A little over a week ago, Rob Grant decided he wanted to do something to cheer up all the Red Dwarf fans who had suddenly found themselves confined to their own personal Bay 47. The idea was to recapture the magic that formed the conclusion to the most recent Dimension Jump, whereby he was joined by Paul Jackson and Ed Bye to do a live commentary on The End. It made sense, therefore, that the reunited trio would do Future Echoes next, and so they took to Zoom last Sunday afternoon, and broadcast their thoughts to around a hundred webinar viewers. As well as sharing their tips for lockdown survival, we were treated to in-depth details about how the complicated show was put together with analogue technology, the story of how Tracey Ullman was partly responsible for the word “smeg” being used in the show, and even surprise cameo appearances from two former Red Dwarf guest stars. And now the whole thing is available on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.
Following the sad news that the brilliant Nicholas Parsons has passed away at the grand old age of 96, I saw a tweet summarising the various short-lived attempts to bring his seminal Just A Minute to television. Despite it obviously being a BBC show, there were two series produced by Carlton for ITV in the mid-90s, and just one glimpse of that garish, neon-adorned set triggered a vivid childhood memory of watching an episode starring none other than Craig Charles. I looked it up and it turns out that memory is indeed accurate; he appeared once, alongside team captain and fellow Dwarf alumnus Tony Slattery, on 21st July 1995.
And that episode is… seemingly not online anywhere. Bah. Still, a handful of editions are on YouTube, including one from the first series that features not only the aforementioned Slattery, but also one time pub manager Arthur Smith, alongside a very young Graham Norton and Ann Bryson. Sod it, two guest stars is enough of a Red Dwarf connection to justify us featuring this, in tribute to its wonderful chairman.
Forget Harry and Meghan, this is the real story. After nearly 17 years of writing on Ganymede & Titan – I started when I was a useless 21 year old, and I’m now a useless 38 year old – it’s time for me to hang up my steaming moon boots, mumble something about you all being people I met, and say goodbye.
Before we see a digitalised recording of my final moments, there’s going to be a lengthy tribute, interspersed with poetry readings, read by… hang on, “digitalised”? That sounds fairly archaic now, doesn’t it? And if the material is digitalised, why are there analogue tape artefacts when Lister fast-forwards the tape?
You really aren’t going to miss this kind of bullshit from me, are you?
We have something interesting for you today.
Cor. Right, go and do what you need to do, and come back when you’re finished.
Long before Paula Yates invited people On the Bed, Emma Freud was doing the same on Pillow Talk, part of ITV’s late night programming Night Network. And who did she have on the bed in 1987? None other than a certain Chris Barrie, who spends much of the interview looking fairly uncomfortable. They should have just had sex in multiple different positions and had done with it.
This month on G&TV, we go back in time to 1994, and take a look at Robert Llewellyn on Australian talk show Denton. Or, considering that the person who uploaded this video thinks that Llewellyn played a character called “Kryton”, we should say we’re going to take a look at Ribbed Sue Ellen on Australian talk show Dented.
Unfortunately, the above shitassery may come back to bite me, as while I might know my Krytons from my Krytens, I have never heard of either Denton, or indeed Andrew Denton himself. This piece has a bit of background on both him and the show; it seems like it really was rather good. And sure enough, the Llewellyn segment is pretty entertaining.
A few thoughts.
- Robert saying that it’s “rather tragic” that Andrew Denton knows the difference between R2D2 and C3PO is an interesting reminder that this stuff wasn’t front-centre of popular culture in 1994.
- I have to admit, I winced at the Douglas Bader funny walks section. Somehow, reading that bit in The Man In The Rubber Mask never seemed particularly troubling. Once you combine it with the visual, it becomes a bit of a different thing. (Though the fact that he combines this with the story about Doug Naylor’s prosthetic leg – where Robert himself becomes the butt of the joke – kinda helps.)
- Hearing the anecdote again about Robert getting an electric shock by the cigarette lighter in his finger reminds me of when that footage of his first day of recording finally showed up on The Bodysnatcher Collection. Did someone at GNP have to sit through watching multiple takes of Robert screaming in pain to find the usable take?
- The moment towards the end of the interview where Robert talks about his girlfriend sleeping with somebody else makes me grateful my job doesn’t involve bearing my soul on national television.
- The ending I won’t spoil. But it’s very funny.
Anyway, the whole thing is well worth a watch. And as for Andrew Denton himself? In August this year he finished another talk show called Andrew Denton’s Interview. Or possibly Argue Dental’s IOU or something, I’m going to leave now, bye.
I sometimes wonder what is wrong with me.
Come back in time 30 years with me, to Manchester. (I’ll have to use the Series VII Time Drive rather than the VI version, unless I’m willing to take the bus up there.) Red Dwarf Series 2 finished shooting on the 3rd July 1988, with Queeg. The first audience recording session for Series III was on the 5th September 1989 – although there must have been location shooting before this date. Regardless – in the 13 months between those dates, Red Dwarf underwent a great number of changes.
Some of those changes we still don’t really know an awful lot about. For instance, Rob and Doug became producers on the show, but the conversations which lead to that remain largely a mystery. Still, one of the most immediately obvious changes came from the ousting of Paul Montague as production designer… and the instatement of Mel Bibby. And the on-screen effect this had on the show has been endlessly talked about, at least.
But my mind keeps wandering. Because those sets for Series 1 and 2 would surely have been put into storage for any potential Series 3. And once Series III was finally commissioned, and Mel Bibby joined the team… there came the decision made to create entirely new sets. And believe me, I’ve stared at those sets long enough to know that they really were entirely new.
Which means: those Series 1 and 2 sets would be surplus to requirements… and dumped. Exactly where, and exactly when, I have absolutely no idea. But at some point between July 1988 and September 1989, they were gone. Possibly sitting in a skip outside BBC North West.
And just imagine. Imagine if you had loved those first two series at the time. And imagine you found out exactly where and exactly when those sets were dumped. And imagine you could have gone and rescued those sets. And imagine that suddenly, you owned that famous grey bunkroom.
Because you’d be the owner of one of the most amazing pieces of Red Dwarf memorabilia in existence. And – give it a few years, maybe – one of the most valuable. If only you’d known exactly what day to go scouting around a certain bit of Manchester. If only you’d known. You could have made thousands of pounds from it in the mid-nineties. Or – if you’re more sentimental – you could pop down to your garage any time you wanted, and lie on Lister’s bunk.
All you needed to know is the date, and the place. It was there for the taking. If only you’d known.
I sometimes wonder what is wrong with me.
Over the years we’ve written loads of stupid articles here on G&T. But one thing we’ve never got round to is a full list of repeats Red Dwarf has had over the years. So if you want that, you should visit the blog of Christopher Wickham of this very parish, and peruse The Red Dwarf BBC Broadcasts Guide.
Still, one self-confessed omission from that article is anything to do with cable/satellite repeats and the like. I don’t intend to provide a full list of these, because while I might be a moron, I am not an absolute fucking moron. It seems worth asking one question, however: when was the first repeat of Red Dwarf in the UK which was not on the BBC?
Before researching this article, my massively naive guess was: around 1992. UK Gold launched on the 1st November of that year; I’d just assumed that repeats of Red Dwarf had been part of the channel from the very beginning. But then, I never had access to the channel back then; the first time I ever experienced the wonders of multichannel television was in the late 90s, when we got NTL analogue cable, and we couldn’t afford any of the extra pay channels. Instead, I whiled away my days cheating the receiver into giving me 10 minutes of free Television X. Believe me, when you’re 18, 10 minutes is all you need.
Anyway, there is a very easy way of telling when Red Dwarf was first shown on UK Gold, and it doesn’t involve doing any hard research. Just ask people on Twitter, and get them to do that hard work for you. And here is the answer from Jonathan Dent, cross-referencing the Guardian’s TV listings and this Usenet post. The repeats of Red Dwarf on UK Gold started with a double-bill of The End and Future Echoes, and premiered on the 5th October 1997 at 11:05pm.
What I find especially interesting about all this is that it coincides with the 1997 resurgence of Red Dwarf, which started with the first broadcast of Tikka to Ride 10 months previously, along with the programme’s first Radio Times cover. A resurgence which many of us look back on with mixed feelings, to say the least – but very much part of the second wave of the show and its fandom. Being one of those fans who got into Red Dwarf during the 1994 BBC2 repeat season, I had no idea that I was already watching the show way before it got its very first non-terrestrial UK showing. It’s all so much later than the history I had made up entirely by myself in my own head.
Now, would it be too much to hope for that this first broadcast on UK Gold was captured by someone on video? Maybe even with the accompanying – and presumably quite excitable – continuity announcement?
Being born in 1981 in the UK, there is a certain… comfort I have from watching Red Dwarf. Despite being set three million years into the future, I understand everything. Not only with jokes about Eastbourne or Topic bars; the visual language of Red Dwarf is warm and familiar. A cross between The Young Ones and Chock-A-Block.
And part of that visual language is how BBC2 looked and felt in the 90s. Those classic idents, a bold, chunky 2. Whizzing across the screen as a toy car, flipping in the air like a fluffy dog, or being blown up by fireworks. Despite only actually launching during the initial broadcast of Series IV, for an entire generation, Red Dwarf became inseparable from those wonderful pieces of film. (Many, many years later, I got to play with those idents on air on BBC Two for real… and that toy car ident became the most metaphorical ident in the world.)
But today isn’t a day for comfort. At least, not for me. Because a big part of Red Dwarf‘s story was its overseas sales, particularly to PBS stations in America. It’s something which is so easy to forget from a UK perspective: that there is a whole language of television connected with Dwarf that I never got to see.
So let’s take a look at… Mike Frisbie’s Sci-Fi Friday Night, on Iowa Public Television. Starting in the early 90s, this was a weekly line-up of various science fiction shows, including Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, and… oh, hello, Red Dwarf. And each show was introduced by Mike Frisbie in his own inimitable style.
Here’s what he had to say about Bodyswap in 1996:
While we’re all working on bigger things for G&T behind the scenes, it’s left to me to keep the front page updated. And what better way to do that than foist some unpleasant off-cuts from an old article onto you?
Here is your plate of raw offal, then. A couple of months back I posted this piece, on the reshoots required for Series 1 to put Holly in-vision. There was one thing I was never quite able to nail down, however, and going after it seemed like an annoying diversion in an already faintly annoying article, so I pretended not to notice and hoped everyone else would happily ignore it as well. Still, perhaps you’re cleverer than me, and can figure out the below mystery. And it concerns a very important scene in the development of Holly.