|The Dark Half
Mr Flibble returns to talk bodysnatching with Red Dwarf co-creator Rob Grant.
16 November, 2007
Mr Flibble found himself in awe of his co-creator, leaving Andrew to kick off the interview - asking how BODYSNATCHER fits within the history of Red Dwarf.
It was the second show we ever wrote. Show two is notoriously the most difficult in any series. When you write a pilot, you can't know exactly where the series is going to go, all you can do is take an educated guess. You put enough plates in the air, so that even when some of them come crashing down, you've still got enough going to sustain the series. A pilot is all about promise. Show two is about delivering.
What was the process of completing Bodysnatcher all these years later?
Doug and I both took stabs at it and handed versions back and forth. It was fun.
How come it was incomplete?
I'm not completely sure. It's most unlike us not to finish a show in some form or another and let anybody see it. It was close enough to completion: just about two thirds of a scene short of an episode. It's very odd. We were busy at the time, on Spitting Image, and we were keen to get a second show out, so that might explain it. It's possible we actually did produce a finished version that got mislaid over the years.
It would have been the second episode of the series - at what point was it dropped, and why?
The first mounting of the first series was stymied by an electrician's strike at the BBC. We rehearsed the first three shows, in the hope the strike might break and we could catch up, somehow, but it didn't break in time, and the series was abandoned. We seriously thought that would be the end of it, which was heartbreaking.
Then we got the word we were re-mounting. The original ending of Confidence and Paranoia, which was, at the time, the final show in the series, had Kochanski returning as a hologram. Doug and I were going over the shows, about a week before rehearsals were due to re-start, and I remarked that it would be more interesting if the second hologram turned out to be another Rimmer, then we could have a next show with two Rimmers - the notion of how people would get along if they had to live with themselves was a concept we'd discussed quite a lot.
To my horror, Doug said: 'Okay, let's write it, then.' And he meant it! I couldn't believe it - we weren't going to get paid any extra money for producing a seventh show and dropping another. I wished I'd kept my mouth shut. In the end, I think Doug was completely right. It completely changed the balance of the series for the better. Bodysnatcher was the unfortunate casualty.
Looking at it now, what do you think of the finished script?
I think it's terrific. I wish we'd had it back in the day - we could have dropped Waiting For God, or something. The script was pretty solid in the first place, but back then we had this terrible habit of creating funny set ups and not quite delivering the laughs. The script is now very funny indeed.
It's been rendered in an interesting way - storyboards, impersonations and sound effects...
Chris does a magnificent job. His Lister impression's much better now than it used to be. Of course, I'd really love to see it shot live, but this is the next best thing.
Mr Flibble had decided on how to deal with his co-creator... by worshipping him. Stands to reason. While establishing his own religion and applying for tax-exempt status, he let Andrew ask about the recording of Rob's first ever DVD COMMENTARIES...
It was great. We hadn't seen each other for a while, and we had a fabulous time in the studio. I think we had to be dragged out in the end.
You recorded a commentary for an interview you guys did with Alan Titchmarsh in 1991 - for those who haven't seen it yet, can you explain why it requires... explanation?
It was a bit of a nightmare. Mr. Titchmarsh starts asking the oddest questions: apparently he'd discarded the questions set by the researcher, who knew and liked the show, and just went off on his own mad tack. I remember starting fairly confidently, but then I caught sight of the audience, all blue rinses and Zimmer frames, staring at us blankly, and I lost it. I don't think they'd ever heard of Science Fiction, let alone Red Dwarf. I clammed up completely and Doug had to step into the breach, which he did, gamely.
There's a fantastic moment when Doug makes an insanely bold attempt to answer a question about comedy technique. The whole experience was awful. It was capped by the show's finale, where we had to pretend to hang decorations on the Pebble Mill Christmas tree under the closing credits, along with, among others, Errol Brown from Hot Chocolate. I was kind of hoping the tape would be lost forever. No such luck.
Though at least the high-profile guests meant it couldn't be cleared for DVD! The Bodysnatcher Collection also includes Dad and some other script extracts that you must not have seen in a while...
Yes, I was astonished how much stuff there was. Most of it was pretty good, too.
We also made you sit through THE END: THE ORIGINAL ASSEMBLY. Nightmare?
It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been dreading. The pilot script, remember, had been tremendously well received by just about anyone who ever read it, so we'd been loathe to fiddle with it, which was a big mistake.
As we've said elsewhere (with excuses to Napoleon) a script is like a battle plan, and no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. It needed honing, on top of all the other problems of a first show, where all the cast and crew are feeling their way, really. Plus, we had to drag in a skeleton crew audience from the local pubs. In spite of all that, the show has a lot more going for it than I remembered.
What do you recall about the time after that first episode recording? And the decisions and practicalities of making changes to it?
Well, for some odd reason, the BBC had paid for seven shows, but only wanted six, so we had a spare week at the end of the run to touch up any bits we didn't like. That included putting Holly in shot on screens on the first couple of shows, because we'd only introduced him after the first few shows. The general feeling was that the first show was a bit of a bomb, and it had to be broadcast first, so we set about feverishly trying to beef it up.
Mr Flibble began chanting and bowing down to Rob, Penguin-Maker and Ruler Of All Things. Which even we have to acknowledge is getting a bit weird. Still, Rob was easily distracted by being asked what appeals to him about being a NOVELIST.
There's a different thrill writing novels: it's just down to you. There's no budget to worry about, no logistics, no props that don't work, or actors who can't say the word 'phenomenon'. Other media are, by their nature, more collaborative. On the other hand, writing novels is just down to you: no help if you hit trouble, no camaraderie, no support, no group orgies. It's swings and roundabouts.
After Fat came out has everyone tried to talk to you about their diets?
I've had a few people who say it's changed the way they react to food and dietary guidelines, which is great.
Do you plan to write other books in the Fat style? Something else that's research-aware, with a strong statement behind it?
That sounds so dry and earnest. First and foremost, I want to deliver a good read, and genuine laughs. The 'issue' element is secondary, but it is nice if you can provoke the readers' minds and intrigue them.
For that matter, will you ever do another Red Dwarf novel? Am I right in saying there's still an option for both you and Doug to do one more each?
I think that's right, yes. I'd love to write another one at some point: as I said, it was tremendous fun overhauling Bodysnatcher.
Fans have watched both you and Doug write various solo material now for a long time, and everyone seems to have a theory about 'who did what' within your writing partnership - what's your take on that?
When Doug and I wrote together, we sat down at a table, I typed, and we agreed every word before it went down. We were never precious about who came up with what - that would never work in a writing partnership. Frankly, I was never even conscious of it. People would come up to us and say: 'Ooh, that's a Rob line, isn't it?' or 'I bet Doug wrote that,' and Doug and I would look at each other a little baffled. That stuff about our being a gestalt was only a half joke.
Andrew quietly prevented Mr Flibble from ritually sacrificing a goat and moved on to Rob's various TV PROJECTS. How did Dark Ages come about? Because it has a separate 'created by' credit...
Justin Judd, who'd produced season VI of Red Dwarf, gave me a script, which I thought was pleasant enough, without actually being funny. He believed in the idea, and he thought I could do something with it. I turned him down quite a few times, but he was very persistent. I did some research on the period, and finally I caved. I thought I could do something good with it.
The show I wrote, in the end, didn't contain a line from the original script. We got together a magnificent cast, and Steve Bendelack as director. I thought the show was good. A new series is always rocky at the start, but I think by show three we were up and running.
Sadly, the show was scheduled idiotically. It originally had a regular slot, climaxing on New Year's Eve, 1999, but ITV panicked when the BBC 'scheduled aggressively' against it, and decided it would be much better to scatter transmissions all over the place, in different timeslots - sometimes, two on the same night, back to back - on different days, so even the most dedicated viewer couldn't have kept up with it. It was a big disappointment. We all had high hopes.
Are you able to tell us anything about your rumoured animated series Cruel Aliens?
Cruel Aliens is no longer with Aardman. They just couldn't get anyone to bite on it. Watch this space, though...
Finally, just a general question: What comedy and SF are you enjoying right now in TV, film, and literature?
I love The It Crowd. Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip is the finest piece of television ever to come out of the States, so, of course, they cancelled it at the end of its first run. I'm a fan of Dexter, and a total Lost nut. I enjoyed Heroes, but towards the end of the season, I found my interest floundering.
There are some very funny lines in Lee Mack's Not Going Out, but it feels very old school sit com. I'll keep watching: it deserves a chance. The Thick Of It is brilliant, but they have some obvious casting issues now. Rome was superb.
I've been reading Arthur C. Clarke's complete short stories again. Great stuff. There's one, The Sentinel, which he submitted to the BBC in a short story competition. It didn't even place. That story later became the basis for 2001 - A Space Odyssey. I wonder what happened to the story that won...?
Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Rob Grant, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble's very cross.