It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Peter Wragg, the visual effects designer of Red Dwarf I-VII, who died over the weekend following a short illness. He was just 65.
As the head of the BBC Visual Effects team assigned to Red Dwarf, Peter was as influential as anyone in crafting and creating the identity of the show. Despite Rob and Doug’s surprise that the eponymous ship was actually red, the stumpy, bulky, ugly lump of metal, floating incongruously through space was by far the most iconic visual element of the show in the early days. The title sequence of Series I and II, combining the team’s model work with Howard Goodall’s score, sets an unusual and memorable tone, and was the first and most important indicator that this was no ordinary sit-com.
To imagine Red Dwarf without Peter Wragg would be sacrilege. With his team of fellow model-makers (including Mike Tucker, Nick Kool, Alan Brannan, Paul McGuinness and Alan ‘Rocky’ Marshall) and his trusty DoP Peter Tyler, they contributed such elements of the show’s iconography as Camille, the Polymorph, Psirens, the Mutton Vindaloo Beast, the Holoship, Ace’s dimension-jumper, Justice World, the explosion in Demons and Angels… oh, yeah and STARBUG. Oh yeah, and KRYTEN.
Robert Llewellyn’s Man In The Rubber Mask details how Peter was there at every step of the process, with a reassuring aura of a man who knows what he’s doing, even if what he’s doing involves encasing someone’s head entirely in plaster of paris. His appearances on the Series III and IV DVDs give the impression of a very clever yet humble man, approaching his work with professionalism and determination, yet without having lost sight of the fact that his job involves playing with spaceships and blowing stuff up. The joyful glint in his eye when reminiscing about the fun he had on the show was heartwarming to see.
There are many tales of Peter collaborating with Rob and Doug to contribute elements to stories. Peter’s desire to show off his snowy-landscape skills lead to the setting of Marooned. Memorably, the writers initially wanted Starbug to crash into a watery planet at the end of Gunmen. Peter told them that water would be tricky with miniatures, but he could do lava if they were interested…
Aside from Dwarf, Peter worked on a few lesser-known sci-fi shows. Just Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Doctor Who. In the latter, he appeared alongside Tom Baker as one of his creations, the Fendahleen, in 1977’s Image of the Fendahl. He also provided special effects for a fair few comedies, most notably Ed Bye’s The Detectives, Filthy, Rich and Catflap and Bottom.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Peter, but I know many of his former colleagues. Every single one of them speaks of him in a fond and reverential way, and each of them has their own collection of Wraggy anecdotes. He was well-liked, well-respected and highly sought after within the industry. His imagination was only matched by his practical skills, and he’ll be forever remembered as the man who gave brought Red Dwarf to Red Dwarf.