Robot Wars (lost footage and HSE documentation of behind-the-scenes accidents of BBC robot combat game show; 1998-1999)

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Robotwarsseries3incident1.jpg

A newspaper report concerning the incident that occurred during filming for Series 3.

Status: Lost

Robot Wars is a British robot combat game show produced by Mentorn. Broadcast on BBC Two and Channel Five from 1998-2004, and from 2016 to 2017, the premise involved machines built by amateur and professional engineers battling one another in an arena. During filming for the first three series, a number of incidents involving certain robots occurred, resulting in serious injuries being inflicted onto production members. Because of the seriousness of the injuries, HSE documentation including RIDDOR reports concerning the incidents were filed, as required under British law. Additionally, footage of these incidents may have been captured.

Series 1 Incident[edit | edit source]

In the show's first series, an incident involving competitor Barry occurred prior to it competing in the Gauntlet stage of Heat A. Barry was a 116.9kg machine armed with a front scoop that notably become the first robot to be eliminated from the show after it posted the lowest Gauntlet distance of the robots competing in Heat A.[1][2] Beforehand, Barry's team were instructed to drive their machine through a gap in a set of doors allowing access to the Robot Wars Arena, as part of arena introductions that opened every heat.[1] The first two attempts ended unsuccessfully, with radio interference causing Barry to charge straight into the doors themselves, causing damage that required repair work from a carpenter.[1]

Following the second incident, a Robot Wars crew member tried to fix Barry's reception issues, taking the team's transmitter.[1] As he was investigating, he pressed one of the transmitters joysticks. This caused Barry to suddenly lurch forward, which tripped the crew member onto one of the spikes situated on the machine's scoop.[1] He suffered a cut to one of his arms, which notably drew blood.[1][2] Ultimately, the lack of coverage surrounding the incident beyond recollections from roboteers suggests the crew member fully recovered, and Barry was allowed to compete on the show once its interference issues were resolved, while also succeeding in doing an arena introduction at its third attempt.[1]

Series 2 Incident[edit | edit source]

Series 2 marked the debut of Haardvark, who competed in Heat L.[3] The robot was box-shaped, armoured in aluminium, and armed with a pair of lifting forks.[4] After passing the Gauntlet and Sumo stages,[5] the robot went on to beat Vercingetorix and Havoc to win the heat to earn a spot in the second Semi-Final.[6] It managed to scrape through the Gauntlet and Pinball events, before ultimately exiting the Wars after being flipped by eventual runners-up Cassius.[6] Haardvark's run was considered somewhat surprising, considering the numerous technical difficulties it received throughout its run, including burning out its control circuits, suffering issues with its motors, and having a compromised lifter caused by a motor slipping off its gearbox.[5][6] Even the team were expecting it to exit early, with Robot Wars: The Technical Manual stating that the team kept checking out of their hotel each morning, only to request the room back several times after progressing throughout the series.[7]

Even before Haardvark competed in Series 2, technical issues had emerged when the circuitry starting smoking, resulting in the robot becoming non-functional by the time it entered the pits.[5] The team were able to repair the machine so that it could participate in the arena introductions that opened every heat.[5] Based on the footage showcased in Heat L and the second Semi-Final, it appears nothing out of the ordinary occurred during Haardvark's introduction. But according the team's website, the robot became prone to interference as the aerial was not properly inserted through the outside of the armour, resulting in the machine running without any control.[5] Additionally, Oliver Steeples of the University of Reading team, most known for entering Cunning Plan and Griffon, wrote on his website that an accident had occurred as Haardvark was reversing.[8] The details remained unclear, but Haardvark ended up rolling off the side of the stage, into the path of a safety advisor.[8]

According to Steeples, the advisor was seriously injured, with Steeples deeming this to be the first major accident on the show.[8] It is unknown what happened to the safety advisor, although with the lack of media coverage surrounding the accident, it is likely that they made a full recovery.

Series 3 Incidents[edit | edit source]

During filming for Robot Wars: The Third Wars on 20th October, 1999, a robot was removed off its trolley and carried into the Arena. As to ensure the safety of production members, the robot contained a rotary key switch on a barrel, which when utilised would switch the machine off and allow it to be carried safely into the Arena. However, the key switch was said to be cheaply made, and when it was used, the switch became detached from the barrel, resulting in only the barrel being moved and not the contactor needed to safely immobilise the machine.[9]

Thus, when radio interference within the Arena mixed up with the still-mobile machine, it suddenly began moving. With no functional switch to safely stop the robot, it ended up charging into the feet of Robot Wars' assistant director Alex Rofaila, knocking him down and impaling his ankle with one of its spikes.[10] It then continued to drag Rofaila across the Arena, before the malfunctioning machine was finally stopped.[11] Rofaila suffered a serious ankle injury, which required hospital treatment and prevented him from walking for 16 weeks. Ultimately, he would make a full recovery from the accident.[12] The accident resulted in filming being delayed for a few days, and when it resumed, numerous cancellations of side-events and swift changes to health and safety rules were made.[13]

The culprit for many years was believed to have been More Panda Monium, the sequel to Series 2 competitor Panda Monium. However, an investigation into the incident by Robot Wars Wiki users in 2018 revealed posts from 1999 on the roboteer forum Tinweb that indicated More Panda Monium was not even present at filming when the incident occurred.[14] Following further investigation, it was revealed the real culprit was a robot called Roadkill, which was armed with a multitude of spikes and was considered "hedgehog-like".[15] This was confirmed by Rofaila himself during an interview in 2021.[16] Additionally, Roadkill was reported by some publications to have been involved in a separate incident that injured a production member in the arm, most likely during the auditions stage, where robots were tested to see whether they were functional and entertaining enough to appear on the show.[17][18][19] As of the present day, no photos or footage of Roadkill have ever resurfaced.

An unrelated accident also occurred involving a robot armed with a sawblade. According to Team Onslaught's David Wood during a discussion in an Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook post, the robot's sawblade suddenly activated during an inspection, causing injury to a crew member's arm, which he fully recovered from.[20] [21] While the identities of the robot and injured crew member are not confirmed, correspondence between Wood and YouTuber The Internet Investigator suggests the victim may have been Mat Irvine, a Judge for the show. Another roboteer, Martin Dawson, disputes this, claiming it was actually another crew member, although he does not recall the identity of the individual.[21]

Availability[edit | edit source]

Haardvark's team stated that the bad aspects of the introduction were edited out by the BBC prior to broadcast, which likely was the same fate of footage involving Barry.[5] Thus, while fragments of Barry's and Haardvark's arena introductions can be seen in their respective episodes, no images or footage of the incidents have ever been publicly released. Indeed, the only evidence that the Haardvark accident occurred came from Steeples' account.[8] Additionally, because the Roadkill incident occurred within the Robot Wars Arena,[11] it is possible that cameras may have still been rolling when the robot malfunctioned.[21] Again however, no footage or images of both the Roadkill and sawblade machine incidents have resurfaced.[21]

Because these accidents resulted in serious injuries, reports under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) would have been made mandatory under British legislation. The reports were made via the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website, and would have contained critical information such as the date, time and location of the incidents; personal details of the people involved; and a description of the injuries or occurrences that resulted from the incidents.[22]

These documents would have been available following a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2000 request. However, these can no longer be accessed this way, as in accordance with HSE's Corporate Retention Policy, any paperwork would have been destroyed following seven years of the closure of any investigations concerning the incidents.[23] Thus, the only known way of obtaining the documentation would be to contact anyone who requested it prior to HSE's destruction of the reports. At least one roboteer claimed to have had physical documentation of the Series 3 incidents, but said that he left it in the UK and it had since gone missing.[24]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Videos[edit | edit source]

Part 1 of Robot Wars History Podcast's History of Series 3, where the incidents were discussed in detail.
The Internet Investigator's video concerning the incidents.
Robot Wars Iceberg concerning the incidents among other Robot Wars facts.


Images[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

External Link[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Archived Barry website detailing their machine's time on the show and the incidents it was involved in. Retrieved 12th Feb '22
  2. 2.0 2.1 Archived Oliver Steeples' account of the incident involving Barry. Retrieved 12th Feb '22
  3. Archived Oliver Steeples' account of Heat L. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  4. Archived Haardvark website detailing the robot's specifications. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Archived Haardvark website detailing the machine's arena introduction, and Heat L Gauntlet and Sumo stages. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Archived Haardvark website detailing the machine's battles and second Semi-Final campaign. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  7. Robot Wars: The Technical Manual providing the hotel story. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Archived Oliver Steeples' account of the arena introduction accident. Retrieved 25th Jan '22
  9. Correspondence in 2020 on the Out of the Arena Discord, where roboteer Craig Danby discussed the incident and its cause. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  10. Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook post discussing the incident. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  11. 11.0 11.1 Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports discussing the incident. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  12. Host Craig Charles' website, where he would briefly discuss the incident and confirm Rofaila had recovered. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  13. Archived Robot Wars forum post where producer Bill Hobbins announced the cancellation of several side-events following the incident and subsequent filming delays. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  14. Tinweb post, which among many confirmed that More Panda Monium and its team were not present when the incident occurred. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  15. Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook post providing some details of Roadkill. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  16. Private correspondence between Robot Wars Wiki user SFCJack and Alex Rofaila in September 2021. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  17. Tinweb post containing a Daily Mirror brief report into both incidents. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  18. Alt Robot Wars Google Group post containing a Times report into both incidents. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  19. East Anglian Daily Times report into the incidents Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  20. Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook post detailing the sawblade incident. Retrieved 12th Feb '22
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 The Internet Investigator's The Dark Side of Robot Wars video, where she investigated the incidents, including the sawblade incident. Retrieved 12th Feb '22
  22. OSHCR detailing RIDDOR 1995, which would have made the reporting of the incidents mandatory. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  23. Archived 2016 FoI request for the Series 3 HSE documentation, which was denied as the reports had already been destroyed seven years after the conclusion of any investigations. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21
  24. Unofficial Robot Wars Facebook group where a roboteer claimed to have once held HSE documentation concerning the incidents. Retrieved 2nd Oct '21