Mr Flibble Talks To... Penguin and Hawks
Novelist and five times Red Dwarf guest star Tony Hawks takes a quick stroll with Mr Flibble.
9 August, 2002
Tony Hawks
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble caught up with Tony in London's Covent Garden, where he was running from one meeting to another. (Tony, that is, not Mr F.) The interview had to be conducted while striding up the road, and Mr F's flippers flailed as he ran to keep up - asking how Tony obtained the early voiceover roles of a vending machine and a suitcase in RED DWARF...

Originally I was approached by Ed Bye at a comedy club, Jongleurs, in London where I was compering. He was watching the show and came up to me and said, "Have you ever done any warm ups?" I said no, he said, "I think you'd be really good at them. We've got this new show, Red Dwarf, which we're recording in Manchester. Will you do the warm up?" So I said I'd give it a go, did the warm up for the first show, and they liked me and kept me on.

The association built from there. Because everything kept going wrong, technically, at the first recording there was much more for me to do that a warm up would usually do. I did actually work my butt off - I was on all the time. The skutters kept breaking down. They were incredibly grateful to me. At the end of the first one they said, "Well, you kind of saved the day there, because you kept the audience happy," and it built from there. I said, "If I keep doing this can you make it a bit more interesting for me?" So they started to find me little bits to do. They used to call me the 'fifth Dwarfer'.

Dodging an eleventh Big Issue vendor, Mr Flibble asked about the LOCATION shoot for Better Than Life in glamorous Rhyl...

It was pretty grey. If I remember rightly it didn't look much like paradise. Without blowing my own trumpet, warm-up is such a difficult job that shooting on location is a piece of piss in comparison! (Laughs) You're sitting around most of the time, drinking coffee and being made up. Then they go 'action' - and if you mess it up, you just do it again. If you're in the studio in front of a live audience you don't want to mess up; the pressure's on.

You then appeared in Backwards as a compere, alongside your long-time friend Arthur Smith...

Arthur, yeah. We'd known each other for ages, but they did draw on a lot of people who were on the cabaret circuit at that time. I think they preferred to look at those people first. I was dressed in a bright green suit for that - which was my own bright green suit. I used to wear it for the character I was doing when Ed Bye spotted me - The Fabulous Tony, all-round entertainer. They said, 'Bring your own suit', so I did! Didn't charge them or anything. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble was developing a stitch at this point, and was too out of breath to whisper his next question. Andrew was left to ask: How did you find playing CALIGULA?

For some reason I haven't got a copy of that! That was the toughest. It's very hard when you rehearse all day, and then in the evening wait for the recording. I was very nervous. I think it was towards the end of the [episode], twenty minutes in, so on the night that's an hour and a half wait. That was great to do that and feel involved. At that stage I wasn't doing the warm ups any more.

Here's a thing - when they cast me for that they'd said, 'We'd like to find something for Tony in this series,' and they had, for some reason, looked up some pictures of Caligula. And they reckoned that I looked a bit like him! (Laughs). I look like him, I'm fond of horses like he was, so I was an obvious choice.

He also slept with his mother, both his sisters, and ate the baby...

Well I had to do all that to get into the part, a la Dustin Hoffman. Though to be honest I didn't eat all the baby, only some fingers. Its poor little face - I couldn't go through with it.

You still give the occasional live performance - would you be tempted to do a Dwarf convention?

The reason I haven't done anything like that so far is that I'm not sure how much use I'd be! I've got such a poor memory. (Laughs) People would ask things, and I'd just reply, 'I can't remember.'

The fans are good with the questions - they'll get it all out of you!

But then I'd end up in court for that murder I committed. 'I got away with it until I went to that wretched convention! Those pesky kids...' (Laughs)

Arriving at his destination, Tony bade Mr Flibble farewell but promised to complete the interview by email. Mr Flibble, nursing blisters on both flippers, was much relieved and went home to type up some more questions - starting with would you like to return to Red Dwarf?

I would love to return to Red Dwarf - ideally as a character from a planet whose inhabitants were irresistible to human female film stars and models.

Your new book, ONE HIT WONDERLAND, tells of your journey to have a hit record within two years. Has the project taught you much about the music biz?

Only really that I'm happy not to be too heavily involved with it. I belong on the fringes.

Do people around you worry about appearing in your books?

Thus far they seem to like it. Vanity and all that. I worry more than they do...

There's already talk of it being your best book yet - the Albania section in particular is massively funny...

I'm glad you think so. I honestly don't know, I guess I'm too close to it. I feel I've done my best with the raw material - that's all I can do really. Just have to wait and see now...

Mr Flibble has often ridden on the handles of Andrew's bicycle, so was pleased to read that you had been resisting the use of a car throughout the book. Is it hard to maintain that ideal?

In the United States it's almost impossible. In Britain we need to be working harder to get people on bikes. I'm not sure that cycle routes are the answer. Perhaps financial incentives and more folding bikes to take on trains and on the tube.

How does the TV series One Hit Wonderland relate to the book?

The TV people followed me on the Romania and Albania quests. It feels totally different to the book. They seem to focus on different things. What I like about a book is that it can offer some depth to a project. The process of TV is too superficial. I doubt I shall be merging the two again.

You also read your own talking books...

Reading aloud for hours on end is very hard work. Yes, you do relive the experience and that is rewarding - but I have a love/hate relationship with those bloody things.

Is there a new bet on the horizon? And would you consider taking on, say, doing 50 interviews with puppets in 12 months? You already have Basil Brush and Mr Flibble under your belt...!

No bet as yet. The puppet one is tempting though...

Finally, tell me a little about and the problems you have from skateboard enthusiasts who mistake your site for that of skate legend Tony Hawk.

No problems at all. I just have a great time writing back and telling them how much of a waste of time skateboarding is. It keeps me happy.

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

You can link to the Tony Hawks and One Hit Wonderland websites from the Links section.