Mr Flibble Talks To... Howdy-doodly-do!
Before Robert Llewellyn, there was another Kryten. After John Lenahan there was another Toaster. Both these were one man - David Ross. Mr Flibble talks the Alan Bleasdale regular about his life as one of Britain's best actors.
5 January, 2001
David Ross
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble asked his first question through Andrew: What are your memories of Rob and Doug's first radio series sit-com, WRINKLES?

I thought they were great, I thought they were a terrifically talented team. They were always very supportive, they worked very well together, and they laughed a lot at the stuff we were doing. I was only probably in my early forties then, playing this seventy year-old comic character. They clearly liked what I was doing - which is always very endearing. If you're pleasing the authors, you feel, 'Oh yes, I'm doing what they want; how they want their work to be seen'... or be heard, in this case.

What do you recall about your time on Red Dwarf as the then one-off character, KRYTEN?

I do remember the make-up. It was the first time the character make-up had ever been created, and it was a terrifically long and very tiring process. They've got it down quite considerably now, but it took about eight hours back then. I remember going into the chair at nine in the morning, sitting there for four hours until lunchtime and it still was only half done, and then having an hour's lunch and then coming back and having another four hour session before the evening show.

I remember it being a lovely time, I just loved that character so much, and I was so sorry when my work at the Old Vic hampered my proceeding with it. In fact, it was a change of schedule which prevented me from doing it. I was actually in the theatre at the time, but because they originally recorded [Red Dwarf] on a Sunday night, my being at the theatre wouldn't have impeded me doing the series. But in fact it changed to filming on a Saturday night, and consequently that made it doubly difficult for me to get time to do it.

Mr Flibble told Andrew to ask, 'How did you feel stepping onto a set with an existing cast, as I did?'

I think if you go into a situation like that, and you're feeling a little insecure, that you can have a fairly unhappy time. I seem to remember that I was quite confident when I went in, I felt quite assured with what I wanted to do with that character, how I wanted to play it. And as soon as I started reading it or rehearsing it, I remember the cast looking at him quite lovingly, as if to say, 'Oh, he's charming! What a delightful robot!' Particularly in those scenes where all the characters are dead. I sort of had that from the word go.

Mr Flibble remarked that he also picked up the hidden depths of his own character very quickly. A few years later, you returned - as TALKIE TOASTER!

I think they kind of wanted me back because they liked me, 'Oh what a shame, we've lost David from the role of Kryten, so it would be nice to give him something inanimate to play.' (Laughs) 'Well, Talkie Toaster is quite a good bit of fun to give David the opportunity to come in the show again.' And that was great. I felt quite touched by that. I didn't have to appear on camera, so that's always marvellous - there's no need for me to learn any of the lines! (Laughs)

It's a lot more like radio, really...

Absolutely, yes. I did a part on The Bill last year where I was just on the telephone. So I was in a studio, I never appeared on camera, apart from at the end - I was laying on the floor dead and the cameraman said, 'David, if you lift your head up a bit we can see who it is.' I said, 'No the whole point is I don't want to be seen - because I can come into another episode next week!' (Laughs)

He said, 'That's first time I've heard of an actor not wanting his face featured.' But I had my reasons. In fact, I went back into it last week and did another episode. So it worked!

You're one of Alan Bleasdale's regulars, which must have a similar chemistry to a sit-com cast. Are there a lot of laughs when THE WHOLE BLEASDALE MOB get back together?

It's funny, there is a closeness among the Bleasdale people but there isn't a kind of 'boys club' about it. I don't socialise with anybody from that group, and I don't think anybody else does individually. Robert Lynsey has his own group of friends, and Julie Walters certainly is quite private.

In fact I don't really socialise with Alan, although I'm very close to him. His father died and I went to his father's funeral. And he said there were only three or four friends around the grave - as opposed to family - whom he regards as his brothers. But it is almost as close a friendship as that, [like a] brother you don't need to ring up every week or go out for a beer with. We have a very comfortable, easy relationship.

You must have been hugely proud of BLEASEDALE'S GBH...

I was, indeed. The thing about that was that Alan had the courage to age [me] up. I was in my late sixties at one point and then in my late thirties or early forties at another point. Not many directors give actors that opportunity, especially on television because they worry about the make-up looking too crude or the character not really representing an old man in a clever enough way to make it believable. But Alan trusts that I can do it.

What was interesting was that Mr Weller opened the whole series with a reading of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he was a great T.S. Elliot fan. And then, when Alan went on to write Jake's Progress, because I'd played a character who was interested in T. S. Elliot, he named my character Elliot!

All the while I've been building my way up to getting into bed with Julie Walters, and I finally managed it in Oliver Twist! (Laughs) Again, we were always fully clothed and I usually got hit on the head, but I got in there, I got between those sheets. It was lovely...

Mr Flibble got rather flustered at this point. Andrew asked about the very different character David played in Jake's Progress?

I'm often seen as a northern, comic character, who is quite soft and vulnerable. And of course Alan says, 'You're not that. You're a hard, difficult, drunken, miserable bastard!'(Laughs) 'Shave your head, grow a bit of a beard and go and do it!' And that's what happens. I go in there and I play this hard, slightly cruel, mad murderer who blows his brains out - and gives me those opportunities.

GBH had some violent moments, was the caning stuff quite hard?

Yes it was, particularly the scene I had in which I had to beat the little boy. In fact I see he's doing a McDonald's commercial now, so he's obviously still living! But I had to appear to beat the living daylights out of him. And the director was quite hard, he really wanted me to lay into this boy; [but] we padded him up well and I had a fairly soft stick, but never-the-less he really wanted that scene to be quite cruel.

Do you find the bigger-than-life Bleasdale PERFORMANCE style particularly suited to television?

I've done a couple of things recently, and the directors have been very keen to bring me down. I must come across as a slightly more theatrical character on my television work than a lot of other actors. And when you're doing 'realistic' stuff like The Bill, all the time they kept saying things like, 'Bring you voice down, David, bring your voice down.'

And that's good for me because it puts me into a slightly different style. It allows me the opportunity to be slightly less theatrical, slightly less 'larger than life.' I tend to find that my more successful workz is where I'm just on that edge - like the wonderful Baz in Roger Roger. Almost on the edge of being a bit theatrical, but he gets away with it by being such a warm-hearted guy. We're hoping to do another series later in the year, all being well.

What have you got COMING UP?

Next I'm going to Bulgaria to do a remake of the H. Rider Haggard story, She, I think there was a version [in 1935]. But the most recent version was 1966 with Ursula Andress, and I know Bernard Cribbens played that part that I'm going to play. I don't think he's a comedy butler, but he's certainly a bit of light relief. I've got to be chased by a lion. I'm just hoping that it's either not a real lion, or it's not me that's going to be doing it! I hadn't clocked that when I read the script originally...

Then the [next] Bleasdale thing which I'm going to be doing in late autumn is an adaptation of his stage play On the Ledge, which I did at the National Theatre about five or six years ago. He's written it up for television and he's lengthened it, as does, and made it more complex and interesting. He said the scripts would break the postman's back if they were delivered!

Mr Flibble wished him good luck and said he hoped he'll manage to evade the lion!

I'll be running like hell, I can assure you!

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