‘Please rush me my portable walrus polishing kit’: Remembering some of Red Dwarf’s more questionable merchandise

Red Dwarf’s 30th anniversary may well be worthy of celebration, but one aspect of recent Red Dwarf that has also had us celebrating at Gazpacho Soup is the return of official merchandise. We’re suckers for some tat with a logo on, and after so many years of sellers on eBay and the like profiting off of the show, it’s frankly long overdue.

But that’s not to say that all of the officially licensed (and borderline associated) merchandise over the years has been without its occasional missteps. But with money in our pockets and a collectors instinct in our hearts, we’ve certainly owned a fair few of these more questionable products over the years. In some ways, the ephemera linked to the show is some cases nearly as dear to us as the episodes themselves. Nearly.

So join us as we take a quick look back over some of our favorite problematic pieces of merchandise over the years. From the so-bad-it’s great to the great, to the flawed and even the just downright abysmal, here are just some of the items that have amused, shocked and embarrassed us in equal messure.

 


Series I-IV Just the Show Individual DVDs

Hey! You love Red Dwarf right? So you’ve bought the DVDs packed with extras? No? You’re more of a casual fan? Maybe one that doesn’t care for bonus features? Well I guess you have the Just the Shows box sets then, representing good value for money with a stripped down release?

No? You don’t have those either, and you’re wondering what DVDs can cater to you? WELL WONDER NO MORE.

Now you can get the discs from the Just the Shows box set, but repackaged individually in these lackluster cases with a name that makes literally no sense given each features 6 shows. Even the spines look ugly on your shelf!

These can all be yours now for just slightly more than the cost of the original individual series box sets with all the extras given the fact that they’ve already been out for some time. But hey, who wants more for your money? You’re bloody minded after all!

And don’t worry about starting to think maybe you’d have been better off with the other versions before completing the collection, as only series I-IV were released in this format. Save on all that shelf space by ignoring such throwaway episodes as Back to Reality.

 


Starbug Electronic Play Set

Now this is a truly stunning item. There’s little disputing that this thing looks great, and it’s something that anyone that grew up in the 90s watching Red Dwarf will probably have wished existed at the time for them to play with.

But God forbid you actually do.

When we visit a Red Dwarf fan’s home, two of the first things we will check are:

1. Do they have the play set?

2. How many of the legs have broken off?

In a surprising attempt at show accuracy, Starbug is prone to falling apart at a moments notice, and snapping extremities are all too common. On one of the sets we own, the leg is precariously held on with blue tack, while other people we know have the body of the bug resting on their shelf as if it had crashed, having long since lost at least two legs.

And yet this isn’t the biggest issue. Nor is the missile-action probe that has a tendency to fire of its own accord and blind your pets. No, the biggest flaw of the play set is the voice chip that manages to make all of the cast sound like the slowed down Kryten in White Hole.

For those who were always keen to know what classic moments would have sounded like had the cast been blind drunk, this voice chip offers the very real ability to do so. For the rest of us however, it renders this play feature more redundant than the characters in Boys From the Blackstuff.

 


Craig Charles – The Log

The Log is just one of many products released in the mid to late nineties to ride in on the popularity of Red Dwarf. Normally though, even if the product was only tangentially related, it still tended to be tied in to the show by at least a reasonable degree, and even the likes of the Tongue Tied video still featured the show’s logo.

The Log, meanwhile, featured Craig Charles in a hat.

Well, no, let’s not undersell it; a hat and a leather jacket.

So what links this into Red Dwarf aside from these pictures and the phrase ‘the Dwarfers guide to everything’ on the cover? In fact, why does it have any link to the show at all? Well your guess is as good as ours, though we’d probably plump for the fairly standard reason of ‘because money’. 

Aside for some loose references to space and a slobby lifestyle, this is largely just a comedy ‘guide to life’ book that many other shows such have The Simpsons produced at the time. Your mileage on it will largely depend on how funny you find it’s ‘advice’, but there’s one thing we can all agree on; the decision to have cut out letters on the cover was made by a sadist.

Even if you don’t care for the book itself, the fact that you are reading this article probably indicates that you’re the kind of person that would own a copy anyway for the sake of completeness. But trying to keep one in good condition is like trying to stop the earth from turning, with the sidebar gradually losing more and more of the cardboard spelling out the book’s title. Presently, the copy we looking back at to write this only has lost its T and L, leaving the cover spelling out ‘HE OG’ like some form of illiterate criticism of the star whose name the book bears.

Should it even be in this list? Arguably it has no more right than The Craig Charles Almanac of Total Knowledge, but at least this book doesn’t choose to close with a picture of Craig and co-author Russell Bell (whose writing credit is all too notably hidden,) dressed as women, straddling a bollard and licking a handgun.


Red Dwarf Logo Keyring

There are some bits of merchandise that are always inherently sellable. T-shirts are the big number one, but keyrings also feature prominently on that list too. So surely this should have been a winner?

A tastefully rendered Red Dwarf logo, cast in metal and of a comfortably small enough size as to not make one’s keys unwieldy. Yes, it certainly looked lovely when we purchased it, removed it from its package and whacked it on a set of keys.

3 days later, the keyring would become a shinier, but altogether less legible affair. The problem with painting shiny metal is that if rubbed enough, say by being in one’s pocket when attached to some keys, the paint will immediately start to wear off.

And yet because it still maintains the rough shape of the logo, we find ourselves loathed to get rid of this ultimately pointless item that has ended up as little more than an obscure reference to the show.

Still, it could be worse. If you weren’t taken with this design and prefered the JMC logo, there was also a keyring to fit all your needs.

Hope you’re all now enjoying your silver discs.


‘In space no one can hear you smeg’ poster

One of our big bugbears through the years, and one that fan projects are often guilty of, is assuming that inserting the word smeg into something instantly makes it hilarious. This is poster is a perfect example of that.

The Alien ‘in space no one can hear you…’ meme is one that’s been spoofed many times by many different projects and franchises over the years. Red Dwarf even did it recently with the first Series XII t-shirt replacing the word scream with clean on a design featuring the cast as mechanoids from Siliconia. It may not be the funniest joke in the world, but at least it works structurally by choosing a replacement word that rhymes.

This poster, meanwhile, that was readily available prior to Series VII from shops like Virgin Megastore and HMV, took much more of a ‘sod it, that’ll do’ approach to this parody. You can almost imagine the design being presented with a ‘meh if it says smeg they’ll buy this old toot’ pitch.

The design does nothing to elevate it either. A strangely episode specific choice of landscape photo necessitates a border around it for a portrait poster. In this instance, the designer has chosen to go down the ‘crudely cut out by an excited child’ path to combining these too elements, before making a perfunctory attempt to make it spacey by adding a few stars into the solid block of purple.

But it we’re honest though, the thing that gets us most is that slogan. What is it supposed to mean exactly? It surely isn’t being used here in the sense of making a mistake as that would be ‘smeg up’. We choose to believe the actual meaning of this poster is therefore the quite literal ‘in space no one can hear you build up a cheesy residue around your unwashed penis’.


Red Dwarf (US Book Club Edition)

Falling firmly into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ camp, the US book club omnibus edition of the first two novels depicts the cast of Red Dwarf on its cover in a hilarious moment involving a robot fish and a bap. Yet the cast pictured bear no relation to their TV counterparts whatsoever, making for a truly strange affair.

It serves to remind you that having been based on the TV series, the novels are remarkably light on any description of the looks of the characters. Consequently, the artist painted exactly what they expected them to look like based on what they read, resulting in a white Lister, a Rimmer beset by static, and a version of The Cat that is literally a cat.

Ponder for a moment, if you will, the sex scene in the novel of Backwards, where The Cat has an entanglement with a hillbilly in more than one sense due to his anatomy. Now re-imagine that scene with this version of The Cat, and you find yourself with one of the most unsettling images imaginable within the word of Red Dwarf…

 


The Dibblifier

Well, this is truly one for the ages. Specifically, the age of 2010 precisely, when fans were able to take a photo of themselves, a loved one or their own genitals and contort their face to resemble that of Duane Dibbley.

For those who never experience this first hand, or those who’ve just chosen to forget, let’s remember the full majesty of a fully ‘Dibblified’ photo as shown in the apps example.

And lest we forget, this is the example given of the app’s optimum output ability.

So with such an entertaining possibility to turn yourself into the rotting corpse of Norman Bates’ mother in a Beatles wig and holding a thermos, why aren’t fans still flocking to use it? After all, they were still able to hand over their dollar pound for the app for years after release.

Well it’s largely because the thrill of this pre-Snapchat filter was replaced with the even more memorable experience of downloading the app, trying to open it and being greeted with a message saying your phone’s operating software no longer supported it.

Finally having disappeared from the app store, how will hardcore Red Dwarf fans like us on this site ever again get to see how we’d look as total dorks?

Oh.


Talkie Toaster video cabinet

Now this one is a real talking point for your living room. That talk mainly being over why you’ve shelled out £69.99 for red wooden cabinet with a sticker on the front.

The Talkie Toaster cabinet was supposed to provide a fun and attractive way for fans to store their VHS tapes. It failed in both of these regards. By scaling up a toaster, the final result was that the case looked like what it was; a large wooden box that had been painted red.

But to try to make it look more like the prop from the show, a holographic sticker had been applied to the face to provide ‘light effects’. Hey, it may look nothing like actual LED display on the prop, but OOOO LOOK AT THE SHINY!

Aesthetics aside, it also had one fundamental flaw. VHS tapes came in rectangular cases, and could be neatly stacked side by side in a case with a square or rectangular shelving space. The toaster meanwhile is a trapezoid. To follow the prop from the show would therefore result in pointless wasted space at the side of an already overly large and crap looking lump of wood.

The solution reached was to try to reshape the toaster slightly to make the sides less angled. The end result was something the looked even less like the thing it was modelled on. And hey, if we’re this far down the line, why not just full hog and just make the thing a table for a nicer case? Well worry not, for just a further £59.99 you can add this generic case to go on top.

£120 for two truly worthless pieces of tat.


Kryten Tissue Dispenser

We almost feel bad for including this one. If we’re honest, it happily falls into the so bad it’s good category, but the sheer strangeness of it means we can’t let it pass by without a mention.

Japanese Red Dwarf merchandise has had  some very oddly different products over the years. Long before Leopard LArger was launched to help promote Series XII, the Japanese market had already at ne point been able to buy Red Dwarf themed curries, wear replica Kryten masks and cool themselves with the fan seen in Back to Earth. A small part of us really hopes that all of these things happened at the same time.

However when talking about weird Red Dwarf merchandise, the Kryten tissue dispenser surely has to win hands down. You remember that scene where the David Ross Kryten started pulling a constant stream of tissues out of his nose? No, neither do we. But that didn’t stop some mad bastard creating this huge and mildly disturbing collectible that unintentionally serves as a bizarre companion piece to the board game Gooey Louie.


The Smegazines

While only running for 23 issues from 1992 to 1994, the Red Dwarf magazines (later the Smegazines) were a hugely valuable contribution to the world of Red Dwarf.

Before the internet made finding out trivia about the show so easy, these magazines provided fans with a wealth of news, interviews, features and more.

They documented the failure of Red Dwarf USA, they presented an alternate visual look to the show that included Rimmer in grayscale in their comics, and their free tat gave many of us a keyring we still possess to this day.

So why do they appear on this list? Well, it would be quite simply remiss for a list of shocking merchandise not to feature the Mr Flibble comic strip from October 92’s Issue 8, which features the glove puppet anti-hero holding a woman hostage to steal her car, before seemingly sexually assaulting her; an act which she is then presented to have enjoyed.

Christ…