James Delingpole James Delingpole

Gladiators was never good TV

Plus: the hideous virus that is The Traitors

However much Bradley Walsh is being paid to electroshock some life into this corpse, it's not enough: Giant, Bradley Walsh and Myles Harris in BBC1's Gladiators reboot. Image: BBC / © Hungry Bear Media Ltd

I’m sure there’s a Portuguese word which describes ‘enforced nostalgia for a thing you never enjoyed in the first place’. Whatever it is, it applies in spades to BBC1’s reboot of Gladiators, which we’re now told was one of the landmarks of 1990s Saturday TV entertainment but which I don’t recall fondly one bit, despite having a child who would have been just the right age to enjoy it.

What I do remember was the desperate contrivance of it all. The Fawn, I recall, was invited to go with our boy the Rat to write up a feature on the very first show and interview the stars. She came back traumatised. Her head throbbed with Queen’s excruciating ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ thumping on auto-repeat; she kept having flashbacks to nightmare visions of giant foam hands thrusting towards the girders of some remote, garishly lit indoor arena; worst of all, though, was the unutterable, grinding boredom. From this threadbare material she was expected to write up a piece hailing Gladiators as the next big thing.

All TV is lies and artifice. But with Gladiators it’s just so transparent

Which, of course, it duly became. But that’s more a reflection of how the hype machine works than on the product’s intrinsic qualities. Each show, if you study it carefully, is a Leni Riefenstahl-esque masterclass in manufactured excitement: the jets of flame from the arena floor, the various gladiators prancing forth then pausing to deliver their rehearsed teeth snarls and beef hunk poses (Blue Steel, Le Tigre, Magnum, etc.), cameras tracking across an excitable audience brandishing homemade placards celebrating gladiators they don’t know from Adam.

Just think about that last detail for a moment. Sure, given a few more episodes, it’s likely that the latest batch of Gladiators will become as a big a household name as their 1990s predecessors Wolf, Cobra, Nightshade, et al.

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