The 15th of February is a date forever etched into the history books of both science-fiction and comedy. It’s the anniversary of one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms, from a writing lineage that includes Spitting Image and Son of Cliché, and with a cast featuring the likes of Mark Williams, Jack Docherty, Sarah Alexander, Ricky Grover and Morwenna Banks. Yes, Rob Grant’s The Strangerers debuted on Tuesday 15th February 2000, twenty years ago today.
Made by Absolutely Productions for Sky One, it was much-hyped as the channel’s first foray into original comedy commissioning, but it’s fair to say that it didn’t quite make the same impact as Rob’s previous sci-fi sitcom. It was never released on video or DVD, and has never been repeated since its original broadcast. But luckily, it’s all on YouTube (albeit in off-air VHS quality, with the credits cut off and irritatingly in the wrong bastard aspect ratio), so let’s all give it an anniversary airing and see if it’s worth reappraising.
Initial announcement? Check. Behind the scenes pictures? Check. First proper publicity stills? Check. The journey towards the broadcast of brand new Red Dwarf is progressing nicely, and it was about time for us to hit another milestone. While we’re still waiting for an episode title, today TOS has furnished us with not only an official synopsis but also a list of guest cast. Hurrah! Let’s go through it bit by bit, as is the tradition.
Many years ago, when a young teenage boy who for some reason liked to call himself “Ian The Smegmeister” first got home internet access, there was only one thing on his mind. But after that, I searched for all the information about my life-long obsession Red Dwarf as I could. I signed up for forums, chatted in chat rooms and delved deep into webrings, which sound a lot more sinister now than they did in the late 90s. It was undoubtedly the first step on a path that led to this place existing, for better or worse, and I’ll always fondly remember and salute our fansite forefathers from that era, such as Smegweb, Red Dwarf World, The Red Dwarf Clearing House, Groovetown, and Planet Smeg among others.
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?
Oh, it’s all kicking off now. No sooner have the cameras stopped rolling on the new Special than still images harvested from said cameras have made their way online. They come courtesy of Pilot TV‘s latest issue and we present them here after the jump for your viewing and discussing pleasure, along with our thoughts on our first look at the Special
The concluding part of a very long episode of Red Dwarf has been recorded in front of an audience for the first time this decade. Well, for the first time ever, come to think of it. G&T were there.
It’s a now-familiar journey to Pinewood for Red Dwarf fans lucky enough to get tickets or brave enough to risk it on a standby, but the studio seemed a lot busier than it did for the first recording. Despite the rearranged nature of this event leading to fears that attendance may be affected, the marquee was packed to the wind-swept rafters, with the security team sensibly electing to conduct their checks inside this time, away from the bitter cold that the snaking queue outside had to endure. The higher than average number of production guests included James Baxter, who brought his Dwarf character to mind when he went through the security checks and posed with his arms outstretched.
After over a year’s gap, welcome back to Set to Rights, the series where I look at Red Dwarf‘s sets in mind-numbing detail. And having already looked at some thrilling wall sections and the Captain’s Office, we turn to what might initially seem an unpromising avenue for spectacular revelations: the Teaching Room in Series 1.
I think, however, you may be surprised. Because telling the story of this set leads us into some rather interesting areas which I don’t think have been examined before. As ever, we don’t have the paperwork handy to be able to check any of this: instead, we have to do some deduction, some guesswork, and leave some questions unanswered.
With that health warning, let’s take another trip through early Red Dwarf – as ever with these articles, in order of recording date rather than broadcast.