For Art's Sake

We take a look at two ultra-creative fan projects.

The way a TV show can affect people and drive them to be creative is amazing. Some start websites, others write fan fiction - but for two very different guys in very different parts of the world, Red Dwarf has inspired two very different projects.

James Falvey is a 42 year-old product designer. For the last five years he has been exhibiting his own pop art paintings following a lifelong fascination with drawing and painting.

Most recently, James has produced a series of paintings on one specific theme - a theme which pulls in Red Dwarf. "I love comedy," the artist explains, "so I set out to feature some of my heroes in paintings with 'pun' titles, completing 13 before the show started."

The paintings - some of which are featured here - make clever use of some icons of British comedy. A filthy image of Harry Hill is named 'Dirty Harry', a dual image of former Python Michael Palin is brilliantly entitled 'Palindrome', and there's even a petite image of Stephen 'Small' Fry. (James' two-tone picture of Hugh Laurie is also pictured. Guess the title and you'll find the answer at the bottom of the page.*)

Not that this was just a matter of coming up with cunning puns. "These exhibitions I organised through Bedfordshire County Council who, for legal reasons, required me to get permission from the subjects before displaying the paintings." In some cases, the comedians themselves ultimately purchased the paintings!

So - what's the story behind 'Red Dwarf'? "The idea was to mount the canvas low so it looked as though the character was too short to see out of the frame - and to make it red, obviously. My original concept featured all the cast in similar paintings and numbered I, II, III, IV etc, like the TV series. Sadly time ran out." A great pity, this, as there's something rather appealing about the idea of each of the Dwarfers peering at you from the bottom of a canvas.

The response to the exhibition - and especially the Dwarf image - has been excellent. "It received a lot of attention during the show and has become something of a talking point! My next show will feature actors, TV presenters and musicians alongside more comedians - nine confirmed so far but only two painted to date!"

"As agreed with Grant Naylor I have offered the Red Dwarf painting to them and to Craig himself - if they decline to purchase I will hopefully sell it to help fund a London show next year (no luck at finding sponsors yet). My pictures go for £150-350 - Dwarf would probably be around the £200 mark."

Pressed on the appeal of Red Dwarf, James is thoughtful. "I suppose it's the disparate personalities forced together with no hope of escape. It worked with Steptoe and it works here for the same reasons - great writing, superb character actors and situations that flow effortlessly. Add slapstick, surrealism and sci-fi and what more could anyone want?"

Maybe a talking toaster of your very own? That's certainly the opinion of 55 year-old American lawyer and Dwarf nut Joel Benson who, aside from being a massive collector of the show's props and costumes, has invested a lot of time and energy in creating a version of the garrulous appliance.

"So that you know how ancient I am," Joel points out, "let's just say I was involved in the development of the first cell telephone system. In the early 1970s, I was a design engineer for Bell Labs. I left engineering after about 4 years and obtained a law degree from Georgetown University in 1978. For about the last 25 years I have practiced intellectual property law with what is now one of the largest intellectual property specialty firms in the U.S."

The irony of an expert in copyright and patent infringement creating his own Talkie Toaster isn't hard to miss. Crapola Inc. - Talkie's manufacturer in the show - must surely be preparing to take legal action. In the meantime, Joel's remarkable creation is pictured here. But why the hell would you do such a thing?

"I invent things. I get ideas and sometimes I just can't stop myself from following through on them. The idea of my own Talkie Toaster amused me, and I knew it would be relatively simple for me to make a machine once I had an acceptable toaster body and speaker."

"The implementation was relatively straight-forward, although I did need to employ some methods and designs that might be considered unique and even innovative. I haven't given much thought to this. Mostly, I did it for fun, and for the feeling I get when I look at the Talkie models and think "now that's cool'." Clearly the joy of being badgered to eat thousands of rounds of toast every hour has yet to wear off!

"I had a rough image in my mind of how I wanted the thing to look and what I wanted it to do. I then went to a hardware store, an electronics store, and a department store and just grabbed and purchased whatever components I thought I would need. I would just wander around a store and look at tools and items, kind of free-associating, until I saw something that would work for my purpose. The whole process took only a couple weekends."

Madness, clearly - but of a very endearing kind. And it doesn't stop there. Joel's most recent prop acquisition means double trouble. "I recently acquired the original red Talkie Toaster Mark II. It is amazing. Some genius designed a radio-controlled mechanism for remotely moving the lever on the toaster up and down, while activating an array of lights on the toaster in varying patterns."

Joel's own creation - self-titled Talkie Toaster Mark III - was, in fact, inspired by his inability to get his lawyerly hands on the original. "I made this toaster because I could not acquire the original Talkie Toaster Mark I which was introduced in an early show. It was a thing of beauty. It had a chrome exterior and a big honking speaker on its side, which I think gave it more 'character' than the Mark II version. So, I set out to create an advanced, third generation version of the Talkie Toaster that would hearken back to the original, with a brushed chrome body and a retro-cool appearance."

But there's a level of functionality to the new generation that BBC vis FX would never have thought possible. "I made my Talkie Toaster in two versions. The first one has an actual toaster mechanism. That is, it actually toasts bread and bread-like things!"

"The other version is made for operation as a prop on a movie or television show. This version has a working powerful speaker in its side that will play music or a voice. This prop has an internal light that glows faintly red from the speaker. I have also provided a remote control button that causes the lever on the toaster to go up and down as the toaster 'talks'. I also added a switched mechanism that will move the lever and the light of the toaster in time to the music or voice that is played over the speaker."

Both versions are pictured - though it does seem like the toasters are starting to take over round at Joel's. Even the labelling has been created with care and attention to detail. "The Crapola manufacturer logo is prominently displayed on the front and back of each toaster. A label on the back also states that the toaster is the property of the Jupiter Mining Company, and theft will result in six months in stasis or one year in the brig. A bottom 'warning label' states that you should not submerge the toaster in Bose Einstein Condensate (a new state of matter recently discovered in the real world) or liquid helium (too cold). The nerds should love this... I know I do!"

The label also says in order to avoid electric shock, genetic disruption, time dilation and 'decreased libido', you must unplug the toaster before you clean it. Well, we knew that bread-grilling little bastard was going to be trouble.

It's an amazing thing to create a show that affects and entertains so many people. But it's so much more amazing - and not a little bizarre - when the fans' creativity starts to match that of the production crew. We're a long way from fan fiction now!

If you've created something Dwarf-y, why not let us know about it on the Red Dwarf Webboard.

* The final James Falvey image is named Red Laurie Yellow Laurie.

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