Without a doubt one of the most profound pop-culture influences in my life is The Young Ones. I watched it when I was a young one, far too young to actually get all of the jokes. But I laughed along with the adults at any rate. We recorded them onto tapes every week, setting the timer on the VCR. The show was on TV2 late on Friday nights. I would get up early, really early – before Saturday morning cricket – and watch the show (if it had taped correctly – we missed a couple of episodes). After lunch the whole family would sit down to watch the show and I would have to pretend that I hadn’t seen that particular episode already. That week I would re-watch it every day after school – waiting for the following week’s new show. I would estimate that I have seen most of the 12 episodes more than 30 times each.
And then I moved to university and The Young Ones wasn’t quite as funny. In fact it seemed like some sort of prototype for reality television. I lived in a flat that looked like the set of the show – which, I guess, is part of the show’s universal appeal. We had food in our fridge that looked like it might talk.
Occasionally I would watch the reruns of the show, but I pretty much knew every episode inside out.
I can recite whole passages by rote. As soon as a catchphrase or part of a scene comes to mind I’m off – remembering lines and lines of dialogue that are 25 years old and written by someone else. The Young Ones would probably be my Mastermind topic (or, should that be a starter for ten on University Challenge?) I’m a total geek when it comes to this show. Certain – random – phrases are part of my day-to-day vocabulary. I say them without even thinking of the context. “Go to bed, Spotty”… “One of the great things about summer is tea on the lawn”… “It’s only five minutes! Really? Tell that to Roger Banister! Roger, it’s only five minutes – oh really? How interesting.”…
A favourite line was when Neil (the hippie) said “nobody listens to me; I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record”. A great line, but one that’s changed with time. In the early 1980s that line would have been a blast. Today it’s still funny, but it’s less likely to mean quite as much. Similar to the death-scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life. One of the characters says that, music-wise, she’s a big fan of Burt Bacharach. At that time it would have been very funny, it’s ironic today, Bacharach became hip again in the mid-1990s and through to today…but in that scene the character is saying it to purposely sound square and out of touch.
Some big-name bands appeared on the show too Madness played twice. Motorhead – in a rare 4-piece line-up – nailed Ace Of Spades for the classic University Challenge episode (“Bambi”). Dexys Midnight Runners covering Van Morrison. So many distinctly British bands – and watching it again now, so many bands that never made it out from beyond being a British band of that time. The soft reggae-pop of Amazulu, for instance. But the iconic performances outweigh the bizarre. I always loved the party episode (“Interesting”) because of the band Rip, Rig & Panic. I thought they were so weird – and watching them again now as part of that show there’s still an excitement to the carnival brand of funk. Likewise, because of my age, when I first saw the horror episode (“Nasty”, incidentally the ep that I have watched the least, probably less than double figures) I would not have known anything about The Damned. The Young Ones introduced me to a lot of great music.
Alexei Sayle’s contributions to the show were a lure for me too; his inspired lunacy was always worth looking out for – each episode contains a vital cameo to wait for. And Sayle added some great musical craziness to a couple of episodes too. Obviously in the second show (“Oil”) he’s there singing, at the benefit for the workers, with the band Radical Posture. His new-wave/electro-pop send up (Dr. Martens Boots) is one of the musical highlights. But there’s also his cameo in the episode where Neil needs to get a job to bring some money in (“Cash”) and joins the police. Sayle is the Mussolini lookalike that hires Neil, then walks out one door and in through another to perform the ad-hoc song Relax, Make Stupid Noises. The chorus consists of Alexei coughing and spluttering out every stammer and tic that he can, after such brilliant couplets as “when your boss is giving you the sack, ‘cos you’ve lost all his invoices/don’t drink a bottle of sulphuric acid, relax, make stupid noises!” (A subversion of Eric Idle’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, possibly?) In that same episode the band is a one-off grouping of celeb musicians and jingle writers – most prominently featuring Stewart Copeland (the drummer from The Police) and Jools Holland, they cover Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. It was, when I heard it on the show the first time, my introduction to that Dylan song.
So many great bits of dialogue though. Rik as The People’s Poet (“oh Cliff/sometimes it must be hard/not to feel as if/you really are a cliff/When fascists keep trying to push you over it/are they the lemmings?/Or are you cliff?/OR ARE YOU CLIFF?!”) Mike’s intentionally poorly-timed non-sequiturs (“a social conscience is like a garden shed, you try and eat it, it’ll stick in your throat”). And that great scene where Suggs from Madness gets to deliver an immortal line. In the third episode (“Boring”), the lads head to the pub and Madness plays the song House Of Fun. Rik goes up to the band and says “do you know Summer Holiday by Cliff and The Shadows?” Suggs gets to reply, “you hum it son…I’ll smash your face in”.
Apparently the show featured musical acts so that it could get extra funding by coming in under the variety show charter, rather than simply being a sitcom..
The Young Ones was something that bonded our family – we all watched it. Eventually we all watched it together. We now know it all – all the way through – without ever having to watch it again. That doesn’t stop us from catching a repeat, from occasionally slipping in one of the discs and watching an episode or two.
Alright, so it’s been years since I’ve watched an episode all the way through but push comes to show it’s my favourite TV show of all time. Of all time.
TV Shows That Meant The World To Me started life as a weekly series on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page