Mr Flibble Talks To... Screw-oo-oo-oo'd Up
Frozen by the Time Wand, Andrew Alston - the man who had to explain about the 'Temp...oral Stor...age Unit' - talks to Mr Flibble.
1 March, 2002
Andrew Alston
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered into Andrew's ear... then realised he'd whispered to the wrong Andrew. Apologising to Andrew Alston via Andrew Ellard, he finally spat out the first question: When and how did you START ACTING?

Being the youngest of the family of six in a smallish house where arguments would break out regularly, there needed to be someone to defuse tempers. So I was the clown. I went from being family clown to class clown. At school I was very lazy - I thought, 'How do you make a living doing something you like, with very little work? I'll act!

As nobody wanted to employ me, to give me an Equity card, I set up my own theatre company and became a clown for two years. Two of us going around shopping centres, schools, libraries, you name it, we performed. I then gave that up and went to work in Regent's Park, the open air theatre. Then unemployment hit and I set up the theatre company again! (Laughs)

You also lived and worked with the writers of Craig Charles' ill-fated sit-com, Captain Butler...

I was at college with two friends [John R. Smith and Rob Sprackling], and we moved to London together - and they gave up acting in favour of writing. They've just done Mike Basset - England Manager. Their first telly [job] was with Craig [Charles]. I used to be their 'marriage' counsellor when their writing partnership kept breaking down. They're both brilliantly funny men, but neither of them wanted to be in a partnership - they just have a real spark with each other.

They wrote Butler in my sitting room, sold it two years later, and had nothing to do with it when it came to telly. It was sad, really; it was their first effort. It gets taken away - you lose your control. But they're doing a television series now [of Mike Basset - England Manager], and they're executive producers. So they'll run the whole lot.

Do you find your height affecting the way you get cast?

It meant that in my twenties I didn't work! Because I was too tall to be a 'juvenile', a juve lead. So my career started to take off in my thirties.

Mr Flibble said to Andrew that he found himself constantly typecast as a penguin - short-sighted, casting-agency gits. Andrew didn't pass THIS on to Andrew, assuming it was a private comment. It was at this point that everybody began to develop a headache. How did you come across the role of Mex in RED DWARF...

They wanted someone who was good at mime, and I'd put mime on my CV... which was a lie. (Laughs) That was the audition. They said, 'Read it', and it was one line. 'It's some kind of temporal storage unit.' What can you do with that? It had three stops in the middle, and what I did - and I think what just 'made' it - was to do it as I moved. (Demonstrates - recreating the moment exactly!)

The more extraordinary the face... Well, basically you've got one line and you've got to milk it! (Laughs) Then [Doug] wrote a new, very funny line: 'Don't touch that, it can really screw-ooo-ooo-ooo... .you up.'

Doug obviously liked what you were doing...

He added a line, and then he came up with other things. He liked the idea - even if he couldn't fit it in, because it was an irrelevant sequence - [so] he thought he'd have me in the background a few times, just doing the walking... stopping... and then walking again. So we did film a few of those, but they never got to be seen. Doug enjoyed it, and he said, 'Oh, we'll have you back.' I was pencilled for a second episode. Never happened.

Between sips from a glass of fizzy headache remedy, Mr Flibble asked Andrew what the ATMOSPHERE was like on set. Andrew Ellard gave a lengthy answer about audience seating before he realised that the question wasn't for him.

It was surprisingly warm. A really warm welcome - they all were, particularly Robert Llewellyn, but they all were. I've done little parts on lots of comedy shows and sit-coms, and you're usually treated [somewhere] from downright being ignored to 'hello'. But they were very supportive, and they liked my little line. I was there for two days - the taping took two minutes!

Your part wasn't filmed with an audience...

I was quite upset that it wasn't. That would have been lovely. I'm a theatre man, I'm not a telly person. That's why I'm grotesquely over-the-top.

Plus the effects - making the Cat and Kochanski into children...

Oh yes, the kids! That was funny. "Wimto", she couldn't say her V's. We were there a long time. They were sweet, the kids.

How did you find Doug and Ed, in terms of DIRECTING the actors?

They work as a team. But the thing that I liked was that they kind of gave me a bit of autonomy. When we started to do that scene, Chloë, Danny, and Robert come into the room. They face me, ask me the question - and I knew it wouldn't work unless he moved his head. But there had to be a reason. So he started out looking at one person, then he'd look at other people through the sentence.

I said, 'Can I make a suggestion?' Usually, at that point, directors go, 'Yeah... what...?' 'Can I move there?' 'No, the light's there.' The cheek of it, this guy with one line! But Doug went, 'Okay, do what you like. What do you want to do.' And that's so refreshing.

After that, Doug came round and said, 'Love that movement. Can we have more? Can you choreograph the guys?' So that everybody moved. So it built and built and built. Unfortunately, in the editing room, it was cut and cut and cut.

Let's talk about a couple of your other GUEST ROLES on regular shows. You were in Kiss Me Kate...

I did one word in Kiss Me Kate. Actually it was a few words, a whole sentence - with my wife [Regina Freedman], which was nice. John Cleese was in the episode. Kate was so terrified that she chucks her meat pie over her head in a restaurant, and as the scene ends there are these two people: the woman saying, 'It just fell out of the sky!' And him going, 'You're an idiot, darling.' We both got paid for that and we bought a dishwasher. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble said goodbye to Andrew - but this time DID mean Mr Ellard. With the distracting Andrew out the way, he asked a final question of Mr Alston: What did you do for Doctors?

I was waiting to be ill, playing an auctioneer - but a funny auctioneer. Nobody wanted to buy the crap he was trying to sell, except for one person who had a spending problem. At the very end, you realised it was her husband's problem!

I'll tell you what else happened. The BBC phoned and said, 'Would you mind wearing that suit you wore? It's a very nice suit.' I said, 'yes, all right'. I thought, 'I've been hired for my suit!' It's just suit acting! (Laughs) Then the phone rang again. 'Make-up here. You had your hair a bit floppy, can you have the same floppy hair?' My hair-cut and my suit got the part! (Laughs)

I've just done a part in Barbara, playing an estate agent. It's quite funny - it went from Terry and June to Terry and June crossed with The Fast Show. I think it's going to work. They're trying to sell their house, but the house is flooded. We all had to walk around in waders. That was done on a set, in a tank, with three feet of water. Weird, unusual... and pointless. (Laughs)

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