The Rob Grant Interview

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Since the split of the writing partnership of Grant Naylor, Rob Grant has most certainly been the quiter of the two. TV series of ‘The Strangerers’ and ‘Dark Ages’ were fairly low profile but his books ‘Backwards’, ‘Colony’ and ‘Incompetence’ received critical acclaim. The sad absence of Rob from the DVDs has been rectified in small amount thanks to his recent appearance on Comedy Connections and now Rob has kindly agreed to an interview with The White Hole, talking about the past present and future of his career. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ‘crunchy half’ of Grant Naylor…

When was the first time you met Doug Naylor?
We met at School, at the age of 9.

How did you both decide you wanted to be comedy writers and what was your first writing job?
Doug read an article in a newspaper about a guy who’d submitted a script to ITV and got a series commissioned of the back of it. (The series, incidentally, was ‘Paradise Island’ starring William Franklin, and was crap, but that wasn’t the point). We thought that sounded like a good way of making some money, so we stopped even trying to pretend to do our University course work and started writing a script. We honestly expected a limousine to arrive at our door with a bottle of champagne, a large cheque, and possibly the odd game show hostess or two in it, to whisk us off to London. The script was called ‘The Big Time’ and it was about two incompetent private detectives. When the script was rejected we were, quite frankly, heartbroken. Then we got thrown out of University. We decided that our only route to fame and fortune was to take the writing thing seriously, and we set about doing what we could to learn the craft. The first writing work we ever got paid for was a sketch on a radio show for new writers. The sketch was called ‘The Big Melt’ – it was a Chandler parody set in a waxwork museum – and the cheque was for £49, which was, of course, split between us. That was our total earnings in our first year as professional writers.

What were your main inspirations for Dave Hollins, and then later, Red Dwarf?
Science fiction was starting to take off at the Cinema, and we very much liked Alien and Dark Star, because they were space stories with some working class people in them. We thought it was about time the working class had a shot at space.

When you were writing the Red Dwarf pilot, how did you set about converting Dave Hollins to Red Dwarf?
It was quite a logical process, in retrospect. We wanted a show about the last human being alive in the Universe, and, as a perverse twist, we decided not to have any aliens in it. From that position, we were compelled to create characters around the central figure who were not living human or aliens, hence: a dead man, a cat, a computer, and, eventually, a mechanoid.

How did you feel when Red Dwarf was finally commissioned and filming began?
It was like our wildest dream come true. It had taken so long from writing the pilot to having the show commissioned, and then having the disappointment of going through the rehearsals while an electricians’ strike at the Beeb prevented us from recording any of it, we’d begun to believe it might never happen. I remember getting in the lift at the BBC building in Manchester, and some extras got in, in Red Dwarf crew uniforms, which, amazingly, we hadn’t seen up until that point, and I felt I was in fairyland. I remember thinking as the lift went up: ‘I invented you’. Even though the original sets were, frankly, drab, it was still a powerful feeling to walk into the studio, and see them all laid out: like having your own space ship to play with. We’d already seen the model as it was being filmed, but this was a whole different experience.

How does being a writer compare to Producing and Directing your own show?
Traditionally, no one listens to the writer, at least in British Television, so we had to become Producers just to get listened to. Just sending in a script and watching it get buggered up by someone else is a depressing process. Producing, and particularly directing, is a lot more work, but a lot more rewarding: what goes on the screen is a lot closer to what you actually want to go on the screen.

Out of the six series you co-wrote, which is your favourite series and why?
Frankly, that’s like asking which is your favourite child. I like them all, for different reasons. I particularly like 5 and 6, if you’re putting a gun to my head.

What is your opinion on how the US Pilot shows turned out?
I thought it was pretty darned good. On the night, when we recorded it, the show was a sensational smash, and everyone was convinced a series would follow. But the edit, which Doug and I were not around for, sucked, and lost a lot of the impact. Still, it was a good, funny show, and deserved a series. I know some of the cast hate the damned thing, but that may possibly have something to do with the fact they weren’t in it. The American cast was a fine ensemble. People go on about Craig Bierko, who played Lister, being handsome a space hero-type, but then, Craig Charles doesn’t exactly look like a bag of spanners. And Jane Leeves, who played Holly, went on to play Daphne in Frasier, and she’s a very funny lady. It wouldn’t have been the same show, but, then, what would have been the point of making the same show all over again? It was Red Dwarf, Jim, but not as we know it.

Would you ever go back to Red Dwarf as the subject for a novel?
It’s a possibility, down the line.

Your creative split with Doug Naylor has been much speculated about by fans. What were your reasons for leaving the partnership?
It became impossible for us to work together. Just one of those things. Musical differences.

How did the release of Series VII and VIII feel to you?
Like watching a video tape of your ex-wife’s next honeymoon.

A few months ago there was talk on an animated series called Cruel Aliens, written by you. Is there any more news on the development of this?
Yes, it appears to be happening. It’s taken a while to set it up, but animators are animating as I write. It’s very exciting.

Where did you get the inspiration for the odd situations in books such as ‘Incompetence’ and ‘Fat’?
I know it sounds coy, but inspiration rarely has anything to do with it. It’s usually a logical process that results when you develop a premise. Of course, there are times when a great idea just seems to pop into your head, but you never really know where it comes from. I wish I did.

A few months ago Amazon.co.uk listed a book called ‘Colony II’, written by you. This has now been removed but are you still considering or working on the sequel?
Yes, it gave me a bit of a shock when I saw that on Amazon. It came from my publishers, Gollancz, after we’d signed a two book deal. The second book was unspecified, but, to fill in the blanks on the contract, someone had put Colony II, and that somehow found its way into the system. I certainly intend to write another Colony book at some point: I love the characters, and they certainly were developed to endure, and I know there are people at Gollancz who’d like to see another one. I just felt I wanted to write some more Earth bound stuff for a while.

Can you tell us about any other future non-Dwarf books you plan to write?
I really can’t think beyond ‘Fat’ at the moment.

Would you say you prefer solo writing for TV series or do you prefer writing novels?
Again, that’s an impossible choice. I love writing novels, or, rather, I love having written novels. It’s a no-compromise medium: nobody gets in the way of your vision, and you don’t have to worry about budgets, sets and casting and so on. Plus, there’s very little in life that’s a bigger bang than seeing your name on the spine of a novel. On the other hand, sitting in a room on your own all day, you run the risk of losing your mind. It’s great to get out and see a project grow from script to screen, and to meet other people who are all trying to get the same end result. But, then, you have to worry about budgets, sets and casting and actors and special effects and contracts and broadcasters – so it’s nice to get back to novel writing.

Will it ever be a possibility to see you at a future Dimension Jump, Fan Club convention – we’re a nice bunch of people and don’t even heckle!
I don’t thing I’ve been invited for many a year. I know you’re a nice bunch of people: after all, we all like the same kind of stuff, don’t we?

Excellent stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. This will not be the last you hear from Rob Grant on this site as some extra questions about Rob and Doug’s early radio series ‘Wrinkles’ will be used in a forthcoming feature on the oft forgotten radio show. Watch this very gray space.

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