G&TV Special: Holly on Tomorrow's World featured image

The latest edition of our now officially sporadic archive telly feature is something truly special for once: a rare in-character appearance by one of the boys from the Dwarf on a different programme, unseen for over twenty years.

On Wednesday 3rd March 1999 (the day before the seminal Back In The Red (Part Three) first aired), Norman Lovett popped up as Holly on Tomorrow’s World, the BBC’s flagship technology programme that ran from 1965 to 2003, to discuss AI with host Philippa Forrester. He was there to launch their Turing Test experiment, to see if chatbots could convincingly pass as human. He returned two weeks later for the show’s annual Megalab live event, briefly cameoing in character before appearing as himself to take part in the test, alongside Sir Terry Pratchett and Jaye Griffiths from off of Bugs.

Never repeated, and not included on the Series VIII DVD for whatever reason, this has been one of the rarest and most elusive pieces of Red Dwarf ephemera – it was even mentioned in a forum thread about unattainable Dwarf-related media as recently as two weeks ago. But now, just over 22 years later, here are the relevant moments from both episodes.

The first appearance is the most substantial in terms of Holly content, and it starts with an introductory clip of Holly’s “become a dog” plan from Cassandra. That episode was still eight days away from airing at the time, and so the clip will have given away the fact that Lister is sentenced to two years in prison at the end of the following night’s episode. The subsequent chat with Philippa, also known at the time as Craig Charles’s co-host on Robot Wars of course, is amusing at times and yet slightly odd; Holly calling Philippa “babe” and awkwardly flirting with her doesn’t feel like something he’d do, but then this is Series VIII era Holly, so all bets are off. Big fan of him throwing to Peter Snow at the end though.

The return at Megalab ’99 a fortnight later is little more than a cameo for Holly, with a one-liner about programming VCRs which most definitely feels like a joke from that era of Dwarf. This brief moment requires Norman to be dressed in a black polo neck throughout his subsequent appearance as himself, and he can be seen rushing to his seat on the panel juuuuust in time for his introduction. After he and his fellow sci-fi/fantasy alumni have an off-screen natter with Schrödinger’s chatbot, Norman seems moderately annoyed to have his conversation interrupted by the necessity to take part in a live television programme, which is perhaps the funniest moment of the whole endeavour. Closely followed by the look of realisation that he’d been fooled by an AI, possibly contemplating his role in helping to create a nightmarish Judgment Day type scenario.

It’s great to finally see these fabled moments after so many years of searching. All that remains now is the question of how we’re going to justify all this being canon.

33 comments on “G&TV Special: Holly on Tomorrow’s World

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  • Big fan of him throwing to Peter Snow at the end though.

    That had a very The Day Today weather segment feel to it.

  • Also, these clips have reminded me why Philippa Forrester was such a common celebrity crush for me and my geek mates at the time.

  • For a little historical context: “Back in the Red (Part One)” was broadcast in the same week as the first semi-final of the second series of Robot Wars (the first to be hosted by Craig), and hence this particular episode of Tomorrow’s World would have gone out in the same week as the Grand Final of that series. So Tomorrow’s World on Wednesday, Red Dwarf on Thursday, Robot Wars Friday.

    This fun fact is one of many that exist in the half-written Robot Wars Programme Guide I might get round to finishing some day.

  • Wow, what a find!

    … why is Holly being creepy to the presenter?

    It’s series VIII, if anything it’s the explanation of the joke that’s missing.

  • Fascinating! And extremely nostalgic – I really wasn’t into tech at the time but the whole feel of it is so era-specific (presumably there are reasons for that but I can’t articulate them). Brilliant that you were able to track them down, well done!

  • extremely nostalgic – I really wasn’t into tech at the time but the whole feel of it is so era-specific (presumably there are reasons for that but I can’t articulate them).

    Part of it for me was the talk of an “internet” survey and the general sense that people online back then were part of a select, rarefied group.

  • Where the actual blistering fuck did you find this..?
    Tomorrow’s World has SO much to answer for in my life, and seeing Sir Terry again always makes a lump appear – not in my pants though…

  • A lot of the feeling comes from this technology being exciting. There have been numerous advances in home tech since, obviously, but I’m not sure any of them capture the wonder of The Internet before it was a daily life thing, or Computers when they were still the sort of thing you were allowed to use for a few hours in the evening.

  • Artificial intelligence has a long way to go. I’ve just spent twenty minutes trying to get Akinator to guess ‘Norman Lovett’ instead of ‘Karl Pilkington’. It’s been a bit of a nostalgic day, in a way.

    Video was slightly awkward, with a splosh of creepiness, but thanks for uncovering it. Enjoyed the unscripted bits, especially Terry Pratchett saying “human” with a grumpy look on his face. Everyone’s demeanour (apart from Philippa Forrester’s, of course) reminded me of that Douglas Adams quote about TV’s handling of popular science. As soon as I started typing this comment I forgot it, though, but it seemed relevant at the time.

  • Philippa is enough to turn any computers head. Holly wants to pull in Kryten series II and wigs up for such a chance. Even Hattie faints at the charm of a man in her series. Despite also claiming to have no desires at another point in time, and Norman only ever loving a Sinclair zx81. It’s totally on trend for the era to play on Philippa perceived TV persona in this era of tv comedy. See also: Spaced.

  • Fascinating! And extremely nostalgic – I really wasn’t into tech at the time but the whole feel of it is so era-specific (presumably there are reasons for that but I can’t articulate them).

  • Hahaha Warbodog (it wouldn’t let me quote the image?) but I have no idea who that character is – while we did watch TV at other people’s houses, we didn’t have one at home until around 2000* and I was a pretty sheltered kid in my own world most of the time, so a lot of what was popular just passed me by completely. So it’s more likely that what the clip is evoking is from educational TV shown at school!

    *one of my first watching-TV-at-home memories is the World snooker semi-final between Joe Swail and Ronnie O’Sullivan, but I only remember watching Joe Swail v Matthew Stevens the previous year at my Grandma’s house – so the TV at home would have been from mid-2000 at the earliest.

  • I was convinced that all 3 of those would be AI. The fact it was a test running online all week I just assumed that they would have 3 AI running simultaneously, as they couldn’t staff and of the chat rooms with the same human 24/7

    Given the final one is one of the presenters whose name isn’t the name used, makes me realise they probably had a few humans doing shifts of the Human Chat for the week and then the other two AI running alongside.

  • Here’s a question that might be answered in the credits to the episode if you have them. Who scripted Holly?

    Everyone is is commenting on how he is a bit off and too flirtatious but that it’s series viii Holly so anything goes … but that assumes Doug scripted him.

    Could well be the Tomorrow’s World script writers did his lines.

  • That’s a very good point – I’ve just checked and there’s no writer credit on either episode. I wouldn’t have thought Doug did write it, it’s most likely some combination of a Tomorrow’s World producer and Norman’s own input.

  • Had no knowledge of this ever existing – so a real treat to cheer me up. Fantastic G&T!

  • Oh wow, that’s awesome.

    I had to check and the end of the episode says the show was made for BBC North West, so the same as Red Dwarf and made up in Manchester which makes sense them having access to the sets.

  • We can now also canonise that the TARDIS scene in Blue Midgets hanger bay is in fact, Eamonn Holmes’!

  • What’s going on with the lights in the background though – is it supposed to look like a face?

    Looking closer it seems it’s just the strange way the light is falling through the chicken soup dispenser! Still wonder if it is intentional though

  • We can now also canonise that the TARDIS scene in Blue Midgets hanger bay is in fact, Eamonn Holmes’!

    Now this is the Big Finish story we need.

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