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The making of Tournament 8: Never work with animals...

Updated Friday, 25th May 2007

The Timewatch series about jousting comes together as Saul David mounts his horse.

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Historian and author Saul David's diary about being the presenter of Timewatch's Tournament programme.

Monday 21 May

Dom's managed to squeeze in an extra half-day filming pieces-to-camera (PTCs) and establishers at Old Sarum Castle, near Salisbury, and in the car (on the way to Knight's School). I deliver one PTC through the windscreen to the camera mounted on the bonnet. Not easy when you're trying to drive at the same time!

There are seven of us: me, Dom, Paul (camera), Paul Paragon (sound), James, Emily and Dan. We wrap at 5.30 and drive to our B&B in the village of Berwick St James, close to the Knight's School at nearby Druid's Lodge.

After dinner in a local pub we discuss the next day's filming – me learning to joust – with Alan Larsen who runs the Knight's School. He tells me my mount is a polo pony of sixteen hands (very tall!) and that I'll need a bit of time to get acquainted with him before we start filming. I'm terrified.

Tuesday 22 May

We meet Alan at Druid's Lodge at 7.30 am and are introduced to his two 'knights' Dom (another one) and ?, both expert jousters, who will be assisting us. We knights get kitted out in padded surcoats and pointy boots (the armour comes later), and I warm up with a couple of PTCs.

One requires a single take (first time ever); the other at least ten, and not because I fluff my lines. The problem is the horse. We need his head out of the stable, to illustrate the point I'm making, but he keeps ducking back inside. Eventually Alan goes into the stable and holds him in place. What do they say about never filming with children or animals?

A pony looking through a stable door [Image: nomanson under CC-BY-NC licence] Creative commons image Icon nomanson under CC-BY-NC licence under Creative-Commons license
They should have booked this guy: A pony looking through a stable door

Learning to joust against the spinning quintain is next, and while Dom (the knight) and ? demonstrate how it's done, I get acquainted with my horse. It feels strange to be in the saddle again, particularly on such a tall horse, but he's beautifully behaved and responds to the slightest touch on his reins.

First I learn to ride with the reins in one hand (it's hard enough with two) and then to hold and manœuvre a spear and a sword. The trick, says Alan, is to avoid hitting the horse! Easier said than done, but I seem to be making reasonable progress.

My 20 minutes of tuition up, we head over to the parade ring to try the quintain. I do a walk through first, trying to get the spear in the right position, and then at a canter. And blow me down if I don't hit the target first time. Two more runs and two more hits. Slicing cabbages with a sword is next and, give or take the odd air shot, I don't do badly at that either. I'm beginning to enjoy this.

What next? I say. Get kitted out in armour, says Dom (the director), because one of the knights is going to shatter a lance on you.

Will I have a shield?


Ten minutes later and I'm sitting on a wooden horse (I'm not kidding) in full armour as Dom (the knight) lines me up from the far end of the parade ring. As I pull my visor down I see Dom moving towards me at a canter.

My biggest fear is that, like Henry II of France, I'll be killed by a lance splinter through the eye slit in my helmet! (Not likely, I know, but I'm not at my most rational.) I close my eyes and tense my body, waiting for the strike.

It doesn't come.

Dom's missed.

He tries again, and fails.

The third time his lance glances off my helmet. Now I'm getting worried. 

Dom blames his horse and ? takes over. He hits me first time, smack on the breastbone. It's a bit like being punched, but no real pain. I raise my visor and say to camera, "that was absolutely terrifying" – and I mean it.

And then Dom (the director) says the magic words: "That's a wrap (wrap up/finish)." Thank God for that, think I. It's been a great shoot, but I can't wait to get back to my day job: writing books. Much safer. On the way to the train station, Alan tells me I could become a competition jouster in three months. I'm not convinced!

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