Monday, June 09, 2014

Rik Mayall: Once In Every Lifetime, Comes A Love Like This

The comedian, scriptwriter and actor Rik Mayall has died, suddenly, at the appallingly young age of just fifty six according to his manager. Rik is probably still best remembered for playing the obnoxious, dreadful-poetry-writing anarchist Rick in the influential and ground-breaking BBC sitcom The Young Ones alongside his friend and comedy partner, Adrian Edmonson. The duo later went on to create and star in Bottom. Rik also made memorable appearances in many other comedies including Blackadder II (as the memorable Lord Flashheart: 'Flash by name, flash by nature!') and the ITV sitcom The New Statesman (as the grotesque Tory MP Alan B'stard). Rik was seriously ill for some time in the late 1990s after a quad bike accident left him in a coma for several days but his death has come as a complete shock to the majority of his many fans. Police said that they were called to reports of the sudden death of a man in his fifties at just after one o'clock on Monday, in Barnes. London Ambulance Service said 'a man, aged in his fifties, was pronounced dead at the scene.' The Metropolitan Police said the death was not believed to be suspicious. Edmondson said in a statement: 'There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he's died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard!'

Rik, the second of four children, was born in Harlow in March 1958 to John and Gillian Mayall. When he was three years old, his parents - both of whom taught drama - moved to Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire, where he spent the rest of his childhood and often performed in his parents' plays. 'I obviously always wanted to be looked at as a kid,' he said in a 1982 interview with The Face magazine. 'Really embarrassing, ugly things I used to do. If it was my brother or sister's birthday, I'd sulk all day. I remember being six and having my birthday party. A kid called Sid Prior was talking a lot and gaining all the attention, so I hit him over the head with the hammer from the children's tool kit I'd just been given.' After attending The King's School in Worcester, Rik went to university in Manchester in 1976 to study drama. There, he befriended his future comedy partner Adrian Edmondson. He also met fellow student Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, the schoolgirl daughter of Rik and Ade's tutor, with whom Rik would later co-write The Young Ones. Edmondson and Mayall gained their reputation at The Comedy Store in London's Leicester Square from 1980. 'In the mid-70s, most [comedy] was very experimental, often punk-influenced,' Rik remembered. 'A lot of it wasn't much fun, but I learned from those guys. We wanted it to be much more humorous.' Rik and Ade's double act, initially known as Twentieth Century Coyote, became hugely popular with The Comedy Store punters, the duo developing characters including The Dangerous Brothers. Coyote, formed in the summer of 1978, went on to play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Rik also performed solo routines using characters such as the terminally boring Redditch investigative journalist Kevin Turvey and the pompous anarchist student poet, Rick. This led to Ade and Rik, along with The Comedy Store compère Alexei Sayle and other upcoming comedians including Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Arnold Brown, Pauline Melville, Keith Allen, Andy de la Tour and Pete Richens, setting up their own comedy club, The Comic Strip above The Raymond Revue Bar, a strip club in Soho. The BBC comedy producer Paul Jackson was a regular at The Comic Strip and produced the memorable 1980 TV special Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights which introduced many of the so-called 'alternative comedy' hierarchy to mainstream audiences. 'I was always a show-off and liable to get over-excited. But I have got it under control. I now find people who can't control their energy very funny,' Rik told The Sunday Times in 1983.

Rik's popularity led to a regular slot for Kevin Turvey on the BBC2 sketch show A Kick Up The Eighties, first broadcast in 1981. He also appeared as Rest Home Ricky in Richard O'Brien's Shock Treatment, the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rik's television appearances as Kevin Turvey would also spawn a superb BBC2 mockumentary based on the character, Kevin Turvey - The Man Behind The Green Door, broadcast in 1982. If you've never seen his version of 'Downtown', dear blog reader, then you've simply never lived. The previous year, Rik had also appeared in a small role in Jon Landis's classic horror movie An American Werewolf In London. His reputation was further enhanced by appearances in ITV's Whoops Apocalypse (as the folk singer Biff who wrote a supportive campaign song from Barry Morse's embattled Reagan-like US president) and the televised charity show Fundamental Frolics doing his classically awful 'angry' poem 'Theatre'. Rik's stage partnership with Edmondson continued, often appearing together as The Dangerous Brothers, a pair of hapless would-be daredevils - Richard and Sir Adrian Dangerous - whose hyper-violent antics foreshadowed their subsequent characters in Bottom. Channel Four offered The Comic Strip group six short films, which became The Comic Strip Presents ... débuting - with the gloriously silly Famous Five parody Five Go Mad In Dorset - on the channel's opening night in November 1982.
      The series, which continued sporadically for many years and across several different channels, saw Mayall play a wide variety of roles. The series was known for anti-establishment humour and for its smart parodies of different film and TV genres such as Bad News On Tour, a spoof, if you will, rockumentary starring Mayall, Richardson, Edmondson and Planer as the eponymous incompetent heavy metal band. At the time the deal for The Comic Strip Presents ... was being negotiated, the BBC also took an interest in The Young Ones, a sitcom written by Ben Elton, Mayall and his then-girlfriend Lise Mayer. The series was commissioned by Paul Jackson and first broadcast in 1982. For many young Britons of 'a certain age' it was our Monty Python's Flying Circus, our The Morecambe & Wise Show. Like punk rock it appeared as if out of nowhere and it changed everything. Mayall played Rick, the pompous sociology student, would be People's Poet and Cliff Richard fanatic whose politically right-on anti-Thatch rhetoric ('call yourselves radicals, you're still wearing flared trousers!') was matched only by his cowardice and sneakiness ('it was not me, it was The Other Three!') Rik maintained his acclaimed double-act with Edmondson, who starred as the violent punk medical student, Vyvyan Bastard. Nigel Planer (as the terminally depressed and paranoid hippie Neil Pye) and Christopher Ryan (as Mike Thecoolperson) completed the main cast with Alexei Sayle appearing as different members of the Balowski family with their huge knowledge of The Mersey Sound. It also featured appearances by just about everyone who would become important comedy figures in British culture in the next decade - Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, French and Saunders, Mel and Griff, Robbie Coltrane, Tony Robinson, Paul Merton et al. And it included way-cool bands, made the phrase 'complete and utter bastard' an acceptable TV insult and took the piss out of pretty much everyone and everything that needed having the piss taking out of them. 'God, I'm bored,' Rick once noted. 'I might as well be listening to Genesis!' It was, in fact, sodding brilliant, dear blog reader. It was the moment where, just for an instant, the lunatics had taken over the asylum. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping simply cannot imagine what his own life as a teenager and a twentysomething in the early 1980s would have been like without it and I'm sure I'm not alone there. Equal parts subversive and silly, the show combined traditional sitcom style with violent slapstick and pure surrealism and featured live musical performances by the likes of Madness (twice), Motorhead, Dexy's Midnight Runners and The Damned. The reason for including the live performance, apparently, was that the BBC had categorised the show as light entertainment rather than situation comedy, which meant it got a slightly bigger budget. According to the director Ed Bye, the show was hugely popular with policemen, a fact which reportedly upset Mayall greatly. 'Hey kids! Stop snogging and pay attention to me, cos if you're a wild-eyed loner standing at the gates of oblivion, then hitch a ride with us because we're on the last freedom moped out of Nowhere City. And we haven't even told our parents what time we'll be back!' The first series was both commercially and critically successful and led to a, possibly even better, second six-episode run in 1984 (which included the show's best episodes, Bambi, Nasty and Cash). And then, like Fawlty Towers, it was gone after just twelve episodes before anyone could get bored with it. Though, to be fair, some of us 'of a certain age' can still stick in the DVD and chant along with just about every single line from every single episode. '... And all the grown-ups will say "but, why are The Kids crying?" And The Kids will say "haven't you heard, Rick is dead!"'

Rik returned to stand-up, starring on two series of Saturday Live - the British version of the American comedy staple Saturday Night Live - first broadcast in 1985. He and Edmondson had a regular section as The Dangerous Brothers. In 1985, Rik débuted another memorable comic creation, starring in the opening episode of Blackadder II as the sexiest man in Medieval England, Lord Flashheart. Though he was only in one scene (and, on-screen for all of three minutes) he utterly stole the show. A descendant of this character, Squadron Commander Flashheart, appeared in Blackadder Goes Forth three years later whilst, in 1999 Mayall also appeared in Blackadder: Back & Forth as a very Flashheart-style Robin Hood. In 1986, Mayall joined with Planer, Edmondson and Elton in Filthy Rich & Catflap as Richie Rich in what was billed as 'a follow-up' to The Young Ones, albeit one with very different targets. The idea for Filthy Rich and Catflap reportedly had its genesis in various disparaging comments which Jimmy Tarbuck had made about The Young Ones. The series primary focus was to highlight the 'has been' status of light entertainment and of a previous generation of comedians. It was loud, violent and very, very funny. But, while Mayall in particular received positive critical reviews, viewing figures weren't good and the series has never been repeated by the BBC. Rik suggested the series did not last because he was uncomfortable acting in an Elton project, when they had been co-writers on The Young Ones, albeit he would also appear in another Elton project, Happy Families (1985). 'I want to make all my characters ugly,' Rik told Jan Etherington of the TV Times in 1987. 'Whenever I play someone I disapprove of, I make him ugly, but they said, "Stop pulling faces and be cool." I've always had fan-mail from girls, but I just thought it was rather silly, Very flattering, but rather silly. It just happens when you're famous.' 1987 saw Mayall co-star with Edmondson in the controversial and short-lived ITV sitcom Hardwicke House. Due to adverse reaction of press and viewers, ITV withdrew the series after just two episodes. The same year, Rik and Ade also had a number one hit in the UK singles charts when along with their co-stars from The Young Ones when they teamed with Cliff his very self to record a version of 'Living Doll' for the inaugural Comic Relief campaign. Mayall played Rick for the last time in the first Comic Relief stage show.
      His next major role was as the fictional Conservative MP Alan Beresford B'Stard in The New Statesman for Yorkshire Television, written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. The character was a satire of crass, ruthless, rent-a-quote, on-the-make Thatcherite conservatism and ran for four series - incorporating two specials - between 1987 and 1994. 'We hear an awful lot of leftie whinging about NHS waiting lists. Well the answer is simple. Shut down the health service. Result? No more waiting lists. You see, in the good old days, you were poor, you got ill and you died. And yet these days people seem to think they've got some sort of God-given right to be cured. And what is the result of this sloppy socialist thinking? More poor people. In contrast, my policies would eradicate poor people, thereby eliminating poverty. And they say that we Conservatives have no heart.' In 1986 Rik played the detective in the video of 'Peter Gunn' by The Art Of Noise.

The early 1990s saw Edmondson and Mayall co-starring in the West End production of Beckett's Waiting For Godot at the Queen's Theatre. It was whilst working on the play that Rik and Ade came up with the idea for Bottom, which they suggested was 'a cruder cousin' of Beckett's story. Actually, it was more of an extension of their Dangerous Brothers characters but, nevertheless, Bottom was commissioned by the BBC and three series were shown between 1991 and 1995. Mayall starred as Richie Richard alongside Edmondson's Eddie Hitler and the series featured a notoriously large amount of slapstick violence, gaining a strong cult following and a huge volume of complaints from tight-arsed whingers. In 1993, following the second series, Mayall and Edmondson decided to take a stage show version of the series on a national tour. Bottom: Live was a commercial success, filling large venues and selling well on video. Four additional stage shows were embarked upon between 1995 and 2003, each to considerable success. The violent nature of these shows saw both Ade and Rik ending up in hospital at various points. A film version, Guest House Paradiso, was released in 1999 but that was less successful than the TV show, both critically and commercially. 'That's essentially a British comedy thing,' Mayall told Vox Magazine. 'As a nation I think we look at ourselves as losers, but with delusions of grandeur, pomposity, and a feeling that we should be up there when we are in reality down here, serving and having to deal politely with conventions and people we despise.'
       Rik had a, brief, crack at Hollywood, starring alongside Phoebe Cates in 1991's Drop Dead Fred as the eponymous character, a troublesome imaginary friend reappearing from a young woman's childhood. It was British film company Working Title's first financial hit and was apparently, at the time, the most successful independent film ever released in Australia. He also appeared in Carry On Columbus (1992) and provided the voice of the character Froglip, the leader of the goblins, in the 1992 animated film adaptation of the children's tale The Princess & The Goblin. A year later, he appeared in Rik Mayall Presents, three individual comedy drama plays. Rik's performances won a Best Comedy Award that year and a second series was broadcast in early 1995. He provided the voice for Little Sod in Simon Brett's How To Be A Little Sod, adapted by the BBC in 1995. The same year Rik co-starred in a stage production of the play Cell Mates about the Soviet spy George Blake, alongside Stephen Fry. Not long into the run, Stephen had his infamous nervous breakdown and disappeared, eventually turning up in Belgium some days later causing the play to close. In 2007, Rik said of the incident: 'You don't leave the trenches. Selfishness is one thing, being a cunt is another. [But] I mustn't start that war again.' Edmondson subsequently poked fun over the events during the next Bottom stage tour. In Bottom Live: The Big Number Two Tour, after Rik gave mocking gestures to the audience and insulted their town in a silly voice, Ade said: 'I'm beginning to understand why Stephen Fry fucked off!' Towards the end of the Cell Mates run Mayall revealed a replica gun - a prop from the play - to a passer-by in the street outside the theatre. He was cautioned by the police over the incident, later conceding that this was 'incredibly stupid, even by my standards.'
     Then, on 9 April 1998, Rik was horrifically injured after crashing a quad bike near his home in Devon. Rik's daughter, Bonnie, and her cousin had asked him to take them for a ride on the bike - a Christmas gift from his wife - but he refused due to it having just rained and he went out on the bike alone. Rik's wife, Barbara, looked out the window and saw him lying on the ground with the bike on top of him but, believing he was merely joking, she left him for a few minutes before realising that he had really hurt himself. Rik was subsequently airlifted to Plymouth's Derriford Hospital, with two haematomas and a fractured skull and spent several days in a life-threatening medically induced coma. After five days the doctors felt it safe to bring him back to consciousness, allegedly Rik's first words to the doctor as he came round were: 'So, you're the bastard who keeps sticking needles into me!' Speaking about his accident last year, Rik claimed that doctors had kept him alive on a life-support machine and were about to turn it off when he began to show signs of life. He used to mark the anniversary of his accident by exchanging presents with his wife and children and said the near-death experience had changed his life. He added: 'The main difference between now and before my accident is I'm just very glad to be alive. Other people get moody in their forties and fifties - men get the male menopause. I missed the whole thing. I was just really happy.' During Rik's hospitalisation, The Comic Strip Presents ... special Four Men In A Car was broadcast for the first time. By a horrible irony, the film involved Mayall's character being hit by a car. Rik and Ade, nevertheless, found themselves able to joke about the incident in stage versions of Bottom, Edmondson quipping: 'If only I'd fixed those brakes properly' and Mayall's character referring to Rik himself: 'You must know him? That tosser who fell off the Quad Bike!' The pair wrote the first draft of their feature film Guest House Paradiso while Rik was hospitalised. Rik returned with a series of voice-over work whilst his first post-accident acting job was in the 1998 Jonathan Creek Christmas special, as the memorable Detective Inspector Gideon Pryke (a role he would reprise a decade later).

During the early years of the new millennium, Rik appeared in the video production of Jesus Christ Superstar as King Herod. He joked in the 'making of' documentary that 'the real reason why millions of people want to come and see this is because I'm in it! Me and Jesus!' In 2002, he teamed up with Marks and Gran again when he starred as the delightfully named Professor Adonis Cnut in the - otherwise wretched - ITV sitcom, Believe Nothing. Shortly afterwards, Edmondson told the Daily Scum Mail that he no longer wished to work on further stage tours or series of Bottom, effectively dissolving his and Rik's nearly thirty-year partnership. Edmondson claimed that they were 'getting too old' to continue portraying the characters. Ade added that, since Rik had recovered from his coma, he was slower on the uptake and it had become 'more difficult' to work with him, as well as claiming that due to taking medication, Mayall had been advised to stop drinking alcohol. However, Edmondson said that the pair remained 'very close friends.'
       Rik released an 'in-character' semi-fictionalised autobiography in September 2005 entitled Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ. At the same time, he starred in a new series for ITV, All About George and then reprised the role of Alan B'Stard in 2006 in the play The New Statesman 2006: Blair B'stard Project, written by Marks and Gran. By this time B'Stard had left the floundering Tories and crossed the floor to become a New Labour MP. Following a successful two-month run in London's West End at the Trafalgar Studios in 2007, a heavily re-written version toured theatres nationwide. However, Rik succumbed to chronic fatigue and 'flu in May 2007 and withdrew from the show. Rik was also cast as the poltergeist Peeves in Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, the first of the Harry Potter films in 2001, although all of his scenes were cut from the released film. He claimed in his autobiography that he had not been made aware of this until the film was unveiled at the premiere. In September 2009, Rik played a supporting role in Midsomer Murders whilst the following year Motivation Records released Rik's football anthem 'Noble England' for the 2010 World Cup which he recorded with the producer Dave Loughran. On the single, Rik performed an adapted speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. In March 2011, Rik appeared on Let's Dance For Comic Relief in which he came on stage and attacked Ade Edmondson with a frying pan during his performance of The Dying Swan ballet. It was the first time that the pair had worked together in eight years. In May of the same year Rik became the eponymous Bombardier character in a TV advertising campaign for Bombardier Bitter, based heavily on his Lord Flashheart persona. The adverts were very funny, but landed broadcaster Dave in trouble with Ofcom when they were found to breach the broadcasting code by 'linking alcohol with sexual attractiveness or success.' Woof! In what was to be his final screen appearance, in late 2013 Rik appeared in Channel Four sitcom Man Down, playing the father of the protagonist, Greg Davies. Davies said: 'He gave me a hug and that was his opener. Just straight in with a hug it was lovely and I knew this is my dad even though, as I'm sure Twitter will go mental with pointing it out that he's only ten years older than me.' Speaking to the Radio Times in February, Davies had suggested that a second series of the comedy would give Mayall a more prominent role. 'I am sure we will see a lot more of Mister Mayall. He is one of my comedy heroes,' the comedian said. Rik married the Scottish make-up artist Barbara Robbin in 1985 and the couple had three children: Rosie, Sidney and Bonnie. The couple had first met in 1981 while filming A Kick Up The Eighties and embarked on an affair which lasted until 1985. At the time, Rik was still in a long-term relationship with Lise Mayer. Upon finding out that Barbara was pregnant, Rik reportedly eloped to Barbados with her. Rik later maintained that, despite this, he and Mayer had remained friends. A statement from Rik's management, Brunskill, said: 'We are deeply saddened to announce the death of Rik Mayall who passed away this morning. We will be issuing a further statement in the fullness of time.' Blackadder producer and writer John Lloyd paid tribute and told the BBC: 'It's really a dreadful piece of news. He was the most extraordinarily good actor as well as being an amazing stand-up comics. Apart from being great company, he was a great professional.' The critic Charlie Brooker noted: 'Rik Mayall was just pure wiry, energetic, unpredictable humour poured into the shape of a human. You couldn't not watch him.' The BBC's director of television Danny Cohen called Rik a 'truly brilliant comedian. His comic timing was outstanding and his screen presence unique. For a generation of viewers he was a true comedy hero.'

Anyway, here's yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day.