Mr Flibble Talks To... Monroe Droid
Mr Flibble talks to Series III's robotic Marilyn - and almost-Holly! - Julie Higginson.
7 November, 2003
Julie Higginson
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered his first question into Andrew's shell-like - the by-now-traditional 'How did you begin ACTING?'

I grew up in a Nottinghamshire mining village, and my mum was always very into amateur dramatics. She took me along as a little girl, and I guess I must have picked up the bug from there. I was in a couple of the productions, but when I was 16 I got the chance to play Anne Frank, which is what really spurred me on to wanting to go to drama school. So that's what I did.

I did three years, and when I came out I couldn't get a job at first - I was packing baked beans in a supermarket. Then I just happened to write to a fringe theatre company called Upstreet, and my letter just happened to fall on the [right] desk and get me an audition. It was a play called A Gentleman's Agreement and I played... 'Sloane Ranger' called Felicity. It was good.

How did you get involved with RED DWARF as the Monroe droid?

I had been doing a lot of radio comedy at BBC Manchester, and I knew a guy called Mike Craig who was a producer - I did a lot of comedy series with him. I think he was a bit of a mentor to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and he told me to contact them.

If my memory serves me right, I either wrote or rang, then went down to London to audition for the part of Holly [for Series III]... which I didn't get, but word came back that I would have been their second choice. I think Hattie had done quite a bit more than me at that stage - anyway, they were opting for her. But they wanted to give me something nice to kind of say 'sorry', which is how I got the part of Marilyn Monroe.

It was disappointing [not to get the part of Holly], but they were great, Rob and Doug. I really liked them. At that stage I hadn't done much telly - maybe just Coronation Street - but just the fact that I was going to be on Red Dwarf...! I didn't realise then that I was going to be in a robot suit...

Mr Flibble once played a Dalek in Dr Who, but had trouble reaching the plunger controls with his flipper...

They [just] rang and said, "Would you play Marilyn Monroe?" I was in seventh heaven! "Oh, yes, of course!" Because it's second nature to me to play Marilyn Monroe... (Laughs) What they didn't tell me until I got down was that it was in a space suit, with a mask on. A bit of a blow that one...

[The costume] was just there, waiting. It was very lightweight - if I remember rightly, it would rip quite easily, so you had to be quite careful. But the mask I remember being quite heavy, and very, very hot, and I did get a bit panicky. "I want to get this over and done with, I need to get out of this." It was claustrophobic.

Could you even see where you were going?!

It was quite difficult, actually. 'One of my more challenging roles'. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble said he once wore a mask to play the Phantom of the Opera - though obviously someone else did the singing and dialogue stuff. How did you feel ON SET with the cast and crew?

Everybody was really welcoming - really nice. I remember talking to Craig Charles and Chris and Danny, and they were absolutely lovely; and Ed Bye directing. I remember sitting next to his wife, Ruby Wax, in the make-up room.

It was towards the end of the shoot and they were about to have a wrap party, and they said 'you must come' - even though I had such a tiny part. I remember watching Robert get made up - that was a long process. Poor man, he was sat there for hours.

Because I didn't have an enormous part, and because nobody could see me, I just kind of did it. I didn't actually go to any rehearsals - I just turned up on the day and walked through a wall. That was it!

Did you receive any effects instructions at all?

It was quite hard. You had to use quite some force to do it, you needed quite some energy. But it was pretty straightforward: "Just walk through that wall." We did it in front of a live audience, and they really seemed to enjoy it. It was a good episode and everybody laughed a lot.

Live-audience TV can be quite an odd experience...

I have done it before - and since - and it is quite nerve-wracking. I don't particularly like it, but playing Marilyn Monroe was different because I didn't have any lines to forget and I had a mask on. It was a bit of a doddle, really! Take the money and run, really... not that I could run in that outfit. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble still resents Pierce Brosnan for stepping into the part of 007 when Mr F was clearly right for the part - complete with built-in tuxedo. Did you ever watch the programme and wonder how things might have been had you landed the role of Holly?

Yes - it could have been very different. I think [Hattie] does it very well, though - there are no sour grapes. But it would have been nice to have done it. It's just the way it worked out, and other things come along, other parts. Still, it would have been fun.

I did watch the entire series, because I was already a big fan of Red Dwarf. I just wish I'd had more to do... or been able to be recognised! But people still say to me, "Oh, wow, you were on Red Dwarf!" They ask what I played, and I always say 'Marilyn Monroe'. I don't add '...with a mask.' (Laughs)

There have been three Marilyns on Red Dwarf altogether...

Did they wear masks?

The other two didn't, no. How do you feel about watching yourself on TV?

I'm not huge on it, to be honest with you. I remember Diana Rigg once saying that she hated seeing herself on television. I don't particularly like it. But I cope with Red Dwarf because I've got the mask on. I've recently done ten episodes of Emmerdale, but I really and truly prefer the theatre as an actress. I've just been off doing Little Voice. But, that said, I would like to do more - I'd love to do a really good comedy on TV.

Where else might our fans know you from - what OTHER SHOWS have you been on?

I do voices for children's cartoons - including Hilltop Hospital on Children's ITV, I do a lot of voices for that, that's with Celia Imrie and Kevin Whatley. I've done one called Tales of the Tooth Mice, and Romuald the Reindeer with Nigel Planer. So I've become quite skilled at doing silly voices!

Could you help Mr Flibble add more entries to his TV soap illness collection? You've done a couple of those programmes...

In Doctors I played a single mum living on a very rough estate and bringing up her baby with her partner. I was trying to cold-turkey myself off Valium, which was bringing up all these symptoms. The son was always finding me shaking and he brings the doctor in, who diagnoses me. That was a really good part to do - quite emotional.

In Holby City I wasn't a patient, I played a patient's wife. He'd been taken in having fallen, but he'd also accidentally overdosed on pain-killers. I had some nice scenes with him in the hospital, where I thought he was having an affair, asking if he didn't love me any more. The truth is that he does, and he'd been working too hard and had done his back in - hence the painkillers. A nice character.

Finally, of all the people you've worked with, is there anyone you feel you've learned something from?

I did a radio comedy show with Ken Dodd several years ago. And not that I want to be a stand-up comedian - or look like Ken Dodd! - but I do think he's very, very gifted. He just holds an audience in the palm of his hand. Brilliant. I'd heard that his shows go on and on and on because he can't stop - and it's true!

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