Mr Flibble Talks To... Mega Mechanicals
Robert Llewellyn's been a busy bunny, with the arrival of a new series of Scrapheap Challenge - accompanied by Robert's book of the series - as well as Brother Nature, his latest novel. Mr Flibble caught the author/actor/presenter during a brief moment of calm.
28 September, 2001
Robert Llewellyn - No. 2
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

While Mr Flibble began work on his own Scrapheap Challenge with two roller skates, two yards of sheet steel and a hammer, Andrew put his first question to Robert: What can we expect from the 12 weeks of mayhem in the NEW SERIES of Scrapheap Challenge?

Actually, for a start you can expect 14 weeks, as there is also a Mega Challenge, featuring 3 teams, US, British and Russian, and a sort of end of series special weird funny thing that I haven't seen yet. But it's without doubt the best we have done yet, bigger, madder, dirtier and more dangerous than ever before, with some great new teams and a couple of old favourites. And, because we made the series in America there is a good selection of massive V8 engines in use, some really scary big fellows, and anyone who has seen the show knows I have a bit of thing about big V8's.

I understand you've just been filming in the States. Does this mean the UK contestants are flown out, too?

Yes, all the teams were flown out and put up in deep luxury in an apartment block in sunny Burbank, LA.

Despite your self-made 'middle-class softy' reputation, you clearly love getting into the thick of the oil, machinery and explosions...

Okay, the truth is I am about as middle class and soft as a red neck thug from Tulsa. I try and put out a veneer of liberal wishy-washy Englishness, but I am a mullet haired petrol head who would dearly love to be covered in tattoos and serious body piercing, but my mum wouldn't like it!

Mr Flibble hit his flipper with a hammer and yelped. Andrew soldiered bravely on. You clearly have a lot of respect for Cathy Rogers - but do the pair of you ever try to fight over who gets to cover the coolest moments?

No, it would be too risky for me. Just before the camera rolls, Cathy usually whispers 'look at me adoringly or you're fired'. She may come over as a 'nice lady' but believe me, she is one tough-assed chick.

You've also written the SCRAPHEAP BOOK - what kind of approach does the book take? Are there any elements of the biographical/anecdotal style of 'Thin He Was' and 'Rubber Mask?'

I suppose it is like The Man in the Rubber Mask in some ways, written from my point of view, but it's more about the show, the teams and the engineering than about me and all my problems.

Did you have to go back to the show's experts for any of the research?

I was writing it as we made the first six episodes so I was constantly grilling experts, judges and people behind the scenes as to what was going on and why.

With his flipper bandaged, Mr Flibble produced a welding torch. What's been your favourite Scrapheap Challenge so far?

Monster trucks, they are really crazy, or maybe the walking machines, they were very funny.

Your new novel, BROTHER NATURE, is about to come out. Every one of your books seems to come from one initial 'spark' - dodgy therapists, the conversion of trainspotters - what was the inspiration this time?

I'm not sure that there is one particular spark, certainly not for Brother Nature, but I am fascinated with the way siblings do or don't get on and the complexity of families. I wanted to look at family life from a slightly different perspective, and the idea of a successful sister and her no-hope brother just made me laugh.

Jason Nash, the hero of the book is so thoroughly bad, but he made me laugh and I hope he will amuse readers in the same way. The other major spark was meeting Professor Kevin Warwick, the man who really is sticking micro chips in his body to see what happens.

The story revolves around a woman who is able to pick up her brother's emotions thanks to a microchip. How do you think people would react if they were able to read you like that?

I fear they may be very bored. I have a standard set of male problems which are comfortably dull.

Mr Flibble dashed off to the bathroom muttering something about second degree burns. Is the protagonist based on aspects of yourself, as some of the others were?

I suppose there are aspects of Jason that are very slightly coming from some deep pit of filthy that lies in my deeply recessed subconscious, but he is, as usual, a combination of many people I have met, or know very well. I find now that characters take a long time to emerge, but once they do, they become frighteningly real and take you off in directions you don't expect.

You're an extremely prolific NOVELIST - can we assume that there are more in the pipeline?

I am working on two new ideas at present, but I think there will be a bit of a gap before the next book comes out. I have had a novel published every year for the past four years, I need a bit of a breather. But yes, there will be more. I can't seem to stop.

Mr Flibble elected to take his scorched and damaged body to hospital - handily, his Scrapheap Challenge had been to build his own ambulance and he left with a backfiring exhaust in a cloud of black smoke. Robert, you write in a shed at home. Is it so high-tech and well-decorated now that it can no longer be fairly called a shed?

No, unfortunately it really is a shed - quite a big one and very full of old junk. But it has heating, lighting, fitted carpet and an ultra low-speed internet connection. Squirrels keep chewing my phone line.

Finally - the RED DWARF MOVIE. You recently had your body cast taken; are you under orders not to gain weight between now and filming?

Yes, I am being very careful - although, in fact, I think I have lost a bit of weight since the cast was taken. But Doug did ask me not to pork out.

Do you think you should keep the 'replica Robert' they've created? It could fill in for you when you're busy...

Not a bad idea. He could do book readings for me, especially if there were about fifty of them. I could get the team at Scrapheap to build moving arms and lips, and I could just record a chapter from the book and have him say it for me. I'm onto it now.

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