So, I get an e-mail, as do roughly a thousand or more others, informing me of a competition, the prize for which being the opportunity to record a fan commentary on the upcoming series V & VI DVDs. Do I hit the link or do I delete? Well, I hit that link faster than a very fast thing & without a vast deal of thought filled out the application form.

I toyed with the idea for a few moments, that my application was to be a winning one. In my mind’s eye I imagined chumming it up with the cast, sharing a joke, recording that commentary. Then I was back to reality, realising that it was highly unlikely I’d get anywhere & promptly forgot about it & got on with things like work & washing up.

However, as you probably realise, I was one of the lucky eight, who were chosen from a whopping 600 entries. I still have no clue why I was chosen, but I’m laying my bets on my just being naturally brilliant. So what happened, what’s with all this boring preamble? Why don’t you just get to the juicy bits?!

Ok. I will.

After a chat with Helen Norman (in which although I may have sounded cool & collected & relaxed, I was in fact ‘bricking it’, as it’s known colloquially) & a confirmation e-mail I suddenly understood I was actually going to be doing this thing. I booked the time off work & had to explain to my bosses that I was recording a DVD so I needed the time off. It was certainly a unique excuse, much better than having to wait in for a plumber, but then I had to go into the whole explanation of what Red Dwarf was. I find it hard to believe there are *still* people out there who haven’t heard of the show.

I would be recording, ‘Back To Reality’ with three other people who I knew not at all. It would be at a studio in good ol’ Nodnol, so no big travelling required for me & I had to be smartishly dressed as there were going to be photos! I also had to compile a Red Dwarf CV, a CV with added info about my personal feelings/experiences of the show (well, this is how I interpreted it) & I decided to bring along some artwork (being that I’m a cartoonist & a natural born show-off).

With a week-long fight with tonsillitis, my voice, thankfully was unaffected, it was as loud & annoying as ever, but I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to make it. I prepared long & hard for the commentary by watching the episode three times…well, I’ve seen it so many times before & sadly I’m not one of those people that can regurgitate behind the scenes factoids, however much I try to learn them. My theory was, don’t worry about it until you have to do it. Or it could be I’m a lazy cow & left it all ’til the last minute. I’ll let you decide which.

So, Tuesday came around & I was rather nervous, which is unlike me. Adrenalin had taken over somewhat as I suppose, I really didn’t know what to expect of the day. But I found the recording studio easily, despite London pedestrians doing their best to fling themselves in my path at every turn. After a neat avoidance of a revolving door (which collectively have a vendetta against me) & a quick sign in, I was ushered through to the coffee lounge to meet…the others!

I had the least distance to travel, so was naturally the last there. It was a good way to make an entrance though. We very informally introduced ourselves, there was Simon Wigg, who had brought along his own Mr Flibble & very well rendered he was too (both Simon & the Flibble). There was the towering presence of the exceedingly friendly Jason Mercer, who spent over a grand on travelling from Australia for the recording. & there was Clare Thompson, who like myself, works in education & all of them were lovely indeed. Also in the lounge were Steve Rodgers, who was stand-by man in case any of us couldn’t make it, ran away screaming or were unavoidably detained in the loo. & of course, Mr Andrew Ellard, who was there to brief us on what the proceedings were & keep us in line.

We also met Helen Norman, who was very welcoming & Ross McGinley, producer extraordinaire, who had a very fetching Hong Kong Phooey T-shirt that I quite fancied having.

The cast were recording their commentaries for series V while we were in the lounge, so it was an opportune time for us to be interviewed for a DVD magazine (for the industry, it’s not out in the shops) & be photographed by Tim the BBC photographer (who reminded us a little of Ed Bye). We were interviewed individually & asked questions such as, ‘how would you describe Red Dwarf?’ & ‘what’s your favourite series’ & to be honest, I forget a lot of it as I was distracted by a naked man running across the video-screen behind the interviewer. Nudity tends to do that to me.

Then we were photographed about…ooh…1000 times. I’m not one for having a lot of photos taken in one go & apparently, I’m not all that photogenic as Tim assured me a lot of the pictures ‘I wouldn’t like’. Simon became Tim’s assistant, holding up a big shiny thing (which I believe is to reflect light back onto the subject, which at the time was me). It was actually quite tiring to maintain the position that Tim wanted, smiling, happy but not too happy & to hold that naturally for the camera & not blink as well. I got a small taste of how photo shoots can actually be & I can understand when people who do them regularly, complain.

We had some group photos, which again, took time due to people’s eyes being shut etc & then the cast came a-wandering in, finally finished from their recording session. Danny had already wandered in briefly between episodes for a drink & a chat & this time lounged out on one of the very comfy sofas & had an extended chat with Simon.

Unfortunately, Craig was unable to make the session due to his being ill, but the rest of the cast were fighting fit & we were able to have a little chinwag & get some things signed in the process. Robert rather comically signed a copy of BTL with ‘eye, eye’, the cover being an extreme close-up of his face – what a card! Chris suggested that we, as fans, would be better at the commentary-lark than they were as we knew the show so well & for them, it was a case of seeing it for the first time in a very long time. All the cast, were chatty, friendly & accommodating & it was a real bonus to be able to meet them as part of the day.

Also present was the excellent Mike Tucker, who was recording a commentary, after we’d done our bit. It turns out Mike & I have some friends in common, but annoyingly I didn’t discover this until after the day was finished. Anyway, Sue & Steve would have asked me to say “Hello” so I’m doing it now!

Some more photos with Tim & his sock (which was integral to his very flashy camera working) were taken before people had to leave. Suffice to say I was rather pleased, having Chris Barrie wedged up one side of me & Danny John-Jules with his arm around me on the other side plus Hattie Hayridge perched on my shoulder. Very cosy!

So then came the actual recording. Meeting the cast was a real boost to the confidence levels, so as we walked through the warren of beige corridors to the beautifully eggplant coloured recording booth I was feeling much better than I was before I’d arrived. Us fans had had some bonding time so we were more comfortable chatting with eachother. We’d been briefed by Andrew earlier on things that were appropriate & things that were not so we really knew where we were at, at this point.

Something quite magical happened when the earphones went on & Ross switched on the mikes. Hearing your voice played back suddenly makes you sound like you’re on your own radio show, which to me was very exciting. It did play to the extrovert in me & I *liked* it!

We had a TV in the booth & some had a view of a large projection screen in the main recording suite, where people had gathered nervously, hoping we were going to pull this off. Andrew introduced us all over the beginning credits & then we all launched in with what we thought we should say. I’m not going to tell you the content of the commentary as for starters, I don’t remember half of what was said, it was such a blur! Plus it would spoil the surprise. I can report that we were one-take wonders & didn’t have to do any pick-ups (because basically, we’re fantastic) & that we covered, inanities, politics, lusted over a few people (well, I recall that *I* did anyway), behind the scenes snippets & just general thoughts on the episode & the show. 30 minutes is not long at all & so soon we were reluctantly having to get out of the booth again, despite my now apparent addiction to the big earphones & mic…

Somehow Hattie Hayridge had snuck into the recording suite to hear us blathering so it was nice to discover that she was still around. & As if the day hadn’t been amazing enough we were all given copies of RD IV on DVD, which of course is before most people had it, plus signed covers too!

Some huge thank-yous to all at GNP & Ross McGinley & all at BBC WorldWide & the friendly people at the recording studio, for a most eventful day. I’ve had the chance to meet some fellow fans who really are great people, who I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with. It’s an experience I know I’m not going to forget in a hurry & it’s not over yet as once November comes around we’ll get to see what everybody else thinks!

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