Mr Flibble Talks To... Psirens Wailing
In the sixth season of Red Dwarf, Lister found himself confronted by the final broadcast of a ship's captain. Or did he? Certainly viewers must have thought they were hallucinating when former Eastenders star Anita Dobson showed up! But, as she tells Mr Flibble, she's always been a closet SF fan...
26 January, 2001
Anita Dobson
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble was curious about the AUDITIONING process for Eastenders - mostly because they refused him a stall in the market. Did you go in for a casting?

While I was on tour they were casting it, and people kept saying to me, 'Why aren't you going up for this Eastenders thing? You're an eastender and you're perfect.' I said, 'Nobody's asked to see me.' I mentioned it to my agent, and he said, 'I think it's all cast, darling.' So that was that.

Then a couple of months after they started putting the news out that they had this new series, the news broke that the lady who was due to play Angie Watts had been dropped and they were looking for a new Angie. My agent said, 'Julia Smith is the executive producer on it, and she's asked to see you.' She used to teach me at drama school! She taught me TV technique. She must have remembered me!

I'd just discovered hair gel, because I'd been in Italy doing Rocky Horror, and mother had given me about a hundred quid, which was all her savings, bless her, and said, 'For God's sake, buy yourself some clothes.' So I'd gone to all the thrift shops, the second hand shops, and bought lots of 40's clothes. So I walked in for the interview with my hair gelled and [wearing] a little 40's nipped-waist suit, did a reading for her, and that afternoon I was cast. And by Monday I was filming my first scene.

Can you remember that first scene?

The first one we rehearsed was one with Leslie [Grantham] and me, and Letitia Dean. I remember we were doing a bit of rehearsing and Leslie walked away and went, 'Oh, brilliant, brilliant!' Because he was really pleased with the way things were going. Then little Letitia came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Here mum, do you want a cup of tea?' And I said to her, 'I'm home!'

I understand you picked out a lot of Angie's WARDROBE yourself...

I did. Julia was very good to me. She said, 'I love the way you look right now. It looks really good. I want those suits, and the hair like that - but I want it dyed.' They dyed it black, because I was redheaded then. And she said, 'I never want to see you in trousers. I want you always in stilettos, always near the mark. You can wear slacks, as long as they're stretchy, tight ones. Nipped-waist suits and smart tops. Off you go.' That was it. I went off with the wardrobe lady, had my hair done, bought the suits.

About a year or so in, I said to Julia, 'It's taking me so long in the mornings to come in and wait for the make-up girls to fit me in, can I not do my own make-up?' So she said, 'You can do the lot.' So I used to come in myself, and in an hour I could go from nothing - I could do the hair, the make-up, the clothes; the Angie Watts. Within an hour.

It was good fun, because it felt like she was mine. I loved playing her. Lawrence Olivier always said that as soon as you put the costume on, the character would slip into place.

Mr Flibble said that it was his little red bow tie that made all the difference for him. Andrew twanged the tie's elastic. Would you ever GO BACK?

I can only imagine going abroad and finding out what she was like now. But to go back to the soap as it is now... nobody is there that I would remember. Even my daughter. My husband's gone, my best friend. There's absolutely no reason. Unless you did an isolated case of her going back to just trail around memory lane - which I know people do if maybe they're very successful and they go back to look at their roots. Or if they're in a particularly maudlin frame of mind they might go back to dwell on what they came from. They'd have to be desperate to do something like that - and I think so would I, to be honest! (Laughs)

So are you keeping up with the show?

I don't really watch it - I have to be honest. I'm not a great TV addict. I tend to be a movie buff. I love films, I watch them end-to-end. If I'm at home - on the rare occasions that I am at home - if I've got a free evening I can sit up all night watching films. I love black and white films, I love Hollywood movies, I love the old musicals, the old Hitchcock films. I just love them. Which is why I was thrilled when they asked me to do Red Dwarf.

How did you get involved with RED DWARF?

They rang up and said, 'I don't suppose you'd be interested in just coming along a doing a little moment? It's a tiny part.' I said, 'I would kill to be in it!' Because at that time [Red Dwarf] was really hot. I fitted it in-between something else I was doing and had a day on the set.

I had such fun with the guys, they were terrific. I said to them, 'You've killed me now! It's a real shame I can't come back.' They said, 'No, no, no, people do come back. Clare's come back and they killed her off.' It's a bit like Lexx really!

It gave me an opportunity to do something I'd never done before - which was to play a sort of guerrilla warfare, Sigourney Weaver type character. They were so sweet, because when I did it, they make-up guy said, 'Do you mind if we put some dirt on your face?' I said, 'Of course not! That's what I'm doing the part for!' (Laughs) 'No I'm thrilled to be doing it - the more gunge and dirt you can give me the happier I'll be!'

So you enjoyed that Ripley-style thing?

I loved it! It was a tiny part I had - literally go on, be zapped, that was it. But it was such fun. And Clare Grogan, of course, did the scene with me; she came in after I'd been zapped and found me. I was a huge fan of hers, because she was a pop star - and I loved her! I was so thrilled to meet her, it was great. It was a really fun day. It was a blast. I mean, it was literally a blast - I got blasted off the face of the Earth! (Laughs) I would love to do more stuff like that.

I would never have picked you as a SCIENCE FICTION fan...

Oh yeah! I just did an episode of Urban Gothic, and I played an alien in that. It was fab, I loved it. At the end I got zapped again. (Laughs) I had a blue face with red contacts and false teeth, green gunk - it was great fun.

The funny thing was that we all went to lunch - and it was on one of those hot days that we get every now and again - and as we were sitting there, my eyebrow started sliding off my face! Into my salad! (Laughs) Which is the problem with aliens...

I was a bit scared because I'd never worn those big contact lenses that go right over the eyes. That was a bit scary. It makes you realise that people who do these big science-fiction movies - what they must go through!

I think Red Dwarf has been one of the only things that has taken off. It's kind of wacky - it's got a sit-com effect even though it's scripted as a science fiction thing. Which is perhaps its appeal, that it's a mixture of different styles. And it's such fun, and everybody looks like everybody's having a laugh in it - which is always a good sign.

You actually did a part in the American show, Highlander...

I did - that was terrific. I went to Paris to film it, and that was such a good thing to do. I was with a lovely actor called Jasper Brittan. Jasper played an immortal in it, and I played his wife who was mortal. So we'd met at a time when we were both young, and then I'd been ageing while he stayed the same. I got killed in that - I'm always getting killed! (Laughs)

[In Highlander] we had a con where he'd get knocked down by a car and then I'd blackmail the driver of the car. Him being immortal, he'd jump up and ask, 'How did it go, kid?' That's how we made our money. Of course it backfires one day when I try to blackmail a guy he kills me. So [my boyfriend] comes round to find me dead.

It was a really great episode, and such fun to do. Three or four really good scenes. I did my interview in this tiny little room in somebody's flat to a video camera. I thought, 'I'll never get this' and they sent it off to Paris. They said yes - and then I came back and did an episode for Lily Savage! (Laughs)

Still on the science-fiction border, you did a stint in The Rocky Horror Show...

I played Magenta and doubled as the usherette. [Double Feature] is a lovely little song. That was my favourite bit of the show. I loved playing Magenta, but it was a treat to have that little number at the beginning, and to close the show with it at the end. We did it for three months in Italy. It was strange because they'd sit there and scream and love it, and then they'd come out and not look at you because they were embarrassed. They'd get out their rosaries and go off muttering Hail Mary's. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble said he wanted to play Frank N Furter, but couldn't get any stockings to fit. Finally you recently appeared in THE STRETCH on Sky which reunited you with Leslie Grantham...

We'd both met at odd times and said that if ever something came along, it would be a one-off [and] it would have to be really good. When they asked us to do it, we read the script and the script was terrific. Just before we started filming I remember thinking, 'Oh god, what if the old chemistry's not there?! What if the magic's gone?!' But it was all fine - it was like being back at home. The old tennis-match was there.

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