Mr Flibble Talks To... Rocket Launches
Red Dwarf camera dude Rocket gets technical with Mr Flibble.
11 June, 2004
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble announced that he was on a lunch break and let Andrew get on with the interview - starting with how Rocket's company, Telegenic, BECAME INVOLVED with Red Dwarf II's location shooting?

In 1988, out of the blue, Mike Agnew called and asked us if we would do some inserts for a strange programme called Red Dwarf. So he booked us for an OB for a week. I didn't know anything about Red Dwarf, but I got sent the scripts. Even on the first day of shooting I had no idea what we were doing! The first thing we did was on the beach in Rhyll [for Better Than Life]. We had the most amazing week with Ed and the cast... though it took me the first week to realise that Chris was a hologram! (Laughs)

Telegenic weren't involved with Series III, but took over as the camera team when Series IV moved to Manchester...

We had an inkling that they wanted to relocate, as the cast weren't over the moon about rehearsing in Shepherd's Bush and then shooting in Manchester, but that was BBC policy. It was one of the first independent productions, and they were fighting to get down to London. We thought this would be a nice thing to get for ourselves, and there were a few discussions, but nothing serious until the middle of Series III, when the commuting got very fraught [for them].

So I suggested we build the set of Starbug and the cargo bay permanently on a stage at Shepperton, where they could rehearse and add peripheral sets as necessary. Wraggy [Peter Wragg] loved it because he had something hard to do his special effects around and he knew where he was going with it. The model shots were only just up the road in Shepherd's Bush. And the cast liked it because they were rehearsing in the set, so if there were changes going on, which of course there were, then they could cope.

Mr Flibble mumbled something about having no trouble learning his lines at the last minute, all the time munching on his tuna sandwich. The Series IV photography STYLE is noticeably different - darker, more stylish. Was that a conscious move?

Mike's idea of making television pictures was totally different from the norm at the time. In the BBC there was a thing called the 'green window', which was an oscilloscope, which meant all picture racking and the rest of that was done to a chart standard. It was very formularised. Mike never did that, even when we working for the BBC! The reality was it wasn't done by machinery, it was done by eye. John Pomphrey and Mike would sit in vision control and they'd set a look. We used filters and effects lenses to match what we all wanted it to look like. We didn't want Racing From Goodwood. (Laughs) We wouldn't worry if lighting levels were below BBC standard of one volt in the 'green window', because a lot of the time the 'green window' didn't even show!

In the end we were virtually shooting single-camera, which makes it... well, not 'filmic', because I don't think that actually works. I have to say I don't think the series they shot single-camera [Series VII] had the presence of the ones we did. Somewhere it had lost something - but I have no idea to this day what it was.

What's a typical week on Dwarf?

For IV and V it worked really well. The schedule was basically Sunday off, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday rehearsal - Wednesday afternoon I'd have a walk-through with [Sound Supervisor] Keith Mayes. Thursday the crew would be in and the truck would be here and we'd do the pre-shoots. By the end of V, the pre-shoot was a lot longer than the shoot as most of it was being pre-shot.

For Series VI, we persuaded them to shoot on Wednesday and Thursday, and then on Friday the truck could go away as we had a contract with Sky. So we used to leave [Insert Editor] Pete Bates behind and he would edit overnight, while the crew were supposed to rehearse a bit on Friday... but I don't think they did very much! Then we came back for the long day shoot on Saturday. Peter Wragg and his boys were phenomenal - they'd have an idea on Tuesday and by Wednesday there'd be a blob or something created!

Mr Flibble opened a can of cola, which exploded all over him. Andrew pressed on with a discussion of the show's various DIRECTORS...

Juliet is a fantastic director, and we'd done various shows with her and knew her quite well. When Ed had other commitments, and Paul said we're bringing in Juliet I thought that's great because she knows exactly what she's doing. But Red Dwarf is a lot of people's show. It's Rob and Doug's because they created the idea, it's the boys because they are 'it', and then there's people like Peter Wragg and me and Keith, who add our bit to it and it is a bit of a conglomerate product or it was when we were there.

Juliet found that difficult, as she wanted it in her own terms, to be correct for her, and I think that caused some tension. The fact that things would change and Rob and Doug would make the changes and tell the cast and not her! That was always happening to me! It was an interesting thing to cope with. It was a big learning curve for Rob and Doug when they were directing themselves because the discipline of directing came as a hell of a shock to them. Even on simple scenes, there has to be a discipline or it doesn't happen! Also, comedy is not only about the close-up of the person delivering the funny line, quite often the comedy is in the body-language, or the timing of an entrance and to encapsulate that is an art.

Andy DeEmony must have said it fifty times a show in his series, "We don't need the close-up", and Rob and Doug would say, "We do for the line". Sometimes you do but Chris, Craig, Danny, they knew how to deliver lines and it didn't necessarily have to be in close-up. There are some enormously wide shots and it's just as funny. I do remember when Robert had to deliver his line to Ace about being covered in taramasalata - the row that went on about that being delivered in close-up must have lasted about two hours! In the end, it's a loose mid-shot because of Robert's body-language - we were in hysterics!

Mr Flibble moved on to his ice-cream dessert, oblivious to the blob on the end of his beak. Do you have strong MEMORIES of your time on Dwarf?

There's a million! There were some fantastic outtakes - I remember Craig getting knocked out by Kryten bursting through the back of a wall. He was floored! That didn't go down too well. The bravest thing I've seen was Craig and Chris doing the Ace Rimmer bit [in Dimension Jump] when they were supposedly on the sea, and they had two of the biggest fans I've ever seen in my life and the entire Shepperton Fire Department pouring water at them. They were literally hanging on to the rails, as the set was on a big rocker. How Keith Mayes ever got sound out of it I don't know! What they went through for about two hours, one freezing cold November night in doing that goes down in the annals of above and beyond the call of duty! But it was very funny.

I do remember cameras appearing in the back of shots a lot. If there were sequences in front of the audience we did try and do them as sequences. In fact we did have a giggle and suggest we do a Red Dwarf live, but I don't really think that would have happened! (Laughs) I did most of the hand-held stuff and the number of times I've run backwards down the corridor with various things or people chasing me, and then you get to the end having done a great take and you turn the corner and there's a camera standing there...

My favourite of all the episodes we did was Gunmen of the Apocalypse. A lot of the killer gags were made up by the boys on the day - with the help of the cowboys - and Andy just flew with it, and it worked brilliantly. In the shot where Cat shoots a bullet at Kryten and it bounces all round the street, Tony and I persuaded him to leave it on one [wide] shot and he really was not sure about this. Pete Bates was there and Pete, while we had tea, edited the sequence together very loosely, and we all stood round a little monitor and watched this shot and we all collapsed!

Why do you think the show is such a success?

It's a sci-fi comedy show but the reason it was successful I think was because the people involved, and the personalities that they were given, went through the whole gamut of being aggressive to being sympathetic. It really was a character development that worked beautifully. People used to compare it to Blake's 7, but to me that was always very, very wooden and stereotyped, whereas Red Dwarf captured the personalities of this hologram and this strange android thing. It was really clever. [Plus] some of the storylines were way ahead of their time.

What have you been up to POST-DWARF?

It all got very boring! It slowly accelerated, so now we [at Telegenic] are the major facility in London. We were responsible for the coverage at Princess Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey, the Queen mother's funeral, the Millennium. We have the first High-Definition [set-up] - it's the biggest truck in Europe, which is where the company is now. We still do big music shows. We did The Rolling Stones Licks tour for DVD last year, but we don't do lots of little things anymore. Ninety per cent of it is sports and special events, as and when people die and get married we roll ourselves out and take over Westminster Abbey or Buckingham Palace or things like that.

And what have been the proudest moments of your career?

I was very proud of Red Dwarf as it's a 'complete' programme. A lot of what we do now you're contributing or covering something, you're not creating anything. Whereas programme-making was about... making a programme, and I liked that.

My two proudest moments [were] - one, seeing Bohemian Rhapsody front Top of the Pops for 13 weeks - even though the BBC put their credits over it. And the second was seeing the completed Gunmen of the Apocalypse, because it was almost the epitome of everything as a camera operator. That episode was a mini-drama and it was well done - it was well shot, well acted, well everything and it could stand alone anywhere.

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