Mr Flibble Talks To... Penguin's Lovett
Mr Flibble wraps a wing around the usually-invisible neck of Norman Lovett.
1 November, 2002
Norman Lovett
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whispered his first question into Andrew's shell-like ear. Andrew duly passed it on: How did you begin as a STAND-UP comedian?

I was in my late twenties/early thirties in London, and my friend, Bernie, had a party. We built a stage in the front room, had a piano, and I wrote some stupid comedy songs. That's when I first performed. But I think most of the audience were on drugs, so I could have done anything really! (Laughs)

I started performing with Bernie's band, and the lead singer of a punk band called 999 was there - so I did some gigs with them at The Lyceum and got gobbed on - covered in gob! Then the Comedy Store came along and I did some stuff there. I had a guitar at the time - it was more rock-n-roll based comedy. I wrote lyrics and did chords on the guitar. It wasn't brilliant, but I did ok. Then I did The Lyceum with Bowhouse and they had more middle class punks so they didn't gob at me and I went down quite well! (Laughs)

Then I did the gig with The Clash, which was fantastic. That was very memorable. I went down really well and watched The Clash. It was a fantastic evening! Then [back to] the Comedy Store and I got gigs from there. The guitar eventually went and I started doing my pauses and odd stuff.

Which comics are you a fan of?

I like Bill Bailey - he's all right. I've worked with a lot of the young ones like John Oliver, who's very clever - like a young David Baddiel but much funnier! Max Wall inspired me to do pauses and relax and take your time. I met him and we started arguing - I hated him. So never meet your heroes! (Laughs)

I don't think I could ever be that grumpy. I'm grumpy, but he was the ultimate Mr. Grumpy! Then he died three months later. In fact I met Harry Worth, who also died a few months after. And Roy Orbison - met him and he died within three months. It's quite funny that... well it's not funny. 'Norman Lovett Angel of Death'. I've met lots of other famous people that haven't died. Three came together like buses. (Laughs)

How would you describe your act?

It's just observational rubbish, really - but from my angle of looking at it. It's all I've ever traded on and it's got me absolutely... not very far! (Laughs) I think I almost see now as the second part of my career. The stand-up continues - I'm an old fart, but I still do the silly stuff - and I love acting in films. I hope I do more. I went up for a part last week in a film called 'The Girl With The Pearl Necklace' - you may have heard of the book - and apparently that's looking good. That will be a proper film!

Speaking of which, you're currently shooting a low-budget ensemble movie called FEEDBACK...

I'll read from their notes. [Reads] 'Mr. Smith,' that's me, 'is a principal driving instructor whose pupil, Sarah, is a waitress in a restaurant.... Mr. Smith is under pressure to fail more and more students, and he can't stand that because he believes that if someone is good enough to drive they should pass and go on the road. So when he is ordered to fail a perfectly good candidate, it causes him to quit his job as a matter of principle.'

He's totally into his driving, whereas Norman Lovett is not a very good driver in reality. [Reads] 'He is passionately committed to maintaining safe driving standards on our roads and he struggles against the sinister tyrannies of the driving test hierarchy and breaks free to find love through a series of truly weird events.' (Laughs) I don't have to do any driving. [As an instructor] I just sit by the side of the driver. I'm not bad, but I can be a bit silly if someone upsets me.

Mr Flibble said he would never do a low-budget film - he enjoys the catering too much on big features. Andrew poked him in his penguin eye. How has the filming been going?

I've only done one day's filming so far and that was great! Regent Canal in Islington on Monday morning - bloody cold! - but the rain kept off. All the lines are excellent and the director's really good. He knows me, he knows exactly what I can do. The lines are smashing. You never know do you? You just don't know if it ends up in a video store or [hits huge]. I hope they do well, because they're such nice people.

If something's not right and you say another word, he doesn't mind as long as the performance is there. He's not going to lose sleep over it, whereas some directors, insist on every word. There's no pressure because it's not a bloody great budget thing like the Red Dwarf movie. There's no real stars, but I don't mind. It means it puts me higher up doesn't it! I can be a bit of a top banana. (Laughs)

Andrew ignored a Mr Flibble joke about being top herring in favour of asking about Feedback's production co-ordinator-slash-stuntman, Jack Martin...

Yeah, 'Mad Jack'. He's one of these smiley blokes who's always doing mad things. He's well over six foot, well built, but with this smiley little face. I kept thinking of Christopher Reeve and I said, "Jack, don't end up in a bloody wheelchair mate! Take it a bit easy." He did this [stunt], falling down a hill towards the canal, and he had to fall over this little wall onto a tarmac walkway. There was a railing to stop him going into the water, but I think he'd have gone into the water just for a laugh! (Laughs)

He did the fall, and I had my back to him on the bench - but I heard it all and I was scared stiff... so my reaction will look pretty good. It will look real! (Laughs) Stuntmen would have had a mattress. Not 'Mad Jack'... what is it they call him?

Ah, a Blackadder reference - 'Mad Jack McMad'. Now, let's talk about the character of HOLLY. What's the story behind the head?

He's a fantastic character. I went up for Rimmer, but that was useless - I wasn't any good for that at all. But then they said 'can you come and read for Holly?' The lines were perfect, and the [guys] were all laughing, so I wasn't surprised when I got offered the part.

It was a voice-over, but I'd scored a few points working on two series of Ruby Wax. Ego came into it - I just felt that it was telly and I wanted to be seen! So I kept on and on and was a pain in the arse. I just said, "Why can't you see the bloke and he looks like me? That's funny!" And so in the end Rob and Doug said 'Yeah, let's do it' and we re-recorded the bits and pieces.

I actually think [the re-shoots] helped it, although we were frustrated and wanted to get on. It helped the writers and producers, of course, because Rob and Doug had the characters there. Craig was Lister, and lots comes from the actual person. They weren't slow to see that.

They didn't let you get away with it completely though - it wasn't your regular visage...

They pixelated my face, and then they were talking about making my voice strange! I said "Don't do Dr. Who! Make him talk like me and look like me." But they carried on with the pixelation. Then, after series one, they said, "Yeah, you're right." So I can be right sometimes. (Laughs) So in the end it worked out very well and in the second part of the second series it got going beautifully.

You recently recorded DVD commentaries for the first two series - which Mr Flibble wasn't allowed to do, on the grounds that he whispers so only Andrew can hear him.

I spoke a load of nonsense in that. (Laughs) It was good to see it again. When I saw my face I thought, 'I'm too young'! Now I'm the right age to play Holly. It was good - I was still laughing at a lot of the stuff. It stood up well.

Including your favourite episode, Queeg...

Queeg! It was a great read. You could read it, stand alone, irrespective of whether I was in it, and you wouldn't put it down. I think it was a perfect episode, and the fact that I featured more in it was great. (Laughs) It's very frustrating with Holly - you have your little scenes, mainly with Lister, and that's it. I want to do more - it's a very frustrating role for me. Coming back in Series VIII was, again, a line here, a bit there, but that's the way it goes. I'd just love some more gold nuggets of comedy. There's some lovely stuff there and I can deliver comedy - I want more, it's like a drug!

Tell me about your DEPARTURE from the show after Series II...

I felt terrible about it. I should never have left it. I might have some money today if I'd stayed on! There were lots of reasons. There was my health. I was also making my own series [I Lovett]. I'd done the pilot at the time, and I guess I thought it was the way to move on. But it wasn't to be like that.

Then I asked if I could have less rehearsal days because I was living in Edinburgh and the fee was brought right down. I said, 'Hang on what's going on here? I'm not doing that.' It was to do with the producer. I love Paul Jackson - what he's done, and what he did getting Red Dwarf and The Young Ones on, is fantastic - but when it came to that sort of thing he'd say, 'No, you can't do that.' I believe what he thought was that I was trying to say, 'Hey, I'm important in this show and I want the fee.' I wasn't acting like that at all. It was just that the original fee suddenly had almost halved and I wanted to know why, and no-one would tell me.

Let's move on to your triumphant RETURN at the end of Series VII...

Series seven was a very weird time for Red Dwarf. Doug was solo, but he was also trying out lots of writers, and of course no studio audience. It had a 'movie' feel about it. That's what happens, things have to change - perhaps not re-invention, but little pieces have to change.

It was very weird with no audience there. I came in cold - here I was back in the show after ten years. It just felt strange. I've got to say, I was disappointed with the scene. I just thought I could have done it better. But I've done lots of things without audiences on television and been very happy with them so I'll be fine [on the movie]. I know where the laughs are going to come. I guess I was always used to an audience there. But once I got back into the swing of things [in series VIII] there was no problem.

Apart from changing the odd line because you had trouble saying a complicated word...

Like in Series VII - remolec... remol...


I still can't say it! Whatever happens in reality is funny - let's have it in the show! I'm all for that because that's the truth, and real comedy is the truth.

Didn't you revolutionise Holly's 'costume' for Series VIII

I took the costume a step forward. The double-sided tape seemed antiquated, so we had to move with the times. I said, "Let's paint the line on now - I'm willing to take a bath after the show." (Laughs) I just thought it was easier, and not as hot. Also it helps the old jaw-line when you're getting older - you can choose where you want it! (Laughs)

Norman Lovett - comedian, actor, writer, costume and make-up designer. Is it any wonder you have such a talented FAMILY!

My wife Fi has done five episodes of Family Affairs as a social worker. Then she was in an episode of My Hero, and now she's doing the Ms. Dynamite video... I don't know if Mr. Dynamite will be there. (Laughs) She's playing an Elizabeth Hurley type, a daddy's-girl character whose been badly treated and she has to mime to Ms. Dynamite's lyrics. The record is really good. Fi also played the lead in a low-budget film a year ago called Midnight, playing a detective.

You daughters are in on the action, too. Lily (12) was on the second Harry Potter...

And Kitty [10] was runner-up for a stand-up award. I'm very proud. If she does better than me - and she hasn't got far to go - then I'll be delighted. I'd sit at home, do all the managing or be the agent. Do some writing, still do the odd gig. It's my family, so of course I'm going to say they are talented... but they are, they're bloody good!

Finally, is it true that you're setting up your own WEBSITE?

I met some people who offered to do it for me - the people who did Intro2's music video. Matt, the drummer, is one of these whiz-kids and he said, 'I'll build your website'. I think it's going to be an autobiography type thing, [with] lots of interesting photographs from throughout my career and little stories about them.

I want it to be simple, I want it to look nice, and also I'll be able to update it myself. 'I've got gigs coming up here, and this and that has happened', so I can get it up to date. I think it will be You learn a lot about the internet business - there's loads of people making money from selling a name. I think someone has got Someone's bloody got it! Is someone going to sit there and wait for a Norman Lovett to say, 'Can I buy it off you?' Bastards! (Laughs)

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