Robot Wars (BBC2, 1998-2003, 2016-2018, Five, 2003-2004)
This is the show where a wide variety of robots battled it out to determine a champion. The first series was presented by Jeremy Clarkson (and we wouldn’t see him interacting with game show contestants again for another two decades), along with Phillipa Forrester (who by this point had left Children’s BBC and was also presenting Tomorrow’s World around the same time) who would usually talk to the teams backstage as they prepared for their big moment.
Various teams who had built a robot would see it battle against a rival in the arena. But beware, because the house robots could interfere, and if they weren’t lucky, they would receive a good crushing from the likes of Sir Killalot! It was always rather awkward watching someone’s hard work that must have taken months to prepare go up in smoke in just seconds, it was an unforgiving experience.
One thing that attracted me to watching Robot Wars was the somewhat breathless commentary provided by Jonathan Pearce. I remember listening to his football commentaries on radio station Capital Gold in the 90s, and I was rather amused that he used the same style for this show and would greet a robot exploding in the same way that he would a Crystal Palace equaliser. Unbelievable!
Robot Wars began to be something of a ratings success for BBC2. After a while the presenting line-up changed to Craig Charles (along with his poems) and Julia Reed, the editions were extended to 45 minutes, and the series got longer too, as there seemed to suddenly be about 17 qualifying heats with more and more teams wanting their robots to take part. There was also a big trophy on offer for the overall series winner.
By the early-2000s Robot Wars had become popular enough with viewers for there to be a spin-off series on digital channel BBC Choice, special editions featuring tournaments including robots from around the world, regular repeats, and merchandise including DVDs of highlights, books, and much more. Then, something rather unexpected happened.
Having exhausted the format somewhat, it was still something of a surprise when BBC2 cancelled Robot Wars after six series. In 2003, Five, not wanting to miss an opportunity to have a successful show, decided to poach Robot Wars, seemingly due to popular demand. Charles and Pearce stayed on, joined by new co-host Jayne Middlemiss, and it was now an hour long. However, Five didn’t treat the show very well, and it moved further back in the schedule, with some editions being shown at 1pm, before it was cancelled again. Maybe viewers really had tired of the destruction by this point.
In 2016 after a break of almost 15 years BBC2 decided to revive the show again with yet another new pair of presenters, maybe as an attempt to win over a new generation of viewers, but I never really watched this version. And then recently it was announced that after three more series it had been cancelled for a third time. It seems that the robots have now been deactivated for good.