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.
These days, it’s difficult to imagine the sheer unavailability of Series 1 of Red Dwarf. Broadcast in 1988, it was only released on VHS in 1993, and got its first repeat run in 1994. For five years, the series existed merely as fuzzy off-airs, passed around among fans with increasing generation loss. It’d be really odd if anything major linked to Red Dwarf was like that these days, wouldn’t it?
On an entirely unrelated matter, today’s topic is Grant Naylor talent agency sitcom The 10%ers. Which has never had a commercial release or a repeat run. And seeing as it’s 2019 and both are looking increasingly unlikely, we’re going to be a little cheeky. Today is the 25th anniversary of the start of Series 1, after all.
So here’s the pilot, broadcast as part of ITV’s Comedy Playhouse in 1993:
RICHIE: Maybe it’s a producer with a wonderful part. EDDIE: Oo-er! RICHIE: Eddie, I said wonderful part, not attractive willy.
When talking about Filthy Rich & Catflap, there’s many routes I could have taken. I could have focused on it being an ahead-of-its-time dissection on the nature of celebrity. I could have talked about alternative comedy butting heads with the old showbiz. I could mention the endless fourth wall breaking – done far more than The Young Ones or Bottom ever did.
Or I could start with a knob gag. OK, fine, I’ll go with that.
Of course, Filthy Rich & Catflap and early Red Dwarf are very much sister shows. Both were part of Paul Jackson’s pot of money at BBC Manchester, and were both recorded in BBC Manchester’s Studio A at Oxford Road. And both shared many of the same crew. As you take a look at this video from the very end of the series – featuring the show gleefully knocking down the last remaining barrier between them and the viewer – see how many people who also worked on Red Dwarf you can spot.
But that isn’t why I’ve chosen this video for this month’s G&TV. Here’s a fun fact: did you know you can see the outside of Red Dwarf – that is, the hull of the ship itself – in those closing moments of Filthy Rich & Catflap? Despite it being recorded a year before Red Dwarf?
We’re going back 22 years for this month’s G&TV, a fact that will no doubt unsettle any readers who remember watching it at the time. Not to be confused with a completely unrelated Channel 4 show called Space Cadets, which involved tricking gullible young people into thinking they were going into space when in fact they were just in a big warehouse, this Space Cadets was a 1997 panel show dedicated to science-fiction, following in the wake of other single-topic shows like They Think It’s All Over and Never Mind The Buzzcocks. It was hosted by Greg Proops, with team captains Bill Bailey and Craig Charles.
It wasn’t very good. The format was pretty run of the mill – a what happened next round, then a picture round, a bit of Call My Bluff with sci-fi props and a final quickfire trivia round – with nothing particularly unique or memorable to set it apart. The shows were often shambolic, with panellists shouting over each other and Proops coming up short in keeping control, the editing slapdash and the production values failing to disguise the evidently low budget. Although I did like Greg’s Davros-inspired chair. The first episode is available in full on YouTube, complete with original in-vision continuity announcement, and one of the guests is another familiar Red Dwarf face:
Any self-respecting Red Dwarf fan has a few standard facts at their disposal. The first recording dates for Series 1 were cancelled due to an electrician’s strike. Robert Llewellyn was electrocuted on his first day at work. Meltdown was put back in the episode order due to worries about the Gulf War.
Slotting in among these standard set of facts is that the village scenes in Emohawk – Polymorph II were shot on an abandoned set for a series called Covington Cross. And that’s… kinda it. That is The Fact, done, ticked, off we go.
I don’t think that’s good enough. Let’s take a proper look.
Our final monthly trip into the television archives this year is somewhat of an unusual one, in that it’s not something that’s very deep in the archives, and it isn’t strictly speaking television. Nevertheless, given that the Red Dwarf connection is so niche, and the specific subject matter so esoteric, we’d probably have chosen to highlight it even if it wasn’t us that was sort-of responsible for it happening in the first place. Let us explain.
Whenever we see journalist and broadcaster James O’Brien, which has happened increasingly often in the last few years since he’s become the foremost non-racist phone-in host on British radio and found social media fame for his polite but ruthless take-downs of the Brexiteers who ring him up, the first thing we think of is his appearance in the Red Dwarf A-Z back in 1998. Specifically, his assertion that Data from Star Trek wouldn’t have existed without Kryten, the chronological impossibility of which we’ve been talking about since at least 2003. So when we saw that James was an upcoming guest on the excellent RHLSTP (rhlstp!), we sent host Richard Herring a request. Then we forgot all about it, and then the episode came out, and it’s safe to say our request was noted.
With Noel Edmonds currently commanding his biggest TV audience since his mid-90s heyday on the superb current series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!, now seems an appropriate time to revisit the Saturday night behemoth that was Noel’s House Party. Any Brits aged around 30 and over will need no introduction, but for everyone else: this was a hugely popular live entertainment show, featuring pranks, gunge, celebrity guests, competitions, and a huge amount of involvement by the general public. It’s perhaps most notorious for introducing the world to spoof kids’ TV character Mr Blobby, a hugely divisive figure who was absolutely ubiquitous for a few years, spawning videos, books, a single that reached the coveted Christmas number one spot in 1993, and even an ill-fated theme park.
There’s nothing quite like it on British TV these days, although Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway comes closest. Indeed, fans of that show may recognise a fair number of familiar formats in House Party‘s various regular features. Those segments were, of course, framed with live studio sections, with Noel hosting his various guests in the Great Hall of fictional village Crinkley Bottom. Popular television stars of the time would pop by throughout the show for a scripted comedy chat. For example, Chris Barrie, portraying his most famous character at the time – Gordon Brittas.
You can see a selection of clips here, courtesy of Chris Barrie Fans, but why not treat yourself to a full episode of the show, in which Brittas makes cameos at various points throughout: