A long-running sci-fi space sitcom that became BBC2's biggest comedy export and developed a strong, national and international cult following, Red Dwarf is a perfect example of the benefits achievable by the BBC's patience in giving a rocky production time to find its feet. Created and written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (under the gestalt entity Grant Naylor) Red Dwarf got off to an auspicious start - five million viewers saw the premiere episode - but this dwindled to two million by the end of the initial series as viewers tired of the wobbly sets, and everyone involved in the creative process needed time to get into their stride. But by the second series all the ingredients gelled, audience figures were up again and the BBC found themselves with a very popular comedy destined to outlive most others.
This is the premise: the crew of a 21st-century deep-space mining ship, the Red Dwarf, are all - bar one - wiped out following a radiation leak. The sole survivor is David Lister, who has been placed in suspended animation for 18 months as punishment for smuggling aboard a pet pregnant cat. Lister remains in stasis for three million years, and when he awakes he has some unexpected company: a hologram of his former shift leader Rimmer, who has retained all the foibles of the master material; the shipboard computer Holly, now showing definite signs of senility; and 'Cat' a strange human-like creature who turns out to have evolved, over the past three million years, from the pregnant moggy - resulting in a sort of feline-sapien. This mismatched assortment proceed to roam the universe, becoming involved - despite their reluctance - in a fantastic variety of weird and wonderful adventures. By the third series the computer personality had been replaced by a new, sparkier version and the crew were joined by an all-too-human-like android, Kryten. The show was developed by Grant/Naylor out of an earlier comedy creation, 'Dave Hollins - Space Cadet', a recurring skit in their BBC Radio 4 comedy Son Of Cliché (eight editions, 23 August-11 October 1983, this being the sequel to a 1981 series by the same writers). Hollins was the last man alive in the universe, whose only companion was his computer, Hab (voiced by Chris Barrie). Later, when the writing duo were exploring ideas for possible TV sitcoms, they returned to Hollins, expanded him into Dave Lister and created partners to accompany him in his space rambles, re-employing Barrie in the key role of Rimmer. The Grant/Naylor team split after a number of successful series, with Doug Naylor taking the reins and leading Red Dwarf into the nineties. Doug is also involved in the upcoming film version of the series.