Mr Flibble Talks To... Penguin Books
The last time Mr Flibble met Robert Llewellyn, the Flibmeister was blasting at him with his hex-vision. This time Robert does not fear for his safety as Mr Flibble discusses Robert's best-selling novels, on-line experiments and his experiences with crooked therapists.
12 January, 2001
Robert Llewellyn - No. 1
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble has been writing his own novel for four years now and he asked Andrew to pass his manuscript on to Robert. Andrew declined, instead asking Robert where his new novel SUDDEN WEALTH sprang from...

It was an idea that I've had for a long time that I've been struggling to find a home for. It was through going to see a therapist about 12 years ago, at the end of a very difficult but explosive relationship. (Laughs) The guy I saw was extraordinary. In Hampstead - the classic - with a couch. But he was a crook! He was a sort of ex-crook. He was quite good. I was a crap client - I wasn't very good at being in therapy.

After I'd seen him about four or five times, he suggested that I get involved in a thing which I think he called 'A Flight.' Like a pyramid, like a f**king chain letter sort of thing! Where I gave him 50 quid, and then I get ten of my mates to give me 50 quid, and they get ten of their mates to give them 50 quid... This ludicrous, obviously fraudulent, dirt-cheap scam. I just looked at him and went, 'You cannot be serious about this!'

But that was the seed of the idea. In that position - when you're very vulnerable, with someone that you're trusting to be helpful and discreet about you. Over the next twelve years I wrote all sorts of versions of it, either as scripts or books or things, but it really wasn't until the last couple of years that I've hammered it down to the story that it is now.

It sounds like a B-Movie title - 'My Psychiatrist is a Crook!'

In the book you can't tell if the analyst is a crook - he isn't a crook, he's just very radical. He's just so radical that crime falls into his major remit. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble said his novel is about the demands of the theatre on a hard-working, but unappreciated, penguin. Is Sudden Wealth as issue-orientated as your last book, PUNCHBAG?

I'm not making a big point about therapists. I'm making a small point about them, in the fact that... researching other stuff I've written, there is no central governing body for therapists. Like the BMA - if you have a bent doctor, or a guy who kills your granny, eventually he will hopefully get busted; there is a central body that governs that.

But anyone [could] - I could - say I'm a therapist! Charge people 40 quid an hour to come and talk to me - find out their credit card numbers and rip them off! (Laughs) There was a wonderful case of a guy in Hampstead, who out of something like 32 female clients, 28 got divorced - and he'd slept with 15 of them! There wasn't really anything anyone could do.

That taken, I think the vast majority of the people in the talking therapies are trustworthy and do it all for the right reason. I'm not writing [that I] think all therapy is bad - I certainly know people who've benefited from it. But, you know, it's quite fun to have a go! (Laughs)

The Man on Platform 5 played a bit on the nature of Red Dwarf obsessives. What do you make of the FANS?

I have met genuine, stereotypical, nerdy Red Dwarf fans, but they make up about half a per-cent of them. I met a guy at a bookshop in Birmingham - when I was doing a book signing there on a really hot day - who did have an anorak on, and it was zipped up, and he did have lots of badges on, and did have bad teeth, and he did stand too close, and he was a complete nutter! (Laughs)

But I can remember him because he was unusual. The vast majority aren't like that, and I get very annoyed. In the book I was having a go at the media snobs, rather than at the fans. Because there is that thing of, 'Oh it's only boys in anoraks who watch Red Dwarf.' Which is patently rubbish. It was 'The Revenge of the Nerds' in a way. I mean, all my mates are nerds! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble said his own novel contained no bad language or sex, and wanted to know about Thin He Was and Filthy Haired. It had a lot of SEX in it - do you have an urge to confess?

I'm afraid so, and it's terrible. It's less of an issue with me now, I think, than it probably was when I was younger. Because I felt guilty about pornography, and real girls and whether I should fancy them, and it was all so bloody difficult. I never talked about it to anyone because I was so embarrassed, and it was rude, and you can't talk about things like that. So it was all blocked up.

Then, actually meeting men who would talk about that, and you were allowed to talk about it, and they said, 'Oh, I've looked at porn magazines and had a w**k.' You go, (gasps). 'You can't say that! Nobody does that, nobody, surely...' I thought I was the only one in England! I remember once finding out how many copies of Penthouse were sold each month, and then went, 'Oh, it isn't just me!' It's just me and I buy 500,000 copies a month. (Laughs) And I built a house with them.

Are there going to be FILM VERSIONS of any of your novels?

The [first] two are being adapted at the minute. The Man on Platform 5 is now in the final draft of its script. After only two years! The script's going out to certain film actors of large reputations - that I'm not allowed to divulge. I'm really excited about it. I'm sure they'll all say no, and it'll die the death, but at the moments it's still in its hopeful phase.

Have you read the script?

Yeah - it's fantastic, I'm really pleased with it. A guy called Robert Collector has written the screenplay. He was here last week and we spent a lot of time together. I think he's done an amazing job. I mean, it's better than the book, much better! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble suggested that '"Better than the book," Robert Llewellyn.' would look good on the movie poster. Is Punchbag being adapted for a BBC TV film?

For television, for a Screen One, I think. A film for television. And again with a fairly chunky actor attached to it, which is brilliant. I'm a real blabbermouth, but I'm not allowed to say. I've learnt my lesson.

Do you never want to adapt them yourself?

No, not really. Because they take so long to do, that really by the time I've finished them I'm so bored of the whole idea that I just want to do something else. The prospect of then sitting back down and spending another two years - like this has taken - to rewrite the whole thing... Oh God, no, I'd rather not.

I've just done a couple of screenplays for the BBC which were adaptations - one a true story, and one a book - which has been brilliant, they've been nothing to do with me! Neither have been made - as normal. One of them, I think, has got a fairly good chance of coming out. But that was great fun, because someone else has done all the donkey work. You do change it, obviously, but you've got that backbone to rely on, which is great.

Mr Flibble brought out his manuscript again. Andrew threw it out of the window and asked Robert about his WEBSITE, which seems to have become a bit of a major operation...

It wasn't meant to be! It was meant to be a small hobby! When Red Dwarf went out in America last year, my hit counts went off the scale. It was just extraordinary. The number of emails I got! It was just staggering. I think my record is 1200 in a day, which is when Red Dwarf went out in the States.

Tell us about and

It's mad isn't it! That came purely out of the technology - it was one of those things where, five years ago, the idea of an individual being able to write, record, edit and broadcast their own television show, in any form, was just impossible. And as that technology gradually developed, I just very slowly became aware that I could actually do a little jokey piece to camera and put it on my website, and people could see it anywhere in the world!

The stuff that I was doing is what - [when I was] doing stand-up comedy - I would do then. I interview various characters from around the world using very bad accents. They're really done off-the-cuff, there's no script. One of my plans was that no individual piece could take longer than an hour. It had to be shot, edited and converted in one hour - that was the goal I set myself.

And has that now moved on to the next level?

Out of that came my relationship with the people who've set up BwebB. They saw those clips and said, 'This is what we're trying to do. Are you interested in doing it properly?' (Laughs) is launching on Quicktime and it'll be a streaming video.

I'm doing a "sit-com" - in very large inverted commas - with Nigel Planer, about two brothers called Tom and Jerry. Nige plays Tom and he's a hippy - strangely enough (laughs) - and I plan his extremely up-tight, anally-retentive brother who is a .com millionaire. Tom lives in my flat, because he's too lazy to get a job - he's a therapist and he does acupuncture and massage and yoga... and he never does anything. He never finishes any courses. He's always taking organic supplements and they don't help - he's always ill.

We're doing three-minute episodes, which are inspired by emails that we get from people. So if they send in their huge psychological problem, we do psychodramas for them on the web and answer all their problems. It's web-cam therapy, really.

And you're not qualified in the slightest!

We're completely unqualified, and there's no governing body - 'Everything we say is true and you will be cured if you watch it!'

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