2002 was a special year for many reasons. It was the year where most of my favourite school memories took place. It was also the year when the first dedicated episode of Takeshi’s Castle aired on UK’s Challenge (available on various digital services) and a whole new world of TV was opened up to myself and millions of other Brits.
Previously the only experience that the UK of Takeshi’s Castle were random features within the rather tongue-in-cheek show on ITV called “Tarrant on TV” (for those too young to remember, this was a show that aired in the mid 90s that highlighted the weird and wonderful TV from around the world) but on the 9th November 2002 it was the first time that a full, if a bit chopped, episode was shown on British TV. It was hosted by the brilliant Craig Charles whose northern humour and infectious laugh often completed the show and coined playground phrases like “in the drink” and the ever brilliant insult, “Wazzock” (if you weren’t called this or didn’t call someone this in the 00s then, quite frankly, you were not cool)
Takeshi’s Castle was the show that subsequent Japanese gameshows and international variations such as Total Wipeout tried to be but couldn’t replicate. Filmed between the mid 80s and early 90s, I believe part of the appeal was the fact that even though it was new to us, the feel was still quite old and nostalgic. Some of the hairdos and clothes on the show… it is nice to know that not even Japan escaped the horrors of the permed hair and giant glasses.
But of course, the best part of the show were the games themselves. I spent many an hour clutching my sides, doubled over in pain and trying not to wet myself at some of the people trying to pass some of the games (some of which were damn near impossible… who remembers the contortionist’s nightmare Indestructiball?) My all-time favourites had to include The Gauntlet:
And my all time favourite, Avalanche which never failed to have me in tears- check out the third guy in the video!
I believe a big talking point at school was wondering how did a show get away with being so ridiculously dangerous; it was brilliantly entertaining of course but it was clear this was a programme where any injuries were real and obvious. Broken limbs, lost teeth, concussions- these were reported to be regular occurrences. The word “insane” was passed around a lot but I guess that the Health and Safety regulations in Japan are different to that in the UK. Even now you can see the stark difference between Japanese and British entertainment. I guess one could argue that things are somewhat more lenient with shows such as Total Wipeout and (the now defunct) 101 Ways To Leave a Gameshow. However, one could argue that technically they aren’t filmed in the UK (at least Total Wipeout isn’t) and that may be down to Health and Safety. Then again, without Takeshi’s Castle, those shows probably wouldn’t have made it past the conception stage as producers would have slammed it as being 1) stupid and 2) not going to be popular enough to warrant a series. So we have to thank it for that (not so much for 101 Ways… but that’s another story not for this site)
Despite a blip where they tried airing a new series with Dick and Dom as the new voice overs (not a patch on Craig Charles) Takeshi’s Castle maintained a staple as one of the most popular shows on Challenge and encouraged the producers enough in bringing over more Japanese gameshows to air including the likes of Ninja Warrior (or Sasuke as it is known in Japan) and Ultimate Banzuke. Outside of anime, Takeshi’s Castle was my first venture into Japanese TV and entertainment. It opened up a world of comedy that, at that time, I never knew existed and it made me crave more. It aided and abetted in my love of Japan and I thank Challenge for that.
It saddened me to recently find out that Brad Lesley, who was known as Animal in the show, died of kidney failure in April this year. He was my favourite of all the “characters” within Takeshi’s Castle. Whilst we reminisce about how great this show was/is, let us remember some of Animal’s finest moments in this small compilation:
So now we ask- what are your memories of Takeshi’s Castle? Share in the comments section below!