This Guy's Pure Class featured image

It’s a rare, nay freak occurrence for us to publish guest articles, but when Dave Wallace got in touch with this effort, we made an exception for three reasons. 1) Dave is a long-standing and very funny member of the community, and it’s the community that continues to make G&T worth visiting; 2) We’re in one of our shit phases for written content at the moment; 3) It’s really bloody good. Enjoy Dave’s musings on one of  Red Dwarf‘s most important but lesser documented themes.

Red Dwarf is a sitcom about a lot of things – space, science, weird cosmic phenomena, and the consequences of having a three-million-year old bum, a creature evolved from a cat and a hologram simulation of a long-dead jobsworth as the only sentient beings left in existence.

But strip away its sci-fi trappings, and at the heart of the show is a concept that’s as universal as it is timeless: class.

Yeah yeah, big deal, you might think. Class isn’t exactly a unique topic for a sitcom to address, and after TV comedy has mined the subject for decades – from Steptoe & Son and Fawlty Towers to Blackadder and Frasier – you could be forgiven for thinking that there was little left to say.

But I’d argue that one of the most satisfying through-lines of the entire history of Red Dwarf – from its very first broadcast in 1988, all the way through the BBC and Dave eras, culminating in The Promised Land special in 2020 – is the way it introduces, develops and reinforces ideas around social class before subverting them and ultimately allowing its characters to escape them. As much as they can allow themselves to, at any rate.

“There are 169 people onboard this ship. You, Rimmer, are over one man. Why can’t you two get on?”

Lister, Rimmer and Todhunter in The EndThe show introduces ideas around class, rank and status from the very first scene of the very first episode, with a petty Rimmer seeking to exert his dominance over an indifferent Lister by punishing him for such transgressions as humming, clicking, and being quiet.

We immediately get the sense of Rimmer as a pompous character who is socially and professionally aspiring, but too incompetent to pass his exams and become upwardly mobile; and who is as resentful towards his immediate superiors like Todhunter as he is eager to lord it over his one subordinate. Lister, on the other hand, is characterised as a lazy, rebellious slob who seemingly has no truck with the class system – although as future episodes demonstrate, that’s not as true as it might at first appear.

To hammer it home, we even see the pre-accident social groups divided along lines of social class in scenes like McIntyre’s funeral, with working-class blue-collar workers quite separate from the officer class – with Rimmer clearly aspiring to be part of the higher class and away from the lower class, but not really belonging to either.

This shorthand establishes the situation and the class roles that (like all good sitcoms) the characters will be trapped in, at least initially. And as the early years of the show play out, there’s a fairly conventional ‘workplace sitcom’ vibe to a lot of the scenes.

Rimmer bemoaning Todhunter being breast-fed gazpacho soupWe’re repeatedly encouraged to perceive Rimmer as a source of ironic humour due to him being so foused on the authority he derives from his status as a Second Technician over Lister who languishes as a Third Technician (occasionally even explicitly labelled “Technician – Third Class”). We’re encouraged to see his attempts at social climbing as buffoonish: “up, up, up the ziggurat, lickety split.”

And we see threats to the social order swiftly batted away so as to preserve the ship’s class system – with Lister’s attempts to become Rimmer’s superior in Balance of Power immediately denied (and never remounted – because of course, it would break the show).

Even in these early years, though, there’s clearly a sincere attempt to explore issues around class as more than just the setup for an easy punchline. As we gradually learn more about Rimmer’s hangups (largely linked to him never fulfilling his ambitions to join the officer class), we see that there’s genuine pathos there – and we even get the sense that class distinctions and expectations may be at the root of most of his neuroses.

Of course, we’re seeing this mostly from a Rimmer-centric perspective that casts him as the wronged party. But if the gazpacho soup story in Me2 (seemingly forever blocking him from achieving a higher rank on board Red Dwarf) doesn’t have you sympathetic towards his plight, then what we learn about his parental expectations in episodes like Better Than Life – an upbringing that places the highest value on status, seemingly based on his parents’ own inability to socially climb – helps to make his class hangups more than just the butt of a few jokes.

And at the same time as all this is going on, we’re seeing the show explore class in other ways, too – whether it’s Lister helping Kryten to achieve self-actualisation after breaking out of his servant role in Kryten, or seeing how viciously the working classes can be treated by a heartless overlord in Queeg.

But if Rimmer was the focus of much of the class-centric development in the first couple of series, the shift in the show that came with Series III and IV allowed us to see that same level of complexity applied to Lister too.

“It means I was a class traitor.”

Lister and Gilbert in TimeslidesIn fairness, the first two series of the show didn’t leave Lister entirely undeveloped when it came to class issues. Most interestingly perhaps, we see a level of working-class reverse-snobbery from Lister at times, in passages like his rant at Kochanski’s imaginary turtleneck-sweater-wearing pipe-smoking natural-yoghurt-eating partner in Stasis Leak. But arguably it’s Timeslides that’s the first episode to tell a story that gives us the same dimensionality to Lister’s class hangups as those of Rimmer.

Firstly and most obviously, we see Lister’s unashamed willingness to catapult himself into a higher social class through his Tenison Sheet scheme, resulting in a grotesque version of the character who has no qualms with ordering servants around, wasting money on crass indulgences, and using his money and status to attract women.

It’s disarming stuff, precisely because we’re already so familiar with the character who proudly described himself as a “working-class kid” in Waiting For God. But rather than being content just to show us the dark potential of this upper-middle-class Lister, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor also puncture the righteousness of Lister’s younger self: the disgusted (but unwittingly naïve) Smeg And The Heads singer who loathes money, hates possessions and considers laid-back egalitarian present-day Lister to be a crypto-fascist.

It’s yet another indicator that Red Dwarf’s take on class is more complex than lower-class=good, higher-class=bad, and it helps to refocus the show’s class-oriented elements on Lister as much as Rimmer, in a way that continues into future series.

Series IV, in particular, has some revealing moments for both lead characters, whether its more reverse-snobbery in Lister’s comedic confession that going into a wine bar made him a “class traitor” in DNA, to Ace Rimmer offering our Rimmer a shattering glimpse of his own potential as an officer in Dimension Jump – albeit an officer who is far from the sneering, superior type that Rimmer seems to aspire to be, and who instead prefers to hang out in the mess with the salt-of-the-earth engineering boys. A hint here that class isn’t so much about who you are and your status, but how you choose to relate to others.

Spanners Lister in Dimension JumpDimension Jump also offers us a glimpse at an alternate Lister who has applied himself and become a successful engineer, albeit one with a social status that isn’t too far removed from our Lister – again making it clear that superficial class indicators aren’t the key to happiness, while also foreshadowing some character development for Lister that will come later in the Dave era. But we’ll get to that.

And all through Series III and IV, we see the evolution of Kryten into a more fully-realised character too, expanding the class aspects of the show in new ways. I particularly like the way Kryten’s servant-class status recasts Lister as no longer the lowest-class character on the ship, but instead somebody who finds himself in the middle of the hierarchy: like a perpetually-looking-both-down-and-up Ronnie Barker to Rimmer’s John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett’s Kryten. (Now there’s a fantasy recast I’d like to see).

While it’s tempting to suggest that Lister is a wholly positive influence on Kryten who constantly encourages him to break his programming and become his own droid, the truth is that even Lister succumbs to the trappings of his superiority over the mechanoid at times – with Kryten regularly given menial tasks that Lister now sees as beneath him. After all, he’s not doing his own smegging ironing.

But by and large, Lister is a positive influence on Kryten: one who encourages the robot to not be constrained by class perceptions, to transcend his servile status and to ultimately become the most competent and upwardly mobile member of the crew – as evidenced by him quietly assuming the rank of science officer later on (albeit a science officer who must still defer to humans out of deference to his programming.)

Human Kryten in DNAThat is, aside from when Kryten becomes a human himself in DNA – an episode that not only gives this article its title, but which also provides one of the most challenging storylines to reconcile with the show’s overall approach to class.

Because while Red Dwarf tends to take the view that people shouldn’t be defined by simplistic and reductive terms like job titles or class labels, there’s a reading of DNA that suggests that Kryten should be punished for daring to seek a change in his status – essentially that he needs to stay in his lane, go back in his box, or any other metaphor you might choose to symbolise someone not being able to exceed their boundaries.

Whether it was Descartes or Popeye The Sailor Man who said it, there’s a sense that “I am what I am” comes with the unspoken implication that you also aren’t anything other than that, even anything more than that – and that trying to escape the class that you are born into is hubristic at best. However, I’m more inclined to give DNA the benefit of the doubt and read it not as a cautionary tale about social climbing, but more as a warning against trying to force yourself into a role that doesn’t fit.

Because when you think about it, Kryten not being a human doesn’t really make him any less of a person – he just thinks it does. And when he visits his spare heads and denies his nature as a mechanoid, he’s rubbishing his own roots out of a desire to appear more sophisticated, rather than genuinely transforming himself into something better.

Basically, being outwardly human in appearance doesn’t actually “level up” Kryten, only his own internal thoughts and feelings can do that – and the episode is about him learning this.

“You’ve got brains, man. Brains you’ve never used.”

Kryten and Lister in The InquisitorWhile Series V and VI are among my favourite in the show’s history, they’re a little lighter on meaty character development (perhaps understandably, given how long Rob and Doug had been mining Lister and Rimmer for stories by this point).

That said, there’s still some insight into class issues to be found there, whether it’s Holoship’s demonstration that Rimmer’s desire to achieve his dream of becoming an officer does in fact come with some limits; Quarantine’s hint that Rimmer feels threatened by Kryten’s increasing status (“you’re ‘merely’ a mechanoid, that’s all you’re ‘merely’. Don’t ever forget it” is one of the nastiest lines in the show); Back To Reality’s class-reversal for Lister and Rimmer showing us how both men would have their sense of self undermined by finding themselves in a vastly different class context; and The Inquisitor’s exploration of the crew’s notions of self-worth.

It’s maybe this latter story that’s the most interesting V episode in terms of class issues, with Lister hinting that he knows that he’s always held back his own progress and potential, and with Kryten refusing to accept credit for any of his own personal strengths.

I think it’s particularly telling that, according to The Inquisitor, the two lowest-class characters in the crew have the lowest opinions of themselves, pushing the idea that their perceptions of their own social status have had a negative impact on their self-esteem. Rimmer, on the other hand, can justify any personal shortcomings as being someone else’s fault while at the same time not being sufficiently advanced in status to have any real responsibilities to be tested; and Cat, well, he sort of exists outside of human notions of status and class altogether.

Moving onto Series VI, while Emohawk gives us reprises of status-altered versions of Cat and Rimmer, and Rimmerworld shows us what kind of superficial hierarchy of Arnolds would evolve over hundreds of years, it’s maybe only Out Of Time that gives us something really substantial when it comes to the class elements of the show: when the crew meet their future selves, they’re disgusted by how these high-rolling but immoral versions of themselves can bear to sacrifice their principles just to join the upper classes and let themselves sample the best that the universe has to offer.

There’s probably more to potentially unpack here than the episode has time for, but suffice to say the callous attitudes of those who are happy to align with people who are “a bit dodgy” – even when that comes at the expense of numerous other maligned social groups – is a pretty concise indictment of a lot of the flaws of our class system today.

Kochanski and Lister during Kryten's dream sequence in Duct SoupAs the show proceeds into Series VII and VIII, there’s perhaps even less of this kind of character exploration, even if this can be excused for the sake of accommodating such priceless comedic setpieces as a shitting dinosaur (and perhaps less snarkily, because other writers were involved and the stories continued to be a little more plot-oriented than character-focused). But still, class-related nuggets are to be found.

For example, it’s interesting that the flashback of Ouroboros seeks to recast the Lister-Kochanski breakup as at least partly being down to a social divide (Rimmer to Lister: “Didn’t I tell you you’d never bridge that class division?”), setting up a new take on the love of Lister’s life that characterises her as clearly of a different social standing and background – and offering a source of conflict in a relationship that, for the purposes of the Kochanski Series VII story arc, needed it.

Meanwhile, it’s slightly less interesting that in Series VIII, the entire hierarchy of the ship is undermined for the sake of a gag about Captain Hollister really being Dennis the donut boy.

Having said that, Series VIII as a whole is somewhat interesting in that it resets a lot of the development of the characters up to that point, and to a large extent puts them back where they were at the very start of the show, pre-accident. Which, after seven series of growth – seven series of pushing back against their labels and ranks, and outgrowing the class system of pre-accident Red Dwarf – inevitably feels jarring.

But arguably even more intriguing than the exploration of class issues in the initial BBC era is how Doug Naylor took these ideas and expanded on them in the Dave era, essentially taking the arguments around class that Red Dwarf had set out up to this point and bringing them to a conclusion that proved that the show still had something to say.

“A working-class hero, you and me both.”

While Back To Earth didn’t do a huge amount to make us change our perception of the crew, it reasserted their characterisations after a long time off our screens, while also giving Lister something to strive for in terms of the search for Kochanski and a motivation for future self-improvement. And following on from that, Series X, XI and XII are full of examples of characters surpassing expectations – both their own expectations, and other people’s – and making themselves more than they were. Transcending ideas of class and status, essentially.

Howard and Arnold Rimmer in TrojanIn that context, Trojan is an interesting episode in that it seeks to bolster Rimmer not by elevating him, but by bringing someone else down to his level. When his brother Howard reveals that his life was a lie – and Rimmer realises that he’s not alone in his own unfulfilled ambitions of becoming an officer – it’s a moment that evokes the early years of the show in its unquestioning adherence to the idea of rank and status being important to Rimmer. Which is probably quite intentional, given what’s to come later in The Beginning.

Before that, though, Fathers & Suns contains some interesting material about self-betterment, with Lister (as his own father) berating himself for his wasted potential and urging him to do something about it. Subsequently in Series X, there’s the through-line of Lister’s robotics course, suggesting that he knows he’s got brains, man, and now they’re brains he’s using.

But of course, when it comes to class, it’s The Beginning that provides the richest material in Series X. A controversial episode for some Red Dwarf fans, who don’t like the implications of Rimmer finding out that his biological father isn’t who he thought; that it’s insulting to think that you should be happier with a ‘lesser’ life if you find out that you come from humble origins.

But what I think this revelation provides is freedom for Rimmer from the expectations of his deranged parents, and a reorientation of his ideas around class altogether. It doesn’t change who Rimmer is as a person (and as we see in later episodes, many of the old class hangups do still persist), but it gives him a new perspective on himself and makes him realise that he doesn’t have to be subject to those old class restrictions any more; that he has been living under the constraints of someone else’s ideas.

When Rimmer says “the slime’s coming home”, it’s not only a clunky callback to The End, it’s also an acknowledgement that he and Lister are equals; that they are, as Lister says, both working-class heroes; and that Rimmer is not going to be defined by the class hangups of his parents any longer.

Snacky and Rimmer in Give & TakeOr maybe he wouldn’t have been, if that had been the final episode of Red Dwarf. Because inevitably, later episodes in Series XI and XII roll this development back a little. In fairness, things look good at first, with Give & Take seeing Rimmer dealing with the fallout from The Beginning and ultimately concluding that “the only person who can help me is me” – only for Officer Rimmer to throw out a lot of that development by showing a very Series 1-era rank-obsessed Rimmer enforcing a one-man class system on the ship, to his own advantage. Maybe that’s a way of showing that part of Rimmer is always going to be class-obsessed and determined to try and rise above Lister somehow, but it still feels like a step backwards.

On the other hand, Krysis is a nice way of reconnecting with Kryten’s ongoing search for self-betterment, albeit in a slightly less sincere way than in the past, with Butler providing a great foil who suggests that even among mechanoids, class hangups can persists; and then Siliconia goes even further and addresses issues of class and rank head-on, in a way that uses the slight variations between mechanoid models to effectively mock the notion of class distinctions altogether (but leaves itself with slightly too little runtime to address the idea in a meaningful way.) Even The Promised Land manages to address issues of rank and status in its own way, with Lister finally having to answer to the followers of Cloister and Rimmer upgrading himself to a new form.

An alternate Rimmer and Lister in SkipperBut for the Dave era’s final word on class and what it means to the characters, we probably have to look to Skipper. The final episode of XII provides a finale that (like The Beginning) could have functioned as a perfect endpoint for the entire show, as it addresses a lot of the issues around class that have underpinned the series for the last three decades – only to provide a twist that feels perfectly true to the characters while telling us something new about them.

Because as Rimmer quantum-skips from reality to reality, the final dimension that he visits effectively grants all of his class-related wishes: “Navigation officer, yes! Married, yes! Children: four. Are they boys? Yes! I’ve got everything I ever wanted here.”

Unfortunately for Rimmer, the one element of this reality that crushes his dreams – an element that is entirely separate to this Rimmer’s personal accomplishments and status, but which recontextualises them in a crucial respect – is that this reality’s Lister is his superior. Because class is relative, and as Rimmer puts it, “I can’t live in a reality where you’re more successful than me. The pain of it would be… too much.”

(It’s particularly telling that in that same episode, an earlier dimension in which Lister was presented as higher-class was perfectly acceptable to Rimmer, because they would have been equals – he just got scared away by a giant fuck-off rat.)

In a lot of ways, Skipper would be a perfect final episode for Red Dwarf, and was almost certainly planned as a potential send-off. And in terms of the class ideas touched on here, I think it would have been a great ending. Because it reconciles pretty much everything that we’ve seen in the show thus far, in terms of how it handles class, rank and status.

Rimmer's Officers' Club in Officer RimmerWe’re left with a realisation that objective measures of success aren’t all that meaningful, especially in a universe with such a tiny number of people left – much more important is how the characters relate to everyone else, and it’s only their personal feelings about class (and how they compare to others) that dictate whether or not they are happy with their lot.

And we’re also left with an understanding that yes, these characters can transcend other people’s class definitions and become something different; that they aren’t limited to what anyone else thinks of them. And this is a theme that Dave-era Dwarf especially returns to again and again.

Whether it’s Twentica’s Bob The Bum solving a problem worthy of his lookalike Einstein, the wrong Jesus in Lemons being inspired to become something greater than a bit of a knob, or honorary sixth-Dwarfer Snacky solving a scientific conundrum better suited to a stasis booth engineer, Dave-era Doug Naylor seems to be constantly reminding us of the power of self-belief: that whatever people think you are doesn’t matter. You can be more.

It’s a sentiment that recalls Rimmer in Holoship insisting that “you are your job” only for Kryten to rattle off a host of counter-examples. And in a way, it goes all the way back to Rimmer, Lister and Todhunter in that corridor at the start of The End, arguing about who is superior to who and how that defines their lives on board ship.

Rimmer and Lister in Balance of PowerTaken as a whole, it all suggests that if there’s any final conclusion that Red Dwarf wants us to draw about rank, about titles, about class, it’s that these labels are essentially meaningless in and of themselves – but how you react to them and the weight you put on them personally is crucial.

Whether you’re a third technician, a second technician, the son of a gardener or the god of the cat people, it doesn’t really matter what labels people put on you or what boxes they seek to put you in. That doesn’t tell you anything about yourself. What is far more important is how you choose to relate to others.

It’s no coincidence that one of the most powerful, spine-tingling moments for long-time fans of the show was seeing Rimmer step into a heroic role as he tries to save his crewmates at the end of Out Of Time. If there’s one moment in Red Dwarf that demonstrates that a person can transcend their labels, can become more than what society tells them they are, it’s the sight of a cowardly, selfish, resentful second technician realising in a single moment of clarity that he can be something more.

Obviously Red Dwarf is limited to some extent by the sitcom format. It can’t ever change its characters too much, or the key relationships at the heart of the show will break. But I think these examples show that it’s still possible to stretch those relationships as far as they can to explore all the issues of class, rank and status that grow out of such rich characters, in a way that’s far more meaningful than you might expect for a sci-fi sitcom.

47 comments on “This Guy’s Pure Class

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  • Excellent essay, Dave!

    It’s interesting how Series VIII ended up offering so little on this subject other than generally being a character regression, because the set ups are there. All 5 characters are brought down to essentially the same level by being imprisoned and end up in a new type of hierarchy, Rimmer still being obsessed with cheating his way to the top in Back in the Red could contrast with the other characters who have undergone 7 series of development past that point, Rimmer visits a universe where he’s captain in Only the Good… but the show just fails to actually explore these things.

  • Thanks!

    Yeah, it’s true that Series VIII feels like a wasted opportunity in that sense, I guess largely because it opts for a more slapstick/broad type of humour rather than subtle character-oriented stuff. So you get bunkroom scenes with Lister and Rimmer personality-clashing, but it’s BOTH CHEEKS MAN instead of black card/white card. And you get clashes with a higher authority, but it’s less about simmering class tensions and more about being naked in the Captain’s office or trying not to look drunk.

  • In particular Pete Part I comes to mind with how much they dropped the ball.

    Lister and Rimmer just mutually sniggering together about disrespecting authority. Not just hugely out of character for Rimmer in general, but hugely out of character compared to how he behaved at the end of the very last episode. Nano-Arnie did a speedrun of all the Rimmer character development off screen.

  • lister, upper class – son of an officer, too posh to wash, incestuous

    kryten, middle class – smug yet guilt ridden, looks up to lister, down to rimmer

    rimmer, working class – son of a gardener, hard working, self disciplined, proud, traditional

    cat, underclass – not invested in class, dedicated to consuming/survival

  • Very enjoyable read Dave, well done.  Something I’m surprised hasn’t been address as head on or in as much detail until now.  A couple of counterpoints to your … well points … that I only raise for the sake of continuing an interesting discussion.

    <blockquote> Firstly and most obviously, we see Lister’s unashamed willingness to catapult himself into a higher social class through his Tenison Sheet scheme, resulting in a grotesque version of the character who has no qualms with ordering servants around, wasting money on crass indulgences, and using his money and status to attract women.  </blockquote>

    This is partly the result of Lister being stuck alone in deep space with no future.  He sees it as a way out.  And I think partly he sees in lack of ambition or his working class humbleness or whatever as what put him there.  Perhaps, he thinks, success wouldn’t be so bad if it means having a life to live rather than just living his life.  

    But also, I don’t think Lister ever really properly thought it through did he?  He wasn’t looking to become an upperclass bossy boots.  He just wanted that way out, he used the tension sheet scheme as a way to do that, and that resulted in his entirely character and personality changing as, from such a young age, he suddenly how wealth and he didn’t have to play up to the working class happy to be poor thing anymore.  His situation entirely changed him.  I don’t think it’s necessarily something the Lister we know would be entirely happy about himself.

    <blockquote> When Rimmer says “the slime’s coming home”, it’s not only a clunky callback to The End, it’s also an acknowledgement that he and Lister are equals; that they are, as Lister says, both working-class heroes; and that Rimmer is not going to be defined by the class hangups of his parents any longer.  </blockquote> 

    You go on to say the show ultimately has to ignore or undo this in later episodes.  But as much as in that moment Rimmer might realise his biological father would be proud of him, being the biological son of someone doesn’t make you a member of their class.  Rimmer is born and raised into a well to do military family where money and status mean things.  And he is raised for and lives for over 30+ years with these socialised ideas of character and power that he is never ever going to shack.  If Rishi Sunak suddenly found out he was the son of Arthur Scargill, he wouldn’t suddenly give up his wealth, cross over to the other side of the commons and sit merrily with Jeremy Corbyn.  He’d 100% continue to believe poor people have failed moral character and look down on them.

  • Thanks!

    This is partly the result of Lister being stuck alone in deep space with no future.  He sees it as a way out.  And I think partly he sees in lack of ambition or his working class humbleness or whatever as what put him there.  Perhaps, he thinks, success wouldn’t be so bad if it means having a life to live rather than just living his life.  

    But also, I don’t think Lister ever really properly thought it through did he?  He wasn’t looking to become an upperclass bossy boots.  He just wanted that way out, he used the tension sheet scheme as a way to do that, and that resulted in his entirely character and personality changing as, from such a young age, he suddenly how wealth and he didn’t have to play up to the working class happy to be poor thing anymore.  His situation entirely changed him.  I don’t think it’s necessarily something the Lister we know would be entirely happy about himself.

    I agree with this to an extent in that I don’t think Lister necessarily knows he’ll turn out to be such an arsehole if he changes history in that way. But I do think that he explicitly has ambitions for that same life that Thickie Holden had – the things Rimmer talks about in the conversation that makes Lister envious of Holden’s life are all the same trappings of wealth he ends up having in his new reality.

  • You go on to say the show ultimately has to ignore or undo this in later episodes.  But as much as in that moment Rimmer might realise his biological father would be proud of him, being the biological son of someone doesn’t make you a member of their class.  Rimmer is born and raised into a well to do military family where money and status mean things.  And he is raised for and lives for over 30+ years with these socialised ideas of character and power that he is never ever going to shack.  If Rishi Sunak suddenly found out he was the son of Arthur Scargill, he wouldn’t suddenly give up his wealth, cross over to the other side of the commons and sit merrily with Jeremy Corbyn.  He’d 100% continue to believe poor people have failed moral character and look down on them.

    Maybe – but I think the way that The Beginning presents it is that it finally gives Rimmer an excuse to relieve himself of the burden that his parents’ class expectations have been for him, for his whole life so far. So while it’s maybe not a change that would happen for everyone, I think Rimmer embraces it because it’s a great chance to consciously recalibrate his expectations of himself in a way that makes him much happier to be who he is.

  • You go on to say the show ultimately has to ignore or undo this in later episodes.  But as much as in that moment Rimmer might realise his biological father would be proud of him, being the biological son of someone doesn’t make you a member of their class.  Rimmer is born and raised into a well to do military family where money and status mean things.  And he is raised for and lives for over 30+ years with these socialised ideas of character and power that he is never ever going to shack.  If Rishi Sunak suddenly found out he was the son of Arthur Scargill, he wouldn’t suddenly give up his wealth, cross over to the other side of the commons and sit merrily with Jeremy Corbyn.  He’d 100% continue to believe poor people have failed moral character and look down on them.

    I appreciate the emotional complexity of the reveal, because while you’re absolutely right that learning your biological parents are working class won’t retroactively make you working class on its own, it will change your perception of things. Especially considering the more upper class you are, the more importance is placed on hereditary privilege. (E.g. if it was revealed with 100% certainty that Prince Charles was adopted and had no royal DNA at all, would he still become king if Liz fought for it and said “he’s just as much my son as any of the others”? Not impossible, but it wouldn’t be automatic.)

    So finding out he’s not biologically related to his dad wouldn’t have overwritten Rimmer’s class or his upbringing as such, but it would have given him some extra context, allowing him to look at his class in a more critical light, and consider whether he as a person, not a surname, might have more kinship with Lister than the officers.

  • Also, hey, quote blocks do work!

    Not sure why they don’t like Quinn. Maybe try removing the “span” tags with all their formatting next time, or putting them outside the “blockquote” ones rather than inside?

  • I don’t think that Prince Charles comparison is really fair, considering assertion to the throne is constitutional and along blood lines.  Though it would be REALLY interesting to see what were to happen if someone was adopted by the heir to the throne say, if they weren’t capable of having children.  They have recently changed the rules to allow any first born, not just male heirs, but what of adopted family? Be interesting to see.

    But I do get your point, though also these same people would quite happily ignore their heritage if it meant projecting a higher social standing.  Rimmer would probably end up looking down on his bio dad and more strongly associate with the family that had wealth and privilege etc

    The Beginning certainly set it ups for Rimmer relieving himself of the burden of his upbringing … but that’s just a nice ending to an episode (and at the time maybe the show) in reality that just wouldn’t happen I don’t think.  Especially as Rimmer has *nothing* else to live for (or be dead for) other than to laud it over Lister and be marginally superior to him.

  • The Beginning certainly set it ups for Rimmer relieving himself of the burden of his upbringing … but that’s just a nice ending to an episode (and at the time maybe the show) in reality that just wouldn’t happen I don’t think.  Especially as Rimmer has *nothing* else to live for (or be dead for) other than to laud it over Lister and be marginally superior to him.

    Yeah, I think it would work better if it was the Last Ever Episode because then it kind of resolves their entire relationship.

    But you can’t carry on with the show from there – so just a few episodes later you have Officer Rimmer that feels like something that could have been Series 1-2 era Rimmer: obsessed with rank and status and actively seeking to physically divide the whole ship into different classes.

    Which I don’t think the character as we see him at the end of The Beginning would do.

  • I don’t think that Prince Charles comparison is really fair, considering assertion to the throne is constitutional and along blood lines.

    Sure, but a constitution isn’t a law of nature. People write and uphold laws in this way because they believe in the ideas behind them.

  • The Beginning certainly set it ups for Rimmer relieving himself of the burden of his upbringing … but that’s just a nice ending to an episode (and at the time maybe the show) in reality that just wouldn’t happen I don’t think.  Especially as Rimmer has *nothing* else to live for (or be dead for) other than to laud it over Lister and be marginally superior to him.

    Yeah, I think it would work better if it was the Last Ever Episode because then it kind of resolves their entire relationship.
    But you can’t carry on with the show from there – so just a few episodes later you have Officer Rimmer that feels like something that could have been Series 1-2 era Rimmer: obsessed with rank and status and actively seeking to physically divide the whole ship into different classes.
    Which I don’t think the character as we see him at the end of The Beginning would do.

    It’s kind of a shame there’s no more linking dialogue between episode (such as we see in Give & Take where Rimmer mentions that revelation).  A single line from Lister saying “what about your dad, would would Dungo say to this?” and then Rimmer being really flippantly dismissive as the power has gone to his head.

    <blockquote>  Sure, but a constitution isn’t a law of nature. People write and uphold laws in this way because they believe in the ideas behind them. </blockquote> 

    Yeah, and aside from it being incredibly outdated … which I’m sure the Royals are even feeling especially with the aforementioned change to allow female firstborns to ascend to the throne … the upper classes are incredibly hypocritical.  Just because it is seen to be the done thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d apply it to themselves if it didn’t suit them. It’s all just keeping up appearances isn’t it.  (I’m talking in general now, not about hereditary monarchy)

  • You can not really escape your upbringing. Which is an aspect i liked about Give and Take. the acknowledgment of that. And the whole Rimmer’s father being a gardener probably doesn’t mean much when even Rimmer himself called the guy an imbecile. So Rimmer’s expectation of himself wouldn’t suddenly revert to Listers standard as he grew up with a much higher standard than that and so that will always be with him.

    Personally i always felt the concept of Rimmer having a complicated family and his blaming them for his failures is actually far more interesting and up for interpretation than his father being a gardener whose an imbecile… because get it? So is Rimmer?

    Although i do think the Rimmer wanting to be an officer has kinda run its course. I think thats been milked dry

  • Personally i always felt the concept of Rimmer having a complicated family and his blaming them for his failures is actually far more interesting and up for interpretation than his father being a gardener whose an imbecile… because get it? So is Rimmer?

    I think having Howard also revealed to be a “failure” in Trojan acts as an interesting counterpoint to that, though, and suggests that Rimmer’s mediocre achievements in life are not (entirely or at all) down to his biological parentage and are as much a factor of his upbringing.

    It’s the nature/nurture argument basically, and I think Rimmer has been shaped as much by his upbringing as anything else. But finding out he’s not a biological son of his father allows him to step out from under his shadow.

  • Well either that or Howard is also Dungos son. But that’s where it all get abit messy.

    I suspect Howard is somebody else’s son.  Mrs Rimmer sleeps around. A lot.  I reckon John and Frank are Mr Rimmer’s, and Howard and Arnold are born to separate fathers.  

    Mr Rimmer knew that.  He raised them as his own, but subconsciously somewhere he treated them differently, even though he expected the same from them.  Maybe he was even harder on them.  After all, in The Beginning, he does do the dirty on Arnold in class by making him look a fool.  That’s not going to play to his confidence much.  The constant threat of disappointing his father is probably what caused Arnold to screw up so much in the first place. 

  • Great work all around and well considered.

    
Todhunter is in the officer class and mostly conforms to the upper-crust, slightly haughty stereotypes, right? But Hollister is the captain (theoretically outranking Todhunter, unless through the ambiguities of the JMC and Space Corps organizations, they are on different “tracks” somehow), yet looks, acts, and talks more like a sort of blue-collar boss or a factory foreman than a formal officer type. I’ve always thought this is interesting. 

    In fact, in I and II at least, Hollister is not really portrayed as that bad a guy; he even tries to smooth things over with Rimmer when he doesn’t need to in “Stasis Leak.” (Possible counterpoint: Rimmer never gets invited back to the captain’s table after the gazpacho soup gaffe, although it’s possible there are any number of other reasons not to want to invite Rimmer to be your dining companion.) 

    So is Hollister someone else who doesn’t let his rank/class define him? (It might also be reasonable to say that Hollister acts more like a franchise manager than a space captain because he is in fact Dennis the Donut Boy, but I do not really like to engage with the idea of Dennis the Donut Boy.)

  • I really hate the Hollister retcon, I really think Mac brought believability to Hollister and Red Dwarf pre Dennis.

    Todhunter is “posher” (though Hollister is outside of the class system of the rest of the cast being American) but also seems like a good enough guy, trying to get Rimmer to chill out and siding with Lister.

    Maybe the difference is all age, with Todhunter being a few years behind, or experience. Maybe Hollister was just really good at his job (pre-Dennis) and got a field promotion after exceptional officering or a retirement/death, and Todhunter is the academic, space corps academy type looking to get his hands dirty on an old beater rather than rely on his certificates. 

  • Well either that or Howard is also Dungos son. But that’s where it all get a bit messy.

    I suspect Howard is somebody else’s son.  Mrs Rimmer sleeps around. A lot.  I reckon John and Frank are Mr Rimmer’s, and Howard and Arnold are born to separate fathers.

    I don’t think that necessarily follows. I assume contraception still exists in the future?

    In terms of what it means for Rimmer’s character, I’m not sure which way I’d prefer it. If Arnold was the only son who wasn’t biologically related to Rimmer Sr., then that kind of reflects well on him because Howard failed just as much despite not even being subtly treated worse than John and Frank. But if both Howard and Arnold are ‘illegitimate’ children, then that carries the implication that their mutual career failings are purely down to their genes, which doesn’t sit right with me (or maybe upbringing was a factor, but for Howard it must have been a lot more subtle bad treatment than with Arnold). I tend to favour that Rimmer is the way he is due to his horrible family and his horrible childhood, but that he also does actively choose to perpetuate these harmful career focused obsessions himself, and he’s always capable of changing his attitude. (Especially considering what we know about Ace Rimmer, who still had a horrid family who probably treated him even worse after he’d been held back.)

    On the whole I prefer the “2 bastards” theory for it meaning that the parents did just pick on Arnold for no reason (or just because he was the youngest, or because he naturally had a personality and skills that didn’t align with their traditional ideas of what a boy should be like), but I prefer the “1 bastard” theory for showing via Howard that success in life is both relative and incredibly capricious. “1 bastard” is currently in the lead for me, but it could change.

  • I really hate the Hollister retcon, I really think Mac brought believability to Hollister and Red Dwarf pre Dennis.

    Oh, until any canon material makes it indisputable, I absolutely reject Dennis the Doughnut Boy. Hollister was just making a poor joke when he said that, because if that was his true identity, and knowledge of it getting out would ruin him, why would he say it to camera?

    Although it is a bit eerie that Hollister’s “fake” name is Frank, the name of Rimmer’s brother and his uncle, and his “real” name is Dennis, the name of Rimmer’s biological father.

  • Great work all around and well considered.

    
Todhunter is in the officer class and mostly conforms to the upper-crust, slightly haughty stereotypes, right? But Hollister is the captain (theoretically outranking Todhunter, unless through the ambiguities of the JMC and Space Corps organizations, they are on different “tracks” somehow), yet looks, acts, and talks more like a sort of blue-collar boss or a factory foreman than a formal officer type. I’ve always thought this is interesting. 
    In fact, in I and II at least, Hollister is not really portrayed as that bad a guy; he even tries to smooth things over with Rimmer when he doesn’t need to in “Stasis Leak.” (Possible counterpoint: Rimmer never gets invited back to the captain’s table after the gazpacho soup gaffe, although it’s possible there are any number of other reasons not to want to invite Rimmer to be your dining companion.) 
    So is Hollister someone else who doesn’t let his rank/class define him? (It might also be reasonable to say that Hollister acts more like a franchise manager than a space captain because he is in fact Dennis the Donut Boy, but I do not really like to engage with the idea of Dennis the Donut Boy.)

    Hollister is clearly the guy that’s worked up to Captain of a mining ship because he knows how to mine.  He is a working class foreman that’s been promoted from the ranks into the officer class.  Think of him like Sharpe.  Whereas Todhunter is clearly a career officer, probably using Red Dwarf as a stepping stone to Captianing a a more desirable ship.  He’s never mind a minute in his life but he knows how to run a ship, manager crews etc.

  • Cracking article. I especially like the stuff about Kryten as a working class figure. Silicon heaven fits very well with Marx and Lenin’s ideas of religion as a tool used by the ruling classes to keep the proletariat in check, the “opium of the masses” and all that.

    Props to whoever made the Frost Report pic too.

  • This is excellent. That is all. Terrific work.

    Great work all around and well considered.

    Thanks! Really appreciated.

  • Cracking article. I especially like the stuff about Kryten as a working class figure. Silicon heaven fits very well with Marx and Lenin’s ideas of religion as a tool used by the ruling classes to keep the proletariat in check, the “opium of the masses” and all that.

    Cheers! I was originally planning to focus mostly on Rimmer and Lister but realised the more I thought about it that Kryten is an integral part of the class system on Red Dwarf too – and arguably Lister only really becomes a three-dimensional character in this area once Kryten shows up. Not least because it gives him someone to talk to about being working class, but someone who is (initially at least) more compliant with the class expectations of his superiors than Lister ever would be.

  • Hollister is clearly the guy that’s worked up to Captain of a mining ship because he knows how to mine.  He is a working class foreman that’s been promoted from the ranks into the officer class.  Think of him like Sharpe.  Whereas Todhunter is clearly a career officer, probably using Red Dwarf as a stepping stone to Captianing a a more desirable ship.  He’s never mind a minute in his life but he knows how to run a ship, manager crews etc.

    Yeah, my take on this is the same – that Red Dwarf is a working mining ship and Hollister comes from this background, so is in charge of the entire operation, as much a company manager as a ship’s captain.

    But then a spaceship needs to be crewed by officers for navigation etc., and that’s who most of the rest of the officer class (including Todhunter) are. They likely know very little about mining.

  • Hollister was basically Dallas from Alien, I say with the confidence of someone who hasn’t watched the film for 20 years. Though obviously Alien wasn’t as influential on the premise and themes of Red Dwarf as, say, Blade Runner.

  • Man, was that a great essay. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us. Read every word and will be rereading more than once I’m sure. 

  • Man, was that a great essay. Thank you for writing and sharing it with us. Read every word and will be rereading more than once I’m sure.

    Ah that’s really kind of you to say. Thanks!

  • I’ve been thinking more about VIII (never advisable I know), and specifically the question about why it doesn’t take better advantage of exploring their new place at the bottom of the hierarchy. And I think it’s because it’s actually a lot less interesting a place for Rimmer and Lister’s relationship as it essentially makes them feel a lot more like equals.

    Part of the fun of the Rimmer-Lister relationship is that there’s a big divide between them in terms of rank and class, and one that they’re both very aware of – but in the wider scheme of things, the division is not that big, it’s just magnified massively by them being the last two crew members around. And obviously it’s meant to be funny that Rimmer asserts his authority over Lister even though it’s authority over the lowest rank on the ship being wielded by the second-lowest.

    But once the full crew is back and they’re being pulled up in front of Hollister, they’re basically the same in the eyes of the Captain, in the eyes of the officers, in the eyes of anyone with eyes. So the division isn’t really there to explore any more in the same way.

  • There’s a lot of moments throughout VIII where Rimmer and Lister as seen as co-consipirators and peers, particularly in Pete whenever they’re in front of Hollister etc, that just don’t speak to their relationship or Rimmer’s character at all.  Especially as this Rimmer doesn’t have the history holo-Rimmer does. So that is to say yeah, its not as interesting. What WOULD be interesting would be seeing Kochanski brought down from officer to prisoner … but we don’t get that at all really.

  • There’s a lot of moments throughout VIII where Rimmer and Lister as seen as co-consipirators and peers, particularly in Pete whenever they’re in front of Hollister etc, that just don’t speak to their relationship or Rimmer’s character at all.

    Yeah exactly. They’re kind of partners in crime at that point, which is a weird take on the relationship. 

  • Yes, of all the issues with VIII – chiefly it mostly being dogshit – the one that feels the most ‘wrong’ to me is Rimmer becoming Lister’s mate. Possibly, just possibly, after all the time alone together you could get away with them becoming partners in crime when imprisoned, but even then it’s a push. But once you throw in the fact that this is the pre-accident Rimmer – something Lister points out in BitR – it doesn’t work in the slightest. The only time he’s remotely Rimmery is when he’s doing everything he can for the appeal in Krytie TV (as ever, that subplot is the only time the prison setting is actually used well). No way in hell would he team up with Lister and end up getting in more trouble as a result. He despises Lister at this point.

  • I do still think that “Lister and Rimmer are equals now” did have some potential to be an interesting development of their dynamic, the show just doesn’t care to go there. I would imagine Rimmer being actively less friendly to Lister, looking for ways that he can place himself above Lister in the prison pecking order etc. Not to say it would have been great or especially revealing, but it would have been… something.

    The weird thing is I actually almost buy that post-Stoke Rimmer would be less hostile to the set up where he and Lister are equals. Almost. But nano-Rimmer, who’s meant to be like Series 1 Rimmer? Not even remotely close. No way would he scramble to help clean Ackerman’s quarters, he’d grass Lister up immediately.

  • There would have been great scope for a series long arc where Rimmer’s entire outlook on authority and his respect for it is undermined, demoralised, crushed and ultimately resulting in a changed man who *does* end up more of on Lister’s levels, after having spent a year of more in the tanks.  Like, you get to Only the Good and he isn’t sucking up to Hollister, or by the time of Krytie TV he is concerned for the appeal, but he is starting to become more interested in getting one over on a guard.

  • I’ve always maintained that something like Krytie TV would make WAY more sense as a Rimmer episode where he becomes a snitch for privileges, minus all the gross shower stuff.

  • I’ve only managed to read a little bit so far (stupid brainfog) but what I’ve read has been very interesting!  I very much look forward to reading the rest, hopefully sometime soon.

    Also struck me that it shows very clearly the idea of ‘pulling oneself up by the bootstraps’ not working.  Rimmer’s doing all he can and still doesn’t get anywhere, then Lister’s stroke of luck with being able to beat Thickie Holden to the tension sheet success does get him somewhere (class-wise, anyway, even if it’s not necessarily overall a good thing for him).  

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