The Making of Gladiators
How did such a mega successful production like Gladiators concieved, put together and produced? London Weekend Television had the huge task of creating the £3 million production back in 1992. Producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick and their production team had to find a group of the fittest people in the UK to become Gladiators, Contenders to face them, design and build the Events and create the Gladiators Arena.
The first Gladiator try-outs took place in an army physical training center. All participants competed in series of agonising phyiscal tests that would determine who was the fittest and go on to become Gladiators. Director of the Gladiators training and top Olympic coach John Anderson, along with Tom McNab, were responsible for discovering and training the new sports stars.
The participants began the intense session with a warm-up followed by the task of climbing a rope three times as fast as possible. Some didn't have the strength to make the grade, however some did show that extra magic needed. Saracen managed to climb the rope three times, without using his legs, faster than one person could climb and come down the rope once!
The next task was the beam jumps. The beam had to be cleared 60 times within 2 minutes. Stamina, rhythm, speed, skill and co-ordination were all required to pass this task successfully. Participants then had 90 seconds to do as many bar squats as possible and sprint 150m in the fastest possible time. Next came a real test of upper-body strength as each person had to lift their whole body over a beam 10 feet above the ground. Some found it just too tough.
After yet more physically enduring tasks and a video interview, the day finished with a gruelling army assault course which consisted of cargo nets, climbing walls and sprints. Each task during the day had a counter, each participant scored a number and points were allocated on the basis of that. This helped to identify the people who were well-equipped for the kind of activities that they would be meeting on the Gladiators.
Finally our Gladiators had been chosen but at this point were without an identity. The producers discussed ideas with each of the Gladiators to find something fitting to the style show and the personality of the individual.
Next up it was the search for the Contenders. LWT recieved around 22,000 applications per series of the show. 16,000 hopefuls were invited to the try out at 10 venues across the UK and only 36 Contenders would be selected to take part in the TV show. The production team put 500 potential Contenders a day through their paces.
Would-be Contenders had face a rigorous series of tests before they were even considered for entry. This began with a 800 metres run on a treadmill. The men had 2 minutes 30 seconds to complete the course, women had 3 minutes. If successful they had a two minute break before moving onto the next test.
After the two minute break it was onto the straight arm pull-ups. On command each Contender had to hang by their arms from a horizontal bar with an underhand grip and pull their body up so that their chin was above the bar. The men had to do 10 chin-ups, the women had 5 to complete.
One minute later participants had to traverse a 15ft monkey ladder and then climb a 20ft rope and carefull lower themselves. Women had to do this exercise once and had one minute in which to complete it. Men had to climb the rope twice, again within a one minute. No rest is allowed between the ladder and the rope.
If the would-be Contender had made it to this point, it was now time for a pugil stick fight to test their aggression. For 30 seconds one Contender would attack, while the other defended. The positions are then reversed. A 30 second rest was allowed between bouts.
Even if they passed all of these tests the judges decided whether a Contender had reached the appropriate standard. The final test is an interview in front of the camera. Some of the best Contenders could lose their nerve at this point, but performing in front of an audience is all part of the Gladiators experience. A lively and interesting personality was the best quality to have to make it onto the show.
Design & Build
With the Gladiators and Contenders now chosen it was time for the Events and Arena set to be designed and built. Kimpton Walker Ltd, an established specialist theatrical scenery construction company, were appointed to transform the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham into the high-tech Gladiators Arena.
The Gladiator Arena started life as a small scale plastic model. Three skilled designers worked for three days on the mini-set, which was detailed even to the point of calculating every ridge and crack in The Wall. The actual Arena set, which was to become one hundred times larger. Plans drawn up by Quentin Chases, Programme Designer, were to be followed within a millionth of an inch to ensure both an efficient construction and safety level.
With the design stage completed, Kimpton Walker Ltd and a production crew of 75 people set about creating the spectacular Arena. Every detail had to be taken into consideration. The casing of the lights that were embedded into the Arena floor had to withstand the weight of the heavy Atlaspheres rolling about on top of them. The Elminator slide in the first series weighed two tons and required the floor to be specially strengthended to take its weight.
Each of the Events had to be carefully constructed with saftey as the prime objective. For Atlaspheres solid steel balls were welded together and afterwards every single piece of metal had to be filed down and painted. They even arrived in the Arena giftwrapped! The Wall had to specifically follow every ridge and handhold that was included on the original plan with every crack filled in. In the electrical workshop the 786 lamps that were used in the show had to be tested and enough cabling to rewire a whole street of houses had to be wound for transportation.
Of paramount importance to the production team was the safety of both Gladiators and Contenders. Each piece of equipment had to be tested over and over again. Nigel Lythgoe was the first to give the prototype Atlasphere a tentative test drive. Still in one piece, he moved on to the padding surrounding the four Swingshot towers to give a thumbs up. Specialists in mountaineering equipment conducted rigorous tests on the climbing harnesses and each safety line was adjusted to the weight of the competitor.
A sophisticated lighting grid was suspended above the Arena floor as well as a state of the art sound system. With the light and sound system rigged, the Arena floor was laid to conceal 25 miles of cabling and using a staggering two million screws.
With just 24 hours before the first show of the first series, it was realised that the Arena floor, capable of holding a weight of one ton, wouldn't support the slide on the Eliminator. The slide weighing an incredible two tons meant the floor had to be taken up and strengthened.
With the Events and Arena finally in place it was now time for Costume Designer Stephen Adnitt to sketch each of the Gladiator costumes and insignia. From the sketches they then had to be produced to fit the individual Gladiator and Contender. Even before a series had been completed ideas for exciting new Events to help keep the show fresh were always being thought up. Event designers such as John Coombes sketched and submitted their ideas to the Gladiators Producers and Kimpton Walker with the intention that their creation would be brought into reality and hopefully test the competitors in the next series.
Photographs of the Gladiators were now needed for press, merchandising and the all important Christmas card! The Gladiators were all set to become overnight stars so it was important to have up to date, good quality and a wide selection of photographs.
Just days before the filming of the series begins, the Gladiators and Contenders are given only three days to be trained on the equipment. During the training days Gladiators and Contenders are also kept apart as much as possible in order to increase the rivalry and competitive spirit during the show.
It's hard to imagine that Jet struggled to master the rings on Hang Tough but through persistence she went on to become one of the most established Gladiators at this event. A Gladiator doesn't know the meaning of the word quit. Meanwhile Brian Hall, a climbing expert, helped many of the Gladiators and Contenders to gain confidence and skill on The Wall. He explained how the ropes holding each of the competitors were very secure and would hold a weight of one tonne!
In later series ('96 and '97), the Gladiators team were sent to their Training Camp in Mauritus. This helped the Gladiators team to bond before the filming and improve their skills, and of course tan, in the sun. These were also broadcast on the show in mini segements called Time Out which helped the fans to get to know the Gladiators better.
The recording of an entire series of Gladiators was completed in only one month, usually during the summer. Two shows were filmed each day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to a capacity audience of around 7,000 fans at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. During set changes the audience was kept amused by compere Bobby Bragg. He invited children to dance with the G-Force cheerleaders, Duel with Shadow, climb The Wall against Jet and Scorpio or have a Tug-o-War against various other Gladiators. If all else failed the Mexican Wave always helped create an electric atmosphere in the Arena. The NIA was the scene of much sweat and tears between the Gladiators and Contenders. The filming schedule was very intense so the Gladiators, cast and crew were allocated a few days off to relax, recover from injuries or even hit the gym. Each show was broadcast to millions of viewers every Saturday evening on ITV.
Gladiators was relaunched on Sky 1 for two series between 2008-2009, although the filming of these shows were vastly different to the original series.