Mr Flibble Talks To... Perfect Paranoia
'Put a trace on Paranoia... It's space jargon, it means find him.' Always one to obey orders, Mr Flibble did just that. Better known these days for his role in Grange Hill, Mr Flibble talks to actor, writer and comedian Lee Cornes.
18 May, 2001
Lee Cornes
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered his first question to Andrew: How did you get involved with COMEDY?

I auditioned for Peter Rosenguard, he of the Comedy Store, in 1979, after I'd seen an advert in the Evening Standard, 'Comedians Wanted'. I went to see him and did some student-type sketches. I'd come from university, where I'd done comedy. He liked it enough (i.e. he was desperate enough) to [use me] in the Comedy Store. Opening acts were Alexei Sayle, Arnold Brown, Clive Anderson may have been there, maybe Jimmy Mullville. It was a complete nightmare - Christians to the lions!

I met Steve Frost and Mark Arden - formerly known as The Oblivion Boys, formerly known as the Carling Black Label lads - and another guy called Paul Mark Elliot, and all through the 80's and 90's (until about six years ago) we did a mad comedy revue called The Wow Show. We [also] did a couple of series on radio.

Tell me how you got involved with RED DWARF. You'd already been involved with other Paul Jackson productions, hadn't you?

I did the warm up for the first series of The Young Ones, and so did a couple of small parts in it. As I understand it, I got onto a shortlist of six for [the part of] Rimmer, including Norman Lovett and Chris. I f**ked up - I don't know what happened, because I assumed I was going for Craig's part, the other part, Lister! Didn't get that part... 'Can't even remember which character he's up for!' They were very good, and said, 'Everybody who has got this far, we'll give a part to.' They gave Norman Holly, and I came in to do Paranoia - so I didn't have to audition for that. That was loyalty, I was impressed with that.

At the time, I remember Red Dwarf [had] a tiny little set and not many people. Obviously it's expanded and grown, but at the time it was very intimate. I seem to remember there was something like thirty or forty people [in the audience] - it was almost like one of those audiences you have for late night chat shows, where you only have a few people in. It wasn't a 'big deal', it was still cutting its teeth.

Mr Flibble muttered something about not having teeth, but Andrew pressed on. What was the atmosphere on-set like at that point?

Very exciting actually. Craig had done Saturday Live and stuff like that, Chris was part of the circuit like me, a great impressionist - but not a lot of them, me included, had done much telly, so it was pretty new stuff. I had the feeling that we were doing something pretty new - which could have gone either way, because it's impossible to say. I had a great time. Because, as always when you go away, up to Manchester, you have good time. Everybody got a bit pissed in the bar afterwards, a good job done.

It was a tight sort of 60's suit, I had to sort of slide about. Craig [Ferguson] was a big lad and I was the opposite. As an opposing pair it looked quite good. [The voice] was all a bit Wilfred Bramble, Uriah Head, 'Harold...' Ed [Bye] is like Paul Jackson - if you're cast, you know what you're doing. I don't remember any specific direction. That was how I wanted to do it, and that was okay.

Has the longevity surprised you?

Yes and no. Red Dwarf isn't like anything else. It's vaguely sci-fi, it's vaguely Bottom, but it's not like anything else. The video sell-though thing has let the fans own a bit of it - they've got the out-takes. It's not a television show any more, it's become more than that, which is great - you don't have to wait a year for another six episodes. There's more for fans to enjoy.

I did a laughable part in a Dr Who years ago, and I still get people who've taken shots of the screen [saying], 'Please sign this' because they've got to collect all the character's autographs. I just looked like a twat in a grass skirt and green body paint! 'You were in Kinda, weren't you?' I just played that to make my mates laugh, because it is just so laughable!

You did a number of BLACKADDERs...

I was in three episodes within three series. Three different characters. I was fortunate to get the original part actually, because they was a double act - Steve Frost and Mark Arden - and if I remember rightly, Steve couldn't do it, so I did it. The German guards. The second one was Shelley, all the foppish stuff, and then I was a firing squad guy, with Steve as the [commander]: 'Ready-aim-fire!' (Laughs)

Mr Flibble always thought he would make a good drama teacher - but he doesn't want any more actors showing up nicking his parts. With GRANGE HILL the show - and your character, Mr Hankin - has gone through some stylistic changes...

Yes and no. My character's less dippy. Last year he really fell off the chair, he had this whole raft of personal problems, climaxing in a building falling on him and he nearly died. It was fantastic, I was so busy last year - that's mostly thanks to the muscular efforts of the script editor, Simon Spencer. He came in and really shook out the dust.

The show itself still addresses issues. Last year there was a rape storyline, as well as a bullying - which was me bullying a kid, in fact. It's quite complex. It was jam-packed with stuff. It's always been issue-laden. It's a great little show, I love it - I'm just so proud that, whatever else, that character - no matter how jokey or laughable - that's what I do. It's like Chris Barrie can say, 'Rimmer is mine, nobody else could do exactly that'.

I am a qualified science teacher, and I go into school and I have supply taught! I can go in as a supply teacher - and the double-takes! (Laughs) After Grange Hill's been on the day before! It made it worth it; it's like they're looking for the cameras, it does not compute! I'm a great champion of teachers, I think they get such a raw deal.

Finally, you're involved with the writing of the MR BEAN cartoon series...

Being a visual comedy, I thought it would be easier than it turned out to be. There's a bible of what Bean can and can't do. Also you think, 'It's a cartoon, you can do anything - fall out of an aeroplane, go into space.' No. In fact, the volume of the Bean character has only been turned up a few notches. A good percentage of the cartoon could be filmed with Rowan, in real life. The criticism they had of [my draft scripts] was 'too cartooney'!

That's the job of Robin Driscoll, the script editor - to keep that constant line. Over 52 shows, by the way! There's about eight or nine left to write, to be shown as 26 two-times-11-minutes, either side of an ad break. It's a big project - the animation studio's really on overdrive.

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