Red Dwarf is currently back on our screens for its 11th series - once again on Dave. And by all accounts, it appears that the Boys from the Dwarf are enjoying every moment of the show's success. But it appears that it hasn't always been that way, as a recently re-emerged interview with Rimmer actor Chris Barrie reveals. Giz UK has obtained a copy of the article - which as far as we can tell, hasn't made its way online before.
It was November 1993 and the sixth series of the show had just wrapped. At the time Barrie spoke to Starburst magazine (which is still going today), about making the show - and in it, he revealed his discontent with the direction the show had taken. The mag quotes him as saying:
“As far as the actual character of Rimmer, I agree with some other journalists who said that in the latest series, and to some extend the fifth series, the character stopped developing and Red Dwarf became a visual effects show, with gags that existed and had been created in the third, fourth and part of the fifth series. In Rimmer’s case, he has become the butt of the jokes, and I really don’t think there’s a place for as just being ‘Mr Butt of the Jokes’. “Okay,” continues Barrie, “in every series of Red Dwarf, you get a lot of funny lines to say and that’s wonderful, but I think the entire cast will agree that we can return occasionally to the days of series two and three, like Marooned, for example, where we had long, interesting and funny dialogue about our characters and how they came about. People might say, ‘Oh, that’s revisiting the past’, but I still think that clever writing could explore them more, and get some very humorous material from that”.
It wasn't just the direction his character was taking either - there were also passive aggressive scripts, by the sound of it:
“I remember one instance that was probably in week two or three, where earlier in the week I had voiced my opinion that, somewhere along the line, we were lacking in a degree of professionalism. In the script, one of Rimmer’s lines in the Starbug cockpit was, ‘Can we have a bit of professionalism, gentlemen?’ That’s a classic case, and that in my opinion is rather a sly to the point of being nasty, unnecessary kind of thing to put in. It’s lazy writing at best. I remember that example, because we all looked at each other and thought, ‘Hey, we can’t say a bloody sentence here without it going into the script!’”
The on-set tension Barrie implies here tallies with what fans may have suspected for some time. On some of the Red Dwarf DVD commentaries, Barrie and Craig Charles (Lister) refer to how a slight tension in their real-life relationship actually improved the on-set dynamic between odd-couple Rimmer and Lister, by making it more realistic.
The interview also reveals that Barrie thought the sixth series was weaker than previous - which is broadly in line with current fan opinion. In particularly, he wasn't a fan of the introduction of a number of running gags. The mag describes:
“In many ways, I was surprised they kept those running gags going backwards and forwards,” he confesses. “I thought Rob and Doug wouldn’t have done that. I really thought they’d treat the Cat sayings and Space Corps Directives like gold; they would put them out sparingly, whereas when you get three or four a series, that’s not sparing as far as I’m concerned.
“When you get into running gags, that’s the sign in the kindest description of it, that a series is really working. An unkind description is that you’re really running low on new, original gags.”
Fast-forward 23 years though and the good news is that it appears that Barrie's unhappiness with his role didn't last. Though he took some time out during series 7 in 1997, he returned fully for series 8 in 1999 and has been an enthusiastic member of the Starbug crew in the post-2009 Dave revival of the series. But this surprisingly candid interview provides a fascinating insight into the show during its peak.
Update (13:25): Dannii from Chris Barrie Fans has been in touch - it appears that our source had taken the images from her website (this wasn't made clear to us - and our pre-publication checks didn't spot this). She was also able to add some interesting context: That the interview was published during a time in Barrie's life when he was exhausted - as he was doing both Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire simultaneously.