Mr Flibble Talks To... The Penguin & The Cat
The best-dressed character on television he may be, right down to the cat's pyjamas - but what does the feisty feline do when the fur comes off? Mr Flibble tracked down Danny John-Jules for tales of pussy galore...
20 November, 2000
Danny John-Jules
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered that you're very versatile, with almost as big a range as he has. You do stage, screen, voices, all kinds of things - what do you see yourself as, mainly?

I'm A SONG AND DANCE MAN by trade. Variety was the original form of show-biz, variety came before film, before television and before all the rest of it. It was the original form of show-biz, which is no longer here; so the substance of most of the work now shows - and it's shallow, because it hasn't got that experience and that old-school feel.

All the big gangsters - James Cagney, George Raft - all these guys were dancers. Cagney's first gig was playing a woman on stage. That's experience and training that you can't buy - Vaudeville. You cannot replace a song and dance man with a computer

So you see yourself as a kind of human special effect?

Well, yes! I am! It's like being a restauranteur - you can't go wrong; a computer can never take over your business, because people have to eat. It's like after you've seen 15 special effects in a movie, it then becomes boring. But then if you turn around and see Steve Martin do a comedy song and dance number!

Your vaudeville skills also include ROLLER-SKATING, which you've used in Starlight Express as well as Red Dwarf. Can you still do it?

I've always roller-skated. I never roller-skated for business, I roller-skated for pleasure. Have you never gone to a roller-disco?

Mr Flibble told Andrew he has trouble getting skates to fit his flippers...

That was recreation to us, that wasn't work. Roller-disco was recreation. I got to use it before Red Dwarf, because I did Starlight Express. And I got Starlight Express not because I was training to be in Starlight, I just so happened to know how to roller-skate. The more you know, the more chance you've got; your horizons are bro

So what are you going to do if you're a sit-com actor, and there are no sit-coms being made? What are you going to do if you're a movie actor and there's no movies being made? What happens if you're an all-rounder and you can go into any one of them?

When people are fed up with seeing your face, you're gone. Whereas at least if they get fed up of my face on the TV, I can go and do a musical, or a straight play. You must have those fire exit doors ready.

Your skills also stretch into pop music - the TONGUE TIED single made it into the top twenty with no promotion and no TV screen time. That must be pretty gratifying?

Yeah, because that just proves that the fans were willing to put their money where their mouth is, without seeing anything or hearing anything. That's loyalty. But then again, they've never been robbed. My performance is there - they get what they paid for. When I say paid for - they've tuned into our show looking for something, and they haven't been disappointed. 'He's never disappointed us before, so why do we need proof? Let's buy the song.' And that's the best way to be.

You directed the video for that - which the Red Dwarf cast worked on as a favour to you.

This is the problem we have in England - nobody wants to give you money to do anything, so you have to make do with what you have. That's what [Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels director] Guy Richie did, now they're throwing money at him.

Do you ever want to write or direct again?

Oh, yeah. All this is about learning to direct, isn't it, surely? After twenty years you know everything, and you've been there, and you've watched someone sort the problems out. Most of these things are obvious. There's nothing that you have to be a Bachelor of Science to understand.

Speaking of which, you were in one of the UK's biggest films of recent years - LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS

And then that director said there's no good black actors in England! They gave me the monologue - Barfly Jack - then the director phoned me up and said he wanted to change my monologue with another guy, one villain's monologue, the night before. I said okay, so they got it to me, then phoned me up and said, 'Well, actually the other guy doesn't want to change because he hasn't got enough time to learn it. He's too scared to change characters.'

I came back in the morning, ready to do this page of dialogue, did it - and he rewrote it in between every take. It's water off a duck's back. Hey, I knew my shit. He was unsure about his - hence the rewriting after every take. But he said there are no good black actors. I'm very proud of what I did in the movie, and so are all my friends, and that's the only thing that matters to me.

Are there any parts that you'd really like to play?

No. I'm a jobbing character actor. There are scripts and they need to be moved - I move them. I see every job as a challenge, and I go from stage to screen to TV, voiceovers and the secret is not to get knocked. The secret is to make sure what you're doing, make sure you understand it.

Mr Flibble talked about his time filming A Year In Provence II before moving on to the topic of CHARLES AUGINS...

Yes, Augy! He's left England because he couldn't get any work. All the stuff that he's done and he can't get any work! He was my mentor. He was the first person to be really honest with me, and when I auditioned for Bubbling Brown Sugar I went up five times and he turned me down five times. That's why I know it's real.

But as good as he is and as much as he knows - he taught me everything I know about show business - he couldn't get any work here. He did the Blue Midget tap-dance, he did the original Tongue Tied, he played Queeg. He came to dinner with me and all the Red Dwarf crew, and Rob and Doug liked him so much they wrote an episode for him.

Mr Flibble tries not to get too close to his public, and wondered why you so often offer FANS a ride home?

Well, you've got to make sure they got home safe. You can't have people saying, 'The last person she talked to was Danny John-Jules' while you're handcuffed in the cells.

So, Pavarotti - how much money does he make?

They just give him the bank when he turns up! You've been reading Robert Llewellyn's book - he's stolen my quotes! My quotes are in everybody's books except my own. I'm quoted in Robert's new book; I'm quoted walking down the road with Robert. The "Woofers" and "The National Woofminster Bank" and all of that - they're making money out of me.

Will you ever do an autobiography yourself?

That's what I'm waiting for. The thing is, I don't want to write it until I'm not working with my mates any more, then I can slag them off. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Danny John-Jules, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.