Robot Wars (TV series)

Robot Wars (TV series)
Robot Wars
Robot Wars.jpg
The Robot Wars logo, as used in the title sequence.
Format Game show
Presented by Jeremy Clarkson (1998)
Craig Charles (1998 - 2004)
Starring Philippa Forrester (1998 - 2000, 2002 - 2003)
Julia Reed (2000 - 2002)
Jayne Middlemiss (2003 - 2004)
Narrated by Jonathan Pearce
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 7 (Original series)
2 (Extreme series)
No. of episodes 108 (Original series)
30 (Extreme series)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 30 minutes (1998-1999)
45 minutes (1999-2003)
60 minutes (2003-2004)
Original channel BBC Two (1998-2003)
Five (2003-2004)
Picture format PAL (576i)
Original run 20 February 1998 - 28 March 2004 (Original series)
26 October 2001 - 3 October 2003 (Extreme series)

Robot Wars is a British game show modelled on a US-based competition of the same name. It was broadcast on BBC Two from 1998 until 2003, with its final series broadcast on Five in 2003 and 2004. Additional series were filmed for specific sectors of the global market, including two series of Robot Wars Extreme Warriors with U.S. competitors for the TNN network (hosted by Mick Foley and Rebecca Grant), and two of Dutch Robot Wars for distribution in the Netherlands. The fourth series of the UK Robot Wars was brought to the United States on TNN as Robot Wars: Grand Champions in 2002, and hosted by Joanie Laurer.[1] In 2003, the roboteers themselves formed The Fighting Robot Association and with their associated event organisers, carry on participating in competitions for new audiences.

The series involved teams of amateur and professional roboteers who made their own robots to fight against each other in both friendly and tournament matches. As well as fighting each other, they had to avoid the "House Robots", which were not bound by the same weight or weapon limits as the contestants.




Robot Wars was the brainchild of Marc Thorpe, a designer working for the LucasToys division of Lucasfilm.[2] In 1992, Thorpe had the initial idea for robot combat sport after unsuccessfully attempting to create a radio controlled vacuum cleaner.[3] In 1994, Marc Thorpe created Robot Wars and held the first competition at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Approximately one month prior to the event, Thorpe formed a partnership with New York based record company Sm:)e Communications, later Profile Records, who provided additional funding.[2]

Between 1995 and 1997, three further Robot Wars events took place in America and, in 1995, Profile Records partnered with production company Mentorn to produce and televise a Robot Wars event in the UK. Mentorn acquired the worldwide television rights from Profile in 1995 after Tom Gutteridge (the head of Mentorn) had seen an amateur tape of a San Francisco event.

Gutteridge and one of his producers Steve Carsey created a television format based on the Robot Wars concept. They produced a live event opposite BBC Television Centre in Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush, London and hired Derek Foxwell to build 3 combat robots to take on three American robots. The Controller of BBC2, Michael Jackson, attended the event, which was not filmed, and he promised to commission a series. However, it wasn't until 1998 that a subsequent Controller of BBC2, Mark Thompson, fulfilled Jackson's promise and actually commissioned 6 episodes. Gutteridge and Carsey were producers and Foxwell was the technical supervisor and senior technical consultant. He drafted the rules and regulations and was in charge of the pit area and the technical team, which scrutineered the robots, got them on and off stage and helped the contestants prepare and repair their robots. Irvine, initially a member of the technical team, served as one of the judges.

Profile sought no input or consent from Thorpe before doing this, and this aggravated the already troubled relationship between Thorpe and Profile Records and indirectly spurred legal disagreements surrounding the ownership of the Robot Wars concept. The legal proceedings surrounding these would last until February 6, 2002.[3] Mentorn used Thorpe as a Consultant on the series, however, and the initial series of Robot Wars in the UK was broadcast over six weeks in February and March 1998. It was an immediate hit, with more than 2 million viewers, and a further 27 episodes were commissioned by the BBC that year. 155 episodes were produced in total, and the show was seen in 26 countries. Two series were produced in the US for the TNN (now Spike and Adult Swim) network, and a version was also shown on Nickelodeon. Series were also produced in many European countries. Although the series had various directors and producers, all were produced in the UK by Mentorn, and executive produced by Tom Gutteridge and Steve Carsey. The initial series were staged in various film studios around London. But the stage and pit area became too large to fit into any of the conventional studios, so filming was later moved to an aircraft hangar at RAF Newton.


The first series of Robot Wars was presented by Jeremy Clarkson and co-hosted by Philippa Forrester.[4] In keeping with his edgy persona established on Top Gear, Clarkson frequently made tongue-in-cheek jokes about competitors and their robots, such as remarking that a contestant robot called "Scarab" looked like "cheese on toast".[5] Clarkson left Robot Wars after the first series and was replaced with Craig Charles.[6] Charles, well known as playing the character Dave Lister in the science fiction themed situation comedy Red Dwarf,[7] was seen as taking the programme and its contestants more seriously than Clarkson, and was more enthusiastic while presenting it.[5] Charles would close each episode with a four line poem ending with the words " Robot Wars".[4] Charles presented Robot Wars until its demise in 2004.

In comparison to Charles' background in science fiction, Philippa Forrester was best known as co-host of the science and technology programme Tomorrow's World.[8] Her role on Robot Wars was as the pit reporter[9] who would speak to contestants about their robots before and after battles. Forrester was pit reporter for six of the show's nine series; Julia Reed took the role for Series 4 and Extreme 1 since Forrester was unable to participate in the programme due to pregnancy, and when the programme moved to Five for the seventh series was replaced with Jayne Middlemiss.[6]


US Robot Wars

The 1994 Robot Wars in San Francisco, California featured three different 'games' for each of three robot weight classes:

  • The FACE-OFF paired robots to battle through an elimination tournament. A robot won a match by immobilizing its opponent, either by damage or by pinning. If both robots were still mobile at the end of ten minutes, they both advanced to the next round of the tournament.
  • The MOB SCENE was a free-for-all melee fight amongst multiple robots. There were two Mob Scene fights: one for lightweight robots, and a never-repeated 'all weight classes' melee.
  • The ESCORT event had a single competitor robot escort a defenseless "drone" robot across the arena while a "house robot" attempted to attack the drone. The successful escort with the lowest time was declared the winner. The Escort event was contested only in 1994.

Weight classes for this first event were:

  • Lightweight: 10 to 40 pounds
  • Middleweight: 41 to 70 pounds
  • Heavyweight: 71 to 100 pounds

The competition format remained much the same through 1997. Additional safety regulations were implemented each year, match length was trimmed to 5 minutes, a 'featherweight' weight class was added, and weight allowances crept upward; by 1997 the heavyweight maximum was 170 pounds.

The 1997 judging criteria removed pinning an opponent for 30 seconds as an automatic win and required such immobilization techniques to be limited to one minute. The 1997 judging criteria also removed 'audience applause' for selection of a winner when a match ended with both robots still mobile. Robots were judged by a panel based on a scoring system of damage, style, aggression, and control.

UK Robot Wars

The format for the first and second televised U.K. Robot Wars differed radically from the earlier U.S. events. In each heat, a group of six robots would compete through a series of three challenges:

  • The first challenge: ‘The Gauntlet’ -- an obstacle filled maze defended by house robots. Competitor robots pushed as far down the course as possible in the time allowed. The robot covering the least ground was eliminated, leaving five robots to continue.
  • The second challenge: ‘The Trial’. This event varied from heat to heat with games like, 'Sumo', 'British Bulldog', 'Stock Car', 'Labyrinth', 'Snooker', and 'Football'. The Second Wars retained Sumo and football and also added 'Skittles', 'Tug of War', 'King of the Castle', 'Joust', and 'Pinball'. Again, the lowest scoring robot was eliminated.
  • The third challenge: 'The Arena' - the familiar combat event that dominated the later wars. The four remaining robots paired off and fought head-to head in the enclosed arena patrolled by the house robots. The two victorious robots then fought for the heat championship.

In the First Wars, the six heat champions met in a single melee fight to determine the overall winner. The Second Wars had two semifinal shows, each with six heat finalists reprising the heats with a Gauntlet and a Trial, with the last place finisher in each eliminated. The remaining four finalists paired off and fought head-to head in 'The Arena' with the two victorious robots moving on to a final arena battle to determine the champion and the two defeated robots fighting a separate arena battle for 3rd and 4th place.

The Third Wars eliminated 'The Gauntlet' and 'The Trial" from the main tournament, concentrating on 'The Arena'. This format continued throughout the remainder of the Wars — a main knockout tournament with special contests as side attractions. The side events included Tag Team, Annihilator, Rebellion, and regional championship events.

A robot could lose a match in several ways:

  • A robot immobile for 30 seconds could be counted 'out' and turned over to the house robots for further ‘punishment’. Beginning with Robot Wars Extreme 1, the Refbot counted down the final 10 seconds;
  • A robot flipped out over the arena railing into the space between the arena and the enclosure box was ‘out’.
  • A robot that fell or was pushed into the open ‘Pit of Oblivion’ was instantly ‘out’;
  • If none of the above conditions were satisfied, a panel of three judges scored the competitors on style, control, damage, and aggression. The judges for most of the programmes were Professor Noel Sharkey, Professor Martin Smith and Mat Irvine.

Arena and hazards

The arena and mechanical hazards for the early non-televised Robot Wars in the U.S. (1994 through 1997) were rudimentary. The arena itself was a 30 by 54 foot rectangle with an asphalt surface. The 1994 arena was defined only by 2-foot high plywood walls—there was no bulletproof plastic enclosure. The following year saw the addition of braced 1/4" thick clear plastic panels extending four feet upward from the plywood panels to enhance audience protection. By 1997 the arena walls had grown to eight feet plus two feet of netting at the top.

Early hazards included a wide ram that could push a robot away from the side railing, nets on hinged arms that could descend to entangle robots that ventured too close, large horizontal pivoting arms to swat passing robots, and a bowling ball pendulum swinging across the arena.

The arena was completely re-done for the televised UK Robot Wars. The arena was approximately 32 feet by 48 feet and was enclosed in a huge clear plastic box 20 feet high. There were assorted hazards in the arena that changed from one series the next:

  • The Pit of Oblivion – Introduced in Series 2, The Pit of Oblivion was a 4-foot square hole in the arena floor painted black on the inside, and partially filled with old tyres into which a robot might drive, fall or be pushed, instantly eliminating said robot. In Series 2 pits were added to both lanes of The Gauntlet. In Series 3, The Pit was open during the first two rounds of each heat, then covered during the heat final and following matches. For Series 4 The Pit was redesigned as a yellow and black chevron tape outlined area that would descend at some point during the match to form a pit. From its very first appearance in Series 2, The Pit included a small pyrotechnic "explosion" that formed a large ball of white smoke. This would activate when a robot fell into the Pit, primarily used to show that a competitor had fallen in. From Extreme/Series 5 onward, there was a device on the arena wall that competitor robots could use to activate the pit opening. In Extreme/Series 5 that device was a tyre. For Series 6 the tyre was replaced by a metal bumper. The tyre returned for Series 7.
  • The Floor Flipper – a powerful pneumatic flipper that can toss a robot across the arena. This device made its debut in Series 3, where it just looked like a part of the arena floor. For Series 4 the flipper was given yellow/black paint scheme similar to the redesigned Pit of Oblivion. Series 5/Extreme 1 saw the power of the flipper increased, allowing it to hurl even the heaviest robots into the air, and flip featherweight robots out of the arena.
  • The Disc of Doom – a spinning panel set into the arena floor activated by a button similar to the pit release. This hazard was used to disrupt a robot's driving, and worked well on lighter competitors. It first appeared in series 6 but was removed for Series 7.
  • The Drop Zone – a spot on the arena floor where heavy objects (television sets, ocean buoys, refrigerators, washing machines, etc.) fell from the top of the arena. It first appeared in series 6; although the spot where the object would fall, a black square with a yellow 'X' shape across it first appeared in Extreme, not serving any clear purpose at the time.
  • The Patrol Zones (Series 1) – four large squares marked with striped tape, each occupied by one House Robot and a hazard.
  • The Perimeter Patrol Zone/PPZ (Series 2) – a narrow band around the perimeter of the arena where competitor robots were open to attack by any of the house robots.
  • The Corner Patrol Zones/CPZ(s) (Series 3 onwards) – From Series 3 onward, the House Robots were confined to the four corners of the arena and moved in a rota system through all of the machines. In Series 4, the house robots switched to a rota system of Shunt, Matilda, Sgt.Bash, and Dead Metal. Sir Killalot consistently appeared every round. From Extreme/Series 5 onwards, only two house robots were allowed in the arena at a time, and this moved in a rota through all of the machines.
  • Several propane powered flame spouts, capable of roasting electronics or setting flammable robots, or the occasional unlucky house robot, on fire.
  • Angle Grinders, abrasive grinding wheels built into the arena railings. (replaced with spikes in series 4, but brought back from extreme 1 onwards)
  • CO2 geysers, actually useful for putting out flames.
  • Early hazards included spikes that came up from the ground (Removed in Series 4 after many upsets were caused by these flipping and immobilising robots that were on top.), arena sidebars and grilles that could immobilise robots crossing them (Series 1 only), and swinging spiked maces on chains that were more atmospheric than damaging.

In early 2004 the Robot Wars arena was purchased from the television production firm who produce the show (Mentorn) by a company called Robot Arenas Ltd based in the UK. They are an organisation set up by a past competitor of Robot Wars to continue the sport of robot combat in the UK.

The Robot Wars arena -valued originally at £11,000- was sold for scrap in 2005 for £250 by the new owners of RAF Newton where the arena was housed. A suit filed against RAF Newton by Robot Arenas Ltd found that RAF Newton had acted reasonably in the matter and owed no compensation to Robot Arenas Ltd.[10]

Nickelodeon Robot Wars

In 2002, the Nickelodeon American television network created Nickelodeon Robot Wars where kids operated combat robots provided by American teams.

Competitors and results

UK Championship results
Series Winner Grand Finalists
The First Wars Roadblock Bodyhammer, Cunning Plan, Recyclopse, Robot The Bruce, T.R.A.C.I.E.
Series Winner Runner-up Third Place Fourth Place
The Second Wars Panic Attack Cassius Roadblock Killertron
The Third Wars Chaos 2 Hypno-Disc Firestorm Steg-O-Saw-Us
The Fourth Wars Chaos 2 Pussycat Stinger Hypno-Disc
The Fifth Wars Razer Bigger Brother Firestorm Hypno-Disc
The Sixth Wars Tornado Razer Firestorm Terrorhurtz
The Seventh Wars Typhoon 2 Storm 2 Tornado X-Terminator
World Championship results
Championship Winner Runner-up Semi-Finalists
The First World Championship Razer (England) Behemoth (England) 101 (England) Diotoir (Ireland)
The Second World Championship Razer (UK) Drillzilla (USA) Manta (USA) Tornado (UK)
The Third World Championship Storm 2 (UK) Supernova (Sri Lanka) Crushtacean (South Africa) Tough As Nails (Netherlands)

The competing robots are listed in Category:Robot Wars competitors.

House robots

The Robot Wars arena was also patrolled by the house robots, created as part of the television format. The house robots were a huge success, and particularly popular with younger viewers. Scale models of the house robots were sold as toys, and in 2002 these became the number one boys' toy in the UK. The original house robots were designed and constructed by BBC Visual Effects and did not have to conform to the same rules as contestant robots; for example, they were allowed to be considerably heavier, and were allowed weaponry prohibited in the competitor robots.

Series One
In series one there were four house robots:

  • Matilda, designed to resemble a mutant robotic dinosaur, and armed with pneumatic lifting tusks and a chainsaw tail;[11] Matilda was the only "female" house robot.
  • Shunt, a bulldozer-like robot centered around pushing power, was equipped with a plough, lifting scoop and 'diamond-edged' pickaxe;[12]
  • Sgt. Bash, a military themed robot with a ramming blade, circular saw and propane flamethrower gun turret.
  • Dead Metal, a scorpion-like robot with pneumatic pincers and a circular saw mounted on an overhead arm.

Series Two
The original four house robots were joined by,

  • Sir Killalot,[11] a semi-humanoid robot with a blade mounted on a lance and pincers formed from a set of emergency services Hydraulic Rescue Tools nicknamed the Jaws of Life. Killalot is sometimes considered the "leader" of the house robots.
  • The Sentinel (first appeared in episode seven) was a modified immobile JCB digger which pushed competitors toward one of two pits on either side in 'The Gauntlet'. It was the only house robot to have an operator inside the arena.

Series Three
No new house robots were introduced, but there were changes for all six of the existing house robots.

  • Matilda's tusks and chainsaw were strengthened.
  • Shunt was given a larger and more powerful axe.
  • Sgt. Bash's ramming blade was replaced by a pair of hydraulically powered pincers and he was given lighter camouflage fibreglass armour to replace his original silver steel hide.
  • Dead Metal had the biggest makeover. He was given a larger saw and the arm was removed in favour of a new design where a whole section of the robot, where the circular saw was mounted, slowly slid forward. This was much more effective at damaging competitor robots.
  • Sir Killalot's weapons were enlarged and a drill was mounted on the lance, replacing the static blade from series 2.
  • 'The Gauntlet' was removed from the competition and with it went The Sentinel — never to appear again.

Series Four
One new robot joined the team.

  • Refbot, this robot, like Sir Killalot, was designed as a semi-humanoid robot, but much taller and with ploughs at the front and rear, a pincer and a fire extinguisher. As his name suggests, his role was to be the referee of the matches, although his role never really advanced until the next season. His main role during Series Four was to separate robots locked together if it felt the match had ground to a stalemate.

Most of the original house robots were fine-tuned, most noticeably Sir Killalot and Sgt. Bash, who both had their pincers enlarged and made stronger than before.

In the special "Southern Annihilator" contest, Razer managed to destroy Matilda. At the end of the episode a message was displayed reading "R.I.P. (Rust in Piece) Matilda: Destroyed in Action" followed by "...or was she?". She was then seen coming into the arena heavily bandaged.

Series Five and Extreme Series One
No new house robots were introduced, but two robots were changed:

  • Refbot had a new electronic counter installed into his chest, which counted from 0 to 10, to declare that another robot had been immobilized. If the robot was not moving by the time the counter hit ten, then it was technically out. The pincer also held a 'Light Indicator System' (as described by the Robot Wars Extreme official guide), which had a variety of purposes.
    • A green light signalled the beginning of a fight.
    • A yellow light acted as the equivalent of a yellow card. If a House Robot attacked a robot who wasn't in the CPZ (Corner Patrol Zone), or a Contestant robot got a bit overaggressive with the House Robots, Refbot would display the yellow card as a warning.
    • A red light acted as the equivalent of a red card. If a House Robot (or occasionally a contestant robot) continued to attack illegally, Refbot would issue the robot the red card. In the case of the House Robots, it would then have to return to the CPZ and would not be allowed out for the remainder of the fight. The red card was also displayed to a contestant robot who had just been counted out, to show it was out of the match.
  • Matilda's chainsaw was replaced with a 27 kilogram vertical flywheel, which proved to be much more destructive than her chainsaw. Although designed to be interchangeable with the flywheel, the chainsaw was never used again in the British series — but it was seen in use in the American Robot Wars Extreme Warriors.[13]

Series Six
Two new house robots were added:

  • Mr. Psycho — An even larger Killalot based robot that ran on tracks, with a gigantic claw for picking up competitors, and a 30 kilogram pneumatic hammer for causing percussive damage. Mr. Psycho was reported to weigh 650 kilograms, but some estimates place that higher.
  • Growler — A dog-like robot described as Mr. Psycho's pet. Growler has four tonne pressure hydraulic jaws, and a flame jet built into the back. This house robot's main weapon was its speed and power, which it used to ram and drag competitors around the arena. Growler weighed in at 375KG.

Series Seven The last series to be filmed, a final House Robot was added.

  • Cassius Chrome was a robot equipped with two punching arms with interchangeable weapons. Examples of weapons include metal fists and spikes. Although weaponry lacked power, it was still rather effective in the capacity of pushing other robots.


  • Another house robot, Shove, was used by the crew to transport destroyed robots from the arena. It was never seen on television. It had a similar design and appearance to Shunt. It was presumably used between series 1 and 3, as its job was effectively made redundant by the introduction of Refbot.


There were pullback toys of all the house robots, with the exception of Cassius Chrome. There were also pullback toys of competitors Razer, Chaos 2, Firestorm, Wheely Big Cheese, Panic Attack, Hypno-Disc, X terminator, Stinger, Pussycat (before 2002), Tornado and Dantomkia (both made 2003). Each robot came with an accessory. There were remote controlled toys of Shunt, Matilda, Sir Killalot, Sgt. Bash , Tornado and Growler. There were pitstop toys of House Robots Matilda and Sgt. Bash, and competitors Hypno-disc and Panic Attack. Minibots were made of the house robots at the time of series 5 and competitors Razer, Chaos 2, Panic Attack, Hypno-Disc, Pussycat, X-Terminator, Suicidal Tendencies, Mega Morg, Wild Thing, Dominator 2, Plunderbird 5, Tornado, Firestorm, Wheeley Big Cheese and Gemini (which is a clusterbot, but both halves were joined together). The Minibots also came with their own arena, with the pit, floor flipper and drop zone.


All but the first and fifth series of UK Robot Wars had at least one 'special' episode outside of the main competition. Series Four had by far the most specials, all aired over Christmas, which were the Northern and Southern Annihilators, A Tag Team Terror Contest, a War of Independence and a Celebrity Special featuring Shauna Lowry, Chris Eubank, Anthea Turner and Wendy Turner, 5ive, Natalie Cassidy, Shane Lynch, Vic Reeves and Adam Woodyatt (the winner).


Original series

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 20 February 1998 27 March 1998 6
2 6 November 1998 26 February 1999 15
3 3 December 1999 21 April 2000 19
4 22 September 2000 23 February 2001 19
5 24 May 2002 1 November 2002 15
6 8 November 2002 7 March 2003 15
7 2 November 2003 7 March 2004 19

Extreme series

Series Start date End date Episodes
1 26 October 2001 8 February 2002 15
2 9 May 2003 3 October 2003 15

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "Robot Wars History". Marc Thorpe. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  3. ^ a b "Robot Wars History". Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  4. ^ a b "Robot Wars". UKGameshows. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  5. ^ a b "Robot Wars". SphereTV. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  6. ^ a b "The Presenters". Robots Rule. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  7. ^ "Dave Lister Biography". The SadGeezers Guide. Archived from the original on 2006-10-21. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  8. ^ "Philippa Forrester". BBC Radio Bristol. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  9. ^ "Philippa Forrester". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2006-11-19. 
  10. ^ "Robot wars battle arena case decided". The Daily Telegraph (London). 8 February 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "House Robots". Southampton University — Robot Wars 1999/2000. Retrieved 2006-11-26. 
  12. ^ Robot Wars — The Official Robot Guide. Penguin. 2001. ISBN 0-141-31319-6. 
  13. ^

External links

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