Mr Flibble Talks To... Going Up
With her appearance as the Xpress Lift attendant, Morwenna Banks became the first of many Absolutely team members to put in a Red Dwarf performance. Mr Flibble hops on at ground level with the writer-actress-comedienne.
27 April, 2001
Morwenna Banks
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble forwarded his first question through Andrew: How did you get into PERFORMING AND WRITING?

I guess it was something I always fancied doing. When I was at college, I was more of a 'serious' actress and thought that was what I was going to do - and my mates just went, 'Oh , yeah! (Laughs) You should be doing comedy', which wasn't what I wanted to hear at the time. But I gave it a go, started writing and performing - because all the people who I liked, who did comedy, at the time wrote their own stuff. I thought that was definitely the way forward, and I started getting gigs.

I was never a stand-up. The first big thing I had, which was a writing gig, was a book I wrote about women comedians called The Joke's On Us, which I wrote with Amanda Swift. After that I got into performing, and the first major thing I did was Absolutely.

How did your involvement in ABSOLUTELY come about?

I was doing a show at the Edinburgh festival with John Sparkes and Neil Mularchy - it was fairly terrible. It was called Mind How You Go, and [it was] based largely around John Sparkes's obsession with policemen. (Laughs) At the time I was also doing another show called The Preventers, which was like a 60's, pre-Austin Powers take-off.

I met up with Morray Hunter, Jack Docherty, Gordon Kennedy and Peter Baikie - they were doing a radio show for the BBC - and I think the reason that we actually got together was because they kept getting letters from confused and angry listeners saying they couldn't tell them apart! They all sounded the same. So Alan Nixon, who was the producer, thought it would be a good idea to bring some other voices onto the show.

We did a series called Bodgers, Banks and Sparkes, which I think was uniquely unsuccessful! (Laughs) It was a really good laugh to do, for us - to sound a bit pretentious about it - it was a meeting of minds. I hugely admired them. It was great, and we just kept writing - and off our own backs wrote the TV pilot which became Absolutely. Channel 4 insisted that we read it to them, and luckily they went for it.

Mr Flibble still gets stopped on the street by people who saw him in Red Dwarf - the most famous of your characters is probably the little SCHOOLGIRL and her monologues...

I was thinking about that this morning. There are so many things that I did that I liked better! But one of our rules with Absolutely was that we never did stuff too many times. Even when we had a character that ran, we were very un-pragmatic about it - some would say stupid about it! - we never, in a Fast Show way, went, 'That work's, let's do it every week'.

I think I only did two or three little girls a series, ten or twelve in all, although I did them again recently in my own series [Channel 5's The Morwenna Banks Show]. It surprised me that anyone knew what I was talking about, but it's dismaying that amongst all the other things - which I thought were funnier - that those are the ones [people remember]. I was asked to do it again recently for a benefit, and you think, 'God, I don't want to get dressed up as a kid again!' That's the level at which you think, 'Am I now Beryl Reid?' (Laughs)

A lot of the team have appeared in RED DWARF - how does this keep happening?

Because Rob and Doug are great, and they've just been really loyal to us! Paul [Jackson] has always been a loyal supporter [as well]. I've got a lot of respect for Rob and Doug - for what they've done together and separately. It's like serving your comedy time if you've done Red Dwarf. They did actually talk to me about coming back and doing a bigger part in it, but I think we were doing Absolutely or something - I shan't say which part, because that wouldn't be fair. But that was one of the things I've been more bummed about in my career, not being able to do that.

Mr Flibble muttered that he'd never been invited back and started to sulk. Andrew asked Morwenna how she got the lift attendant part.

I've no idea. I know Rob and Doug knew Jack and Morray. Maybe they were just being kind to me because they'd seen me hanging around with the boys. (Laughs) I played a lift operator, and my mum still has a picture of it in the kitchen - every time I look at it, I think, 'When did I play a waitress?' I had a funny hair-do - a sort of victory roll, 1940's hair-do. And a lot of lippy, I seem to remember. I don't know why, of all the things I've done, that's the one my mum's got up in the kitchen. Maybe it's the only thing I've given her, this Polaroid somebody took.

I had to stand in a lift and do a little monologue. It was terribly nerve-wracking, actually, because everyone seemed so confident and so good. I remember being slightly afraid of all the main boys in it. I seem to remember Mac McDonald was in that episode - I did a lot of sitting and chatting with him. It was just really cool. I liked the show and never really understood what was going on! Because I'm a girl...

I remember learning it, knowing it off by heart, because I'm meticulous when I do things, I really have to know it. And then at the last minute Ed Bye said, 'Do you want it on autocue?' (Laughs) I think [autocue is] obvious - and you lose all confidence that you actually know it. I'm a bit better at it now - I had to do my whole Channel 5 show on autocue because we were filming like 20 hours a day!

Of course, the lift attendant died at the end with a beautifully-timed fall. Did they put a mattress down for you?

Yeah, they must have. I probably would have been too embarrassed to even say if they didn't! 'Fine, absolutely fine. Crack my skull? That's fine...'

That's funny, because in The Strangerers I played the Supersupervisor, and Rob wrote in this falling-down-a-lift-shaft scene. It must have been an echo [of that], because I love to do anything remotely like a stunt. He was all like, 'You'll be okay, you'll be fine.' I was thinking, Oh my God...' Maybe I've been engendered by my falling over skills! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble hurled himself onto the floor to prove his own talent for physical comedy, but nobody was watching. How did you find doing THE STRANGERERS?

It was really cool to do, and Rob Grant is just up there as one of the nicest and most talented men. Having him on the set every day, knowing that a thumbs up from him, as well as the director, was an incredible accolade. It was just the best thing to see him smiling off camera.

It was nice to work with Jack again, and Mark Williams is obviously terrific. I think we learned a lot from him. I came after they'd [developed] this language and movement, which they took me through. I had pretty much all my scenes with them and Milton Jones, who was also great to work with. And I loved the whole 1940's thing, the look of it was excellent. I don't usually get to wear glamorous costumes - I'm usually dressed as an old bag or something.

You've got THE ANNOUNCEMENT coming out soon - where did your idea for that film script some from?

After I did my show, I went off to New York for a rest. I had this idea for a script about a couple who get all their friends together for dinner and announce that they got married in secret. It's about the reactions of all their friends - they think everyone will be pleased, but it's quite the opposite.

It's not essentially comedic. It's got funny bits, but it takes quite a dramatic twist half way through. I wrote that in New York and sent it to a director named Troy Miller, who does a show on HBO called Mr Show, which is a big hit, a bit like the Armstrong and Miller show actually. He really liked the script, and together we raised the money and shot it last year.

It's got a fantastic cast - Mark Addy, Fay Ripley, Tom Hollander, David Badiel, Gordon Kennedy. There's some spectacular acting... probably with the exception of myself. It was tremendous working with them. We're at the stage now where we're putting the finishing touches to the film, and hopefully it'll be out later in the year.

It was a crew who'd worked on documentaries; two cameras, so there was always somebody [with a camera] on you. So there was no letting up. It meant you could immediately go again - you wouldn't have to re-set and light. As an actor you can stop and start. You don't feel as much pressure. We moved so fast, but everybody went up a notch because there was never a time when you weren't potentially on-camera.

I've got another film coming out. It's called Large, written and directed by a young guy called Justin Edgar and it's made by Film Four. It's about an Ozzy Osbourne-style star, and I play his raunchy second wife. He dies at the beginning of the movie, and it's basically a fight for the money. It's an old style will-fight between me and his teenage son by his first marriage. He has a number of conditions he has to fulfil. It's like a British version of American Pie - largely teen-orientated.

Finally, what do you have coming up?

Jack Docherty and I have written a pilot we're about to film for Channel 4, called M.A.W. - which stands for 'Model, Actress, Whatever.' We're really psyched about that. I'll be playing the teenage model's hideous, scary ex-groupie mother. We're really looking forward to that.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Morwenna Banks, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble's very cross.