Mr Flibble Talks To... Coward Covered
Mr Flibble gets behind the scenes stories from Roger Blake Meltdown's Noel Coward and star of Alistair McGowan's Big Impression.
26 July, 2002
Roger Blake
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble began the interview by claiming that he was an excellent impressionist. Andrew, after mocking him suitably, asked Roger how he got involved with SPITTING IMAGE?

I graduated to impressions from the voiceover world. In those days the advertising agencies would hire about six artists and you'd brainstorm - so I was working with Harry Enfield, Chris Barrie, John Sessions, Jan Ravens, all that lot. I was the only one I'd never heard of!

It was through Kate Robbins and Jan Ravens - they knew me through the voiceovers. Before I did Spitting Image proper, there was a spin off thing called The Whinging Pommes, which was a very strange children's programme... which bombed. (Laughs) I joined Spitting Image for the fourth or fifth series, because John Glover was leaving, Harry Enfield was leaving, and I took over their impressions. So I was doing impressions of other people's impressions. (Laughs)

So, Noel Coward...

I did a TV commercial as Noel Coward - a terrible coffee commercial. But it was all in prosthetics. Anyone can do a Noel Coward impression, so it was down to the people who made the prosthetics to choose who they reckoned they could make look like Noel Coward! So luckily the chose me. "The shape of his face is good."

Mr Flibble did his first impression - silent mime Marcel Marceau. Not impressed, Roger explained how he got the part in RED DWARF?

I was just offered the job on Red Dwarf, they just rang me up and asked, 'do you want to do it?' I've always been a great fan of the show, so it was lovely to do. It was just a little bit, but I wasn't going to turn it down. I had a good laugh on it. I met Rob and Doug for the first time. I'm a comedy sci-fi fan. I worked in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the theatre shows, and I've always liked the wackier movies - things like Dark Star.

You knew Chris Barrie from Spitting Image...

It was strange, because I don't think [Chris] knew I was on the show. I remember turning up at Shepperton for the first day. I got the train and was walking up towards the studio, and suddenly this bloody great Range Rover comes hurtling around the corner, splashing me in mud. "Ah, Mr Blake, sir. Christopher Barrie. What are you doing here?" "I'm working on the show." He kindly gave me a lift for the last twenty yards.

I was there for the studio recording, I did have a scene in front of the audience, but most of my stuff was on location, on the battlefields. It was the most godforsaken sports field - directly under a flight path, of course. (Laughs) It was pissing with rain half the time, but it was fun. Triumph through adversity. There were lots of people having a rough time wearing less clothing than normal!

I remember, Hattie Hayridge turned up. I said, "What the hell are you doing here?" She said, "I've just come to see what happens." Because she's always stuck in a corner. She was so sweet, she just showed up for moral support.

How did you find the rest of the guest cast?

[Elvis] was wonderful. He did that cover version of the [theme] song. He was very funny. He wasn't an actor, but he was just loving it. It was a nice mix of look-alikes and actors and everyone got on very well. The Stan Laurel guy was superb. I remember the Marilyn Monroe - she was so cold; freezing her socks off!

Did you watch the episode go out?

Oh absolutely! My step-son was about seven or eight then, and it was a brilliant thing between us - it was the first programme that we both loved. So he was desperately impressed that I was in Red Dwarf and that I knew Chris Barrie. It was lovely, and we always used to watch it as a family - and still do when it's repeated.

You got to play with the special effects on location - even getting wired up for a bullet-hit squib.

Yes, I got shot - and even delivered my own line. The boys agreed that I could say, 'Oh, shot!' "Yep, we'll use that." Never got paid for it - where's my scriptwriting credit! (Laughs)

Luckily they didn't bother too much with the make-up - it wasn't a full prosthetic job. It's so awful to have to do. My love of prosthetics is well known. I hate them, but I always seem to [be in them]. You're at the mercy of the lovely make-up girls. They're so talented, and they can make you look like anybody.

You also go through make up for BIG IMPRESSION...

It takes Ronni and Alistair three hours in make-up per character. For the Christmas special we were doing an Eastenders thing, and I had to start off as Jim, spend three hours getting into that, be on set for ten minutes, then go into Frank... and then back to Jim! Because that's how they had to schedule it.

That's the problem with that show. Doing the series isn't so bad, but the one-offs put you up against the clock. You spend hours in make-up, and once you're on the set it's 'hurry, hurry, hurry!' which is not the most satisfying way to work. But it's the nature of the beast, and they're a really good team to work with.

Mr Flibble saw his chance and did his impersonation of silent puppet Sooty. By now Andrew had taken to just rolling his eyes...

I met Alistair through Spitting Image, and we did a radio series together. I knew that he was incredibly gifted and would go far. The nicest thing I can say about him is that he remembers his friends - he's very good at using people he likes to work with; and likewise Ronni. Alistair is always saying things like, 'I think you could do Jim Branning really well'. He's terribly supportive. And Ronni is such a good writer.

Rehearsals are great fun. I always like to hang around and see them rehearsing the sketches I'm not in, so I can just sit there and laugh. Once they were working on Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rigsby, and I was on the floor with laughter.

Your version of 'The Royal Family' has become such a huge hit with people...

That was Ronni's idea, and I must confess that I'd never watched The Royle Family. So I rushed out to get the video, and it's wonderful stuff. But it just worked so well to have 'Ricky Tomlinson' as the Duke of Edinburgh. It's such fun to do. It's scripted, but you can chip in the odd line and change a few things. I know the cast of The Royle Family watched it when they were recording their last series. They'd have it on the telly on-set!

Tell me about doing BLACKADDER.

It was a strange way of getting that part. I was doing Hitchhikers and John Lloyd came to see it, because he was friends with Douglas Adams. I thought, 'I must keep writing to John Lloyd now I've met him' so I wrote religiously. Eventually the phone call came for Blackadder, and it was a straight offer for a part, Sir Jeffrey Piddle. I thought, 'All these years of letter writing have paid off.'

I turned up on the first day for the readthrough with the wonderful cast, and I walked in to the rehearsal room and said hello to John. He said 'hi', and then the writer, Richard Curtis, who I was at school with, walked in. He said, 'Roger, I'm so glad you could do this. I was looking through some old photo albums with my mother a couple of weeks ago and we came across a picture of us in the school play.' Nothing to do with John Lloyd at all! (Laughs)

On the last day, in the bar, I said to John Lloyd, "Do you see anything of Douglas Adams?" "Oh," he said, "Do you know Douglas?" He didn't remember me. Somewhere in his office are all my letters, piled up! (Laughs)

Like a lot of British actors, OTHER shows you've done include Casualty and The Bill. What can you add to Mr Flibble's collection of crimes and illnesses?

In Casualty I was a grumpy man with a frozen shoulder for the Christmas episode. That was a day's work, I was in and out. And I've done four Bills - one as a copper where I had to keep my back to the camera, which was great because nobody saw me! Then I was a grumpy dad who had to bail out his daughter, then a sex-offender father... and then a senior officer about three years later! You can do it every two years. Luckily nobody saw the joins.

Finally, you got to do the big Hollywood thing in Patriot Games...

That was my first experience on a big, big movie - I was 'Constable 1' in the back of a van. They could have given me a name! (Laughs) Because my scene was set in the back of a prison van, it became known as 'weather cover'. So when they were filming the exteriors, the assassination attempt, if it rained they could say, 'Oh, right, it's raining. We'll shoot inside the van.' For two weeks not a drop of rain fell! I had to be there every day - I was so bored. When they did come to shoot the scene there was so much pressure - because it was the last scene on the last day of shooting. They were going to America that night.

I eventually saw the movie - saw myself get shot. At the end, as the credits were going up, I thought 'I've got to see my name on the big screen'... and the projector flickered and the film burnt! Just as my name came up! (Laughs)

A couple of years later I was in America and it was on the telly. My girlfriend's parents hadn't seen it, so we all stayed up to watch - and of course it was the TV version, and I was a policeman getting shot. So I was cut! I went, "Ah... I'm dead now. Um... those are my feet sticking out there."

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