Mr Flibble Talks To... Triangulations
Stephen Tiller takes time from acting and producing to talk Pythagoras, Meltdown and those damn triangles with Mr.F.
5 July, 2002
Stephen Tiller
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble whipped out his microphone - having decided that today's the day for cheap innuendo. He asked Stephen how he slipped into thespianism. Andrew rolled his eyes as Stephen told how he STARTED ACTING...

I was about to resign from a teaching job - I was a college lecturer doing things like 'Panel Beating'; I was told that if they weren't swinging from the light fittings I was doing well! (Laughs) It was that kind of place - and I'd had enough of it. [A friend at the college] had done some amateur acting, and a friend of the director had been to RADA. He said, "I think you have some talent there." So I auditioned for RADA and I got in.

How did you become involved with RED DWARF?

The woman who cast it, Jane Davies, had cast me in something else for London Weekend Television, I think it was for an episode of The South Bank Show - a dramatisation of Patricia Highsmith. I had to get thrown off a cliff! I have a dummy, a fake me, that got thrown over. I've got it at home in the loft, go up and talk to it occasionally... (Laughs) And Jane cast me in the Red Dwarf episode.

I actually felt very... out on a limb - because there was nothing for me to impersonate. Pythagoras died a long time ago, and there weren't any photographs to research - whereas there are people who look stunningly like Stan Laurel, for example, and Elvis (and have been him for years).

Grant and Naylor and Ed Bye loved [Elvis] to death and just got him to do more bits. It's a very frustrating thing, because I didn't know anything about algebra! They could tell that I was going to stick to my basic lines. It's basically a gag about three and triangles.

Mr Flibble attempted a pretty lame 'threesome' joke, which Andrew kept to himself. How did you find the LOCATION shoot?

It was fun. I vaguely remember this misty day somewhere like Sunbury on Thames in a field. I think the best thing about it was the most scary thing - when all the explosions were going off. I like the magic of film. People going 'how did they do that?'

They'd dug holes in this field and sank biscuit tins with a charge in. They're probably not biscuit tins at all, they'd probably proper 'explosion pans' or something, they just look like biscuit tins. Then they put turf on top of them, which blew upwards. But you shouldn't run over one when they're firing, because otherwise bang goes your family life... (Laughs)

Tell me about the studio day...

I had a beard and my real hair - I had curly hair then. I was stark naked under my robe. (Laughs) No, no. It was live audience - and that's kind of scary. You don't want to muck it up because they'll go 'uhhh' and will have to pretend to laugh the next time. That was a good lesson. Of course, the regulars could muck it up as much as they liked!

Did you watch the episode when it was broadcast?

Oh yeah, yeah. It's a very funny episode, Meltdown. I particularly thought Chris was great - going down the line of "Alright Ghandi, get down and do fifty!" I do watch it. I've got a lot of admiration for the show, and it's one I was very proud to be in. I think it's a very original show. I'll be interested to see the film.

Tell me about doing TREASURE ISLAND for Ken Russell...

That was an interesting process. I worked with Ken's wife of the time and done some workshops with her, and she knew I could be sort of a big lunatic if I wanted. (Laughs) So I got cast as Humpy the Hunchback, and Ken said to me, "How do you want this character to be? What do you want him to wear? Tell the costume people." So I had a sou'wester, I had a hook, I had a hump...(Laughs) It was more... organic. If I'd been Pythagoras with a hump and a hook... (Laughs)

At this point, Mr Flibble's 'hump' joke was left to flounder and die...

I was always a bit dismissive of him as being just a showman - which he is - but I've got a lot of time for him. Partly because he liked me; I couldn't do anything wrong! When we were doing it he'd had a bit of a heart scare, so he was quite worried about his health. I liked him, he was very generous.

We were supposed to be on a desert island, and we were actually on the dunes, in September, about four miles from Rye. Palm trees stuck in the sand. (Laughs)

You've also appeared, like many Dwarf actors, in THE BILL...

I had a semi-regular character, I was in a few times. He was a rapid-response firearms guy. The first one we did was a bank siege, which we filmed on the old London Transport buses skip-pan in Chiswick. They set up streets and dressed it to look like a bank on a corner, and we had to pile out of jeeps with guns and flack jackets, taking positions and saying things like 'Alright Smith, come out with you hands up!'

The funniest thing that happened to me there was, as I jumped out of the van, I grabbed hold of this bus stop [sign] on the pavement... and it just came away in my hand! It was a fake one.

[In another episode] there was a dinner party - a lot of coppers with wine in their hands talking about their patios. I had all these lines about, 'yeah, yeah, we've got the York stone look.' (Laughs)

Mr Flibble made yet another lame innuendo - this time about preferring a good hard wood. You also appeared in the movie of THE SAINT...

That was a fantastic job for me. A friend of mine filmed The Saint, and [I was cast] on the fact that I could speak some Russian. I got the part of a KGB major who arrests Val Kilmer in Moscow. I had ten days in Moscow and we never filmed - which was great because I'd never been to Moscow before and had always wanted to. There were a lot of problems... mainly Val Kilmer. (Laughs) So we came back and filmed it in London!

As Andrew began talking about Stephen bringing THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES to the UK as producer, Mr Flibble passed out from the volume of jokes occurring to him. This was something of a relief.

A friend of mine, a documentary maker, had been in New York and he came back and told me about it. We'd always threatened to do a project together, and I said, "Why don't we ask Eve Ensler if she'd like to do it in England?"

It took nearly three years, but finally we did it at the King's Head - big success. Then it was at the Old Vic for one night with Kate Winslet, Gillian Anderson and lots of other people. It was Eve's idea to do the V-day charity thing, and obviously, for a one off event, you can get some big stars. When Kate Winslet came on board, loads of people suddenly wanted to do it. Now you can't stop them!

It was such a success that I said to Eve, "Have you heard of a show called Art in London? It's three actors looking at a painting that isn't there. Now, instead of you sitting on a stool, why don't we have three actors...?" Which generated that version of the show.

Now it's all over the world - and I'm only the producer in this country. It's on in 40 countries. It's franchised now. It's like McDonalds! (Laughs)

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