Mr Flibble Talks To... Penguin Marching
Brave of heart and weak in the head, Mr Flibble faces off with Red Dwarf's waxdroid Hitler, Kenneth Hadley.
13 December, 2002
Kenneth Hadley
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Always pleased to meet a fellow actor, Mr Flibble shook Kenneth warmly by the hand and whispered his first question for Andrew to pass on: How did you start ACTING?

I'd always had an interest - where it came from I don't know. I did some amateur work when I left school, got some nice reviews and encouragement from other players. But it was my marriage breaking up that made me think, "I've got the chance to do something. Now's the time - if I don't do it now, I never will." So I went to drama school for two years.

Luckily I got my Equity card, which you needed in those days, in my first term by doing a telly [programme] at the BBC with [director] Les Blair. It was one of a series [called] Second City Firsts - new writers, new directors, new actors. It was a three-hander, which was brilliant, great experience for somebody just embarking on their professional career.

How did you get the role of Hitler in Red Dwarf's fourth season episode, MELTDOWN?

I was a founder member of a co-operative agency, and we had a phone call from [casting director] Jane Davies. The story goes that apparently she drew a Hitler moustache and famous falling fringe over my publicity photograph and remarked how much like Hitler I looked!

Mr Flibble wanted to know why they hadn't tried drawing on his publicity still, a copy of which he'd sent every week for two years to the Grant Naylor offices. His fascist dictator roles are second to none! Andrew heartily agreed before asking Kenneth about arriving to join an established cast and crew...

It can be very difficult, because when people have been working together for that length of time, a) they know each other so well, and b) they also develop a kind of verbal shorthand. They can communicate almost by looks. That's difficult because you're not part of that.

We had an Elvis impersonator, and of course Ghandi - not that there can be much call for a Ghandi impersonator! (Laughs) Because I didn't meet them [the 'good' waxdroids] in the episode, they were doing their stuff at different times. We were pre-recorded. I was in a war room with other SS officers, just moving bits around on a map.

It seemed like a good atmosphere - but hard work as I remember it. They were cracking on with things quite a bit. My memory of it is very enjoyable. They [the crew] were around filming their bits. I couldn't take my eyes off Robert [Llewellyn] in make-up. They do such a fantastic job on Kryten. Ed [Bye] struck me as a very quiet, shy man. Very nice. But because I didn't go back for the [live audience] recording... You come in very quickly and exit very quickly.

Was it unnerving seeing yourself in the make-up and COSTUME?

Having seen the finished product from make-up, it was just frightening. It got me to the front of the queue in the canteen at lunchtime! (Laughs) It's strange, people's reactions to you when you're a personification of a twentieth century icon of evil, walking around in the SS uniform. Even though you're at Shepperton and people are always in costume, there [was a] strong reaction.

They died my hair, because my hair isn't that dark; they put extensions in it because it was quite short, stuck the moustache on, did the rest of the make-up - and the costume, of course - and it was just frighteningly real.

You also had to work with some gunshot effects...

I had to wear an exploding vest for the bullet hits. I'd never done anything like that before, which was fascinating because someone else controls when those things go off. He's watching the action, gets a cue - but no matter what that guy's doing you can only go by [the action].

The other thing we did was a close up on Hitler's face dropping onto the table. I remember that! Because he was an android the blood had to be this white stuff, which was just yoghurt as I remember. I just had to keep enough in my mouth and then, not looking as if anything was in my mouth, drop into close up and let it dribble out à la Alien.

Mr Flibble agreed that the effect was quite impressive, but insisted that his own death scene in Quarantine was infinitely more impressive. Andrew smacked him on the beak and asked Kenneth if he watched the show AFTER it was completed.

I tend to find it very difficult to watch things when they're actually going out. 'What's the difference?' you might think - but there are several million viewers watching at the same time. If I get embarrassed, which you sometimes do because it doesn't come out as you'd hoped it might, it's harder with so many watching. So I tend to record things and then watch it on a wet Wednesday afternoon with the curtains closed, when nobody else is watching.

It was like the first time I looked in the mirror in make-up, but it's a kind of disembodied thing - you're not looking back at yourself in a mirror, you're seeing things moving, talking thing. It's just very weird. You get the whole picture, which you're not aware of at the time.

It's a weird enough business just watching yourself, but when you're watching yourself in that iconic, evil personification - albeit in a comic situation - it's very odd.

Mr Flibble decided to add to his list of actorly ILLNESSES by asking about Kenneth's roles in Doctors and Holby City.

They came within a couple of months of each other last year. With Holby we had the time to do a read-through and a little bit of rehearsal, which helps develop the character with the director. I played a husband whose wife's friend was in Holby City Hospital - and he suspects them of having a lesbian relationship. (Laughs) Anything he can read into flowers or an innocent kiss goodbye... he views with great suspicion. It turned out they weren't, but it was a good thing to do.

In Doctors, again, it was a husband and wife situation. Her son from a previous marriage turns up after many years with a full history. She believes him, but my character is very doubtful, thinking he's a con merchant. Which he turns out to be!

[On Doctors] you do a reading audition, and when you've got the job you go off and learn the script - and the next time they see you is on the set. You have a rehearse-record thing. Boom-boom-boom.

Yours is a very varied television CV - anything and everything seems to be on there!

It's fantastic. I've done sketch shows with people like Absolutely, Hale & Pace, and dramas and comedies. There's a section of people in the business who see me as straight and serious, and there's a section who see me as comedic. So I have a foot in both camps. Prime Suspect was fantastic. I played a very passionate Labour councillor who was really having a go at a guy he suspected of corruption.

All this suspicion!

It's a bit worrying actually, this thread! (Laughs) He had to get up in a council meeting and accuse this guy of being corrupt. That was a crowd situation on location - always very difficult because there are so many elements you have to get right.

Finally, you appeared in Mike Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan movie, TOPSY TURVY...

I played a character called Herbert Pigeon, who was Gilbert's butler - Jim Broadbent's character. I was on that for a long time, though it isn't reflected in screen time, because it was an improvised film. But Mike Leigh is absolutely fantastic. He's just got such an eye, and ear, and memory - his memory is just fantastic.

He doesn't let you write things down. So my rehearsal period included a lot of one-to-one with him, just developing the character before I met anyone else. You have to have a firm foundation in 'who you are', so he takes you from being born, through growing up, to where you are now - in this case 1894. Which forms opinions and attitudes of how you would deal with people.

Jim Broadbent and I have met on several occasions over the years, and he is just such a funny man, and a great actor. And a nice guy. He's got all that - he must have some flaw! (Laughs) Jim just makes you laugh. There's a scene where they use the telephone - which was a new invention at that time. And 'THE. WAY. HE'S. SHOUTING. DOWN. THE. PHONE.' was just so funny - you can imagine that that's how it must have felt. It's very funny because you believe it.

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

Hitler Waxdroid Photographs: Kenneth Hadley