Smeg Ups – smeg? Smeg off!

That’s quite enough ‘smeg’s for one article, and that’s only in the title. Over two successive Winters, in 1994 and 1995, GNP and the BBC released a pair of out-take compilation videos. Aside from generating a bit of money on the Christmas gifts market, the videos helped to plug the long, long gap in between Series VI and VII. But some people disapprove of them, and we have no idea why.

Perhaps the most well-known instance of Smeg Ups-bashing comes in the otherwise excellent Red Dwarf Programme Guide, which contains little swipes such as:

“The next BBC video release was…a collection of out-takes entitled Red Dwarf Smeg Ups; one or two of the clips contained thereon were almost amusing.

Red Dwarf Smeg Outs, another collection of out-takes (where do they find them?) nearly as funny as the first.

“(Lie Mode:) A side-splitting collection of hilarious out-takes from past episodes.”

So, what exactly is their problem? We’ve been pondering this one for years, and we fail to see how anyone can describe the tapes as ‘almost amusing’ in parts, rather than consistantly brilliant throughout. There is a wide variety of clips included, such as straight fluffs, props breaking, models crashing and just plain pissing about. Surely everyone must find at least one of these categorys appealing. Our particular favourite is the pissing about, as it displays a sense of utter joy and fun amongst the cast members. What kind of human being fails to laugh at the cast flicking a V sign to the Inquisitor? Or Robert Llewellyn putting on a Yorkshire accent and talking about cacking his pants?

The fluffs often lead to great bits of improvision, which perfectly display the camaraderie within the group. For example, Chris Barrie forgetting his line and filling in with “she’s a computer… powered pussy”, with the resulting belly laughs and salutes from his colleagues. It’s a joy to behold. And the ‘Mister Guitar’ sequence is a work of genius – surely worthy of more than a tag of simply ‘almost amusing’, and certainly more funny than any snidey comments from Howarth and Lyons.

Aside from the matter of whether the clips are amusing or not, you cannot deny that the tapes are interesting for any fan of the show. This is behind the scenes footage, don’t forget, and it’s very rare that comedy fans get to see this, let alone two hour-long tapes’ worth. Both of the videos contained deleted scenes – predating DVD by a clear half a decade, and again, extraordinarily rare for a comedy show in the mid-nineties. The Smeg Outs video also contained some excellent footage from Dimension Jump 95, and an extended version of Tongue Tied, albiet with some dodgy claymation over parts of it.

We fully admit that the tapes have their bad points. Not all of the clips are funny, although the success rate is still pretty high. We also concede that some of the links were unfunny – quite why Robert Llewellyn corpsed so much at the ‘smeg hammer’ line is beyond us. However, there’s still some good bits – such as Spare Head Three heckling Kryten – “How long did it take to panel beat my head into shape?”/”Not long enough!”.

It’s also a shame that no new out-takes were used in the Red Dwarf Night compilation or on the DVDs, but then, we don’t know for sure that there are other out-takes that are particularly funny, and even if there are, they may be too rude for inclusion. However, there are some out-takes that are guaranteed to still make us laugh, despite having seen them a thousand times. Chris Barrie continually messing up his speech about he and Lise Yates thinking eachother were great is one. Robert Llewellyn asking for permission to poo himself is another. Then there’s Chris getting his gun caught in a door, Danny choking on a piece of toast, Norman swearing a lot, David Ross cleaning a crew member…

We could go on, but we think you get the point. Out-takes are funny, especially when they feature a bunch of performers who are clearly having fun together, and adore making eachother laugh. Furthermore, the tapes are well edited, packed full of features, and made with the fans’ interests in mind. Criticism levelled at them is rarely justified, and the video shelf would be a worse place without them. So what are you waiting for? Just buy them. Blimey, what a positive note to end on.

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