ED BYE: Rob and Doug and I made the decision that it’d be better to see Norman rather than just hear him, because he’s got a great lugubrious face.
NORMAN LOVETT: Initially the money was low because it was a voiceover, so they can get away with paying you peanuts for that.
ROB GRANT: Norman had been banging on from the start saying “Get my face on-screen, that’s the money…
NORMAN LOVETT: So I kept moaning and whinging about this. I said “Why have I got to do a voiceover in a TV show? Why can’t you see this face, and why can’t this computer called Holly look like this bloke here?” By the time we’d recorded the third episode of the first series, it had been agreed that we would see Holly, and we’d go and reshoot some of the bits for the first and second and third episodes…
The Beginning, Series 1 documentary, The Bodysnatcher Collection
The above story – in endless slight variations – has gone down in Red Dwarf lore. Norm whinged right at the start of Series 1 that Holly should be in-vision, the powers that be eventually agreed, and they went back and did some reshoots to add his FACE to the early episodes. (The real horror arises when you consider that due to the electrician’s strike, where Series 1 was entirely rehearsed but never actually recorded, Norm was probably on his ninth week of moaning about this, rather than the third. Try not to let that shrivel your soul too much.)
However, what hasn’t been done is going back to examine those early episodes in detail, to see exactly how those reshoots worked. And when you do, you spot a few interesting details which haven’t been widely talked about.
Let’s take a look. Doing this takes a certain amount of extrapolation; without access to the proper production paperwork, we have to do a bit of stretching and join some dots along the way. But I think the below makes sense. Obviously, to get any kind of idea of how this worked, we have to take the episodes in production order rather than broadcast order.
The End – Original Shoot
Surprise! The very first attempt at The End – as seen as The Original Assembly on the Bodysnatcher DVD – contains no visuals of Holly at all. Of course.
It’s instructive, however, to look at how the crew talk to Holly in the episode. Both at McIntyre’s funeral, and when Lister and Rimmer receive the message for the ‘Welcome Back George McIntyre Reception’, they gaze upwards, listening to Holly’s disembodied voice.
In fact, it’s easy to imagine Red Dwarf treating Holly exactly like this. Sure, we’d lose some great stuff, but with Rob and Doug’s background in radio, they could happily write funny stuff for just a voice.
But things wouldn’t stay like that for long. Onto the second episode recorded.
Balance of Power
Ah-ha. Here we get to the real meat of the reshoots.
Firstly, we have the first bunkroom scene between Lister and Holly. As in the original version of The End, Lister spends the scene talking to a disembodied voice and looking upwards; there’s no sign of Holly on the monitor.
But what’s this? There’s a couple of shots of Holly in-vision!
Presumably, this scene was originally shot with Holly as just a voice, and then they went back later and shot a couple of cutaways of Norman to stick in there. Which, it has to be said, works very well: the cutaways could have felt awkward, but the scene feels perfectly natural. It’s certainly not obvious that they are cutaways shot after-the-fact.
Meanwhile, the bunkroom scene with Rimmer and Holly is similar, with Rimmer talking to a disembodied voice. Unlike the first scene, however, there is no attempt to disguise this with cutaways shot later:
However, straight afterwards, we cut to Cat in the Drive Room. And whoa ho ho, what’s all this? Holly on the monitors? This hasn’t happened before now!
Indeed, this scene is key to establishing Holly as a visual character. This is disguised somewhat by reshoots and the jumbling of the episode order. But in terms of production, here is where Holly is born. Just take a look at the scene again, with this in mind – for the first time, the dialogue specifically references how Holly looks:
RIMMER: Holly, as senior rank aboard this ship, I order you to tell me where he is.
HOLLY: I’ve told you. I can’t.
RIMMER: Holly, that’s an order! You stupid ugly goit!
HOLLY: Ugly? I’ll have you know I chose this face out of the billions available cos it happened to be the face of the greatest and most prolific lover who ever lived. [Holly sticks his tongue out.]
RIMMER: Really? Well, he must have operated in the dark a lot.
HOLLY: You what?
There is something delicious about Rob and Doug responding to Norm moaning that he should be in-vision by writing dialogue where Rimmer outright calls him ugly.
I think it’s unlikely this was shot during the original Balance of Power recording session. If it had been, then Holly would surely be in-vision properly elsewhere in the episode. Besides, most accounts of this state that at least the first two shows were recorded with Holly as just a voice. Which leaves us with an interesting question: surely there was an original version of this scene, with Holly out of vision? Sadly, it didn’t show up on the Series 1 DVD. Wah!
Waiting for God
Third recording session of the series, and things have settled down somewhat. We have Holly present and correct visually in the Drive Room:
In the Observation Room:
And we even have our very first example of a DVE being used to place Holly into a set without a monitor:
Bit-by-bit, the production is figuring out how to make Holly work as a visual character.
There is one aspect, however, where the show hasn’t quite figured things out: the bunkroom. The show is still alarmingly inconsistent when it comes to visualising Holly in the key set of the show. We do get the following when Lister walks back into the bunkroom, as Holly is explaining the fate of the Cat people:
But this is the only shot of Holly on the monitor in the bunkroom in the whole show; we never get to see him in a wide. It’s a very half-hearted stab at establishing Holly’s presence in the set. The show is nearly there… but not quite.
One further thing: in the quote which opens this article, Norman indicates that the decision to add him visually to the third episode recorded was taken after it had been shot; note that he mentions they reshot “some of the bits for the first and second and third episodes”. It is possible, therefore, that every single instance of Holly in-vision in this episode is a reshoot. I think this is highly unlikely; there’s simply too much material here, especially considering huge chunks of The End really did have to be reshot. I would suggest that the vagaries of Norman Lovett’s memory is a more likely explanation. Certainly, in this Mr. Flibble interview, Rob Grant mentions that the reshoots involved “putting Holly in shot on screens on the first couple of shows”, and I trust Rob Grant more than I do Norman Lovett.
And the oddities continue into Future Echoes.
Firstly, we have, again, a single attempt at integrating Holly’s visage into the bunkroom set, with the answerphone message he leaves for Rimmer:
It has always fucking annoyed me that the still is different in the wide and the close-up, and this article is finally the ideal vehicle to express my annoyance. I AM ANNOYED.
We also get something brand new: when Holly is trying to navigate the ship at light speed, we get the show messing around with the pixellation to indicate his frazzled brain. Followed shortly afterwards by the first time Norman does anything other than stare straight ahead. “Gordon Bennett, that was a close one…”
In other words: This is the very first time the show experiments with any kind of additional effect on Holly’s visuals to help tell the story, or make a joke.
Still, aside from the answerphone message gag above, the bunkroom scenes in this episode have the crew talking, and then we cut to a close-up of Holly. We never actually see him on the monitor in the bunkroom itself.
Which is odd, because when Rimmer calls Holly a goit, he directly points his finger at the mirror/monitor in the bunkroom. So although we don’t see him on there in the wide shots in this episode, he’s clearly implied to actually be there all the time by this point!
Which is at best, peculiar, and totally different to the way the crew have talked “upwards” to Holly in previous episodes. Again, we’re really in a transitional state here.
Mind you, transitional state or not, it’s very interesting that Future Echoes was bumped up from fourth to second episode in the run. One effect this has is to establish Holly as a more successful and ever-present visual entity earlier on in the series than would otherwise be the case. It certainly helps disguise some of the fudging that affects Balance of Power.
Confidence & Paranoia
There are very few developments regarding Holly in Confidence & Paranoia. So instead, here’s something from its opening scene which I would like to ponder. You remember the one. The one where Holly keeps interrupting Lister as he’s watching the film.
The question: how would this have played out as originally scripted, with Holly out of vision? Would the video have just kept dipping to black as Holly spoke as a disembodied voice? Or, perhaps more likely, would the film have continued, and Holly just spoke over the top of it? Or is it possible that this scene wasn’t in the original script at all, and was added when the decision was made to put Norm in-vision?
It’s at this point that I’d love to see copies of the scripts brought into Red Dwarf‘s first set of rehearsals. I’m convinced there would be all kinds of revelations about this stuff.
Me² signifies a great step forward for Red Dwarf. Nah, I’m not talking about character development for Rimmer. Fuck that needy gobshite.
No, I’m talking about the following bunkroom scene between Lister and Holly, about the NORWEB Federation:
This is the first, honest-to-goodness scene where we actually see Holly properly on the bunkroom set monitor, and Lister has a proper conversation with the screen. Sure, there are hints of it in the past – Rimmer’s answerphone message in Future Echoes, and the ultra-brief odd close-up in Waiting for God – but here is where it all clicks together. In the penultimate recording session for Series 1. Awfully late, really.
And when Holly appears with those glasses, and says the immortal words “April Fool”…
…I mean, it’s not like you couldn’t do that joke with Holly as a voice. But surely the moment wouldn’t be even remotely as satisfying.
The End – Remount
I suspect anybody who has got this far down into this article knows the score about what happened with Red Dwarf‘s final studio session for Series 1. But just in case, the short version: the BBC asked for seven episodes, Paul Jackson got away with only delivering six, and the final audience session was used to beef up The End by reshooting half the show.
Which means: plenty of putting Norman Lovett in-vision, where in the original recording he had just been a voice. The following gives an idea of how extensive this is, and this isn’t even every single example I could give. Original (unbroadcast) version on the left, reshot (broadcast) version on the right:
Of the above, I particularly want to single out this shot, from the very first bunkroom scene as broadcast:
This shot, I believe, is the one which sells Holly’s position in the bunkroom. And it stays in the mind – perhaps subconsciously – and gets you right through all the transitional weirdness throughout the rest of the series. It gets you through never seeing Holly on the screen in the second bunkroom scene from The End, taken from the original recording session. It gets you through Rimmer pointing at the screen in Future Echoes… even though we’ve never seen Holly on it. It gets you through the inconsistent added cutaways in Balance of Power. It takes you right through until you get to Me²… where they do things “properly” again.
These reshoots immensely helped Holly become a real, visual character, from the very first episode. I think we all understood this in theory. But above is the proof.
So, with the above, is Holly’s journey complete? Far from it. But he’s sure come a hell of a long way, and going through Series 2 episode-by-episode isn’t necessary. However, it’s worth taking a brief look at how Holly’s on-screen role continued to develop.
Firstly, Better Than Life – and specifically, that first bunkroom scene:
This takes the bunkroom scene between Lister and Holly in Me², and runs with it. Everything suddenly feels natural and right. We’re a long way off from some of the weirdness of Series 1 here.
Then there’s the first time we see Gordon, the computer on board the Scott Fitzgerald – and the first time we see another computer in the vein of Holly, an idea which would have lasting repercussions for the series:
Better Than Life also shows us the first time Holly becomes portable. (So many new ideas in one episode!)
So, bung those last two ideas together – of a different computer like Holly, and Holly becoming portable – and we get a little episode called Queeg:
And I just don’t believe Queeg is the kind of episode which would ever have been written unless Holly had become a visual character. Two disembodied voices yakking on while Lister looks upset probably wouldn’t have made amazing television. As it is… we got one of the finest half hours of sitcom ever made.
Although we all know the real reason why it was vitally important for Holly to become more than just a voice:
All this careful thought, just to wind up with a wig joke. And isn’t that really the entire spirit of Red Dwarf, encapsulated in one throwaway moment?
Cheers, Norm. For once, your whinging paid off.