Mr Flibble Talks To... Drinking Penguin
Back before a radiation leak wiped out the crew of Red Dwarf, Dave Lister had a gang of regular drinking buddies. One of them, Selby, was played by former Eastender David Gillespie - and, as he reveals to Mr Flibble, there may not have been all that much acting involved...
2 March, 2001
David Gillespie
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble downed a quick pint and forwarded his first question through the always-sober Andrew: How did the EASTENDERS part come about?

I had two interviews for Eastenders. For the first one, I remember, I arrived a day late - I had the right time but I'd got the wrong day. (Laughs) It was in the days when Julia Smith was ruling the roost, and she was quite a feared person. But Julia was fine about it and she gave me the job. I'd known her because she used to come to Webber Douglas and teach television technique there - as Leslie Grantham and Anita Douglas will testify.

A lot of the Red Dwarf guest actors have been in Eastenders, it seems - Anita Dobson, Paul Bradley, Angela Bruce, Clare Grogan...

Funnily enough [my arrival of Eastenders] coincided very closely with Red Dwarf going out. I was [in Eastenders] before Paul Bradley and Clare, but Anita Dobson was there at the same time. I was playing the vicar - or the "Randy Rev" as the press used to call him - who was going out with her daughter.

I do remember one horrific moment - they gave me a motorbike to ride. I've never been able to ride a motorbike, and I rode it straight into a camera. (Laughs) Poleaxed the cameraman in the process. But I've never seen it on Auntie's Bloomers or anything like that.

Mr Flibble ordered a whiskey chaser while Andrew asked: Did you find the PRESS attention odd?

Going into that programme, particularly, is a real baptism of fire for any young actor; having to deal with the press, the media - you really are in the spotlight there. Because it's particular to that programme, the press want to centre on it and find rather nasty pieces to write about it, or to find something not so good about anybody who's in it. More so than any other programme I've found. It's a real shock to the system.

And they get it absolutely wrong! I remember when I [first] went to work on it, we were filming in a church. I went there on the train, and I saw all the press there with these great 'elephant trunk' lenses outside the church. I walked straight past them, and the next morning there was a picture of a guy - who was actually my dresser on it - saying "New star of Eastenders". My name, but the wrong picture. (Laughs)

You recorded the RED DWARF episodes before starting on Eastenders, didn't you?

That's right, we did the first two episodes [The End and Balance of Power]. We encountered the electrician's strike while doing that, so we couldn't go and film up in Manchester at the time. So there was year's gap between that being filmed and it going out, I seem to remember.

Mr Flibble completed a second round and asked the barmaid to be a dear and keep them coming. Andrew sipped his mineral water and asked: How did you get the part of Selby?

I originally went up for the part of Lister - which I really wanted. (Laughs) It's such a cracking part. But well done Craig, he got it, and does it very, very well indeed. But at the time I thought, 'You swine, I wanted that'. He's made it a great success.

Do you have fond memories of the show?

Great memories, because we were all lads together. We piled off to Manchester and it was just [about] going out and having a wonderful time. There was nothing precious about it. 'We're up here, we've got a really good show to do, we think it's funny, we know our lines... Okay, let's go out'. Right down from producer to whoever, to actor. Paul Jackson, he came out with us, and it created a great feeling among the company - there wasn't a 'them' and an 'us'; we were all in it together.

Did you have to drink to get into character?

No, we did that anyway, with Paul Bradley and Mark Williams. We all liked a pint. There was no need to research that... although we did. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble continued his own research while building a pyramid from the used glasses. Did you ever imagine your character would be revived TEN YEARS LATER?

Well no! I had to have a word with Doug about this, because when we'd finished the first two episodes he said, "Don't worry lads, we'll be bringing you back. Even though we've killed you off, there's time tunnels and space gas and all sorts of things we can do to get you back in."

So anyway, 12 years later we go back! (Laughs) I said [to Doug], "You remember what you said? I've been sitting by the phone for 12 bloody years waiting for the call to come back." But it was nice to do just that little bit.

Your scene, as reproduced in the script book, is longer than the version that was broadcast...

Yeah - I don't know what happened to that. I thought it was a smashing little scene. They must have been over-running, that's all I can think.

How was the location shoot for that scene in Back in the Red?

That was great. Meeting new people, as well - I hadn't met Robert Llewellyn. We filmed in a weird place out on the Isle of Dogs somewhere, I think it was, some sort of power station. It was nice seeing Craig and Chris again, and Danny and Mac.

It was a bit like picking up where we'd left off - not a lot seemed to have changed. We were all the same people... just looking a bit older, fatter and greyer in my case. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble belched heartily and slurred something into Andrew's ear about David's starring role in OPERATION GOOD GUYS...

It's been a strange journey altogether with Operation Good Guys. We never really thought it was going to get on [TV]. We did a 20 minute promo for it about 5 years ago, which went off to the BBC; and I didn't hear anything until Ray Burdis rang me up and said, "They've picked it up, they want to do a pilot".

The pilot then became the first of seven episodes, then the series went on to win two roses at Montreux. It won the silver for best comedy, and it also won the press award, which is like winning a gold really. So that made certain that we got a second series, which changed considerably. It had to become more accessible as a comedy series in the way it was shot. The figures were very good for that, and that's what gave us a third.

It'd be nice to be like 'Dwarf where we could go out and do eight [series]. I think there is certainly the material there for doing a fourth, fifth and a sixth series of Operation Good Guys.

The first season had a running storyline, and no laugh track...

It was done very much as a documentary - which, of course, wouldn't have a laughter track - and there was a through storyline. The second [series] was getting away from a through storyline to individual stories each week, and the third series is very much separate stories. We've got a laughter track on it, but I don't think it's intrusive.

Mr Flibble went off to chat up the barmaid. Andrew asked about the filming technique on OGG...

There are no scripts, of course, there's no dialogue written for us. But we do have a storyline and we know, scene by scene, the journey we have to make in each scene. It's a case of discussing what we need to achieve in a scene and what information we need to impart - then just going for it.

It is, more often than not, the first take that's used, because that's the most spontaneous. We normally don't do more than two or three takes. It was very scary at first, working in that way. I'd done improvisation in drama school, but not nearly as much as Ray and Mark [Burdis] and Perry [Benson].

You were also in that team's movie, Love, Honour and Obey...

I played a Dutch diamond dealer. They were posing as Arabs in a suite in a hotel, and they've all taken some Viagra beforehand so the robes they were wearing looked rather like tepees!

Mr Flibble returned to tell Andrew that he's his best mate, he is. The he muttered something about a kebab and went off to throw up. Andrew finished by asking David if he was enjoying the chance to send-up docusoaps?

I'm a bit tired of the docusoap, frankly. I think it's been overdone. The more you send it up the better as far as I'm concerned. I'm fed up of vets and airport people and hotel people - it's all getting a bit too much.

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