Authors: Robert Llewellyn
Tags: #Biography, #Memoir
MCU KRYTEN ON 4
Well, sir, I think we have entered a time dilation tunnel of incredible complexity.
HIGH MCU LISTER ON 2
Complex, it's a cinch, I'll get you through there, no trouble.
WS STARBUG COCKPIT ON 1
I say we listen to the square-headed one, let's turn back while we can.
CU CAT ON 4
We ain't going nowhere, bud. We're locked out!
It's as much as I can do to understand the plots, let alone how to make any sense of the camera scripts, so my understanding of the system is limited.
The atmosphere in the control room is always electric, thousands of voices at once, millions of buttons to press and hundreds of tellies to watch. In all the time I've been on
I've never been able to sit in the control room and watch a bit. I'd love to, I find it very interesting even though I don't understand it. I just never seem to have the time on
. There's always someone saying, âYou're on now, Robert.'
The two other good-fun-for-me episodes of series 4 were
, both because I appeared without the Kryten mask. In
I got to play Bongo, Ace Rimmer's superior. Instead of wearing four pounds of rubber I got a pair of Dennis Healey eyebrows and a bit of face powder. Not only that, I got to proposition the great Ace Rimmer himself. Unfortunately Ace wasn't interested, and he didn't realise my bread was buttered that side.
I was out of the mask for much longer. This was the episode where Kryten gets transmogrified into a human being. For one episode. Just one episode. Not that I hate Kryten the mechanoid, don't get me wrong, but when he got zapped by the DNA machine, well, I thought my ship had come in.
This shows just how confused you can become and under what delusions you can operate when you have your brains boiled weekly. This proves that actors can be, and often are, deeply sad individuals.
I thought that as we recorded
as the last episode, it meant that Kryten was going to be human in the next series. At last Rob Grant and Doug Naylor had dug deep into their hearts and found a scrap of humanity there. They had decided to stop torturing the man in the rubber mask and let him be free, just a bit of powder and hair gel.
Looking back, I can imagine just what happened. Rob and Doug were in their office late one night, the screen of their Apple Mac three-million-gigabyte computer casting an eerie grey glow over them.
âI know how we can really, really get him.'
âYeah, yeah, how?'
âOkay, last episode we record, we'll come up with some way of turning him into a human.'
âSo he doesn't have to wear the mask, yeah, yeah. Got it, got it.'
âAnd he'll think we've changed him into a human forever.'
âYeah, yeah. But, come the first episode of the next seriesâ'
âHe's back in the mask.'
âYeah, but better, with no explanation!'
âYeah, no bloody explanation of any sort whatsoever.'
âThat'll really screw him up.'
âYeah, the bastard.'
âThe smug middle-class git.'
This also shows how paranoid you get when you have your brains boiled weekly. However, this is how it happened.
was the last episode to be recorded of series 4 and I was happy as a pig in poo. The last week, with great mirth, we rehearsed the double Polaroid scene. We had a great time, it was just like normal, only everyone was a bit happier because we were approaching the end of another gruelling series.
On the pre-record day, I was in at the crack of dawn with Fiona and Andrea dabbing away with their glue brushes, but I was in good spirits.
âOh, you are happy today, Roberto,' said Andrea.
âMuch happiness is mine,' I said.
âAnd what are you doing after the series?' she asked as she wiped a gobbet of glue from my nostril.
âGoing to Australia on holiday with my girlfriend,' I said.
âThat's right, going to Australia,' said Andrea.
âYou are a lucky boy,' said Fiona.
âHe's a very lucky boy,' said Andrea. âIsn't he a lucky boy, Craig?'
âHe's a middle-class bastard, I know that,' said Craig as he sipped his coffee.
âNow, Craigy, that's not a very nice thing to say,' said Andrea.
âIt's true though,' said Craig.
âYes, it is true,' said Andrea.
As you may have gathered, Andrea and Fiona tended to treat us like children. They spoke to us in loud, clear voices, somewhat like primary school teachers talking to their pupils. Andrea would get hold of your arm, shake it, and say, âI want you back here for a make-up check after lunch, alright?' She'd shout the message right in your face. Now, I'm no psychologist, but I think she spoke to us like that because when we were in the make-up room, we may have behaved like children. In fact, there are probably some people who think when we were in the everyday world we behaved like children. I don't think it's true though. I think Craig, Danny and I can, when it suits us, behave like children. Chris on the other hand is deeply mature and would never behave like a child. Unless he was impersonating someone, which he does a great deal, in which case he is just like a child. Chris can impersonate Andrea very well, she is originally from Newcastle and it's an accent I can't hope to mimic. Not so Mister Barrie.
âGood mornin', Andy,' he'd say as he sat down in the make-up chair. âHow are you today?'
Everyone else is laughing except Andrea. She doesn't seem to notice his perfect reproduction of her every vowel.
âWhat's so funny?' she asks indignantly.
âI don't know, Andy, what's so funny?' says Chris in a lilting sing-song Geordie.
âOh, you're awful you are,' says Andrea, and proceeds to try and break Chris's neck as she sticks his hologramatic H on his forehead. Chris's H is one of the daily rituals of
, it's made of thin plastic stuff which goes wibbly-wobbly when you look at it from different angles. It's a bit like that stuff they make postcards out of in Spain, the ones with angels who flap their wings, or a Jesus who winks at you.
The H is applied to Chris's forehead with double-sided tape, special trick Sellotape stuff which all costume and make-up people carry with them at all times. It's also called toupee tape as you can stick your wig down with it.
Chris has to sit in his chair and hold his head straight as Andrea braces herself behind him. They then fight for about a minute as they argue about it being straight or not, and finally they stick it. Andrea pulls with all her might from behind, Chris leans forward with all his might from the front. At the end of a series Chris's neck is like Mike Tyson's, virtually thicker than his head. He strains every fibre in his neck just to stop his head being pulled off. When it's finally applied they both congratulate each other on a job well done.
âAn H of extreme beauty,' says Chris. âAn H stuck on with such aplomb, Ms Pennell, that it has to be seen to be believed.'
Chris then leaves the make-up room and has a bacon roll and a cup of tea or something. I assume he does that, I don't know, I'm still in the make-up chair being glued, prodded, padded and painted. It's not that I envy Chris his ten-minute make-up time, we all have our own weight to carry, but it always seems so short to me.
The fun part of that last day was recording the conversation between Kryten's three spare heads. I say fun, it was very uncomfortable but the characters were great to do.
There had been times the year before when I had done a silly bow-legged walk, and put on a ridiculous Hovis advert-style Yorkshire accent in front of the audience between takes. I usually said something like, âOooh, I've just kacked me pants. By heck that's good, Robo kack, that's kack wi' nowt tekken out.' It was obscene and cheap, I know, but cheap is my middle name and it got a laugh.
Rob, Doug and I had discussed this before the making of the series, I said I wanted to play Kryten's dad, an old-fashioned no-nonsense Yorkshire robot who thinks Kryten's full of new-fangled ideas. The Grant Naylor genius machine got hold of that hack, cheap idea and turned it into a row of spare heads in a cupboard. One of which had galloping droid rot.
To get the scene to work I had to stand in a semi-crouched position and stuff my head through a hole. The front half of the shelf was then slotted into place, it was a bit like being in a set of medieval stocks.
It was as big a surprise for me to see the finished thing as anyone else. The wonders of modern TV technology, there were the three heads in a row, and spare head three grumbling away on the end.
After the last pre-record day I waited until I received the much longed-for phrase, âRobert is clear.' All this means is I can rip the front of the mask off and run for the make-up room. Every day I wear the mask, I can always be found hanging around the floor manager toward the end of the shoot. He or she is going to be the first person to know if I can leave.
The director is in the scanner, which sounds like a
prop but is actually a huge truck which is parked outside the studio. In the truck is a vast wall of TV screens, each showing a slightly different view of the same scene. The director, at this time Ed Bye, sits in there and somehow manages to make sense of the forty voices and twenty pictures he's looking at. On top of all this is the voice of the floor manager asking him, âUm, Ed, Robert wants to know if he's clear.' Then the floor manager looks at me with that face, that wonderful smile which means only one thing. âYou're cleared, Robert.'
I ran through the studio, âExcuse me, excuse me,' I shout as I barge past technicians, camera men with cups of tea, production accountants with clipboards and mobile phones. Everyone's face is a blur. All I can think about is getting the mask off.
I had learned by the second series that if I had been in the mask a long time, the glue around the nose and upper lip has become very loose, if not unstuck all together. If I grab the nose and pull it, it just rips off. This immediately allows me to breath more easily, it allows me to scratch my nose and feel my face come back to life again. This sort of behaviour isn't really encouraged by the make-up department. As I have already explained, the glue is incredibly strong, it is quite possible to tear your skin apart by pulling at the rubber if it hasn't more or less come away already. I have done this to the side of my nose once and it's very painful.
Andrea and Fiona set on my head with a vengeance, Andrea reminding me that it was the last one, that I was a free man, that I had done another series of
The make-up removal is a much faster but still quite complex procedure. Andrea gives me two cotton wool make-up removal pads soaked in warm water which I hold on my eyes. This helps remove the eye make-up and protects my eyes from the prosthetic removal oil. Then they cut the top of my head open with scissors, rip the rubber bald cap open and let out the heat. At this point I have to be wrapped up warm, because the sudden change in body temperature makes me feel very cold. I always start to shiver at this point. It's an incredible feeling because after ten or twelve hours with your head encased in rubber, you do get used to it. This sudden change gives me goose pimples all over. Actually, if I'm honest, it's quite kinky.
Then they start sploshing prosthetic removal oil between the mask and my face, and working from the forehead down, they slowly and painstakingly remove it. They always finish under the chin and as the last bit of sad old wrinkled Kryten drops to the floor, the liberation is complete.
I glance up into the mirror and see the sad return of my own face, which at this stage looks like a three-day-old used tea bag. All I have to do then is wash and scrub and pick for a few days as I constantly find bits of rubber mask stuck to the back of my neck, or behind my ear, or somewhere. It really does take a long time to get rid of any trace.