Craig Charles shares the chaotic 'Robot Wars' moment that made him worry for his career

·3-min read
Craig Charles says that he initially regretted taking on the 'Robot Wars' job (Image: Getty Images)
Craig Charles says that he initially regretted taking on the 'Robot Wars' job (Image: Getty Images)

While he’s done everything from performance poetry to a 10-year stint on Coronation Street, Craig Charles is probably best known for the quirkier shows he’s appeared in such as Red Dwarf and Robot Wars.

While Robot Wars has gone on to be a cult favourite — even being rebooted with Dara Ó Briain at the helm in 2016 — Charles has revealed he’d thought he'd made a major mistake accepting the job.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, he said the first episode didn’t quite go to plan.

“The radio control robots were on the same frequency as a local cab firm, so they were just acting really strangely,” he told host Kate Thornton.

He continued: “Then they all broke down. Then they were pulling the robots into the middle of the auditorium with bits of invisible twine. 

"I'm looking in the mirror in my dressing room with the big Robot Wars jacket on saying, ‘What have you done with your career?’ Red Dwarf was flying high. This was the next step. I thought: ‘You've screwed this up!’”

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Thankfully for Charles, the show — which he presented for six years — went onto to be a huge hit, with a peak audiences of up to six million and best-selling merchandise hitting those all-important top Christmas toy lists. A few months later, he said a trip to the BBC head offices made him realise he’d been wise to choose the role.

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“I walked into the BBC, and they used to have television screens with the most watched shows on - all the viewing ratings,” he explained.

Red Dwarf was number one and Robot Wars was number two! And I just thought rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated! But it was a risk to do something like that.”

Robobabes Emily Vincent and Kelly Allen with presenter Craig Charles and the house robots promoting The Robot Wars Live Event, taking place at the London Arena and at the Wembley Arena.
Craig Charles and the house robots promoting The Robot Wars Live Event (PA)

Asked by Thornton, if there were any roles he was glad he’d pass on, Charles said there were plenty – but that he was keeping shtum.

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“I've been very, very lucky in so much as some jobs that have been really good jobs that I haven't felt comfortable doing and I've passed on,” he replied.

“And they've turned out to be s***! I've looked and thought ‘Well, I dodged a bullet there” but I'm not naming names.”

Robert Llewellyn, Craig Charles and Chris Barrie pictured outside the Prince Charles cinema in London, to mark the launch of Red Dwarf X, the new series of Red Dwarf which airs on Dave this October.
Robert Llewellyn, Craig Charles and Chris Barrie pictured outside the Prince Charles cinema in London, to mark the launch of Red Dwarf X (PA)

When it comes to the other cult classic he’s known for – Red Dwarf – Charles revealed that he nearly didn’t get the gig, as it was earmarked for another big star.

Read more: TV industry pays tribute to voice of 'Robot Wars' Stuart McDonald

“Alan Rickman and Alfred Molina were going to be Lister and Rimmer,” he exclaimed.

“Their careers were so terribly damaged by not doing Red Dwarf!. Alan went on have an amazing career. And I'm still flogging a tramp steamer through the space, looking for a way home and a really hot curry”

Craig Charles may have never got his famous 'Red Dwarf' role if Alan Rickman had accepted the role!  (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)
Craig Charles may have never got his famous 'Red Dwarf' role if Alan Rickman had accepted the role! (Photo by Desiree Navarro/WireImage)

Last year, Red Dwarf, which began on BBC Two 33 years ago, made a return to screens with a special 90-minute show called Red Dwarf: The Promised Land. Charles said he’s hopeful there will be more to come from Lister and the crew.

“We were supposed to have made another two features by now,” he told Thornton.

“But obviously COVID put paid to all that. Hopefully, we'll get to do it sometime next year.”

Hear Craig Charles discuss what it was like interviewing his hero James Brown in the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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