Saturday, 15 July 1972

Plot

The episode starts with a fight in the woods, between two cousins, Garet and Gawain, who are continuing a long-standing feud between their fathers over an inheritance.

When Arthur interrupts them, Garet admits, “It all starts from nothing.” He and Gawain don’t really hate each other – they just get carried away.

But Garet and Gawain are the leaders of their villages, whom Arthur charged with keeping the Saxons to the North at bay, not fighting each other. Mightily displeased, Arthur banishes them both to Gaul. Each cousin offers to go there alone, to stop the fighting, then they squabble again, over who should have the right to make this sacrifice! Finally they work together, taking Arthur, Kai and Llud by surprise, pushing them off their horses, and escaping.

When Arthur and Kai give chase, Kai suggests a bet: Arthur’s dagger against Kai’s new spear, that Kai catches one of the brothers before Arthur.

Arthur ambushes and catches Garet with minimal effort, while Kai rides after Gawain, and takes him prisoner. Both miscreants react with oddly good-natured acceptance when they are caught, and – this time – their hands are tied, to stop them getting away again.

Now Kai wants to know who won the bet. Seeming to know that the answer will cause trouble, Llud is reluctant to tell him, but Kai won’t let it rest, and Llud has to admit that Arthur won by a narrow margin.

Kai resents giving up his new spear, but he resents it even more when Arthur won’t accept it. Kai launches it over their heads; Arthur observes that he must be tired, then throws his own spear, which lands a little further away.

Llud tries to get them moving on, but they ignore him, challenging each other for both distance and accuracy, in spear throwing. Their exchanges acquire a definite edge, and the contest becomes more hazardous as they test out each other’s shield arms, then joust, then belabour each other with their spears.

Amused at first, Garet and Gawain give each other increasingly puzzled looks. They are beginning to wonder why they are the ones tied up. Llud is getting worried, but Arthur laughs off his concerns – “It’s just a game, Llud” – while Kai continues to rise to Arthur’s baiting.

Arthur knocks Kai’s spear from his hand; Kai draws his axe. Arthur throws away his spear and draws his sword. They fight again, until they break each other’s shields. Then they simply ride at each other, their weapons crashing together.

Arthur cuts Kai’s stirrup, unhorsing him. Arthur dismounts, and they continue fighting, sword against axe. Kai disarms Arthur. Arthur runs to get one of Garet and Gawain’s confiscated weapons – a short sword – and Kai throws his axe away and asks for the other, to make the contest more even.

Both wounded, they fight on until both are disarmed. Then they throttle each other, and – locked together – roll down a bank into a stream, and struggle in the mud and water.

As Llud and the two cousins look on in dismay, Arthur picks up Kai’s axe, and brings the blade down into the mud, where Kai’s head lay a split second before. Kai gets to his feet, pulls a knife from his belt, and stares at Arthur.

The sight of Kai’s axe embedded in the mud finally brings Arthur to his senses, and they both stand down.

They climb up the bank, together, helping each other. Llud unties Garet and Gawain. Their banishment is rescinded.


Timeline

Despite being aired after “The Gift of Life”, “The Challenge” seems to have been the first of these two episodes to be filmed. It appears before “The Gift of Life” in the “Arthur of the Britons” annual-format book by Terence Feely, a German book loosely based on the series, “Konig Arthur”, and on the German DVD set.

In “The Gift of Life”, both Krist’s enquiry about a wound on Kai’s neck, given to him by Arthur, and the reference by Ulrich’s minstrel to Arthur and Kai’s great fights, suggest that the events in “The Challenge” were supposed to have occurred before those in “The Gift of Life.”

The injury suffered by Oliver Tobias while filming “The Challenge” caused a delay in completing the episode, and – as cameraman Roger Pearce acknowledges – they changed the schedule so as to keep filming.

An article in the Western Daily Press published 19 July refers to this accident as having occurred during the previous week, so "The Challenge" must have been mostly filmed in the week beginning 11 July.

Suggested shooting order so far

Arthur is Dead
Daughter of the King
The Challenge


Broadcast problems

On 11 January 1973, a letter from R.J. Simmons, Press Officer for HTV West, was published in The Stage.

Simmons was responding to a complaint that episode 3 of “Arthur of the Britons”, "The Challenge", broadcast on 20 December 1972, was difficult to understand. Simmons explained that this was because a Post Office fault caused the loss of sound during the first 8 minutes, resulting in the loss of much vital dialogue. According to the letter, several companies showed that episode again later.


Locations

Cameraman Roger Pearce confirmed that the scenes where the protagonists ride through the bracken were filmed in the Mendips. The rest of the episode was filmed in Compton Dando, at this location.


Inside information

Oliver is justifiably proud of having done all but one of his own stunts for the series, and sports a “Worldwide British Equity Registered Stuntman” sticker on the windscreen of his Ducati.

While filming stunts for “The Challenge”, he suffered a serious injury. At a meeting with fans in 2010, he said: ‘I’m lucky to be here – I nearly died during filming.’ For the sequence where Arthur has to parry spears with his shield, they had a champion javelin thrower from Bristol University standing beside the camera, hurling spears at Oliver.

Oliver thought he was young and athletic enough to jump out of the way in time, but – on one occasion – he didn’t make it. The spear glanced off the inside of his shield instead of the outside, and hit him on the back of the head. ‘When it hit me, it was like a ship running aground.’

He remembers Michael Gothard holding his head in his lap while they were waiting for the ambulance, and then waking up in Bristol Infirmary thinking he’d died and gone to heaven, and that the very pretty nurse bending over him with a gold cross dangling from her neck was an angel. He needed ten or more stitches (reports vary), and was out of action for a fortnight with concussion: ‘You feel terrible and can’t focus on anything.’

Cameraman Roger Pearce says: “I think it was late afternoon and the result of a spear being thrown; it would not have been metal but a solid rubber tipped one. But with the weight of the wooden shaft behind it, it could still wound. I seem to remember Ollie was taken off by ambulance to be checked over and there may have been a few stitches to boot! Was filming halted? No, just rearrange the call sheet and press on!”

When filming the fight in the stream, Roger recalls that they rolled down the bank a couple of times to practice, but they couldn’t get their costumes wet, or it would have been all over.

Oliver remembered that they were extremely cold by the time they finished filming the fight. In the scene following the fight, where they ride off on their separate ways, Arthur is wearing different breeches. Oliver said this was because ‘we washed our clothes, and I refused to get on a horse with a wet gusset!’


Cast notes

Both Ken Hutchinson (Gawain) and Nicky Henson have long careers in TV and film.


Re-working the legend

In Arthurian legend, Gawain is one of the greatest knights of the Round Table. His brothers, Gareth and Mordred are also knights. When Lancelot accidentally kills Gareth, the recriminations and political machinations that follow precipitate the break-up of Arthur’s Round Table, and Arthur’s death in battle with Mordred.

In “The Challenge”, Garet and Gawain’s dispute precipitates the struggle between Arthur and Kai, which prompts Gawain’s fearful speculation, “It’s to the death …” to which Llud responds, “If what you say is true, then it’s more than the death of one man. It’ll destroy the other. It will destroy this land”: echoes of “The King and the Land are one.”


Dark Age Men

Most of the commentary on this episode could easily appear in this section: the whole 25 minutes is a feast of macho posturing. The competition between Arthur and Kai starts innocently enough, but Kai is a little too anxious to learn who caught his man first, and is annoyed when Arthur says he only won because he knew Gareth and Gawain’s minds: tantamount to saying, “It wasn’t fair on you – I used my superior intellect.”

Then when Kai beats Arthur for distance with the spear-throwing contest, Arthur moves the goalposts: “It’s accuracy that counts.”

He beats Kai at hitting the target, then goes out of his way to insult Kai’s defensive capabilities:
Kai: So you have a better shield arm too, have you?
Arthur: I did not say that … To state the obvious is a tedious pastime.

Kai keeps the coolest head, while Arthur seams desperate to win at all costs; during the jousting, when Kai wounds him, drawing blood, he is clearly furious.

Though Arthur gives up the advantage of his spear, apparently for the sake of fairness, later, when he has cut Kai’s stirrup, pitching him from his horse, he says: “I wouldn’t want you to say that my horse beat you.” It sounds as if he just wants to keep fighting until he has beaten Kai in as many ways as he can; until Kai acknowledges him the better warrior.

Then Kai, with his axe, sends Arthur’s sword flying off out of reach; at this point, with no weapon in his hand, Arthur should have admitted defeat, and – if he was in his right mind – he would have. But he runs to fetch a short sword.

Now, Kai gives up his axe, in exchange for another short sword, because he can see that there is no point trying to call a halt to the fight; Arthur will not be satisfied until he has won.

It isn’t until Arthur nearly splits Kai’s head open, and Kai gets to his feet and pulls a knife from his belt – which he could have done any time when they were fighting hand-to hand – that Arthur comes to his senses.


The best laid plans …

Not tying Garet and Gawain up right from the start wasn’t one of Arthur’s best moves. As a result, Garet and Gawain’s escape plan, made up on the fly, works like a dream.

The smug look Arthur gives Garet and Gawain at the end almost hints that his fight with Kai was a deliberate attempt to teach the Garet and Gawain a lesson; to show them how they look from the outside. If so, they took the charade much too far!

And the plan to send Garet and Gawain to Gaul … well, that didn’t really work out.


Great moments

The episode is full of them.

Build-up (14) Build-up (21)

The beginning of Arthur and Kai's disagreement.

Spear contest (46)

The little flick Kai gives Arthur’s hand at 10.25 to try to get him to calm down.



Kai, standing at bay at 16:02 with only an axe, against Arthur’s spear;





The moment Arthur comes to his senses and throws the axe away, and the way they help each other back up the bank afterwards.

Quote/Unquote

Arthur: You’re a broken shield at my back.

Gawain: All those who are close by blood ties have their differences. Only holy men and cowards agree all the time.

Kai: I was pinning frogs’ legs before I could talk.
Arthur: It must have been irksome – not being able to tell anyone about it.
Kai: I can tell them about it now.

Arthur: I wouldn’t want you to say that my horse beat you.
Kai: Your horse would have a better chance.

Gawain: It’s to the death …
Llud: If what you say is true, then it’s more than the death of one man. It’ll destroy the other. It will destroy this land.


Family ties

This episode introduces a recurring theme of familial rivalry, in the persons of cousins, Garet and Gawain.

The relationship between Arthur, Kai and Llud has still not been explained, but in this episode, Llud says: “I trained you both for battle.” Then, as their contest intensifies: “had to come – now they must fight it out.”

This tells us that Llud has seen them grow up together, and been aware of this rivalry bubbling under the surface for a long time; that Arthur and Kai have fought before, probably with varying degrees of seriousness, ranging from play, through practice, to quite serious quarrels.

As it is fairly clear that Kai is older than Arthur. 1 It seems likely that Arthur has been fighting Kai for most of his life, and – probably – for most of that time, as the younger and more slightly built of the two, he has been losing: and he hasn’t liked it, which would explain why Llud thinks it “had to come.”

Their importance to each other is hinted at when Llud answers Gawain’s “It’s to the death …” with, “If what you say is true, then it’s more than the death of one man. It’ll destroy the other.”


Arthur’s wisdom

To quote Arthur hinmself, in "Arthur is Dead" - “If I fight now to prove myself, reason will have flown.” Reason certainly went on a long migration in this episode! He seems to forget that just because he is the leader, doesn’t necessarily mean he must be the strongest or most skilful fighter, and he allows himself to get so caught up in the contest that he almost kills his best friend.


The burden of command

The worry about having to keep his people safe, and sort out these squabbles between his underlings must put Arthur under a lot of pressure. Llud reminds Arthur and Kai: “This is no feast day. We have work ahead of us” – but perhaps that is part of the problem. As Arthur puts it, “Young men must have their sport.”


The hot-headed sidekick …

… seems less hot-headed than Arthur, on this occasion.


A wager’s a wager

Wagering is part of normal life for Arthur and Kai – as in their race at the end of “Arthur is Dead”, and their knife-throwing for who fetches supplies, in “Daughter of the King.” But for some reason, this particular wager leads to trouble. Arthur must have known that Kai would be insulted by the rejection of the spear Arthur won from him.


'A man on a horse is worth ten on foot'

This week, Arthur is seen doing the same unconventional dismount as Kai did in “Daughter of the King”, swinging his right leg over his horse’s neck, so he doesn’t have to take his eyes off Garet and Gawain.

At a meeting in 2010, Oliver Tobias told of how, in one scene from “The Challenge”, the horse that he was riding bolted, because it hadn’t been trained to carry the two spears that were dangling from either side of the saddle, and made a loud clanking noise when it moved. The horse was spooked, and bolted; it was running for ages in a blind panic. Oliver tried steering it towards a tree, but that didn’t slow it down, and he was thinking of throwing himself off, but he eventually managed to get it under control again. This was a horse called Skyline. Throughout most of the episode, Arthur is mostly seen riding his usual white horse, Bernie.

Kai once again rides Merlin. Llud rides his usual chestnut, Curly; Gawain rides Blondie, and Garet rides Pinkie.

See this post for further details of the horses of "Arthur of the Britons."


‘That is bloody dangerous!’

There is a lot of stunt work in this episode, and some of it was evidently quite dangerous, given the aforementioned injury to Oliver Tobias. Everyone except Gawain falls off their horse; Kai falls off twice! The lack of any kind of head protection is, as ever, taken for granted.

To open the episode, Garet and Gawain go at it hammer and tongs, and as for Arthur and Kai: there aren’t many weapons don’t make use of. They fight with spears, swords, shields, and short swords; Kai fights with his axe for the first time, and Arthur also uses it, nearly splitting Kai’s skull. At the end, Kai pulls a knife to defend himself.

As well as the fights, there is the scene where Kai rides after Gawain, at a gallop, holding his spear over his head with both hands, and launches the spear. This must have required great strength and balance.


Dressed to kill?

Arthur is wearing the same brown tunic with light brown trim that he wore for part of “Daughter of the King”, with a white shirt underneath. Kai wears a suede lace-up shirt. His studded tunic can be seen stowed behind his saddle, but – despite the fact that he spends much of the episode fighting – he doesn’t put it on. Llud wears a suede jerkin, with a white shirt.


What’s going on here?

While Arthur berates Garet and Gawain in the woods, we see a reaction shot of Llud which was clearly taken out in the open.

Arthur intervenes (12) Arthur intervenes (9)

The shot was stolen from the scene where Arthur and Kai are about to throw spears at each other.

When Kai first launches his spear, Arthur observes that he must be tired, then throws his own spear; everyone, including Kai, seems to acknowledge Arthur’s throw as the longest. But if you take into account the positions from which each man threw his spear, Kai’s has clearly travelled further than Arthur’s.

The bits of sheepskin binding meant to blunt the points of Arthur and Kai’s spears look entirely ineffective.

Spear throwing (4)

Arthur claims to have been taught the short sword by the Romans, and Kai retorts that he’s killed Romans with it. Both these statements appear anachronistic, as the Romans officially left Britain before they were born. It’s possible they are referring to former Romans who had become naturalised, or to Britons like Ambrose, who still emulated the Roman ways.


Religion

There is little reference to religion in this episode, apart from Garet’s opening line, “God! I’ll kill you!”

Arthur’s shield has a cross on it.


Honourable mention

The horses ridden by Arthur and Kai during their battle have to be mentioned here, for bravery and trust in their riders, who were swinging axes and swords around their heads.

Mounted fight (156) River brawl (32)

Garet and Gawain provide great comic relief.


Music

Paul Lewis revealed that for the scene where Arthur and Kai fight in the stream, one of the editors reversed the tape and played a music cue backwards. “It was a long sequence of sustained string tremolos punctuated by drumbeats, rising in pitch and intensity to a big climax. There was a fight in the mud which got slower and slower until the combatants dropped from exhaustion, so Editor Alex Kirby played the music backwards so that it gradually sagged away to nothing! So resourceful, and the joke is I never noticed! So much grunting, clashing of weapons and muddy splodgy sounds!”

The reversed track seems to be “Battle on Horseback.” In total, the tracks of incidental music used in this episode, were:

Track 12, Duel: Garet and Gawain fight in the woods.
Track 34, Title theme (bridge): riding through the bracken.
Track 14, Chase!: Arthur and Kai chase Gawain and Garet.
Track 26, Evil Stirs: tensions mount between Arthur and Kai.
Track 11, Desolation and Despair: Arthur insults Kai’s defensive abilities.
Track 9, Muttering and Plotting: Arthur and Kai throw spears at each other, and joust.
Track 10, Battle on Horseback/Bitter Victory: they fight on horseback.
Track 12, Duel: they fight on foot, with short swords.
Track 10, Battle on Horseback (reversed): they roll down the bank and fight in the stream.
Track 23, Arrival of Arthur: the two groups go their separate ways.

The whole suite of music, written by Paul Lewis, is available on CD.


Cast

Arthur ……………... Oliver Tobias
Kai .….….….….…... Michael Gothard
Llud ………………... Jack Watson
Garet ………………. Nicky Henson
Gawain ………….… Ken Hutchinson

Crew

Executive Producer ... Patrick Dromgoole
Producer …………… Peter Miller
Director ……………. Sidney Hayers
Story ………………. Terence Feely
Associate Producer … John Peverall
Production Manager ... Keith Evans
Action Arranger ……. Peter Brayham
Post-production ……. Barry Peters
Cameraman ………... Tony Impey
Camera Operator …... Roger Pearce
Film Editing ………... David Williams
Sound recordist ……. Bob Stokes
Dubbing Mixer …….. John Cross
Art Direction ….…… Doug James
Assistant Director ….. Simon Hinkley
Production Assistant .. Maggie Hayes
Wardrobe ……..……. Audrey MacLeod
Make-up ….….…….. Christine Penwarden
Incidental music ……. Paul Lewis
Theme music ………. Elmer Bernstein


1 Michael Gothard is older than Oliver Tobias by eight years, and in Arthurian legend, Sir Kay is generally said to be older than Arthur.
This article, courtesy of composer, Paul Lewis, from an unknown publication - probably a paper produced for the Bristol area - describes how Oliver Tobias was injured by a spear while shooting the episode, "The Challenge."

The End Column

Extremely mortifying for King Arthur

It wouldn’t have done for Tennyson. King Arthur would never have been put in such a mortifying position.

But television is a different matter. Which explains why a hero of chivalry had his wounds treated by the National Health Service yesterday.

King Arthur, played by actor Oliver Tobias, was filming a scene for a Harlech TV series at Compton Dando, Somerset.

As he fought a desperate duel with the war lord Kai – played by Michael Gothard – Kai aimed a spear thrust at Arthur’s head. The king parried with his shield, but slipped and the spear cut open the back of his head.

The Master of Camelot was carried in an ambulance from the field of conflict.

“I can’t understand it,” said the crestfallen champion at Bristol Infirmary later. “I must have parried a thousand blows during the filming.”

Producer Peter Miller, said “We take every precaution, but this is supposed to be a fight to the death, and it has to look good. Obviously there is some risk.

We will have to film the last piece again. At the moment we have the wrong man winning.”


There has been some use of artistic license in the article. Arthur should not have been referred to as "King", nor Kai as a "war lord." Also, according to Oliver Tobias, it was not Michael Gothard (playing Kai) who threw the spear which he failed to dodge, but a javelin expert who had been brought in for the shoot.

What is true is that Oliver was hospitalised, and the article plays down the seriousness of the injury he sustained. At a meeting with fans in 2010, Oliver Tobias said of the accident: “When it hit me, it was like a ship running aground.”

Though - according to cameraman Roger Pearce - the spearhead was very hard rubber, and not metal, it was nevertheless very dangerous with the weight of the huge spear behind it, and being hit was no laughing matter. Oliver was knocked unconscious. He needed quite a few stitches, and time away from filming to recover, though he returned to work as soon as he was able to.


The End Column small

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