In 1988, two writers that had become part of the comedy establishment through the various shows they worked on and stars they worked with would unleash a brand new comedy series on an unsuspecting British audience. Yes, Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s ‘You Rang, M’Lord’ would run for 26 fabulous episodes between in December premiere and it’s final episode in April 1993. But by this point, another popular comedy series that had started in the same year had clocked up 30 episodes and would run for a considerable number of years to come.
Bob Grant and Doug Naylor had for some years been rising in prominence in the comedy world due to the quality of their output and their having written for such well known acts as Jasper Carrott on Carrott’s Lib. As the 80s wore on, they had perhaps become best known for their work as the head writers on Spitting Image, and while initially reluctant to take the post, it was certainly an important step for them, what with the satirical puppet production being a respected show that was also massively popular for it’s mocking of important figures of the day… and Jimmy Tarbuck.
As such, by 1988, they already had an impressive array of well known shows under their belt and Bob had wisely decided to make sure that he was credited as Rob instead, leading to less confusion with the actor Bob Grant who played Jack Harper; the sexually predatorial, beaky-bucktoothed bus conductor in On The Busses. However, it was their work on the radio, rather than their varied writing for television, that would provide the inspiration for their most popular work
In the radio medium, they had a greater control in terms of format than they had had when writing for somebody else on television, and this was most important in their show Son of Cliche. Fortuitously, a late and incomplete script necessitated a scramble for ideas, what with the writing time being taken up with other things important activities such as panicking, disputing who was to blame for the lateness of the script, and debating just who’s mother was a friend to many, many sailors. The result was that an idea that had previously been discussed over a car roof for Darkstar-esque comedy some years ago was snatched up like a cyanide pill on a day trip to the York quilt museum.
The resultant 2001 type spoof, ‘Dave Hollins: Space Cadet’, would go on to become a recurrent sketch and when it came to choosing an idea for the first Grant Naylor TV sitcom in 1983, it was one of the ideas that was prominent in consideration, along with an idea for invisible superhero and an idea for a bumbling Spanish Detective. Plumping for the idea that was most film-able and least racially questionably, Rob and Doug set about creating a script for their space comedy ,which would have a basis in the Dave Hollins sketch but also have a series of refinements that would turn it into something else altogether
Predominantly written in a cottage in Wales owned by Doug Naylor’s father, the pilot episode set up the show’s core ideas perfectly from the off in a way that would give it a grounding for years to come. Isolated, lonely, devoid of contact with intelligent life and desperate to get back home; North Wales would provide the writers with the perfect inspiration for the writing of Red Dwarf. Of course, This script would be rejected several times by the BBC before finally going into production. The fear that science fiction would be a turn off for most of the public meant that commissioners couldn’t have been more reluctant to pick up the show if it had been thrown at them by Jack Palance’s gunman in Shane.
Little we’re they to know at the time that the series would prove to be quite as popular as it did. 10 series, 4 novels, an Emmy award and various personnel changes later, Red Dwarf still remains BBC2’s longest running and highest rated sitcom. Even a 10 year hiatus and change of channel didn’t stop the show from continuing and the viewing figures for the episodes that have aired on Dave have broken numerous records for the channel as well.
On Febaury 15th 2013, Red Dwarf celebrates 25th anniversary of the initial airing of the very episode that Rob and Doug wrote in that Welsh cottage; The End. A quarter of a century later and the show continues to go from strength to strength to the delight of it’s fans worldwide and long may it continue to do so.