Mr Flibble Talks To... Often Heard
You might not know the name, but you've seen the face and you've definitely heard the voice. Rupert Bates has clocked up numerous appearances in Red Dwarf more, even, than his interviewer, Mr Flibble...
23 February, 2001
Rupert Bates
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble welcomed his fellow thespian with open wings and forwarded his first question through Andrew: How did you BECOME AN ACTOR?

I always wanted to do it. Actually, no, I lie - I wanted to be a racing driver (my father said there was no money to do that), an airline pilot (but I was no good at maths), and I wanted to be a vet (but I was allergic to Labradors). So when I was sixteen/seventeen, I thought, 'I'll act.' I did ten years of stage management, and then stepped onto the other side.

I had my last stage managing job in Jersey, and this café theatre in Battersea just phoned me up out of the blue. I thought, 'My god, this is fantastic - they've heard of me!' The ego sweeping up! It all came through someone I'd know through the BUAV, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection. She was doing some stuff there, and we did a show called Whatever Happened to Lifeboat 22? Written by a man called Paul Prescott, who is the most prolific writer of the Twentieth Century, with something like 89 plays to his credit. Musicals as well.

How was the transition from behind the camera to in front of it?

It was all right. I had this idea that the entertainment business should be for fun, the object of it was to provide fun for oneself and for others. And that was what I did.

You were at the BBC early on working on the floor with Mr Flibble's very close celebrity chum, ED BYE...

I was floor assistant for nine months. I went there at the instigation of the girlfriend that I had then, whose father was a big producer at the BBC - but I won't name-drop! (Laughs) She had these ideas that I would become like her father. It just didn't work out. I was too interested in the make-up girls to actually do any work. (Laughs)

But I did meet my very dear friend, Ed Bye, who I believe has something to do with Red Dwarf...

Then, after nine months, I had a bit of a disagreement with the head of studio management. I said, 'This is ridiculous, I haven't joined the BBC just to walk around chalking up blackboards and running around after actors who drink too much!' He said, 'If you don't like it - go.' I said, 'All right, I've gone.'

But I had a damn good laugh. Drank too much and just met lots and lots of girls - lovely! (Laughs)

What did you work with Ed on?

As floor assistant, I trailed him on Playschool once. He was very good - he used to make the puppets and do all that sort of stuff! And then we worked a lot on Top of the Pops together. We did a big Shakespeare production.

We used to have these microphones so we could speak to the gallery from the floor, and there was a button that you pressed on your chest to open and close the airway. We'd had an enormous amount to drink at a party the night before, and I said to Ed, 'I've just got to go and have a lie down.' So I lay down on this wall on the set with my arms across my chest, and I accidentally pressed the button. Five minutes later there was this absolutely awful 'KKKCHCHCHERRRRRRKKCRHHH.' (Laughs)

The director said, 'Where's that noise? Somebody find where that noise is coming from!' Ed came and found me, and there I was, fast asleep on this wall, snoring.

When I started acting, Ed and I had done lots of surfing and stuff together, he was working on The Late Late Breakfast Show with Noel Edmonds, and I got to know all sorts of people, production people. I worked on that until it ended, and [later] with Ed and Paul Jackson on The Young Ones.

I remember Ed doing a wonderful thing called The Detectives. There was a scene I had with Jasper Carrott, and I am just the worst corpser. Dreadful. Jasper Carrott was just standing there, making these faces, and I could not [keep a straight face]. Poor Ed was getting very frustrated: 'Take seven! Take eight! Get on with it!' (Laughs)

What did you do in THE YOUNG ONES?

[I did] The Young Ones when they go back to medieval times and they blew up the hut. Me and 3 others had to run out of the hut and say, 'Look! There he is!' And behind us the hut exploded - I remember this 80 foot fireball. Jim Francis was doing the effects. Just incredible.

I remember Nigel Planer had to throw himself off a horse into this muddy puddle. It was 9 o'clock in the morning and it was quite cold, and he kept missing the puddle. And Paul Jackson got so angry in the end that came storming out of the wagon, and he said, 'YOU JUST DO IT LIKE THIS!' And he threw himself into this muddy puddle, fully clothed! Then he stormed back to the trailer. (Laughs)

I had 2 or 3 extra parts, and then I was in Filthy Rich and Catflap as a milkman. Richie puts a hatchet through the milkman's head - Arthur Smith was also one of the milkmen - then Bottom.

Most of the TV things on your CV are characters known by their job title - burglar, milkman, director ...

It's funny to do those characters that just don't have names. I suppose, ever since, I've played these parts that are not 'on-going.' Often I'd love to have a part that went on for more than one scene. It's happened in the theatre, but not much on TV or in film. I guess you get good at small parts.

So on Red Dwarf HECTOR must have been a nice change, with him having a name...

Hector blob! Yeah, yeah, very interesting. A small sort of thing, but nice. I was just thinking the other day that, if you think about it in those terms, to be associated with the actor in Cassablanca, Paul Henried, is a wonderful association.

You did Hector Blob simply as a voiceover, is that right?

Ed said, 'Will you come in and do this?' I said, 'Yeah, sure.' I went in and there we were, in one of the darkened rooms in the sound area of the Beeb. We just did it. Jem [Whippey] was there, Ed was there, we had a laugh, and that was it. (Does the accent) 'Are you ready Camille?' It wasn't live. They'd shot it all. All I had to do was watch the picture. Hector came out, and I just did the line.

Is it odd to come in at that late a point?

I've never found any of this business odd in any way. Whatever I've been asked to do has just been fantastic. I've often heard people complain, and I just think, 'Well, why act? Why bother acting? If you don't like it, go and do something else! Either do it and get on with it, or if you're going to complain about it, bugger off! Let the people who enjoy it do it.' Anyway - that's just me on my soap-box. (Laughs)

Casablanca remade in green latex! As far as Red Dwarf goes, Mr Flibble is quite jealous of your many roles. You've been a CHEF, a dispensing machine...

The chef was good. I remember they said, 'Just talk about anything' and I thought, this is fantastic, just a free-for-all. So I stood there and they just let me carry on, I waffled and waffled for ages. It just seemed an interminable length of time. Of course, when I saw the finished product, it's just that (clicks fingers) - but none of this dialogue that I thought was absolutely inspired [was included]. I was talking about oranges and trees and how to drink orange juice - I don't know, all sorts of stupid things. Anything I could think of, chef-wise. Ainsley Harriott here we come! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble recalled that one rather surly member of the crew once tried to leave him behind in a box after recording. When you did the VENDING MACHINE voice, where were you on the set?

Do you know, I have absolutely no recollection! Isn't that extraordinary...Oh, I remember, I was right behind it. They were doing it right there, and I was behind the vending machine. I'm sure there was more than one take - either the cup didn't come down, or whatever. I'm sure it didn't work probably.

Sounds familiar. How did you find the BODYGUARD part in Timeslides...?

Ah, yes - I loved that. It was one of those roles that you just long for - to run around and throw yourself against the side of a building, guns at the ready, sunglasses...Just brilliant, brilliant fun! We had a great time doing that. A precursor to Men in Black! [I got to be] a white Will Smith! (Laughs) It was at a big country house, in Berkshire it might have been. Not too far away.

Were you aware of the changes the show was going through - the look and the STYLE?

In a way. It was one of shows [that had]...not a slow take-off, but it captured the minds of the cult audience very quickly, it seems to me. It was a wonderful team, and it's remarkable that they've stayed together for so long. I know Ed went off in the middle, but it's amazing that the whole bunch of them have been together and worked so consistently well together.

The skill and the inventiveness of the writing, just the general production, I think is fantastic. It's something that is aimed at an 18-20 year-old audience - but when you discover that your nine year old daughter is absolutely overwhelmed by Red Dwarf, this is incredible!

I can absolutely see why. It crosses that border. It's not naughty, but it verges on that - and there's absolutely nothing offensive to us. It's just beyond the watershed. Children watch it as they get to that age where you can just break a few rules. And I love it for that.

You also did the DALEK voice for the tenth anniversary...

That was very interesting. We had the old voice box that turns it into the Dalek voice. But strangely enough you have to do a sort-of Dalek voice (does the voice) FOR-IT-TO-WORK. It was fun. Danny was there on that day, there was a lot of laughing going on. Eddy smoking tons of cigarettes...

That was another voice part, so you never met the live Daleks...

When I was a floor assistant I did meet some then. I think did an episode of Dr Who as a younger actor. I'm sure I did - with George Layton/Leighton.

Your APPEARANCES are either voice or visual on Red Dwarf - but never both. Is this because you're just too damn powerful an actor and would overwhelm the cast...?

'Poweful' and 'Rupert Bates' don't go together really. I don't know why that is. Perhaps it's because I've never taken it very seriously. That might have something to do with it. It's one of those things that I've done purely for fun. I never saw myself as a brain surgeon - or even acting as a brain surgeon - or as one of these guys who hanker to play MacBeth or Othello. I just had this thing in me to make people laugh, and that was the sole purpose for doing it.

Is that why you've mostly done comedy?

I fell into it - because I see myself as rather a flippant, facetious character. I've never really taken anything seriously. (Laughs)

You clearly have a gift for voices...

I'm lucky in that respect, and I've not had the opportunity to use it as much as I like. I can do a good Scotsman, I can do a half-decent Southern-Irish, American... I can cover quite a range of accents, and quite a lot from the British Isles. It's something I would like to make use of.

Finally, what do you think makes the RD team keep calling you back in to do things?

I think I'm just game for a laugh. Perhaps people think, 'Oh, Rupert'll do that. Call Rupert in. He'll be there, he'll get smashed on the head. We can slam a door in his face, push him down the stairs...'

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