It's A Royal Knockout was so ridiculous it changed the monarchy!

‘The Queen thought it was a terrible mistake. She was against it…’ We recall IT’S A ROYAL KNOCKOUT, a show so ridiculous it changed perceptions of the monarchy forever!

  • Charles and Diana refused to take part in Prince Edward’s wheeze – wisely
  • DOMINIC SANDBROOK and CRAIG BROWN take an acerbic view…

Even today, it ranks as one of the most bizarre pieces of royal television ever to be broadcast.

It’s A Royal Knockout featured senior member of the Royal Family wearing fancy dress and playing silly games with celebrities, a spin off from the BBC’s long-running Saturday night game show.

Devised by Prince Edward, the royal version certainly set a new bar for Lese Majeste and according to some analysts changed perceptions of the monarchy forever. 

Here, as Channel 5 airs a new behind-the-scenes documentary, we recall the withering verdicts of leading commentators from MailOnline.

Fergie gives it her all in It’s A Royal Knockout staged at Alton Towers

The show had been devised by a youthful Prince Edward, who was hoping to make his way as a theatrical impresario

Never in living memory had the monarchy made itself look so ridiculous 

Dominic Sandbrook – Historian 

The Grand Knockout Tournament, better known as It’s A Royal Knockout, was the brainchild of Elizabeth’s youngest son Edward, who had walked out of the Royal Marines and fancied himself as a theatrical impresario.

Staged at Alton Towers in June 1987, it pitched four teams of celebrities — including John Travolta, George Lazenby, Toyah Willcox, Gary Lineker and Barbara Windsor — against each other in a series of bizarre games.

The team captains, meanwhile, were Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and his new wife, the brash Sarah Ferguson. It was, of course, a disaster.

Never in living memory had the monarchy contrived to make itself look so ridiculous — and when Edward stormed off in a huff at the end, angry that the Press failed to share his enthusiasm for the event, it only added to the sense of chaos and humiliation.

Elizabeth herself must have watched in horror. Could her own father, George VI, ever have imagined that one day the nation would be watching his grandchildren cheering on Travolta chasing Cliff Richard, who was dressed as a leek?

‘It was a terrible mistake,’ one of her friends told the historian Ben Pimlott. ‘She was against it. But one of her faults is that she can’t say no.’

For centuries, Britain had always had a small republican minority. But now Elizabeth and her family were confronting something much worse — not hatred and opposition, but ridicule and contempt.

None of them could compete with Diana’s glamorous good looks, charismatic presence and unerring eye for publicity.

(First published 14 Sept, 2022) 

Host Stuart Hall interviews the Princess Royal during the ‘Tournament’. Hall was later jailed for   sex offences

Hall lines up with fellow presenters Su Pollard and Les Dawson

Cliff Richard took part in It’s A Royal Knockout dressed as a leek

Fergie gets to grips with organiser and Royal participant Prince Edward 

Was This The Darkest Day in Royal History?

Craig Brown – author and Daily Mail columnist

Some will remember June 15th, as the day when Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, was put to death in 1381.

For others, it is the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in 1215. But for most of us, it will always be the day when the show commonly known as It’s A Royal Knockout took place.

It is now widely seen as a watershed for the Royal Family. In his acclaimed biography of the Queen, the distinguished royal historian Ben Pimlott described It’s A Royal Knockout as ‘a critical moment in the altering image of British Royalty’. 

It was, he wrote ‘excruciating . . . and made the public stunningly aware that a sense of decorum was not an automatic quality in the Royal Family’. He even dated the rise of republicanism among the middle classes to this grim event.

Jonathan Dimbleby also gave it short shrift in his semi-authorised biography of the Prince of Wales, describing it as the Royal Family’s ‘nadir’.

He went on to complain that the Duke and Duchess of York, Princess Anne and Prince Edward ‘made fools of themselves in the most vulgar “show” then available on the BBC’.

In one of the Duchess of York’s many books about herself, My Story, she remembers It’s A Royal Knockout as a pivotal episode in the ongoing drama of her life.

‘My first high crime in the decorum department occurred in 1987, when everyone still adored me,’ she writes, with becoming modesty. ‘It seemed just good family manners to participate, and Andrew and Anne agreed to go on as well. Everybody said it was OK.

‘When Charles and Diana declined the invitation, I remember feeling miffed. I thought they were being most unsportsmanlike, not supporting the Family as we should.’

It turned out that Charles and Diana had made the right choice. Princess Anne, the Duke of York, Prince Edward and the Duchess of York all dressed up as kitsch versions of themselves.

Prince Edward greets John Travolta and a train load of celebrities  at Stafford Railway Station  as they arrive for rehearsals

Prince Edward co-ordinates events behind the scenes

These pantomime royals then led celebrities dressed up in ‘comical’ fashion as vegetables through a never-ending series of obstacle races involving being knocked down and getting soaked. 

The chief commentator, hooting with laughter, was the plummy-voiced Stuart Hall, later to be sent to prison for sexual offences. The referee was the late Paul Daniels, the chirpy TV magician. Somehow, their vociferous jollity seemed desperately forced.

Has there ever been such a disparate range of celebrities, in the same place, at the same time? Some were internationally famous. John Travolta, Christopher Reeve and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa all took part, as did several sports personalities, including Duncan Goodhew, Tessa Sanderson, Nigel Mansell and Viv Richards.

A fair number of odd-bods also appeared, among them George Lazenby, the dud James Bond, and the burly singer Meatloaf. Cliff Richard came dressed as a leek.

All in all, the performers might best be described as a mixed bag. The warm-up acts were Bernie Clifton and The Wurzels. Two members of Monty Python (John Cleese and Michael Palin) appeared, as well as all four stars of Not The Nine O’Clock News.

The performers did their level best, but it was all so random it wouldn’t have been surprising to find Dr Henry Kissinger popping up dressed up as a tomato, or the Queen Mother appearing as a pork pie. It could have gone either way, but it is remembered as a disaster. 

Traditionally, members of the Royal Family lend dignity to events, but in this case they lent embarrassment.

For better or worse, the celebrities did what they were expected to do, which was to be celebrities. But the royals behaved as though they, too, were celebrities, with some sort of innate talent.

Afterwards, the Duchess of York felt she had been singled out for vilification. ‘I might have mugged and cheered more freely than the rest, being such a fun-loving sort,’ she wrote in My Story, before asking: ‘Why should I be singled out as coarse and vulgar? What of Edward and Anne and Andrew, whose lead I was following? Why should I be blamed?’

In fact, it was Prince Edward  who carried the can, having flounced out of the press conference afterwards, when reporters failed to express sufficient appreciation of his efforts.

Cliff Richard greets fans with an apparently star-struck Prince Edward watching on

  • It’s a Royal Knockout: The Untold Story [C5 8:35 PM] 

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