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.
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.
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.
ED BYE: Rob and Doug and I made the decision that it’d be better to see Norman rather than just hear him, because he’s got a great lugubrious face. NORMAN LOVETT: Initially the money was low because it was a voiceover, so they can get away with paying you peanuts for that. ROB GRANT: Norman had been banging on from the start saying “Get my face on-screen, that’s the money… NORMAN LOVETT: So I kept moaning and whinging about this. I said “Why have I got to do a voiceover in a TV show? Why can’t you see this face, and why can’t this computer called Holly look like this bloke here?” By the time we’d recorded the third episode of the first series, it had been agreed that we would see Holly, and we’d go and reshoot some of the bits for the first and second and third episodes…
The Beginning, Series 1 documentary, The Bodysnatcher Collection
The above story – in endless slight variations – has gone down in Red Dwarf lore. Norm whinged right at the start of Series 1 that Holly should be in-vision, the powers that be eventually agreed, and they went back and did some reshoots to add his FACE to the early episodes. (The real horror arises when you consider that due to the electrician’s strike, where Series 1 was entirely rehearsed but never actually recorded, Norm was probably on his ninth week of moaning about this, rather than the third. Try not to let that shrivel your soul too much.)
However, what hasn’t been done is going back to examine those early episodes in detail, to see exactly how those reshoots worked. And when you do, you spot a few interesting details which haven’t been widely talked about.
Let’s take a look. Doing this takes a certain amount of extrapolation; without access to the proper production paperwork, we have to do a bit of stretching and join some dots along the way. But I think the below makes sense. Obviously, to get any kind of idea of how this worked, we have to take the episodes in production order rather than broadcast order.
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?
“Despite some last-minute shooting by Rob and Doug after the wrap party, Demons & Angels was felt to be the weakest show of the series by Rob and Doug, and so was placed 5th – the traditional place for what you think is your worst episode. (Despite D&A being great.) Nobody cares if you’ve got a duff ep if you’ve had four great ones before it, and end the series with a blinder.”
Over the years on here, we’ve often idly mentioned the idea that the worst episode of any given comedy show should be put in the fifth episode slot out of six. In fact, we’ve mentioned it so much that it’s almost become a truism, a cliché… and yet we’ve never really examined where it came from, or actually looked at whether it applies to Red Dwarf in any concrete way.
Hello. I am John Hoare, and I am going to take a look at whether this actually applies to Red Dwarf in any concrete way.
Hello everyone. When we last met, I guided you through a history of three wall sections used in Red Dwarf in 1988. This went down disturbingly well. You fucking weirdos.
With this in mind, let’s continue our in-depth examination of Red Dwarf‘s sets in its first couple of series with one of their most famous oddities: the disappearing and reappearing Captain’s Office. This article was intended to be a more general look at the Drive Room set, but believe it or not I have found enough to say about this single topic to make a full standalone piece. We’re not dumbing down our material. It’s always been this stupid.
As before, we need to take this one in recording order, rather than broadcast order.
When I say to random people “Hey, what do you remember about the sets of the first two series of Red Dwarf?”, they back away from me and look for the nearest exit. Before they manage to escape, however, they usually mention the bunkroom. They might stammer out an anecdote about a yellow banana. Really cool people might mention how the Drive Room changes between series, or how the Observation Dome is a perfect combination of live set elements and special effects.
Still, all those stories have been told. I want to dig a little deeper, and I don’t care how boring things get in order to do so. With that in mind, Ganymede & Titan proudly present: a history of three wall sections, used at BBC Manchester in 1987-88.
Do you remember a time, a few years either side of the turn of the century, when the internet was mostly comprised of auto-playing midi files and non-HD porn? Back then, if you searched Yahoo, or Alta Vista, or Lycos, you could find tonnes of Geocities-hosted web pages for each and every one of your favourite TV shows, which invariably featured the same handful of low-res jpegs, lists of quotes, episode guides and those ubiquitous auto-playing midi files. Then blogging came along, and we all realised that we could just write about our opinions on our favourite shows, rather than trying to provide a comprehensive mine of information, given that new-fangled things like Google and Wikipedia could do that much better.
So things like episode guides disappeared from fansites. Not entirely, but they were no longer an essential component. It was only recently that we realised that G&T had nothing even resembling such a guide – not even a list of episodes anywhere. When we started, in 2002, we launched an ambitious project of producing detailed “capsules” for every episode, but, well, you can see how that went. We got to thinking that it might be fun to try and write an episode guide now, and see where it ended up. As it turns out, it kind of got out of hand…