, Game Two was sponsored by Asda. How did this get on the BBC? Power of the monarchy again, I suppose.

27:00. Game Four involves using a wrecking-ball to knock over dummy knights while blindfolded. Gary Lineker has got dressed and is back for this one. It is less fun than it sounds, but watching Lineker nearly get flattened when the ball swings back at him has its moments of interest. He scores five in the end.

31:00. Someone called Walter Payton, who is clearly only here to help them flog the show in the States, crushes Lineker by scoring a maximum eight. I wonder if he was cheating.

32:30. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, guiding Edward’s team’s blindfolded knight, shouts ‘Hard! Hard! Hard! Hard!’ a lot at Duncan Goodhew. This makes me think about the opera singer in a different light, to be honest. Goodhew scores six.

35:00. It is quite poignant how clueless Meat Loaf proves to be at this game, although the guidance from comedian/sex therapist Pamela Stephenson is hardly first rate. A late surge sees them score seven in the end. Fergie still in the overall lead.

37:15. Game Two, Heat Two. Toyah Wilcox and a very young-looking John Cleese throw foam-rubber hams at the cricketer Sunil Gavaskar. I never expected to be typing that sentence when I woke up this morning. Les Dawson suggests Anthony Andrews’ performance resembles ‘a palsied frog’. I do miss him.

40:30. Game Five is sponsored by Canada Life. A riff on Romeo and Juliet, involving crossing a pond and climbing a rope to deliver a rose. Gutsy performance from Jane Seymour as Juliet from Fergie’s team, but Anneka Rice gets a time penalty for not using the rope. Strict judging here in the circumstances.

44:00. Tom Jones appears in tights, competing against Gary McGuigan. Jones is let down by Sheena Easton’s inability to climb out of a pond unassisted. Hall interviews him anyway. In the circumstances the interview is rather anodyne. Fergie and Princess Anne are now tying for the lead.

48:00. Game Six, sponsored by Harrods. This is basically an elimination race, run in heats by men in especially ridiculous costumes. Prince Andrew plays his joker. Another complicated scoring system here. At least the royals seem to be enjoying themselves.

Thinks: ‘At least this is the most embarrassing thing I will ever do on TV.’ History will prove him wrong.

52:30. There are frankly astonishing levels of cheating in this game. Prince Andrew, clearly a man with a strong moral core, demands a stewards’ enquiry. You can see the outrage and fury in his eyes when it is denied. It boils down to a fancy-dress running race between Emlyn Hughes and Steve Cram. Hughes muscles his way into first place. You need a degree in algebra to work out the final score though.

56:30. Game Two, Heat Three. Viv Richards and Jane Seymour are on ham duty, while amongst those falling in the water are George Lazenby and Michael Palin. Lazenby proves unexpectedly good at not actually falling in.

1:00:30. Game Seven, brought to us by the Britannia Building Society. Celebrities dressed as vegetables are pursued by other celebrities dressed as chefs. Princess Anne plays her joker, not because she particularly wants to but because she’s been told she has to play it at some point and there aren’t that many games left (thank God). She is seemingly distinctly unenthused by the whole thing.

1:03:00. Emlyn Hughes body-checks Griff Rhys Jones, who is dressed as a leek. It’s a miracle there were any celebrities left standing by the end of 1987.

1:04:40. John Travolta grapples with Toyah Wilcox’s onion costume. I imagine watching this must be a bit like what it feels like when you smoke meth.

1:06:20. We now know the answer to the question of whether Meat Loaf can run faster than an Olympic gold medallist, if the athlete is forced to wear a foam rubber vegetable suit. The fact it is ‘no’ should surprise few amongst us, I think. The event is halted when it becomes clear Meat Loaf is never, ever going to catch her. Big points for Princess Anne. She is building up a sizeable lead.

1:07:30. Game Eight is a dull one which may be why they couldn’t find a sponsor. That said, the royals are actually joining in for a change. Won in the end by Steve Podborski, who isn’t really a celebrity but may well help Canadian sales.

1:11:15. Game Two, Heat Four – the last one, and not before time. George Lazenby throws hams at Mel Smith and a bunch of international sportspeople only Wikipedia still remembers. Dawson reuses a line about ‘those legs look like they should have a message tied to them’, which was okay the first time but suffers a bit on repetition.

1:14:30. The last game, which is a fake joust using unwieldy giant hobby-horses and a lot of pyrotechnics. It turns out to be mercifully brief and unexpectedly dull.

1:15:55. A quick shot of Richard Branson lurking in the crowd. Perhaps he is a substitute celebrity.

1:16:10. Princess Anne is declared the winner. She looks more annoyed than excited by this.

1:17:00. One thing you have to say about Rowan Atkinson, he’s a trouper. His script for the prize-giving is about as bad as the rest of it, but you can barely make out his indifference.

1:18:00. And that’s it. It’s probably worth mentioning some of the celebrity participants who barely appeared on camera in the course of this thing: people like Margot Kidder, Nicholas Lyndhurst and Nigel Mansell. Then again I doubt those who are still with us are much given to lament their lack of prominence.


Well, needless to say, the Queen was not amused by all of this undignified capering about, and nor was Prince Charles (rumour has it that Princess Anne was basically forced to take part after Prince Charles vetoed Princess Diana’s appearance). There were ructions at the Palace, much tighter controls on the media appearances of the younger royals were instituted, and Prince Edward’s subsequent TV career mostly consisted of rather more sober documentaries about royal history, programmes about real tennis, and a soap opera set in the House of Commons wine bar. But at least we have this one shining moment of complete stupidity to remind us of what we’d lose if the republicans ever get their way.

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