Mr Flibble Talks To... Inside Story
Meet the man who has the real behind-the-scenes scoop on series II and III. Mr Flibble gets a-gossiping with Dwarf Production Manager and voice artist supreme, Mike Agnew.
24 May, 2002
Mike Agnew - Part 1
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble is confused. He knows that Mike was Production Manager on series II and II of Red Dwarf - but what in the name of halibut is the role of a PRODUCTION MANAGER?

As a production manager within the BBC, you were looking after the budget, making sure the director stayed within that budget, and reporting to the director and producer - who at the time happened to be the same person, Ed. But also reporting to Paul Jackson, who was the executive producer, liasing between different departments, and working as an assistant to Ed.

You were also a unit manager, which meant you worked out locations, and you were the floor manager. Floor managing is what I love, because I used to be a performer and there is performance involved with it when you're in front of an audience.

I used to edit overnight after pre-record days for Ed to pick up the next day - all the stuff to play into the audience - so Ed could sleep and direct. Dona would floor manage in the morning, and I'd come in at lunchtime and floor manage for the rest of the day.

How did production methods differ at that point in time?

We were very restricted at the time with special effects. There were no great gizmos, no computers - everything had to be done physically. So when Rimmer gets blown up, we have to blow him up. Or, at least, use a dummy... (Laughs)

We had blue screen [and split screen], so we could do multiple Rimmers and Kochanskis. But they were very difficult to do at the time, and very time consuming. So I spent a lot of time with Ed working out how to physically do his ideas. I would liase with cameras and sound - and lighting, especially. John Pomphrey's lighting, at the time, was hugely, hugely important. We did so much with lighting. In Stasis Leak, the leak is a lighting effect as well as a wipe.

Let's talk about season II's location shoots...

We were on location in North Wales, shooting Better Then Life, using a real beach - where the Jag and motorbike appear. We were having terrible weather problems. People have probably noticed that there's a howling gale going on. And though everybody was in beach gear, we were frozen to death. Ed did stride around saying, "It'll look sunny in the edit" and it did look sunny in the edit. It took two days to shoot that because of the weather.

Because the weather was so bad, we had to think of an interior location as well. And on Rhyll beach is a place called The Sun Centre, which has flumes, sand and palm trees and whatever. There was a possibility that, if the weather had been that bad, we would have shot the whole thing as an interior, and I needed another location nearby to provide a lunar surface where we would plant the [Lise Yates] headstone.

Dona DiSephano, who was my AFM [Assistant Floor Manager] at the time, and I were driving around trying to find an open space with some rocks! Knowing that we were going to shoot at night, so we didn't have to worry too much about the horizon because it would disappear into black. We went past this land reclamation site. It was about eight or nine o'clock in the evening, just getting dark, and we drove past this site as a lorry came out, and I looked in and the ground was glowing!

Just finding that location was the most extraordinary thing in the world. What they do is burn off all the rubbish, then cover it in topsoil. They'd had an enormous amount of stuff that they'd burnt off, covered it in topsoil and rubble - but at night there was still smoke coming off, gasses and quite a lot of warmth from the ground. They wouldn't allow us to film there while it was still hot - people could get burnt. But they said, "We're covering it all again next week, then you can use it." Still glowing. A very muddy location.

There was this escarpment on one side that we could tuck ourselves [into] and it was perfect - it looked like a lunar surface. Of course, there was a lot of rain before we went there, [so] there was no smoke, the ground didn't glow. We brought smoke machines in to create mist. It was incredibly windy but we brought wind machines because we didn't know it was going to be windy!

Knit one, smeg one... You actually doubled for Craig Charles in Thanks for the Memory - Mr Flibble would like to know why he wasn't hired. He was available, cheap, and willing to cram his feathers into a spacesuit...

At the time Craig was expecting a baby with his then-wife, Cathy Tyson. The baby was due a lot sooner than Ed or I thought, and Craig had kept quiet about it - you keep your private life away from work. We'd already shot some of the scene [when] the call came in to my mobile at about ten at night - she was in labour, about to have the baby, and she needed Craig.

I got a car there as soon as possible and sent him on his way, already knowing that I could get into the [space] suit. The dialogue had been done - we rushed through quite a lot while we waited for the car to arrive! All the campfire stuff was shot, so we just needed to do the walks and the slab falling on his foot. So I got in the suit. You couldn't see it was me.

He is a lot shorter than me, about six inches shorter, so it was a bit of a squeeze. But all I had to do was stagger. It took no great acting talent. Ed couldn't do it - he's too tall. He's another six inches taller than me!

It has created a famous continuity error - when you're on screen, Lister no longer has a cast on his foot!

That's probably because I couldn't get my foot into the plaster cast at the time. And Ed probably said it'd look fine in the edit. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble is used to the finest hotels, with room service, en suite bathroom and a bucket of fish on ice. He'd like to know about the location used in Stasis Leak for THE GANYMEDE HOLIDAY INN.

It's the Midlands hotel in Manchester. It was really good, probably one of the best hotels in Manchester. It was a Holiday Inn, and we couldn't call it anything else - we could call it the Ganymede Holiday inn, but it had to be a Holiday Inn! Tony Hawks was there, because he was the voice of the suitcase, and we shot a lot in reception - which they were still using as reception. There are a lot of people in those scenes who really are coming to stay at the Midland!

Follow that suitcase!

Then we shot scenes in a corridor. It was like an administration corridor, but with a room on the end. There was a movable wipe [effect used inside the room] on the door as it closes. [We shot it] again and again and again, until we got the speed right. Craig had to close the door in one continuous movement at one speed so we can have the wipe with the other Lister standing outside. Inevitably, when you close or open a door, it actually comes in two or three moves.

Anyone who's watching old Red Dwarf episodes now, any time there's two of any character, look for the straightest vertical line you can find - that's where the wipe is. It'll be on a doorframe or down a set of shelves; because you have to hide the join. At the time it was called 'roll back and mix'. Lighting had to stay uniform for both [takes], and you had to be careful with shadows because not only can [the actors] not cross the line physically, but shadows can't cross the line either. You have all sorts of things where an AFM will move a prop and you go 'oh...!' because you have to go back and shoot the first half again.

The cast and crew actually stayed in that hotel as well during the season II shoot...

It had some very nice rooms - and, as a production manager, you get the best room in the hotel. You set up the whole thing, as far as they're concerned it's my credit card - I'm paying the bill! So you tend to get good rooms. I always got a good room for Ed, a good room for me, and the rest got them in descending order.

We were staying there one night while shooting the series, and Bruce Springsteen was appearing that night. We were sitting in the bar and he arrived with all his bodyguards. Craig was a bit of a fan, and Bruce Springsteen wanted the pool opened, he wanted to go for a swim. So Craig came to me with Bruce Springsteen's manager to say, "Mike, they won't open the pool. Can you get it opened?" I went to the manager of the hotel and got a member of the staff brought back in to open the pool. All so Craig could go swimming with Bruce Springsteen! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble stole Rimmer's gingham bonnet from the set of his episode of Red Dwarf. Do you have any SOUVENIRS of your time on series II?

In season II we all got given caps with dreadlocks, and we all bought jackets - so there are a lot of Lister jackets around. Jacki Pinks organised it, and we all had our names on them, and our role on the ship. I was 'Flight Co-ordinator Agnew'. My jacket has subsequently been sold for charity - some foolish person bought it for 450 quid, for breast cancer, so I'm chuffed to bits. If it had been Craig's jacket the mind boggles.

In part two of his interview, Mike gives Mr Flibble the inside story on series III - including backwards photography, scary monsters and a change of producers. If you don't tune in... Mr Flibble will be cross.