Mr Flibble Talks To... Ruthless Killer
Back when there wasn't a woman for three million years in any direction, the crew were very keen to defrost one Barbra Bellini. It was a shame, then - for them if not for us - that Ms Bellini turned out instead to be a psychotic simulant in the dangerous form of Nicholas Ball.
3 August, 2001
Nicholas Ball
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble attempted to hide his shaking flipper as he activated his tape recorder and asked his first question through Andrew: How did you get STARTED as an actor?

That's going back a bit! I always wanted to do it, really. I went to drama school, the Bristol Old Vic. They said no at first, so I gave them an argument all summer, and finally they said, 'Oh, alright then, you'd better come along...'

Even when I was there I did quite well. I did a 26 part radio series, a TV series called The Queen's Traitor, I then came out and did another series called The Gold Robbers. Then, around '74-5, I heard they were doing this detective series. So I said, 'Well, why aren't I up for it?' to the producer. She said, 'You are!' From fifty of us, it got down to four, I think. Then they screen-tested and I got it - that was Hazell.

[The name] was based on a footballer called Gordon Hazell, who played for QPR - because it was written by Terry Venables and Gordon Williams. The real writer is Gordon, because he is a true screenwriter, and he was a big film noir fan. He sat down with Terry, and Terry is all your 'Cor blimey, guv'nor' Cockney. [The show was] an amalgamation of the two.

Mr Flibble was going to make a flippant comment about his own ability to be silent in any accent... but didn't want to have any limbs removed. Andrew asked how Nicholas found the exposure of a major TV series like HAZELL?

Great! (Laughs) I liked it! It's good, because you get to control it a little bit. At the end of the day there were only 22 of them. It was very successful, audiences of 21 million - which is unheard of these days. It was one of the first shows they advertised on the Tube with posters. It did extremely well.

At the end of the 22, they got conscious of the popularity of it. No sex, no swearing, no smoking, no violence. What's left? He's supposed to be a private eye for God's sake! It was a bit too studio-bound for me, as well. They did it in the studios rather than go out and do it around London, which is where it should have been. You can't go down dark alleys in studios - you find the studio wall!

How do you follow a big series like that?

You make choices. Some of them are the wrong ones, but you should never have regrets. I went to the States for a bit - four years. I actually went for a month, but I kept falling in love over there! Sitting in L.A., I thought, 'I could go back home, it's November, go down the old Kent Road on a cold and miserable day. Or I could go for lunch in Malibu.' No contest!

Is there a tone - drama or comedy - that you like to work in?

No, not really. I mean, those little guest spots in things are quite fun. You just hop in, do it, hop out again. Cold Feet was kinda silly, because he was just this leary character who kept trying to get the knickers off Mel Martin. We'd worked together - she was actually in Hazell a long time ago. Lovely lady. In the end she punches him on the nose. It's a sort of gag extended over three episodes.

How did you get involved with RED DWARF?

They asked me to do it. I had known Craig Charles slightly - we'd met in various bars around town! - and I think he was kind of a fan of mine. So he pushed a little bit. They thought it was a really good idea. I said, 'What am I going to play in it?' They said, 'We've had this idea for a thing called a simulant, which is a kind of terminator.' T2 was yet to come out, but T1 was still big.

The [simulant] says virtually nothing, he's just running around blowing up everything he sees, chasing them around this extraordinary building. It was a disused power station somewhere down in Teddington where we shot it. These huge machines and dripping water and metal grilles. It was fabulous.

Were you warned about the make-up and costume it was going to take?

Kind of, but - as ever with British television - you get there early on the first day and they just kept going, sticking this stuff on. 'That don't look quite right,' 'Well, let's stick that on', 'Stick something over his eye that glows red...' (Laughs)

It had a little beam in it. It was kind of like 'pre-Borg' in that. When you flash it across the camera through a bit of smoke, you can see the beam of it. Terminator is where the ideas were taken from, not that I'm anything like Arnie's build. But it's amazing what a bit of padding can do - and a very husky voice. (Does Simulant voice - scaring the guano out of Mr F.)

Mr Flibble, frozen with fear, was unable to ask another question. Andrew took the opportunity to pinch him very hard. What was the atmosphere like on set with the LIVE AUDIENCE?

I'd done some [live audience work TV] before, for Alas Smith and Jones. [I] did a sketch about Cockney rhyming slang that was just hysterical - because we just made it up! 'Ah, he's done a concrete trampoline on me!' It's now become a comedy classic. Mel's an old friend, a very good director; actor's director. I was working with him yesterday. He's casting a new film and we were screentesting. It was fun - a very nice day and we did it in his back garden. Refreshments were there aplenty...(Laughs)

[With a live audience] there's usually a warm-up man. Most of [the cast] were, in one guise or another, stand-up comics. They had all done a bit of the comedy circuit - as did Mel and Griff ten years earlier.

[The Red Dwarf cast] were a hoot. It was quite a tough shoot - they usually are. They had their own rapport going, slightly ad-libbed some of the stuff, as well. 'Slightly'! Quite a bit of ad-libbing. Their repartee depends on that bouncing back and forth. My job was just to come hurtling around the corner at the end of a scene and go 'Grrr'.

Feeling sorry for Mr F after the pinching incident, Nicholas leant him his spare bazookoid. Andrew was last seen running across a main road. Let's talk about your recent MOVIES like Croupier. How did you find director Mike Hodges?

Wonderful man, great icon of the British. Probably he and Ridley Scott are the best directors we have. Mike has stuck with it. It came out - it was on one screen in London for two weeks. Nice reviews, but went. It's unfortunate. It did the same in America, L.A. and New York. A year later, this little company in New York [came along] who, if they like a film, will put it out on ten or eleven screens. Then it went to 32, then it went to 64, 134. It's on the top money-making list in America, because it cost bugger-all in the first place! Two or three million - Pearl Harbour's lunch budget.

So they're shamed into re-releasing it here! It's doing very well. It opened the day after Pearl Harbour, and percentage-wise it's doing better! The number of screens that it's on [relative to] bums on seats. I went to see the 7 o'clock show on Baker Street and it was packed. Long live the rising sun is all I can say... (Laughs)

You've also just had Out of Depth come out finally...

It's been lounging, looking for a distributor, for a couple of years. I'm a rather nasty gangster in it. Sean McGuire stars in it, it's a very harrowing story - and it's a true story. It all happened to the director's friend in the 80's or 90's, had a bit of a tragic ending to it. It's good - worth seeing.

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