Mr Flibble Talks To... Connecting the Dots
Comedy Connections producer Toby Stevens and director Angus McIntyre join Mr Flibble to chart the making of their Red Dwarf special.
27 August, 2004
Comedy Connections
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Who created the funky 'tube map' graphics used in the show?

TOBY: The notion of the map came from the group of people who developed the show, but the final design came from a very talented graphic designer called Mark Breslin who works for a company called ISO Design in Glasgow. Lots of the companies we explained the idea to seemed to be a bit intimidated by its complexity and our desire to keep everything flexible in order to have the graphic sequences made bespoke, late in the post-production process. Mark sat, listened, went away and stripped it back to its simplest form. The use of the photos was his idea and the only thing we struggled to agree on before the first series was the background colour. Mark's first pitch had a sort of dysentery beige background which worked for the 70s shows, but didn't really suit anything more modern. Mark kept trying to push a grey that was the background colour on his Mac monitor, but being entertainment types we weren't convinced by what we regarded as a non-colour and eventually Graeme Hart suggested sky blue - which works really well with the photos.

We were able to develop the graphics further for series two by having the arrows animate during the journeys to make the connections clearer. We also introduced a few extra elements so that more and more we hope it looks like a scrapbook - the pictures are more roughly cut out and we added a graph paper pattern to the blue background which helps with both the 3-dimensional depth and the parallax effect too. I suppose we're aiming for the graphics to appear like the slightly deranged doodlings of a strange obsessive mind - tracing paths, making connections and imposing order on events that had no coherent pattern as they occurred and came about purely through happenstance and can only be related to one another in retrospect. And if that doesn't end up in Pseuds' Corner then something is wrong with the world.

Why was Julia Sawalha chosen to voice the show?

I was very sure the show's voice needed to be a woman. With the best will in the world, most 'anoraks' are men. We had just enough self-awareness to know that we were anoraks, working in a Portakabin, making anorak TV. We thought that people like us would watch the show whoever we chose as the voice of Comedy Connections. But we also knew we were on BBC One and that a wider appeal was necessary. I knew from the start that the series was likely to be information-heavy, and I thought that a woman's voice might help get that information across without it seeming intimidating, exclusive or in any way macho or posturing. There can be something horribly self-satisfied about men when they've got information at their fingertips - a smug, aren't-I-cleverness that I think can be a real danger for a series like Comedy Connections.

Self-protection came into it too. Mistakes and oversights are inevitable in a show like Comedy Connections and if we come over all know-all then I think the audience find it far harder to forgive us our errors and omissions. So I was trying to take all of those things completely out of the equation by picking a voice that wasn't smug, wasn't too intellectual and wasn't posh. There were a few names in the frame, but Julia was associated with comedy from Ab Fab, had an easy, conversational quality to her voice which would help us over the anorak trap and, besides, I had a bit of a crush on her when she was first on Press Gang...