Back from the brink

In the wake of the highly public rape trial, vindicated Red Dwarf star Craig Charles is Edinburgh bound. He talks to Andrew Lowe about prison, armed robbery and watermelons.

or someone who doesn’t want to talk about it. he talks about it a lot. ‘The police treated me like shit. They just wanted me to be guilty. They had a celebrity on their hands. and no matter how much I said. “Look at the evidence there isn’t any!”. theyjust ran before they could walk and released it all to the press before I’d even signed a statement.’

Ahem. It’s your first working visit to the Fringe for ten years. What kind of materi-

‘I mean. it is the world’s worst nightmare; having your liberty taken away. getting thrown in a room for three-and-a-half months before you’re even given the chance to prove your innocence. I just thought they’d go. “Oops. Sorry!”. but they obviously couldn’t drop the case at that stage. We’re talking wrongful imprisonment. slander. defamation of character. libel. loss of earnings alone was close on a million...’

Right. And what about Red Dwarf, The Mov-

‘I just thought they’d take all my forensics which I offered openly - and then go away. evaluate them. and when they all came back negative which they did - that’d be the end of it. But they threw me in fucking jail for three- and-a-half months. it goes to trial. they offer no evidence the trial alone cost half a million and I'm clear in 90 minutes. And you tell me the system’s worked for me!? It’s a fucking joke.’

He doesn’t want to be seen to be wanting to talk about it. but he obviously wants to talk about it and. although career-wise he’s cut himself from the wreckage and is finally resurfacing as Breezily Familiar Comic Actor as opposed to That One Off Red Dwarf Who Was Accused Of Rape But Got Off. Craig Charles is still lugging around some bitter emotional baggage.

‘Well. it was bizarre. but I got through it. They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. and I’m sure that in a couple of years. I’ll look back and be glad of the experience. But prison is . . . it’s like they’ve taken the world’s worst people from the world’s worst housing estate and put them all in one room with a roof on it. and l was just dumped into this world and I hadn’t even done anything wrong.

‘You do have to learn the ropes and try to choose your friends. I got in with the armed robbers and the murderers - y’know. the decent people. At least there’s a certain kind of glamour there. It certainly does no harm to your street- cred it’s quite hard. It’s like having a war- wound you can court occasional sympathy from it. I’m also in the enviable position of

knowing who my friends are now. I’ve realised that the world isn’t just one big Craig Charles fan club. But - success is the best revenge.’

He also has his eye on a more left-field approach to the standard form of celebrity catharsis: autobiography.

‘l’m gonna do it in novel form. That way, I can really let rip. i can still tell the truth. but get away with a lot more.’

Charles is in solid. determined l’ll-show-‘em mood. Back to roots. Funny business as usual. He’s up in Edinburgh for a four-night run of a stand-up show he toured to great acclaim around the country last year. He insisted on

‘Prison is . . . it’s like they’ve taken the world’s worst people from the world’s worst housing estate and put them all

in one room with a root on it. I was lust dumped into this world - and I hadn’t

even done anything wrong.’

playing The Gilded Balloon (‘The last time I was here. I did The Assembly Rooms. and I don’t know how they managed to get so many egos in one place’). The title of the video released on the back of the tour - Live On Earth seems to suggest a resigned nod towards Charles’s relative interchangeability with his comedy alter ego: Red Dwarfs Dave Lister.

I make a move for the fashionably tatty Red Dwarf VII shooting script he’s edged between his fags and the condiments. It’s immediately snatched away without irony.

‘On pain of death. mate. You know - although we’re filming now. this series won’t be on until January. It’s all a bit different it’s the first without a studio audience for a start and I just don’t want to give anything away so early. Next year will be the last series, and then we’re gonna move on to films. lt’s evolved so well.’

The return to stand-up sends him shuddering back to the adolescent adrenalin sense-memory of his first performing experiences. He was born in I964 in Liverpool and. by sixteen. was filling out the artsy and demanding Everyman theatre. Every night. He fell in with future Crystal Maze producer. David Croft. and performed a poem a week on Croft’s arts show, Riverside. From there. it was on to Saturday Live. and then it really started happening . . .

‘Yeah. Christ. That’s fifteen years ago. Still. success is longevity. and I suppose I’ve got a lot of that behind me. But also. like I say, success can be the best revenge and I’m feeling pretty vengeful . . .’

Steady . . .

‘No. I’ve just been dying to get back to live work for ages. I do talk about the prison thing. but I do all sorts of routines sex. smoking. getting older. brewer’s droop . . . all things close to my heart. I started off on a stage and television takes you away. makes it all so much cosier. I did a lot of stand-up in America. and ' Red Dwarfwon the Emmy there. although I was in jail at the time. So pretty hard. Y’know - “Craig Charles can’t be with us this evening. as he’s in prison.” But they let me out for the British Comedy Award.’

And there it goes again. The wheezing. Muttley laugh that trails away and darkens slightly as he settles on another stand-up topic and a pretty obvious personal bugbear.

‘l do a routine about handguns. The only reason the Tories haven’t banned handguns is that they’re the ones who go into the countryside every weekend and shoot furry little animals. I think they should issue the whole nation with guns. so we can all go around shooting Tory MP5. I’d say string ’em up - but they’d enjoy that.’

Leaning a little to the left. then. is Craig. Not quite sold on the laughable Blair-as-Satan Tory tatty tricks campaign (ironically. another risible conceptual stool curled from the rectum of the decidedly demonic Maurice Saatchi).

‘But. no. The gun culture thing. Wejust seem to be sucking in everything from America that’s bad for us burger bars. guns. They say it’s not the gun that kills. it’s the man who pulls the trigger. No it’s the fucking gun! If you go out robbing. and you take a gun with you, chances are you’re gonna use it. How many people have been killed this year by sharp watermelons?’

Er. yeah. Preach on . . .

‘lt’s just so fucking corrupt. I mean in my case. it’d just be nice to have a bit of evidence before sending a man tojail . . .’

Uh no.

‘But there is an up-side to it.’ he concedes.

‘Amid all the media attention I was getting, there were two absolutely brilliant stories: “I Bedded 60$ Strippers" - which was news to me and “Red Dwarf Star Is No Dwarf In Bed” - which I loved. The thing about that one was. this woman gave me an amazing sexual review, and I’d honestly never met her. But you just can’t sue in those circumstances: “Actually. no. I’m crap in bed. your honour.” How do you prove THAT in court?’ Craig Charles (Fringe) Gilded Balloon (Venue 38) Edinburgh, 0131 226 2151, 26—29 Aug. 9.15pm, £7.50 (£6.50). Red Dwarf VII will be shown on BBC 2 in January 1997.

The List 23 Aug-5 Sept ”9613 .l