Mr Flibble Talks To... In With The Boss
Mr Flibble has faced hex vision, freezing conditions and hopeless miscasting. But how will he cope with GNP General Manager Helen Norman...?
29 November, 2002
Helen Norman
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

With as much politeness and respect as possible, Mr Flibble whispered his first question. Andrew, half-frozen with fear, eventually managed to convey it to Helen: Can we do a quick BACKGROUND CHECK - what's your career history?

I've worked in three main areas throughout my career. First of all I worked as an assistant to the senior partners in two law firms in London - sadly not at all like Ally McBeal, there were no fantastic bars to frequent and be entertained in by the likes of Barry White - but it was a good grounding and I learnt a lot. Probably the most important thing I learnt was to always try to look at things from every perspective. Not entirely inappropriate in my present job!

Then I worked in the field of international marketing for many years, and the experience I gained has been a great help in the work I do now assisting in setting up merchandising in territories around the world. I understand the jargon, which helps... with the possible exception of Japan. But I have bought myself a copy of Japanese for Beginners from a charity shop, and once I've worked out which way up you hold the book I reckon it could be invaluable. (Laughs)

How did you get the job as General Manager at GNP?

When I started at Grant Naylor, it wasn't as General Manager. I started out as Personal Assistant to Doug and Rob and then, to quote Rimmer, it was up the ziggurat lickety-split! Well, okay, maybe it was a bit slower than that. I was head hunted - they didn't have a big budget at the time, or office space - it was jam packed. But they made good on their promise of taking the rest of me on at a later date. (Laughs)

And of course, as it turned out, it helped that I showed enthusiasm when they asked me if I liked penguins. I thought they were going to breakout the choccie biscuits! Mr Flibble hadn't had a wrangler up till then and it took a while to get him under control after his rather large part in Quarantine - I think it went to his head a bit. Still, since we managed to crack his tuna in olive oil habit things have improved a bit, but he's still quite arsey. Now he's your problem, Andrew. It's in those kind of situations where delegation really comes in handy.

I understand that before the job, you were AROUND THE SET for some of Series V....

The first time I came into contact with Series V was being invited to the recording of Back to Reality. It just blew me away, the storyline was so great, so clever. I was completely taken in, right up to the end... I was even oblivious to the fact that I was sitting on a very hard seat for a very long time. And believe me you have got to be very wrapped up in the story to be capable of not noticing those seats.

Production is a lot more hectic from the inside!

Oh yes! Time's money in this game. I guess it's like many industries, unless you know what really goes on you have no idea just how involved it all is. Red Dwarf has always managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat in terms of what it delivers in relation to the funds available. The production values are extremely high on a relatively low budget, and in order to achieve these boundaries are constantly being pushed out.

The crew enjoy the challenge for the most part and work tremendously hard to deliver excellent shows. Sometimes things don't go as smoothly as one would like, [and] then the pressure's on. But there's always been a great atmosphere on the productions - it's like being a member of a very large family. What I enjoy most is the laughter. There's no better way to combat stress in my opinion, and with the scripts, the actors and the crew, as you'd imagine that's not in short supply - although a few sense of humours have been known to go missing from time to time...

Mr Flibble said he had no idea what she was talking about. As long as he got his trailer with built in Jacuzzi, widescreen TV and Peruvian masseuse, he was happy. Andrew didn't pass it on - you don't argue with the boss. What's been your favourite 'shoot'?

The recording of Back to Reality. I hadn't started working for Grant Naylor then, knew little of what it all entailed and had no responsibility for anything whatsoever - perfect! Apart, of course, from trying to stay sober at the wrap party afterwards and create a good impression, if I were to have any hope of getting the job.

With things changing so quickly, have you ever been involved with a last-minute quest for something?

You mean apart from trying to track down Danny in the mornings when they are ready to start shooting and they can't find him? (Laughs) No not really - the relevant Heads of Department look after that sort of thing. Very occasionally, I may be the messenger bearing some glad tidings or other. But I've got that down to a fine art now, rush in, hopefully when they're slightly distracted by something else, deliver the changes and then nip off again at light speed. Works every time!

Your photograph was used but not seen in Only The Good as Hollister's wife. Given the insults she was dished out in the early series, you must have been quite pleased to stay anonymous!

That's why they couldn't use it. When the Director saw my photo he said, "Hollister's wife is supposed to be ugly so why have you given me a photo of someone soooo attractive? It simply doesn't work we'll turn the picture away from camera." (Laughs)

What are your favourite MEMORIES from the shooting of the show?

I remember having to send some documents to Rob and Doug for signature, they were away script writing in one of their bolt holes at the time. It was a fairly hefty envelope full of papers, you know one of those jiffy type ones. Well they had to sign and return the papers and in due course back it came - they had used the same envelope and had resealed it with half a dozen sticking plasters - and one of them had written on the back 'From The Professionals'. I was impressed with the re-cycling but couldn't decide if the use of the plasters negated the benefits.

And what one thing are you most proud of?

Helping young people to get into the business. It is incredibly rewarding to see some of the students you have taken on for work experience go on to become very successful. Being able to make a difference...

We've talked a lot about production, but of course your job is as much about the periods when Red Dwarf isn't being made - does it surprise you that people think 'nothing' is being done at GNP between seasons?

No it doesn't surprise me - people are always saying that to me! What people forget is that although Red Dwarf has been around for a long [time], and while we haven't made any new programmes since1998/9 it is still emerging in other territories. It has recently been shown in South America, its profile in Japan is ever increasing. It's showing all around the world and these territories are constantly in need of support. The merchandise aspect also needs constant supervision and that is quite a job with so many territories making their own individual products. We oversee the process from first concept drawings right through to finished retail product.

You have also recently been producer on the bonus material for the first two series of the Red Dwarf DVDs. There isn't much material left from the early days of Dwarf - are you surprised at the amount of bonus stuff you managed to get together for the early series DVDs?

Yes absolutely delighted. We did have even more material that we wanted to use but we were somewhat thwarted by copyright issues and in some cases a lack of supporting paperwork.

It's worked extremely well. Ross McGinley, who is the DVD Producer for the BBC, was confident in our abilities and just let us get on with it. After all we have been producing Red Dwarf for a very long time and have something of a proven track record! They were delighted with the content we provided.

Mr Flibble is looking forward to Series V, when he will no-doubt be heavily featured. Were there any other difficulties over rights for the bonus material?

We had some problems with music clearance. It wasn't easy choosing tracks to fit the featurettes. Once we had finally settled on Chumbawamba's 'Tubthumping' for the "Drunk" featurette on the Series I disc, we found out that it was going to be impossible to clear for the USA in time. So, sadly, the USA couldn't have the "Drunk" featurette on their copies thanks to the rather complicated world of copyright. We also had a few worrying moments over the identification of a naked man in a shower - I'm not sure what it did for my reputation being seen studying the sequence endlessly and intently. Still someone's got to do it.

Was there anything that you expected to prove a nightmare that ended up being pretty straightforward?

Yes almost all of it! Thanks to you Andrew, and your incredible knowledge of the show, right down to where the full stops are in the scripts - God that's so handy. So of course it was fairly straightforward tracking down such things as deleted scenes from miles of footage. Tracking down the tapes in the first place wasn't always quite so straightforward though...

Andrew - who had been blushing - suddenly remembered the nightmare of the Red Dwarf tape archives and broke into tears. What's your own favourite from the extras?

I love the Launching Red Dwarf Documentary, it tells the tale of how it all began, which was well before my time so I find it all fascinating. I think the "Drunk" featurette is very funky and upbeat too. We learned a lot during the making of the bonus discs for Series I and II and I feel that the experience will be an enormous help with making them for series III and IV.

Is everyone there excited about the impending MOVIE?

Yes, we're really excited. It can be very hard to keep quiet about it all. The script is so fantastic. Doug's a very gifted writer, not only is he a great storyteller with amazing vision but he is incredibly funny too. The humour doesn't stop at the end of the page either, he'll come into the office and start telling us the funniest stories - having us all in stitches. The movie will be an enormous learning curve for me; it's a challenge I look forward to.

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