Gladiators, Get Ready!

Referees for Gladiators are donning their whistles to maintain order in the arena, and they’re led by none other than ex-Premier League football referee Mark Clattenburg, joined by Sonia Mkoloma and Lee Phillips.

The adrenaline-fueled and iconic sports entertainment game show, Gladiators, is making its triumphant return to the BBC, boasting a new home and hosted by the dynamic father-son duo Bradley and Barney Walsh. The show features a fresh generation of superhuman Gladiators battling against courageous contenders in the ultimate test of speed and strength, navigating through brand-new games and classic challenges, including the much-loved Eliminator.

Produced by Hungry Bear and MGM Alternative UK for BBC One and BBC iPlayer, Gladiators (11 x 60′) was commissioned by Kate Phillips, the Director of Unscripted. Executive Producers Dan Baldwin and Lou Brown helm the production for Hungry Bear, alongside Dom Bird for MGM Alternative UK. Kalpna Patel-Knight, the Head of Entertainment Commissioning for the BBC, and Clodagh O’Donoghue, the Commissioning Editor for the BBC, are overseeing the show.

The UK series, developed by Hungry Bear Media, pays homage to the original American Gladiators series created by Johnny C. Ferraro and Dan Carr. Brace yourselves as Gladiators kicks off with the first whistle on Saturday, January 13, 2024, on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

Mark Clattenburg

Mark Clattenburg is one of England’s most decorated referees. He became a Premier League referee in 2004 before becoming a FIFA-listed referee in 2006 – meaning he could take charge of international fixtures.  He oversaw several big games – including the 2012 Men’s Olympics final, the 2012 Carabao Cup final, the 2014 European Super Cup as well as the 2016 FA Cup, Champions League and European Championships Finals. Mark is considered one of the most highly-rated European referees of his generation.

How did it feel to get the call to say you’re going to be a referee on Gladiators?

It was quite exciting.  When I watched the show back in the 90’s everyone knew who the referee was, John Anderson and to get the call to say I was going to be the new referee on Gladiators was such an amazing thing and probably one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. 

How did you feel when you saw the arena for the first time?

It was breath-taking.  I’ve seen arena’s before working on sporting events, and at concerts but to see it the way it was when the Gladiators events where being set up was just unbelievable.  In the first few training days, we didn’t really get what was about to happen and then 3-4 thousand people were coming in everyday to watch us, it was brilliant to have that atmosphere.

And what was it like when you saw the Gladiators for the first time?

Some of them are intimidating, some of them are big and some of them knew who I was because I was a football referee and they loved football so that was nice.  We all became good friends, even though I had to keep them in check at times.   It was so fun and great to be a part of, and that we could have a laugh. I could be serious with them and then five minutes later after being serious, have bear hugs, it was such good fun to have them around.

As head referee did you have any major disagreements with any of the Gladiators ?

Viper often disregarded the rules on most events – Duel, The Ring, Collision …. You name it! So I had quite a few disagreements with Viper!

It’s a competition and sometimes things can get a bit heated.  Did you ever find yourself in a situation where you had to cool things down between the contenders and Gladiators?

There was one or two moments between a contender and Viper which I had to step in, but overall there was a lot of respect between the contenders and Gladiators. Some of the contenders were shocked by the Gladiators and  how strong and fast they were. 

How do you think your background as a football referee helped you control the Gladiators?

The management and communication skills that I gained as a football referee definitely helped in Gladiators.   So when I was doing the interviews with Hungry Bear and BBC these were the elements that I was homing in on, because that was my strongest skill set. You’re not just refereeing Gladiators and Contenders you’re making a TV show as well, so the communication side of that and explaining a decision for the audience, is also key.

Which event on Gladiators do you think you’d be good at and why?

I’d love to have a go at Duel so you can hit each other as hard as possible and get them off the podium but watching the gladiators and how good they were at the game, I’m not sure I’d be successful.

Which Gladiator would you not want to go up against?

Giant, especially in Duel, he was just knocking them off within seconds he was that strong.

What would your Gladiator name be?

Explosion. I can be quite an explosive character and when I was a football ref I was quite explosive so I’d probably be Explosion and try to be as fast as possible and get the contenders out as quick as possible.

What can viewers expect from the new series?

It hasn’t been on screens for years and what people will see is a brilliant show.  Not just for adults, it will be for children as well and I think families are able to get together and enjoy what was one of the most iconic shows of the nineties.  Being a part of this has been brilliant. The games have been played out in such a great way, it will make great TV, which I think people will enjoy and that’s the most important thing.

Sonia Mkoloma

Sonia Mkoloma is a former English international netball player and made her debut for the English National Team ‘Vitality Roses’ in 1999. During her career Sonia has competed at five Netball World Cups and three Commonwealth Games – making an incredible 123 international test appearances. Sonia now works as the England Netball Assistant Head coach.

Tell us about your reaction when you got the call to say you’ll be a referee on Gladiators.

I started smiling as I thought it was a joke at first.  I love Gladiators.  It was a shock and a surprise, but I was super excited.

What was it like seeing the arena for the first time?

Overwhelming, it was amazing.  I don’t know what I imagined but I guess you never see it from the other side. It was just so impressive the way it was set up and ready to go.

Did it bring back memories of watching the original series?

I loved the original Gladiators.  I am one of four kids, so we used to muck around and fight and pretend to do Gauntlet and Duel and loved the theme song, I was a massive fan.  Hearing the song again gave me goosebumps.

How was it filming in Sheffield?

It was fun, everybody on the show and the production team all got along.  Lots of laughs and smiles, good energy amongst the whole group and everyone just got along and for me it felt like a mini family.  It’s quite similar to Netball where you make connections with people that you just met, everyone’s on the same page has the same goal and mission and it just all aligns. 

Do you have a favourite game

I love The Edge, every time someone got taken down, I would cringe, I loved that.  I also loved the Gauntlet; I think that game is great.

Any funny moments during filming?

Oh loads, the crowd really got into the show and were booing us loads, especially Mark.  The crowd didn’t want to boo me, so Mark would send me & Lee out first in the hope he wouldn’t get booed.

Lee Phillips

Lee is a fitness professional, firefighter and athlete. Following University, he became a full-time firefighter. After joining the fire service Lee began competing in firefighter fitness competitions and in 2017 and 2022 competed in the World Police and Firefighter Games in Los Angeles and Rotterdam amongst 10,000 athletes. He won gold in the Ultimate Firefighter and CrossFit competitions making him 4 times World Champion.

How did it feel when you got the call to say you’ll be a referee in Gladiators?

I was really excited.  I got involved helping run the fitness tests for try-outs for the Gladiators and contenders, but when I got the call about being an assistant referee I was really excited.

What was it like when you saw the arena for the first time

That was something special.  I remember when I walked into the arena, they had the Eliminator set up and it was just really cool to actually see it in the flesh.  From growing up watching it on TV, to actually being there, it was unbelievable.

The show was filmed in Sheffield, what was the atmosphere like?

The audience was awesome, it was really great atmosphere in the arena. 

Were there any particularly funny moments that you remember from filming?

Mark Clattenburg, the head referee, was quite scared of heights, so when he would go up on The Edge, he would pretend he was all confident when really, he was clutching onto the handrail!

If you were competing in Gladiators, which event would you be good at?

Well, I actually got to try the Eliminator as they needed someone to run through it for camera testing.   I managed it a few times and not to blow my own trumpet was it was pretty good. 

Which Gladiator would you not want to face?

Nitro he’s an Olympic sprinter, so he’s really fast and very difficult to get away from him in certain games. And he’s pretty good dancer, so I can’t keep up with his dance moves!

What would your Gladiator name be?

I think Dragon just because I’m from Wales originally, the Welsh dragon. And I’m a firefighter so there’s the association with fire breathing Dragons.

Finally, what can viewers expect from the new series?

It’s a real action-packed show with lots to look forward to.  A new breed of superheroes and villains, some inspirational stories and some nail-biting close finishes.