1995 Robot Wars UK Open (partially found rejected robot combat TV show pilot; 1995)
The 1995 Robot Wars UK Open was a robot combat event produced by Robot Wars in collaboration with Mentorn and the BBC. Consisting of different events that featured US machines competing against British counterparts, it is notable for being a possible pilot for the UK show Robot Wars, only to be rejected at the time by BBC executives.
In 1994, a radio-controlled robot combat competition called Robot Wars was created by Marc Thorpe, which ran from 1994 to 1997. The inaugural competition, held at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, was successful, prompting further competitions as well as Thorpe receiving financial backing with New York record company Profile Records.
The success of these events prompted Profile Records to start negotiating with partners for a televised show. One such partnership was struck in 1995, with Profile Records teaming with Mentorn, a production company, to produce a UK Robot Wars event. With Mentorn gaining worldwide television rights from its partner, it pitched a television show concept based on the San Francisco competitions first to Channel 4 and then the BBC. BBC 2's then-controller Michael Jackson was interested in the concept, and he and other BBC executives agreed to attend a live event held in London. This event, the 1995 Robot Wars UK Open, was therefore filmed as a possible pilot for a UK Robot Wars show.
Based on footage obtained from Robot Wars: The First Wars, and the Robot Wars: The First Great War VHS, at least eight robots are known to have attended filming. These included notable US robots La Machine, The Master and Thor; Eubank the Mouse and Grunt, who would later compete in Series 1; and three unknown machines built by British engineer and future Robot Wars senior technical consultant Derek Foxwell for the sole purpose of competing in the show. Seven one-on-one battles, one Mayhem pitting the The Master, La Machine and two Grunts against one another, and a Robotic Soccer event are known to have been filmed. The event was deemed a success based on pleasing the BBC executives, as well as the positive crowd reaction. Particularly, the Robotic Soccer impressed the BBC executives thanks to a highlight where La Machine got underneath its competitors and pushed them into the goal. Post-event, Jackson contacted Mentorn, promising the commissioning of episodes for BBC 2.
However, plans were curtailed following an internal BBC executive shakeup, with Jackson moving onto becoming the new controller for BBC 1, and previous BBC 1 controller Alan Yentob becoming the new BBC Director of Programmes. Unlike Jackson, Yentob was unimpressed with both the event and the Robot Wars concept, and refused the UK Open becoming an official Robot Wars while also preventing the commissioning of episodes. It was not until 1997, when Yentob became BBC Director of Television, whereby new BBC 2 controller Mark Thompson, who was both impressed by the show's concept and had rapport with noted Mentorn executives, was allowed to commission the show. This led to Series 1 of Robot Wars being filmed in November 1997 and aired in early-1998 on BBC 2, paving the way for future series of the show to be made.
Since the 1995 Robot Wars UK Open was never aired on BBC television, footage of the event remains scarce. Snippets of certain battles were shown throughout Series 1, as well as in the First Great War VHS. The First Great War VHS also provided extended highlights pitting The Master against Thor. All other footage is likely held by the BBC or Mentorn, with a low chance of it being publicly released.
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- RobotCombat page detailing the history of Robot Wars Retrieved 15 April '21
- Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports, which provided significant detail regarding the UK Open's filming and eventual commissioning by the BBC. Retrieved 15 April '21
- Episodes of Robot Wars: The First Wars, which showed brief clips of the 1995 Robot Wars UK Open. Retrieved 15 April '21
- Robot Wars: The First Great War, which provided further clips and extended highlights of the Master vs Thor. Retrieved 15 April '21
- SB Nation article concerning the event and how the Robotic Soccer impressed BBC executives Retrieved 15 April '21
- Patrick Houghton's fightingrobots.co.uk History of Robotic Combat page, explaining process of making Robot Wars Retrieved 12 Nov '21