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Ben Mole was the producer for Challenge TV's UK version of Takeshi's Castle. His brother, Alex Mole, was a writer for the show from the second series. Below they talk to our keshi interviewer, Joshua, about their time on the show. Here we find out about the original idea of making the show in to a sports commentary type show, Craig's commentary, the writing process, and if the brothers would ever be involved in the show again if the offer came. This interview is not to be used outside Takeshi Kingdom or Keshi Heads without written permission.
Joshua: How did Takeshi's Castle come about?
Ben: There are these conventions in Los Angles and Cannes Film festivals and places like that where they sell formats from various countries
Alex: It's like Comic-con they have booths and vendors and you go and buy product you find interesting.
Ben: The higher ups at Challenge were at one of these conventions and found this footage from Takeshi's Castle and they bought up as many episodes as they could and brought it to the UK to show it. I became attached to the project at that time and they wanted to see how we could show this footage on TV. Challenge didn't want to just translate it and add subtitles because they didn't think it would play well to British audiences. Originally, we developed it as a sports commentary type show where we would have two commentators talking in a booth and we would cut to the footage from the show and have them comment on it. We presented that to Challenge and they really didn't like it and we didn't like it either so then we redeveloped it into a one-person commentary type show.
Alex: I was brought in later to add to the writing staff during the 2nd series.
Joshua: What did you think of the show when you first saw it?
Ben: In shock, basically, It was amazing to see the show like that and it kept you watching. We would watch an episode of this show and you didn't want to look away because you didn't want to miss it in case the next game they played was even crazier.
Alex: And that was a good sign that it kept your attention because you would only want to watch a couple minutes of it, then you would look at the clock and realize an hour had gone by of just watching this show. We would be in awe of people who would clip their groins on the skipping stones or hit their heads and kept going.
Ben: We didn't have any translations or any notes, but you still would be sucked into this show and the action.
Joshua: How did Craig Charles get involved with the show?
Ben: I had worked with Craig on "Ripley's Believe It or Not" which stared Dean Cain in the United States. So, I had a friendship with him. He was interested in being a part of the show and that's how he became attached. The first pilot test show we did with Craig, didn't work and didn't play well. Not because Craig wasn't funny it was just the energy level wasn't there. Someone at Challenge said "Instead of sitting down, Have Craig Stand when he comments on the show" and that really brought the show to another level. Having Craig react to the footage and use his body really made the commentary come alive. I don't think we ever recorded a show where he wasn't standing.
Alex: No and it worked because he reacted to the footage with his physicality as well as his voice.
Joshua: How did Craig's Presence help the popularity of the show?
Ben: I don't think people initially watched the show because of Craig. I haven't seen the early promos in a while but I don't think they really sold the idea of Craig being a big presence in the show. The show wasn't called "Craig Charles presents: Takeshi's Castle". But I do think that people who watched the show and recognized Craig's voice were drawn to that.
Alex: One thing that was never in the writing that he brought to it was things like him wincing in pain when someone got hurt or almost got hurt. Also in games like Dominoes which are pretty straight forward, he would go "yes, yes" and follow along with the contestant as they ran along the top and that really provided an honesty to the material.
Ben: and Craig really enjoyed working on the show and really was invested in it. We would watch the footage and write the script. Craig would see it for the first time when he was in the booth commentating and that helped the earnestness of it. Plus, Craig had played a character who reacted to unusual things on Red Dwarf and would comment on them so it was a throwback to that success as well.
Alex: It was like watching a show and it's funny enough to begin with, but then you watch it with your friend who just comments on it and can make it even funnier than if you were just watching it by yourself.
Joshua: Were you involved in clearing any of the footage for show?
Ben: No, the legal department at Challenge did everything for us. We never had to deal with that. We knew that we couldn't show the sketches or the stuff with Takeshi because it wouldn't play well to the audience and because we didn't know what was going on ourselves. People would watch and just wonder what was going on. Challenge cleared the shows and then they would go to the editing team and they would cut out all the sketches and credits and commentary. Then our video department would insert the graphics and add sound effects and then we would write to that. But we never had to clear any of the music or footage that was done long before we got the footage.
Joshua: What was the writing process like for Takeshi's Castle?
Ben: We would get the finished shows, watch them in amazement and basically write commentary for them.
Alex: Occasionally we would insert themes into the commentary like one episode had a Shakespeare theme and we would add little catchphrases hoping they would stick. Some of them did, some of them were one and done but it was a fun show to write.
Joshua: In Series 1 the music from the original show was removed from most of the shows, do you remember why that happened?
Ben: I think it had to do with what audio they had cleared. I know that they used the Indiana Jones Theme and the Star Wars Theme and I think that while TBS had cleared the audio for Japan they may not have had it cleared for Europe at that point.
Alex: Another fact, I mean we make no pretence that the show was edited and we would move contestants around and edit around anything that had Japanese Text Graphics on Screen, they may have just cut the audio so that it would flow better. That way you wouldn't hear skips in the track.
Ben: That makes a lot of sense now that I hear it.
Joshua: Did TBS put any kind of restrictions on what you could and could not do with the show?
Alex: Yeah, None
Ben: If there was something that they didn't want done then it was communicated to Challenge before we ever were apart of anything.
Joshua: On that note, did Challenge ever put any restrictions on you?
Ben: You know not really. We knew what we could and couldn't do. I had worked in TV for a while at that point, and we were pretty good judges of making the content appropriate.
Alex: We knew the show would be on at 3 pm as much as it would be at midnight so we would try to write around that knowing that people would see it at all times of the day. Plus, they would program entire blocks of the show so we knew where we could and couldn't go and occasionally we would have to edit some of Craig's commentary but never that often.
Joshua: So, it was intended to play like it was being seen for the first time?
Alex: Yes, the game that stands out in my minds is Hands Down where people would be asked a question, run 5 feet and jump on an answer. It's not an easy game to write for but it just has some appeal to it. Even though someone had already jumped on the correct answer people would still run and jump even though the game was over.
Ben: The door run was another one like that were you would be in shock at the rate at which the contestants would run at these walls.
Joshua: There's a phrase in Japanese "Yamato-Damashii" The Japanese Sprit, which roughly means I have committed therefore I will finish.
Alex: And those contestants exemplified that. The way they would run over the stones and hit themselves it was amazing their level of commitment.
Joshua: What was the hardest game to write for?
Alex: Again, Hands Down was a tough one just because it was a little bit more surreal. Karaoke was another one that was hard to write for which was why we didn't show it every time.
Ben: and one thing we would do is we would edit the shows to make sure that we didn't have to many Surreal games in a row so we wouldn't lose the audience. I know there was at least one game we edited out just because we didn't know what was going on and we knew it wouldn't play well to the audience.
Joshua: What was your favourite game?
Alex: I'd have to say Door Run
Ben: Me too, that game exemplifies that phrase better than anything else could. You have contestants who would run full speed into a door open. knowing full well that it may not open.
Alex: It was designed in a way where, if the door doesn't open you smash your face. If the door does open, then you break through and then smash your face on the ground. No matter what you couldn't win.
Joshua: At what point, did you realize the show was successful?
Ben: I think it would have been when the ratings came in. Originally, we only did 12 or so and then I guess it was successful because challenge went out and bought the other 96 shows so at that point you know that something has to be working.
Joshua: Near the end of the run Challenge commissioned some specials what do you remember about those?
Ben: They had been getting Emails at that point, did email even exist back then?
Alex: I think they were getting them over the wire.
Ben: People would write saying they wanted to see a show that was just ridiculous replays or the best of Bridge Ball. Challenge decided to commission some them and we were a bit hesitant to do them because we had already done 100 or so.
Alex: There didn't seem to be a need to just do them and show the same thing considering the original shows were still out there.
Joshua: Around series 4, Craig Started to refer to the characters by their actual names, was that a conscious choice, had you been getting letters explaining who these people were.
Ben: We were at that point. Again, we never had any notes or translations so where weren't able to figure out those things in the beginning.
Alex: At that point it became kind of an inside joke for the people who had written in. Now that we know his name we'll call him General Tani instead of General Lee.
Ben: With General Lee. If I had one regret, it was that we called him General Lee. People at the time thought we were making a joke on the name "Lee" because it's Chinese in origin but the footage is Japanese. We never meant it to be that. It was meant to be a pun on the word "Generally" you know, "Generally Speaking". That was an unfortunate thing that I wish we would have noticed earlier.
Joshua: So, it was never meant to be a reference to the Car on Dukes of Hazard?
Ben: (Laughs) No.
Alex: Nor was it a reference to the Civil War General Lee.
Joshua: Were you or the show ever accused of being racist?
Ben: Not that I remember. I think because we were never laughing at them, we were laughing with them.
Joshua: After doing all 120 some episodes of the show, eventually you run out of Takeshi's Castle footage. What were your thoughts when that happened?
Ben: I'm wondering if the security Guards who worked there ever found out we ran out of footage. It wasn't too terribly emotional because we all wanted to move on at that point.
Alex: I think if we had only done 20 or 30 and then we had stopped then it would have been a lot more emotional but because we had done 120 plus shows we felt we had completed what we had set out to do and there really wasn't a sense of incompleteness. I mean there wasn't any more footage there was nothing more we could do.
Joshua: In 2013 Challenge commissioned a series called "Takeshi's Castle Rebooted" with Dick and Dom. Craig Charles says he was emailed by the producers to see if he was interested and indicated he never heard back. Were you ever approached to be a part of the rebooted series.
Alex: Yeah, no.
Joshua: Had they asked you would you have taken part?
Ben: If it was 2013... I would say no because I wasn't in that line of television at that point.
Alex: And it really wouldn't have been fun to come back and just write for more Takeshi's Castle. We were like a gang. The writers, the producers, the editors, the sound people had so much comradery. To come back under another producer with different people to do the same thing just wouldn't have been as fun.
Ben: Yeah it would have just felt like a shell of what it was like back in 2004 knowing how much more fun it was back then. How was that series received?
Joshua: Not well, people didn't think Dick and Dom were funny and they cropped the footage in a weird way to make it play in HD.
Ben: I've worked with Dick and Dom and knowing their humour, I think that they may not have had the same light heartedness that Craig had.
Joshua: Did you see any other countries remakes of Takeshi's Castle?
Ben: I think maybe a few things.
Alex: Yeah like Wipe Out and other rip-offs of that sort. There was a show that had similar games but never had the spirit of the original show. The original show felt like something you did in the back yard when you were a kid. Go grab some bedsheets and a colander and run around with your friends. The other shows just didn't capture that.
Ben: With Wipe Out where it's just 20 people all wearing the same thing running though padded obstacles in order to win Money never had the appeal that the original show had. Not that the original show didn't have a sense of victory, it's just that that win at all cost mentality really detracted from the fun of watching a show like that.
Alex: Plus I think there was a disconnect of the amount of people getting hurt in that we couldn't imagine filming a show like that and having a good day be where only 3 people ended up losing teeth.
Joshua: Recently there was a version of Takeshi's Castle remade in Thailand and there are rumors that it's going to be brought to the UK. Does that idea spark your interest?
Ben: You mean showing their version or rebuilding the sets and shooting that.
Joshua: Having the tapes of the Thai version brought to the UK and having someone talk over them.
Alex: If they managed to get the same people who worked on the 2002 series then maybe but without that then it would just be a former shell of the thing it once was.
Ben: Yeah, I wouldn't want to just write it and have some other person talk over it. It just wouldn't be as fun. One thing we wanted to do was go to Japan and track down some of the contestants who were on the show and ask them what they were thinking.
Alex: Yeah, a reunion Special or something.
Ben: Challenge didn't go for it, possibly because of the cost. If we could do something like that then that would be interesting but other than that I just don't see it working.
Joshua: After Takeshi's Castle, there started to be a number of Japanese shows in America and UK. Things like Ninja Warrior and Sushi TV. How much credit do you think you guys have in that happening?
Ben: I Think that's a better question for you to answer Joshua, having been on the other end of it.
Alex: Yeah, although in the 80s and 90s there were a few shows that were very much in the line of "What is wrong with these Japanese people doing this", I think we managed to bring it around to having more fun with those types of shows. Around the time we were doing Takeshi's Castle there was this Globalization happing where networks in the US and UK were looking for foreign content they could bring over. But as much as Ninja Warrior is a success it never really had anything to do with 17th century Japanese warriors and fighting techniques. I think the Japanese origin was a justification of that where it would have a name of Asian ancestry in order to justify its presence on foreign TV.
Joshua: Is there anything you wanted to know about the original show?
Ben: The Injuries.
Alex: Yeah because we heard about all these injuries that occurred on the show.
Ben: And just watching people get hit by boulders we couldn't imagine people not getting hurt.
Joshua: I talked with a few contestants and they all said that they were not hurt and they don't remember anyone being hurt. However, they did say that the water they fell into made them sick.
Joshua: Yeah because they didn't treat it and it was just muddy pools. You know the "Shipped in from Southern Japan" wasn't that far off.
Ben: Who knew how close we came.
Alex: Now why would they go on the show to begin with is what I want to know?
Joshua: I think it was a sort of corporate bonding exercise for a lot of them. I talked with a number of people who watched it and then went on the show. A lot of them were American Military and students who were stationed in Japan and wanted to be on the show.
Alex: Oh, that's right, they had those episodes with the foreigners. It was weird watching a game with 3 Asian contestants and then you see a 6 foot 6 inch tall Caucasian man with blonde hair and bangs. You kind of figured they weren't Japanese.
Joshua: Is there any message you would like to relay to the fans of Takeshi’s Castle?
Alex: I guess thanks for watching and reliving that spirit of going out and at summer camp, wearing a colander and just having fun. I have an 11-year-old son who is watching it for the first time and it's nice to know that it still plays well. I coach his Rugby team and every once in a while, one of them will come up and say "Did you work on Takeshi's Castle? That show is so awesome". I also work with the London Stock exchange and in order to work with people you have to disclose your working history and even though these are high powered big business types, the thing they still ask is "You Worked on Takeshi's Castle??!!" with wide eyes and excitement. It's a nice thing to have.
Ben: Yeah and to the fans, Thanks for watching and making the show a cult hit and who knows, maybe when we're in our 80s and in a retirement home somewhere in Florida we can get the band back together and revisit it. Get the petition going and maybe it'll happen. I just rewatched it in preparation for this interview and I was happy that it still held up.
Alex: Yeah, it's nice knowing that something you worked on still holds up after all this time.
Joshua: On Behalf of all the Keshi heads out there, thank you for bringing the series to the masses.
Ben: You're Welcome.
Alex: No problem
Joshua: And also, thank you for ruining our lives.
Ben and Alex: (Laughing) well that's good to know.