Mr Flibble Talks To... Legends of Comedy
She's the woman behind what is likely to be one of the most fascinating books about British comedy ever produced. Mr Flibble goes down under to get Chrissie MacDonald's opinion of Red Dwarf's success.
26 October, 2001
Chrissie MacDonald
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered his first question to Andrew, who dutifully relayed it: How did someone so involved with Australian politics decide to write a book about BRITISH COMEDY?

Actually, you have the question the wrong way round! It is really a case of someone so involved with British comedy deciding to work in Australian politics. Comedy has always been an important part of my life. I come from a comedy family. My great-uncle was Jimmy Gold of Naughton and Gold, part of The Crazy Gang. My grandfather was Charlie Gold, who worked with the Fred Karno music hall comedy group, along with Charlie Chaplain and Stan Laurel. My parents instilled in me a love of comedy, teaching me that comedy is something to be taken very seriously! In fact, my first memory is Kenneth Williams saying his famous line, "Stop messing about!" I've always watched, listened to, read and written comedy; my book is a culmination of all of these and an expression of the things that amuse me.

I became interested in politics when the dreaded red-head, Pauline Hansen, became a political force here in Australia. I realised this bigoted, racist, red-necked woman had to be defeated, so I joined the local Labour Party.

Mr Flibble would like to distance himself from any opinions herein, which are entirely those of the interview subject. Antarctic waterfowl aren't that interested in politics, anyway.

Our local Labour Member of Parliament thought that my writing/comedy talents could be helpful to her in her office and she asked me to work for her. I now write her newspaper columns, media releases, website and I am her unofficial gag writer! The most recent speech I wrote for her was in support of the Animal Protection Bill. That would include penguins!

I take it this is a 'spare time' project; being done when you've finished work...?

That's right. It is a 'spare time' project, but there are times when I feel like I have two jobs. Fortunately I love them both, although I haven't slept for 18 months!

Mr Flibble sleeps very well, every night - in Andrew's desk drawer. Tell us about the book - which shows will you be covering?

The book covers the history of British comedy from the days of the Comedy Store through to the Comic Strip, The Comic Strip Presents, The Young Ones and Bottom and includes French and Saunders, Ab Fab, Red Dwarf and Blackadder. Some called it "alternative comedy" or "new comedy" but I believe it more a case of comedy evolving. It will take the reader through the early days of the "new comedy", concentrating mainly on The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents and will include an episode-by-episode guide to these two series.

Mr Flibble began to complain about better living conditions - the drawer also being home to a dozen sharp pencils and a staple gun. Andrew pressed on regardless. How do you see RED DWARF fitting into that evolution history?

Red Dwarf first hit the screens in the late 80's. It, too, was revolutionary; boldly going where no comedy had gone before. Paul Jackson had just as much difficulty getting Red Dwarf accepted by the grey-suited BBC executives as had with The Young Ones!

Do you think it equates in some ways to Blackadder - that in a way the period setting just happens to be the future rather than the past?

The fact that Red Dwarf isn't set in the present is, I believe, the only similarity with Blackadder. Blackadder was limited by history and a little stretch of the writers' imagination. There is no limit where (and when) Red Dwarf can go. Elton/Curtis are talented and clever writers who are unique, just as Grant/Naylor are unique. History moulded Blackadder and Baldrick; however, Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, Kochanski and the Cat have changed deep space forever!

What kind of shows do you think follow in the footsteps of 'Dwarf?


Great shows like The League of Gentlemen, Spaced, etc. seem to be the current future of Brit comedy. What do you make of them?

The League of Gentlemen is brilliant! It is savage, raw comedy much in the style of The Young Ones. Comedy is constantly evolving. The Royle Family and other "fly-on-the-wall", reality-style comedies seem to be examples of a new "new" comedy. I'd rather see this style of comedy on TV than Big Brother or Survivor reality-type crap.

Mr Flibble demanded a suite at the Hilton. Andrew stopped listening. Why do you think Red Dwarf has been so popular?

Apart from the fact that it's very, very funny, the characters - Lister, Rimmer and even Kryten are believable and recognisable. They are real and familiar characters in an unbelievable time and place. The storylines and gags are wonderfully funny and take over the imagination. They follow science fiction rules (if there really are any) and are incredibly clever.

My favourite episode is Tikka To Ride, which takes the story of JFK (with sensitivity and respect) and not only attempts to explain the conspiracy theory of the man behind the grassy knoll, but also gives the viewer some classic comedy scenes, including Kryten without his guilt chip and the crew eating roast dead person! I love to be challenged with a paradox or two. Great, great stuff.

Who have you been INTERVIEWING for the book?

I have interviewed mainly producers, directors and writers, such as Paul Jackson, Peter Richardson, Bob Spiers, Michael White, Geoffrey Perkins, Geoff Posner and your creator, Doug Naylor. But I've also interviewed a number of actors and comedians including Nigel Planer, Keith Allen, Arnold Brown, Robert Llewellyn and Frank Woodley (of Aussie comedy duo, Lano and Woodley).

Paul Jackson must have been interesting...

Yes. Paul is going to write a foreword to the book. He is a fascinating, interesting and lovely man. We are both living proof that the best people on the planet originally came from the UK and now reside in Australia!

Did you get some interesting things from Doug?

What? Besides a cup of tea? Yes. Doug told me a quite a lot - the difficulty that he and Rob had getting Red Dwarf on the screen in the first place! Before Lister was ever placed in stasis for hiding his cat, there was a great story behind the creation of Red Dwarf and its characters. If you want to hear more, Mr F, you'll have to wait for the book!

Mr Flibble said he wouldn't ask any more questions until the matter of his accommodation was resolved. Andrew locked him in his deck drawer, smirked, and asked his own questions instead. What's the AUSTRALIAN ATTITUDE to imported comedy?

Australians like imported comedy more than its own! They tend to favour US comedy series - Frasier, Friends, The Nanny, Seinfeld etc etc etc. British comedy is also well received but to a lesser extent. Monty Python is always popular along with Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, The Young Ones and Red Dwarf.

Many of the best Brit comedies seem to be relegated to late night ABC, SBS or cable, such as The Fast Show, League of Gentlemen, Ali G and even Only Fools and Horses. If you asked the average Aussie "Do you like Harry Enfield?" you might just get the reply, "Doesn't he play for Essendon?" Having said that, Australia hosts one of the best Comedy Festivals in the world, the annual Melbourne Comedy Festival which offers audiences the best of Australian, British and US comedians. Mr Flibble would like it. Melbourne has a huge population of Fairy Penguins; not that I'm implying...

With the sound of a drawer being rattled by an irate penguin ringing in his ears, Andrew asked his final question: When are you hoping to release the book?

There is still a lot of work to do on it but I would love to have the book released to coincide with the 20th anniversary of both The Comic Strip Presents and The Young Ones - November 2002. I'm leaving that in the capable hands of my agent.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Chrissie, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross!