Robert Rankin and David Warner interview

At the launch of the audio adaptation of Robert Rankin's The Brightonomicon, we caught up with the author himself, and acting legend David Warner.

Author Robert Rankin’s The Brightonomicon has now been made into a full, 13-part audio adaptation, starring – among others – David Warner. At the Forbidden Planet launch of the CD set, the two of them spared us 15 minutes for a chat…

DEN OF GEEK  (DoG): Robert, this is the first of your projects to be made into an audio production…

ROBERT RANKIN (RR): Yes, I have over the years done a lot of the audio books, which are just plain reading. I think I must have done about ten of those. But for something like this, with a full cast of real movie stars, well authors simply dream of this sort of thing.

DoG: So how did it come about?

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RR: It came about because a friend of mine, [producer/director] Neil Gardner, had been trying for twelve years to get something made. And he’s in radio production, and he’d been looking for the opportunity to try and do something. And he just struck it lucky, and he got the BBC interested, and people like the wonderful Mr Warner gave their time, and if you look at the cast list it’s just mind-boggling. But it’s really Neil and Elliott [Stein] who did the scripts, and this little enterprise has put together a wonderul, wonderful thing.

DoG: And David, how did the project come to you?

DAVID WARNER (DW): Well, I’ve worked with Neil Gardiner before. Neil Gardner is very important in this, although the public don’t know who he is! I’ve worked with him before doing audios and reading stories, and he came to me with this project. And I read it, and I thought this is fantastic!DoG: Given the amount of audio work you’ve done, is is a liberating medium for you?

DW: As an actor whose done stage, movies and television, to do audio work solely means you don’t have to shave, you can wear what you want. You can walk around in your underpants. It’s really great! It really is great fun. And also the thing about audio that I think people forget is that it gives people a chance to use their imaginations. To create their own world, rather than having it given to them like on film or on television. And I think that’s very exciting: to keep the mind active. Because people can just take off, especially to this.

DoG: And it must be interesting for the both of you, because on this project we’ve talked about the cast list, and it’s a very vocally expressive company of actors.

RR: It’s very odd. When you write, you hear the characters speaking to you as you take dictation from what they say. And obviously they had particular personalities when you hear them. I always had a problem when I did the audio books myself because they weren’t made to have me doing all the voices. And to hear established actors, and you think ‘wow, that sounds like it’s supposed to sound’ is great. They’ve got the right inflections, which is an enormous skill.

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Some of these people have got very few lines, and to come in – and they probably haven’t read the whole thing – and they give it such an amount of drive and professionalism that you know, that is how they’re supposed to sound. There are several people who I think sound exactly how I wanted them to sound, and that’s rather wonderful.

DW: It’s very thrilling to hear that, from Robert who created all the characters, to hear at least that we gave it a good shot. That’s really good. We’ve never met before today, so this is the first time we’ve met! And it’s great to hear it from the creator of the piece…

RR: But you and Rupert [Degas]! You’re quite a double act! It just swings so beautifully!DW: Good. But I have to confess I haven’t heard it yet!

DoG: When it came to the actual recording, did you manage to get many people together in the room?DW: No, well you do little bits don’t you. Our availabilities as actors differ, and so we were doing other jobs. And so I only met Rupert, and I haven’t met any of the other actors, or recorded with them at all.RR: But this is where it’s a work of genius. Because Neil was able to say to people, you know, we don’t have a big budget. You just come in when it’s convenient to you, and just come in for an hour. And of course when they come in and do their recordings, and he cuts it into four or five different episodes, it’s a work of genius. And you would think that ah, you’ll hear the join! It’ll sound slightly out of kilter. But it doesn’t! Which is an enormous tribute to the professioanlity of the voice actors.

DW: That is how most radios and audio things are done anyway. Many times you do get everybody in the room, but often you don’t.

DoG: And have you heard the final thing, Robert?

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RR: Oh God, several times yes! And in the car coming up today! Love it!

DoG: It’s fair to say that there’s very few writers – particularly British writers and in this genre – whose work would be chosen to sustain a 13-episode production in itself. That must be quite a pat on the back?

RR: It was, well, it’s very flattering. I haven’t actually read any fiction for 27 years.

DoG: Really?

RR: Too afraid of plagiarising someone, so I stopped reading fiction in 1981.

DoG: Was that off the back of a specific accusation?

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RR: No, it was because the first book I handed in, The Antipope, the publisher said to me that we love the book, we will publish it, but you’ve got to take out all the stuff you’ve stolen from Spike Milligan! I said ‘what?!’, and they said ‘what’s the last book you read?’, and this is what happens. And I will ‘steal’, without thinking, a phrase here and a phrase there. So I simply stopped reading fiction.

But back to the production; there was an episodic nature to the book anyway, since it’s in twelve sections, set over twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac. When we discussed the idea of making something, Neil had thought that this was the one. And I’d kind of thought that this was the one. And the way it all slotted together – well, it was also very clever, because one episode, it leads up to a climax, but it doesn’t finish there, you’ve got the get to the next episode to find out what happens next.

And of course I wouldn’t have done it like that, but it’s the professionalism of radio people who know how to keep the tension going to the next episode. You’re really dying to find out: there’s no way you’re going to listen to one. You’re going to listen to the next one, and the next one, and the next one.DoG: And now the two of you have met up, would you work together again?

DW: I have to wait to be asked! He creates, I just wait to be asked!

RR: We are hoping so much that there will be another one. If that goes the way Neil hoping it’s going to go, if radio is interested and it goes around the world, he’s hoping there may be a commission for another one on Radio 4 or something. In which case it’ll be just marvellous. Because there’s no lack of Hugo Rune, he’s in every book I’ve ever written.

DW: Oh, that’s wonderful! Thank you for that!

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DoG: Can we ask you a couple of questions, David? You have a very strong association with science fiction and fantasy and horror by now. Is that something you’re happy about continuing with? DW: You know I see this as total reality. I don’t see this as any kind of science fiction or fantasy. I have done a lot.

I have to be honest, this is a wonderful genre to be involved with, but I don’t understand a word of it! I’m not talking about The Brightonomicon, but some of the stuff I’ve done I just have to do it with the best conviction that I possibly can. And I’ve worked with some of the legends, too. Some of the Star Treks. But I hardly know what I’m talking about when I’m doing those..

RR: Tron was interesting wasn’t it?

DW: Tron was interesting, yes. Again, I really didn’t understand any of that! But it is fascinating.

DoG: Do you find that blue screen acting with films like Tron very difficult when you can’t see the set?DW: Yes, we were in leotards, and that was it. And everything else was painted on in Taiwan and Korea and all over the world. As an actor, you know, it’s a great challenge to be talking to people who aren’t there, and pretending. And of course when you do science fiction, you have nothing – only a bathroom or something – to relate to. Because I don’t know what it’s like to be in outer space. So you use your imagination and hope that it gets out there to the public. It’s a genre that I don’t understand, but have had a lot of involvement with!DoG: Has your involvement in Star Trek made you a favourite at conventions?DW: I’ve never been invited to one.

RR: Ah, really?

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[The two of them quickly discuss a potential convention invitiation, agreeing to talk about it later]DW: The Star Trek ones I haven’t. I did two of the old Star Trek films, and one with Patrick Stewart – not a film, but I believe one of the classic episodes called Chain of Command. They tell me that anyway! I actually came in at three days notice because somebody else was ill. And there was a lot of technobabble in that, so I got my way through it. And of course it was great working with Patrick Stewart, who I’d worked with years before at Stratford, when we did Shakespeare together.

DoG: And can we ask you about Titanic? Was it as taxing an experience as the reputation holds?DW: Well we were shooting at night. And, erm, yes it was taxing. But the logistics of the piece were really very difficult. It wasn’t just about the actors, of course, because the actors didn’t come out too well from it. But I think that James Cameron’s technical expertise and the way he did that was absolutely fantastic. And it really was.

But it was difficult, difficult. Because if you were there you would know why. Having to put the ship at a certain angle at a certain time of the day, and then when flooded and you wanted to do two takes, you had to clean the place up and that would take four or five hours to get it back.DoG: Does that kind of work ruin the mood when you have to re-enter character?

DW: Oh no, no, no. You’re used to that. As Michael Caine says, you’re not paid to act, you’re paid to wait. So no, that wasn’t a problem. It was a long shoot. I’m not going to come out with any scuttlebutt about it, though!DoG: And just quickly Robert, can we just ask you. You’re often described as a ‘renowned Luddite’, and I’m curious how far that goes. You hand write your books, but how far does your Luddite nature extend?

RR: Well I have learned to read my e-mails and type them. That’s as far as my knowledge of the Internet goes. When I started writing, and it was a very long time before I ever made a living out of it – I think about twelve years – and the only chance I had, as I couldn’t sit and write at home or anything like that, I used to sit in the pub at lunchtime and the evenings with an exercise book and write the words. And it became the easiest way to write. That’s the way I’ve always done it.

DoG: So have you bought the pub by now?

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RR: No! But I’ve moved to quite a few pubs – I need one with no music and no people fighting! I have a certain number of needs!Robert and David, thank you very much for your time…!

 The audio adaptation of The Brightonomicon is available now: click here to order it from Forbidden Planet.