Mr Flibble Talks To... Voice In The Wilderness
If you're going to go down with a virus, it might as well be one who can hold a decent conversation. Gary Martin gives Mr Flibble the lowdown on the voice behind Epideme.
11 May, 2001
Gary Martin
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble ran through his many vocal impersonations - which pretty much meant just Sooty - before asking how Gary discovered his knack for voices?

I've always done West End shows. I started off doing Jesus Christ Superstar; I was a young boy - long hair, lots of hair, more of it! That was about 1975. I did loads and loads of West End shows and occasionally the odd voiceover. I played the voice of Audrey II, the man-eating plant, in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS - I had to have a deep, black, Harlem voice, a New York kind of thing. 'Feed me!'

I played that part for two years. During that I was offered voice jobs doing the same voice. I enjoyed the work but got bored of doing the same voice, so [I] opened up the repertoire [and] injected more voices into sessions. I used to do ads as a kid, I went to drama school. I've done shows like Rocky Horror, Cats, Miss Saigon, Joseph - the last one I did was Grease about six years ago, I'm on the album. I played Vince Fontaine the fast-talking DJ.

I auditioned for the film of Little Shop of Horrors, but I was told that they wouldn't see me. It got back to me that [it was] because I wasn't a black guy. I thought, 'This is silly - it's the voice of a plant!' It didn't affect me in the West End... although I did send a tape before my audition. So I did the same thing [for the film] - I sent [director] Frank Oz and the casting director a tape of my voice. I got a friend of mine, a black guy, to lend me one of his publicity photographs. I called myself Arrington Grant, put down all my credits from the West End - and I got an audition!

I got there and I lost my bottle a little bit because I was the only white guy there. They took my picture, and I could hear mumbling behind the door: (perfect Frank Oz voice) 'What, is he white?' I went in and he looked a bit flabbergasted, and he asked me how tall I was, which I thought was a bit [strange]. I sang, 'Get It' and 'You Shouldn't Judge a Man by the Length of His Hair.' He said I sounded very [good]... and that was the last I heard of it. Apparently he was quite cross - and I apologise to him if he ever reads this!

The irony of it is that I ended up dubbing a really big back guy on the movie, and I'm on the album! [I was] the chauffeur in the film.

Had you worked with any of the RED DWARF cast before?

I knew Danny. I was doing a show in the West End with him, we were sharing a dressing room, and I was covering Cliff Richard in a show called Time. Danny was understudying the part of Captain Ebony. We didn't go on very much, so spent a lot of time just chilling out in the dressing room - which we'd done up like a five-star hotel; Danny had brought a fridge in, it was lovely.

I remember him coming in - this is the honest truth - and he said, 'I've gone up for the audition for something at the BBC, I don't know much about it.' It was Red Dwarf! While we were there he got the part, and we talked about the character. Having played that kind of character in Little Shop, I said, 'Why don't you go for the kind of James Brown - (perfect James Brown voice) Yeah! I feel good! Hey! - [style]? And you can dance better than I can. You know you're stunning, wouldn't it be good if you could carry a little mirror around?' Which apparently he did. Brilliant. He's a super guy, and it was him that put me up for Epideme.

How did Epideme's voice develop?

I was given almost carte blanche to do what I liked up to a point. I looked at the character a little bit like Regan from The Exorcist. Inside this virus were so many personalities just oozing to come out; I saw a very dark side in there. I loved it, it was great to do.

It was all done live on set, so it wasn't as if we went into a studio; I stood to the side of the set with a microphone and the actors were told where to look. What they did with the screen was great, it not only flashed but it actually moved with the voice.

I watched it with everybody else. I should ring up Paul Alexander and say, 'Do me a favour, write Epideme in again. Write the virus impregnating somebody for one scene.' Doug, write me a part in the movie! (Laughs) It's like doing a voice for Star Wars - it's something that's remembered for a long, long time.

Mr Flibble recalled that his role in the show was originally much larger. Were there many rewites on your part?

We did a few changes on set. For each [line] I would have written down three different roads to go down with the voice. But sometimes we'd just go into the rehearsal and they'd say, 'Go for it.' I added a few things, like 'God Save the Queen' that you'd get at the end of a [BBC] transmission twenty years ago. I put that in as a joke on the BBC. I just thought it'd be funny to sing that and then burst into hysterics. Some people get it... (Laughs)

Were there any scenes cut from the show?

Small, little sections. There was a scene where Lister had gone to the spaceship and we were having a conversation, just the two of us with all the dynamite, that was a bit longer. There was one other little bit. Like most things, you record more than you need. There was a scene with Danny, sending up the way he looked. In fact I did an impersonation of his voice in the scene!

There was an ending cut, too...

I think they were going to incinerate the virus and then just [accidentally] send it off into space! It was still alive in this arm, floating in space. But that wasn't shown. At least it's not completely dead...

Tell me about working with GERRY ANDERSON...

Gerry's a great guy. Having grown up with his stuff, I got this phone call to play a character called Velan - big, blobbish, green character - in something called 'Space Police'. This is going back about 15 years. I did some voices on it with Shane Rimmer who played Scott in Thunderbirds, and it all went very well.

About a year later it came out, but nothing really came of it. The suddenly, lo and behold, they're making Space Precinct. That's where it came from. I went along, and it was for the whole series, [to] play the voice of a robot called Slomo. Gerry asked me what voice I thought it should be, and I said that we're so used to voices like 2001 - (perfect Hal voice) 'David? Would you like to take a stress pill David?' - and it's too clean. If you were working in a space precinct, you'd put your own voice chip in. So I gave it a kind of New York voice with a slight stutter. I wanted to give it a human touch.

Since then I've done the new Thunderbirds Playstation game, I've done lots of the adverts, and I've done a pilot for the remake of Captain Scarlet. I play Captain Black, and the voice of the Mysterons - which I've always wanted to do! We did it all in computer graphics - I became somebody else, but with my mouth movements. I've got to tell you, it looks amazing.

You recently played JUDGE DREDD in a radio adaptation written in part by Red Dwarf scribe Paul Alexander...

That was great. I worked with a gentleman called Dirk Maggs. On the CDs it says, 'A movie without pictures - you won't believe your ears'. And that is exactly what Dirk does, it's all Dolby Surround Sound. It just comes to life. Paul wrote some great scripts. We did 80 episodes. Two series of 40 three-minute episodes, played on Radio 1. It all gelled. I like his style.

I hadn't known a lot about Judge Dredd, but when the part came up I thought I'd better do my homework - there are a lot of fans. I tried to be as honest to the series as I could. I looked at his face, the way it was structured, and that created a lot of the voice for me. He was always grimacing. I thought [of] Clint Eastwood first of all, but Clint is too quiet, (perfect Clint voice) 'Did he fire six shots...'

Finally, Mr Flibble can just about be seen in the background of a certain chocolate biscuit commercial. Would we recognise your voice from any ADS?

I enjoy doing ads because you get to be something different every day. I do the Honey Monster, I do the film trailer-style voiceovers for Lee and Perrins - (perfect trailer voice) 'Just when you thought it was safe...' - and I do stuff for CITV. I did Neverending Story III - I played the Rock Chewer and his son, Unlucky [who was] a rabbit, a guy called Large Head, a couple of others...

I'm doing a cartoon series called Spherics, I'm playing like a James Earl Jones character, like The Lion King. It's for the FIFA World Cup. Sphericball - it's like a future version of football, and I'm their coach. It's CGI again. I did a film called Axis about a month back - Richard Harris is in it, Anjelica Houston, Keith David. I think it's going to be big, but it's going to take about a year and a half to finish!

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