Remembering Rik Mayall: Forever A ‘Young One’ Who Changed British Comedy
The comedian leaves behind a legacy that is still being felt today in British comedy.
For a man who spent his career making so many people laugh, Rik Mayall caused many a tear yesterday (June 9th), when he passed away unexpectedly aged just 56. The comedian, who rose to fame as part of 'The ‘Young Ones' was a unique performer whose anarchic and uninhibited style help change the face of British comedy. The people’s poet, one half of the Hammersmith hardmen and everyone’s favourite imaginary friend, Rik leaves behind a legacy of laughs which will keep us entertained forever and continue to inspire future generations of comedians.
Rik as Rick in 'The Young Ones'
For many, their first introduction to Rik came when 'The Young Ones’ exploded onto the BBC in 1982, obliterating everything in its wake. When ‘The Young Ones’ came along, a new era in British comedy had well and truly arrived. It was anarchic, outrageous and had spots and greasy hair. ‘The Young Ones’ was punk rock with jokes and Rik was the frontman of this new comedy movement.
Even before 'The Young Ones' hit our screens Rik had been making a name for himself on the London comedy circuit, performing as a solo act with characters such as Kevin Turvey the wide eyed man behind the green door, who didn't nick your bike, he just moved it round the corner. Mayall would also often perform as part of a double act with Ade Edmondson, whom he met at Manchester University and would go on form a lasting comedy partnership with.
But it was as ‘The Young One’s’ Rick, the Thatcher hating anarchist and number one fan of Cliff Richard that Mayall would become forever engrained in the consciousness of anyone who had even a passing interest in British comedy. The show changed the country’s comedy landscape, it made being funny cool for a new generation and without it we might never have had a ‘Little Britain’ or ‘Mighty Boosh’.
'The Young Ones changed comedy in the early 80s
Rik’s manic performing style, characterised by his over the top facial expressions and penchant for shouting meant that when on camera, he usually stole the show. This was no better exemplified than when he appeared as Lord Flashheart in 'Blackadder'. Despite only appearing in two episodes, Rik made the character of Flashheart unforgettable, packing in more memorable moments during his two appearances than most characters could in a whole seres.
Then in 1987, the man who had made his name at the beginning of the decade fighting the good fight against Thatcher, unveiled his latest character, a stripped shirt wearing Tory MP named Alan B’Stard in 'The New Statesman'. If you’d ever suspected that MP’s were a bit sleazy and lacking in morals then ‘The New Statesman was all the proof you needed. It was satire at its darkest and most cutting and Rik at his most dashing, despite playing a right b’stard.
Of course for many, especially those outside the UK, their fondest memory of Rik will be from 1991 comedy film Drop Dead Fred, where he played Phoebe Cates’ mischievous imaginary friend. Dressed in green and with bright orange hair, we all wished we’d grown up with our own Drop Dead Fred, maybe some of us had, but they couldn't have been as troublesome or fun as Rik.
Richie and Eddie in 'Bottom'
When the 90s came along, Rik hadn’t grown up much from his ‘Young Ones’ days. Teaming with Ade Edmondson again they created ‘Bottom’, the most vulgar, violent and down right funny series to hit the BBC in the early nineties. As Richie and Eddie they were two friends living together in squalor, who drank, fought and schemed, all the while being rejected by the opposite sex. Taking slapstick humour as far as it would go, for over a decade the two battled it out from television to stage and even the big screen, denting more than a few frying pans along the way while still flying the flag for alternative comedy.
Once you delve into Mayall’s back catalogue you’ll uncover many more gems, try 'Filthy Rich and Catflap' or 'The Comic Strip Presents' series and don’t leave out his appearance on 'Jackanory' reading George’s Marvellous Medicine. For a life that would be cut so tragically short, Rik sure packed a lot in.
But the last words on Mayall’s should surely belong to the people’s poet himself, ‘The Young Ones’ Rick, a man who never doubted his own lasting legacy:
“All the grown-ups will say, ‘But why are the kids crying?’ And the kids will say, ‘Haven't you heard? Rick is dead! The People's Poet is dead!’ And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, ‘Other kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?’” (Rick, The Young Ones)
Thanks for the memories Rik.