Mr Flibble Talks To... Carry On Nurse
In fan-favourite episode Back to Reality, she was the woman charged with introducing Duane Dibbley to an unexpecting public. Mr Flibble gets in a flap with Marie McCarthy.
18 October, 2002
Marie McCarthy
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Not even letting his penguin pal get a word in about his days struggling through drama school, Andrew asked Marie how she STARTED OUT.

It really started when I was twelve. I went to a convent school - it was very academic - and we had an English class where we did A Christmas Carol. We just read it, it wasn't a production or anything, and I played Scrooge. It was at that exciting point where Scrooge resolves to be a better person - and the class clapped me! I remember looking up [and thinking] 'this is nice'. (Laughs)

Then I got the bug. The Old Vic had a youth theatre - we did Romeo and Juliet and various other things. I did a stint backstage on Evita as a dresser, then I went to drama college. My first professional job was when I played a link boy in London Cuckolds, and for the next job I played a policewoman. Lots of jumping around.

How did you get involved with RED DWARF?

That was really exciting because it was my first telly. My agent put me up for it - I auditioned for [casting director] Jane Davies. I don't know much about it, but when I told my nephew he was so excited! (Laughs) He was telling all his friends what a cool job I had. I'd done Shakespeare and that wasn't interesting [to him], but the whole family was excited about this.

We had a readthrough and then turned up for the day of shooting. It was a studio audience and multi-camera, so it was: 'Oh my God!'. I realised the extent of it. It was brilliant. Because it was a studio audience and camera as well, there was this thing of 'not playing to the audience'. Ultimately it's for television, and you have to be aware of that. It was somewhere between theatre and film, and it kind of felt like home.

Mr Flibble also felt very at home on the set... but that might have had something to do with the fact that they locked him in the dressing room every night. Still, he managed to build a nest from some abandoned long-johns. What do you remember of the script and being on the set?

I was sent the script, learnt that, we did the readthrough...and then it changed. A little bit at the readthrough, and also on the day. I seem to remember [the changes] were minor things - the order of things in the scene.

Timothy Spall was amazing. He's such a brilliant actor, but he was saying, "I hope I'm going to be all right in this"! But in my scene there was just the five of us, and they were really nice and welcoming. It was like going into a ready-made family, they were lovely. And very funny. It was...'seamless'.

What did you think of your costume?

I had orange/tan coloured tights, flat white shoes and this very American nurse's hat thing. They did this thing with my hair, and it was really bouffed up quite a lot - it reminded me quite a lot of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest! (Laughs) That's all I could think of. I had quite rosy cheeks because the lights bleach your colour, and I was sitting in make-up thinking 'Oh my God I look like Nurse Ratched!'

Mr Flibble said he always felt rather under-costumed, having been given only a small bow-tie to wear. AFTERWARDS did you watch the show go out?

Yes. I was like this [Marie hides] behind the cushion. (Laughs) I didn't know what to expect. There was a gang of us watching. I was amazed. [From] being on three separate sets to seeing this world created was amazing. Really clever. It was so atmospheric.

I'll always remember Danny's expression - before he even says anything - and he looks and says, 'I don't want to be Duane Dibbley.' It was a lovely response - his expressions are fantastic.

The series has followed me around. Lots of people say to me, after various shows that I've done, 'We saw you in Red Dwarf.' That's happened a lot. It got to the point where I became a minor celebrity in my local off-licence. (Laughs) My neighbour frequently knocks on the door and says, 'You're on the telly, you're on the telly!'

Let's talk about some of your OTHER WORK - you were in The Glass...

That was with John Thaw, about a glazing company. I played a business woman - I was trying to flirt with him and get some information. There were loads of background artists. He was wonderful, just in terms of his technique - a sad loss.

You also do a lot of talking books...

I think a lot of people think it's just reading a book... which of course it is. But to sustain it, preparation is important. You don't really realise until you do it that it is quite difficult. It's a lovely job to do, because it gives you the chance to play characters that you'd never, ever play. I did a biography of the Sex Pistols recently, and I had to be this late night DJ - go back to my Hackney roots. And the week after that I was onto children's fairy stories, playing Little Red Hen, worms and ducks and chickens!

"So, never played a penguin then," Mr Flibble sulked to himself, before finally asking about Marie's work with the innovative CREATION THEATRE company.

We set Macbeth in a BMW factory in Oxford. The year before, BMW had approached us - they said, 'We want to launch the Mini... We could put it in Hamlet.' That well known scene where the Mini shows up... (Laughs) It was so successful that this year we had the Mini Cooper in the show. They brought the guests for the banquet.

I had never worked in a car factory before, but was really interested to do site-specific things. In a theatre, in the wings, if you have to run on you jog on the spot [first]. But in a factory you have to leg it! I was really puffed out. And it was very castle-like in the factory because it was cold.

For Hamlet they made the set out of scrap metal, so there were great big drums and chutes. The director loves fire, so we had fire as well. It was really dramatic, and huge. The ghost scene was something else. We were rehearsing in hard-hats and fluorescent jackets because there was a wall down! As Gertrude I had to kiss Claudius, and our hats kept banging together. (Laughs)

When we came back for Macbeth we had illusionists in. The first scene was set in a fairground and I - as Lady Macbeth - was appearing out of boxes. One of the other actors put a skewer through his arm!

I imagine you got a lot of school parties in the audience?

Yes - who came up to me afterwards and said, 'You were in Red Dwarf'...

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