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.
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.
Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas everyone. It was twenty-five years ago this very month that all our mums went out to buy the Smeg Ups tape for us to open on Christmas Day 1994. For Red Dwarf fans of a certain age, this seems to be an almost universal experience, especially the ones like us who are still obsessed with it now – the joy and laughter provided by seeing the cast off-guard and out of character cemented our love for the show, and imbued us with a fondness for and fascination with the behind-the-scenes process too. So what better way to pay tribute than to investigate the process of making the video itself?
At some point during the compiling stage of production, a rough cut was dubbed on to VHS, before any grading, mixing or sound effects were added, and with big “LINK Goes Here” captions in lieu of Llew. This tape somehow made its way out of the edit suite and into the hands of fans, who made copies for their friends, who made copies for their friends, and so on until an extremely low quality version, suffering from multiple layers of analogue generation loss, became a relatively readily available open secret. Inevitably, you can now find it on YouTube. The full length tape is there as an unlisted video, and there’s also a compilation of the most interesting bits:
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.
Here’s an incredible find that was first brought to our attention by Tom Selway on Twitter at the start of August, just a few days after it surfaced on YouTube. We immediately sprung in to action, opening our to-do list and pencilling it in for September’s G&TV. Which would have been fine if things like TORDFC’s newsletter and reddwarf.co.uk didn’t exist, both of which have featured it in the meantime. Nevertheless, it’s well worth sharing in case those two passed any of you by, as it’s not every day you get to see a fully-fledged broadcast programme all about Red Dwarf. Before Comedy Connections and The Making of Back To Earth, but after Red Dwarf Night, there was Smegheads in Seattle.
Produced and broadcast by KCTS, a local PBS affiliate serving Seattle and Tacoma in Washington, it features Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules on a visit to the eponymous city in May 1998. It’s a compilation of material from various sources: one main interview by KCTS’s Ken Vincent, another interview with Danny solo, viewer Q&As from two separate pledge drives for the station, at least two different convention appearances, plus a couple of specially-shot sections, which we’ll come to. After it initially aired, it did the rounds as a bootleg VHS for a while, along with another show from the same station, Swirly Thing Alert, but then disappeared and slipped from the memory, until now.
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.
This month on G&TV, let’s take a look at something we’ve been meaning to cover for ages. A shade over two months after Series 1 of Red Dwarf was first transmitted, Children’s BBC show Take Two asked kids what they thought of the series.
Which is automatically a very interesting little time capsule. After all, whether given by kids or by adults, contemporary opinions of Series 1 are as rare as hen’s testicles.
Here’s one that’s been doing the rounds lately – a full, decent-quality (in technical terms at least) episode of Cyberzone has recently been uploaded to YouTube by Red Dwarf fan Chris Toone. The short-lived virtual reality game show was notable for several reasons. It was a new format from the brain of Tim Child and his production company Broadsword, in the same vein as their technologically-groundbreaking and hugely entertaining Knightmare. Cyberzone only duplicated that success in one regard, but it will always have its place in fandom folklore thanks to the presenting style of one Craig Charles, who adopted Hattie’s cry of “awooga” from Marooned as a catchphrase, which was in turn “borrowed” by footballer-turned-presenter John Fashanu – a guest on the first episode of the series – as his own catchphrase on the much more popular Gladiators.
The show saw Craig as the “Zone Warden”, guiding two competing teams of two through a series of virtual reality challenges set by arch-villain Thesp, a hybrid of the GamesMaster and Knightmare‘s Lord Fear, played by James Grout. One team comprised two members of the public, taking on a pair of sportspeople, in this case world rally champions Louise Aitken-Walker and Tina Thorner, in the second episode of the series, aired 11th January 1993:
This month’s G&TV is short and sweet. No prolonged, tedious analysis. No choosing something purely so I can rant about something which has been annoying me this week. Just a little something you almost certainly haven’t seen before.
With many thanks to Gary Rodger for the clip, here is Mac McDonald appearing on Tyne Tees kids music programme Razzmatazz in 1981.