“Smeg... I'm in space!”
“A fairly nice guy, despite his problems”
Craig Charles (born 31st April 1964) is a lovable gerbil-faced space explorer and taxi firm operator, famous for being the first scouser to enter space, although later becoming notorious for being the first man to smoke crack outside of the solar system. He also found fame in being "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems" in the words of fellow space explorer Neil Armstrong, despite hailing from Liverpool.
Born in the city of Liverpool, Craig was thrust into a life of disadvantage and difficulty, due to the fact everyone seems to hate scousers. The fact he was also black in a time when Love thy neighbor was regularly on the box and most of Britain did not have a problem with traditional "darkie beatings" only heaped further troubles on his head. However, working hard at school, he was regarded as "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems" by all his teachers. Despite this, he failed all his O-Levels (GCSEs) and promptly dropped out of education in all its forms, joining art college.
At the 'Liverpool Institute for Depraved Art and Pretentious Tossers', Craig found life a struggle - having to be forced to attend lectures first thing in the afternoon, he promptly dropped out within half an hour. This was nearly a record for shortest time spent at an art college, beaten only by Damien Hirst (who claimed most art colleges were not nearly pretentious enough, eventually going on to make his fortune as a pretentious wanker). By chance, on later meeting Charles, Hirst would describe him as "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems". But for now, seeing nowhere to go, in 1988 Craig made do with applying for a shelf-stacking job at Sainsburys.
First Scouser in Space
By an hilarious mix-up typical of the Royal Mail, Charles's job application was redirected to NASA, who unwittingly invited him for an interview. Falling for his scouse charms, the agency promptly hired him on the spot as an astronaut, later claiming he was "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems", when criticised for overlooking his lack of qualifications by the press.
NASA at this time was in a rut. Having taken flak from observers over the decision to let the woman drive the Challenger Space Shuttle, a bold move was needed to prove manned space flights were not just a collossal waste of taxpayer cash. So a decision was made by NASA Command that Charles, popular with the media and public alike for his unwavering grin and quaint Liverpudlian ways, would be the next man to enter space. He was to be partnered by a character actor, Robot Llewelyn, a voice impersonator, Chris Barrie (in case the popular Charles died, so there would be someone to imitate him and thus provide a cover-up) and a cat (as NASA wanted to see if cats were selfish bastards in zero gravity). The shuttle, named Red Dwarf, blasted into space in late 1988, and formed the basis of the reality TV show Red Dwarf, which was described as "an observation of how three misfits and a cat could cope in space".
Red Dwarf orbited earth for over ten years, due to the show's popularity in Great Britain. Despite the death, danger, and metaphysical constructs involved that made some of the world's most brilliant physicists' heads explode, it was a top-rated reality show and gave Charles a taste of fame and glory. His unforgettable utterance upon realising he would be the first scally in space ("Smeg... I'm in space") is said to have rivalled Neil Armstrong's famous (but grammatically incorrect) "One small step for man" quote for historical significance. Upon landing back on Earth, Llewelyn, Barrie and the cat took advantage of the first press conference to declare Charles as "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems". Charles, seeing no more need to find fame and glory, announced his immediate retirement from NASA, instead announcing he was to set up a taxicab firm near Manchester.
Life as a Cabbie and The Fifth Element
Charles initially struggled in running a cab firm, finding confusing plotlines involving relationships, alcohol and soap operas causing havoc at every turn. He turned to acting and presenting gamewhows, most notably Takeshi's Robot Catle Wars, where Japanese men and women would fight robots in a series of sadistic games. Fortunatley, he was able to combine his expertise as an astronaut and recent work as a cab driver when he was signed on for the leading role in The Fifth Element, a film about an intergalactic taxi driver. The film was a critical and commercial success, and Charles (having wisely decided to take a portion of the profits, rather than a "flat fee" before filming began) made around $20 million. He declared to the press that this was "The happiest day of my life", barring winning the annual "Everton Egg 'n' spoon race" back in 1970. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times declared his performance to be "magnificent" and called Craig "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems.
However, an incident during filming would put his name on an unofficial "hollywood blacklist" and send him "tumbling, shrieking all the way, into the late night club tours and crappy gameshow host world of entertainment", in the words of Charles's biographer, AJP Taylor.
The notorious "Centauri Crack" incident
During filming, his health was suffering, and Charles quickly became overweight, whilst the high life of a movie star brought new temptations. Stealing one of the prop intergalactic taxis from the film studio, he shot off to Alpha Centauri, where he proceeded to get extra baked in the backseat on crack. NASA scientists tracking him saw the actor in a state of near collapse, and quickly flogged the pictures to the Daily Mirror. When quizzed by both authorities and media alike as to why he went so far out of his way to get high, he replied that he wanted to be the first man outside the solar system to smoke crack. He alleged that "Buzz" Aldrin was the first man in space to get high, and his original nickname was "buzzin'" Aldrin.
After production of the film was wrapped, Charles was told by several irate production staff that he'd never work in the business again, and he returned to doing the somewhat demeaning "Takeshi's Robot Castle Wars", and making infrequent appearences on awful soap operas. His co-stars in the film rushed to his defense however. What's-his-name called him "A fairly nice guy, despite his problems", an assessment echoed by I-know-that-guy-from Somewhere. This would not be enough to coax producers and directors into taking him on in the future, and he has since faded into relative obscurity.
Craig has had a somewhat tumultous private life. Drug addiction, alocholism and bad soap operas have tainted his media image somewhat, and he is often reluctant to discuss his life outside of the entertainment industry with journalists. He is apparently a supporter of Tranmere Rovers, albeit for no discernable reason, and enjoys "watching life sail [him] by" in the pub (or the back seat of cabs).
Position in History
Historians have often argued about where Craig belongs in history. Some are near-devout in their praise. "A key figure of the 1990's and an embodiment of gerbil-faced optimism... He deserves to placed in line with some of the great men of history. Napoleon, King Henry II, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Winkler, Keith Chegwin and many others can all be found within his spirit. And he is a fairly nice guy, despite his problems", according to Hugh Trevor-Roper, a noted historian and biographer of Hitler. However, when charged to explain this fairly bizarre statement, Roper declined.
His official biographer, AJP Taylor says "History will be kind to Charles. After all, Red Dwarf was funny and the Fifth Element was fookin' banging mate. He's also a fairly nice bloke, despite his problems".
Controversy over the Fifth Element
Recently, film historians have come forward to claim the former Red Dwarf star did NOT appear in The Fifth Element and that in actual fact, it was Bruce Willis. These critics say they have unearthed "undoctored" film posters that clearly show Willis in the title role, not Charles. Charles has not responded to these criticisms, neither confirming nor denying his role in the film, whilst Bruce Willis has sought to downplay the dispute, crediting Charles as "a fairly nice guy, despite his problems", and vowing not to wade into the debat. Controversy still rages in some quaters, though to be fair, most people don't give a shit.