Love, Anarchy and Violence: The Legacy of Rik Mayall, The People’s Poet

At the Junction of Queen Caroline Street and Hammersmith Bridge Road lies a simple blue memorial plaque that reads:

Rik Mayall 1958-2014 – Punched his friend in the balls on a bench near this spot.

The piece was originally published on the first  anniversary of his death in Collide Magazine Issue 4.

When the people’s poet Rik Mayall bid us farewell on the 9th of June last year (a victim of the perils of jogging) the outpouring of grief was enormous. Punks, Skins and Rasta’s gathered ‘round and held their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader. One year later on the anniversary of his death, the tributes continue to flow. People felt like they knew Rik Mayall – he was ‘one of us’ and he belonged to us. An indelible part of our collective childhood and adolescence, Rik’s vernacular helped to define comedy for a generation. His lines became shorthand for all manner of situations in day-to-day life; entire conversations, observations and understandings could be articulated and shared in quotes from his repertoire.


Farty Little Bastard

From Kevin Turvey to Alan B’Stard and all in between, Rik’s pantheon of characters left behind an enviable legacy that has been credited by many with changing the face of television forever.

The Young Ones in particular was a revelation. The television universe and the prevailing mood at the time of its inception is almost hard to fathom today. To a population weaned on traditional British fare such as Are You Being Served and The Good Life, the Young Ones embodied a year zero mentality – much like Punk had done in ’76. What John Lydon did for music, Rik Mayall did for television, tearing a few more stitches out of the repressive fabric of Thatcher’s Britain in the process.

The roots of The Young Ones are embroiled in the early 80’s London comedy club circuit where Rik, performing with longtime foil Ade Edmondson as ‘The Dangerous Brothers’, would also hone his People’s Poet routine. The duo along with other luminaries such as Alexei Sayle, Peter Richardson, Nigel Planer, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders set up a club called ‘The Comic Strip’ which quickly had talent scouts from the soon to be launched Channel 4 sniffing around. Not to be outdone the BBC set their sights on a show of their own, laying the groundwork for The Young Ones to burst onto television screens in 1982 like a swaggering big bollocked behemoth, a surrealistic rider at the gates of dawn that took no prisoners.

Drawing upon the legacy of Monty Python, but married to a ransom note aesthetic that recalled Jamie Reid’s iconic work for the Sex Pistols, Rik along with writing partners Lise Mayer and Ben Elton redefined what the television format could achieve – capturing the zeitgeist and essence of youth in a way that countless analogues of ‘Nozin’ Aroun’ never could. With the perfect ensemble cast, they dragged the sitcom format kicking and screaming (and farting) into the 1980’s, laying the groundwork for everything from The Mighty Boosh to The Office in the process.

Famously, in order to procure a larger budget, they insisted on being labelled a ‘variety show’ – thus opening the door to the memorable musical guests that would punctuate each episode. From Motorhead, to the Damned, to Madness, there is an entire generation that now cannot hear the track ‘Ace of Spades’ without picturing Rik’s supremely crap attempt at shoplifting as they scramble to make the train bound for University Challenge. By turns equally intellectual and scatological, the show drew upon references as diverse as Greek playwright Euripides and the universal cultural touchstone that is Dr. Marten’s boots.

We all have our favourite lines and moments – tattooed onto our brains, poised on standby for banter.  The Young Ones embodied student, nay, human archetypes with cutting insight and a wicked self- deprecation that still resonates today.

I’m in Showbiz!

rik flash

As was the custom at the time, we were only graced with twelve episodes before these wild eyed crazy bachelor boys went spiralling over a cliff and into our collective memories, but ever restless, Rik was keen to preserve the shows legacy and was ‘working on the next one’.

Having now gleaned an insight into the inner workings of show business, Rik and Ben (Elton) had a whole new palette to work with as they set to task dismantling the world of television light entertainment with Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Playing it to the hilt at the expense of the luvvie darlings and hallowed tweed clad icons of the BBC and placing Jimmy ‘Tarby’ Tarbuck at the glittering height of the totem pole as some kind of sinister showbiz messiah. Kicking against the pricks, Rik was never one to nuzzle at the hand that feeds.

Flash By Name, Flash by Nature

Exploding into the court of Queen Victoria, Rik redefined sartorial flair and large trousered swagger as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder. Stealing every scene and chewing the scenery with a zeal that no moustache malfunction could extinguish. Sex on legs, an enormous libido colliding with an unquenchable id, trouser canoe on standby. Flashheart made Russel Brand look like Woody Allen. Returning to thwart the hapless Edmund once more in the trenches of World War One, Flash managed to make even the horrors of the great war shrink into the background as his military issue pants struggled to contain his enormous throbbing, pulsating charisma.

rik leer

Musky Sly old Stoaty, Stoaty Stoat

It wasn’t long before Rik returned to type as perhaps one of his most beloved characters, perennial virgin Richard Richard in Bottom.  In this role he captured the janus face of the eternal despondency and hapless optimism that truly defines the British. Living in abject squalor, Richie and and his alcoholocaust of a flatmate Eddie Hitler continually debase themselves in the quest for a shag and a half pint of mild. Anything to stave off the creeping ennui of another day on the fringes.

With the 90’s being awash with nihilism, in this role you can perhaps see Rik conversely eschewing the more anarchic elements of a show like the Young Ones to return to a more vaudevillian theme, with slapstick and innuendo taking centre stage. It’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ with dick jokes and whether braving the elements on Wimbledon Common or stranded at the Apex of a ‘Love Ferris Wheel’, Richard and Eddie were always loathe to pass up an opportunity to punch the shit out of each other.

A man of science, the Hammersmith crumpet radar, who received a birthday card each year from all his mates on the Ark Royal; you could have had his cherry.

The world of television eventually moved on, leaving elements of Rik’s output to appear somewhat quaint in comparison to the depths of cruelty that some of his surrogate comedy children now stoop to. However, there is a timelessness to much of his work that belies its age, most of which can be attributed to his face. Rik Mayall really enjoyed having a face!

Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ

rik rip

Rik had cheated death once before, after coming off second best in a stoush with his own quadbike in April of 1998, famously rising from the dead after four days, one better than Jesus. And so the world was gifted 16 more years of Rik, but like all good things-it couldn’t last. We have scarcely touched on the range of work, characters and genre’s he explored, but it’s fair to say that in his 56 years on Earth, Rik crammed in more laughter, more love, more anarchy and more double entendre’s than anyone could be expected to, and his passing left a huge hole (oo-er) in many of us. So next time you cram for an exam about crop rotation, do a medieval folk dance in the drawing room, or call someone an utter utter bastard, raise a glass of Bombadier to The Rik Mayall. There will never be another.

-Andi Lennon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s