Jonny McCambridge: Gladiators ready - Gathering together on sofa to watch Saturday night TV

I’m not sure I ever had fully-formed expectations of what being the father of a son would be like before I became one.
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Perhaps, if I ever did think about it, I might have envisaged the relationship through the prism of my own character and experiences. Because of the way I saw the world, it would been a logical expectation that my son would also enjoy sport.

He might like having a kickaround with a football in the garden with his old dad, watching the snooker and darts on the telly, joining together to cheer on Ireland in the Six Nations, indulging in the successes and suffering together when our favourite teams fall short.

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Of course, it did not work out that way. My son has as much interest in sport as I do in learning about the internal workings of my oil boiler. I have tried to engage him in this direction and been rejected constantly. He is currently going through a phase where he is experimenting with heavy sarcasm.

On the sofa watching GladiatorsOn the sofa watching Gladiators
On the sofa watching Gladiators

When I say the rugby is coming on TV and Ireland have a chance of completing the Grand Slam, he pulls a face and exclaims, “Yeah, that’s really interesting daddy,” before quickly leaving the room. I am a little wounded, but I don’t let on.

Making time to do things together as a family is massively important to me. Holidays, weekends and spare evenings are sacred. We free as much time as we can for going on trips together, eating out, reading to my boy or simply sharing a conversation. Sunday night is always movie night, when the three of us will cuddle up together on the sofa with treats and hot chocolate and watch a family film. It has to be something of serious import that would cause me to miss movie night.

However, other than this, most of the digestion of media in our house is done separately. I might be viewing a match in one room, while my wife is upstairs watching a film and my son is playing a computer game or experimenting with some new editing software, which is a mystery to me. In the evenings, my wife and I will often pick a series on Netflix to watch together while my son is playing with his virtual reality headset across the hall.

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I would never go so far as to suggest that there is something missing from my family situation, but I have had the occasional pang of regret that there is not more shared experience in this space. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. I am still most comfortable with MW radio and traditional TV channels. My son views radio (and particularly the battered old wireless I use) as an anachronism.

For him TV is an on-demand device on which you can watch any programme that you want at any time of your choosing. Until recently, I am not sure that he even understood that there was such a concept as scheduled programming and having to wait for a week, perhaps longer, to see the next episode.

I spend as much time looking backwards as I do forwards. Many of the fondest memories of my early years come from shared experience of watching TV together as a family. Seeing Dennis Taylor win the World Snooker Championship in 1985 was memorable not just for the occasion and achievement, but because my family stayed up together past midnight to watch it. Doing it together meant you would talk about it for days afterwards.

There was less TV then, but it seemed to matter a lot more. Whether it was Dallas, or The A Team, or Hart to Hart, Play Your Cards Right or Big Daddy on the wrestling, we all watched them and that made it seem like an event. It was easy to feel, as a child, that the world slowed down when the family gathered in front of the box. I’m not sure I’ve felt that way very often as a father.

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A few weeks ago we had visitors in the house on a Saturday evening. The children in this family had a routine and asked if they could turn our telly on. The programme they were keen not to miss was Gladiators.

I remember Gladiators in its previous iteration several decades ago. It was a good example of what I considered to be event telly. It was ultra-competitive, undoubtedly silly, lots of fun and I watched it often.

And so, we turned the TV on to see Gladiators. My son was a little resistant at first, suspicious about watching something unfamiliar. Much of the show was as I remembered – the same games, the same theme music. The Gladiators were new, but followed a similar path of being muscle-bound, overblown personalities.

Where once, in my childhood, Wolf was the pantomime villain, that snarling, scowling role now fell to a character known as Viper who seemed continually grumpy. The contenders were as energetic as ever and still stumbled and fell while running up the travelator in the show’s concluding challenge. Cannily, the new version had retained the most iconic part of the old format. The referee throatily bellowing ‘Contenders, ready! Gladiators, ready!’

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As I consumed this corny slice of repackaged nostalgia, I also became aware that my son was enjoying it too. I could see him laughing and gasping at the exaggerated antics of Viper and Legend and bouncing with excitement at the concluding eliminator challenge.

It was a couple of days later that he asked a novel question.

"Daddy, when is Gladiators on again?”

“On Saturday night.”

And then on the Saturday.

“Daddy, what time is Gladiators on?”

“Daddy, don’t forget to let me know when Gladiators is on.”

And so, it has become our wee routine. On Saturday night we gather together on the sofa to watch Gladiators. I think we all spend much of the week looking forward to it. For my son, it is something new. For me, a pleasant throwback to the way things once were.