I couldn’t face the challenge of the champions, didn’t have the courage of a hero or the will and the skill, but I did feel the power of the Gladiators every Saturday night. Beefed up men and women would hit each other with spongy sticks, climb up rock walls and chase each other around an arena in lycra, and I loved it.
The show began in 1992 and was presented by the unlikely couple of Ulrika Jonsson and John Fashanu, a strange choice of presenter as he was still a footballer at the time, and a mediocre one at that. Today’s equivalent would be Titus Bramble giving it a go, and with his terrible concentration levels that could only be a recipe for disaster.
But somehow Fash the Bash got through it, and the show would become a huge success, mainly thanks to the antics of some of the nastier Gladiators, including the legendary Wolf. His snarling, mean attitude often led to many a confrontation with the contenders, and would have to be tamed by referee John Anderson and his whistle.
The games themselves were amazing, but the warnings about not trying it at home were needless. After all, who has as a Scalextric set or loads of rings hanging from their ceiling, or a couple of giant balls to roll around in? We did used to copy a couple of games which usually involved throwing tennis balls at people, but only ended in pain.
It was also famous for the scandal surrounding it. Tales of cocaine, steroids, guns and horrific injuries flooded the national tabloids, and there was even a fling between Hunter and Ulrika. I’d love to see her other old flame Sven Goran Eriksson take on Hunter in the arena, it would be funny to see him get ripped apart for a change rather than his defences.
The show always ended with the Eliminator, which pitted the two contestants against each other in a race, and was always very exciting. After climbing up cargo nets, hurtling along a handbike and zooming down a zipline you would have to face the toughest challenge, the Travelator, which meant that even the biggest of advantages could be wiped out.
After running for eight years and featuring many spin-offs, the show ended in 2000. It was recently brought back on Sky One but struggled to live up to original’s high standards, and rather than being like a Wolf, the big man just looked like one of those scabby stray dogs you see in foreign countries.
It may be that we never see the likes of Gladiators again in this health and safety obsessed nanny state, meaning our chances of wielding a pugil stick in anger at a jacked-up beefcake are sadly over before they even had a chance to begin.