This weekend the thrills and spills of Robot Wars return to Newport as this years tour launches at Newport Centre. Earlier this week technical director John Findlay spoke to Andy Howells about this years live show.
John’s association with Robot Wars goes back some 16 years when he began building and competing robots in the popular television series. He progressed to become the driver of TV house robot Ripper before building Major Damage for the live shows.
How did you get involved with Robot Wars TV Series?
It’s my Dad's fault! Actually I was at university training to be a car designer and he watched the show. He phoned me up one Sunday morning and said “Have you seen Robot Wars? You could do that!” That’s how it evolved. I had a go at building my first robot which to be honest wasn't very good. You’re under the illusion when you go there for the first time that the robots aren't very powerful .So I took my remote control car apart, the wheels off my mums wheelie bin and went down to the filming. Obviously when I came back my robot was all destroyed and burned and I had to explain to my mother why her wheelie bin wheels were molten rubber.
When you do it once, meet (the TV presenters) Craig Charles and Philippa Forester and get the adrenaline rush been in the arena with your creation I left there with my bin bag going “you know what? I’m going to go back and get my revenge on those nasty house robots!” I've been all over the world with it; it’s the best job in the world.
And you got involved in making it a live show?
I was on the TV show with a robot called Ripper for the last four series and it was 12 years ago when the show was last on. When the TV show finished I started a company to keep it going as a live show. We've been doing it for 12 to 13 years now.
Has Robot Wars popularity endured?
It had peaked off a little bit and then they showed the repeats on Dave and now there’s a whole new generation of kids that have grown up watching the repeats. We do a lot of work in schools using the robots to promote engineering, so at the moment we’re getting busier and busier and also on course to getting a new TV series commissioned, then hopefully it will be the next phenomenon again.
The current star of the shows is the house robot Major Damage; can you tell us a bit more about it?
Damage is signed to Robot Wars so when the new TV series comes along it will be the new robot in the show. It was built in 2007 and is now known as the 'Big Daddy of the Arena' because it’s the star of the show. It’s got its cushion jaw, a flame thrower and everything you need to defeat the opponent. Many have had a go to try and kill it but haven’t succeeded yet.
We've got the molds from the BBC to replicate a brand new Matilda which launches at this show. Another new feature for this year is we are going to try and get the presenters to build a robot during the show and put them in with the featherweights. We've also got a new house robot called Ollie who s going to fire paintball at the other robots and that’s going to splat the hell out of them and just destroy them.
How much are robots part of your life now?
It’s taken over; I get told off for having robot parts all over the house! We've actually got the R2D2 who’s in the show in the dining room sat at the dinner table at the moment. We had it for Christmas dinner as a bit of a giggle when the family came and we decorated him with tinsel but we have to get him ready for Newport. R2D2 has proved a big hit with the kids and adds an extra element.
And you’re remaining hopeful to get Robot Wars back on television?
It just takes the right production company with the right budget and hopefully we’ll be away and getting it back on TV. It keeps coming back and then phases out again. Dave showed a series just before Christmas which has helped our lives considerably, I was in a school today and we showed the children a video of Robot Wars and I asked them “Who remembers Robot Wars?” You’ve got 5 and 6 year olds who’ve seen it over Christmas and they are like “this is great, we want our parents to take us to see it!” It’s funny because there hasn’t been a series in 12 years and it can still entertain the kids and they can still get hooked on it. And they still love it.
- Robot Wars takes place at Newport Centre on Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 1pm. For ticket information visit seetickets.com
- For more on Robot Wars 2015 Tour visit the official website
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on March 20, 2015