That’s early on in the pilot – the first episode of The Young Ones. That was it. I just thought the character of Rick was mad and brilliant and wonderful. I was about eight years old. I didn’t understand some of the humour – maybe even a lot of it – but I watched it. And I laughed. I laughed a lot. I watched it a lot too; I watched it until I did understand the humour. I’ve said this before but The Young Ones was one of the most profound pop-cultural experiences; one of the biggest influences on/in my life. And I won’t be alone in that, I’m sure.
I won’t be alone in feeling a great loss at the news that Rik Mayall is dead.
Rik Mayall’s manic energy, his wonderful comedy writing, was a big part of what made The Young Ones. And then Bottom and the one that got away, Filthy, Rich & Catflap (why – how – did that flop? It’s actually pretty wonderful!)
He never worked on the big screen – even though as a kid I loved Drop Dead Fred (actually a ghastly film). He sometimes didn’t work on TV – sometimes – but there were enough memorable characters (Alan B’Stard) and anyway, even if he only ever gave us The Young Ones and his character of Rick that would have been enough. Right?
Even just late last year I made up a playlist of what would have been A Young Ones soundtrack – because it’s quite possible that not a day has gone by in my life since the mid-1980s where I haven’t quoted a line (or scene) from that show. I can recite whole episodes. Where I haven’t, in some way, thought about it. I’ve been living with The Young Ones for thirty years now. I can’t say this about many TV shows – and perhaps that’s a good thing, but it’s one of my oldest friends.
We’d videotape the shows late on a Friday night. After a couple of episodes mum and dad decided they’d screen the footage first and decide whether I might be allowed to watch them. So I started waking up earlier on Saturday mornings – 5.30, 6am – and I would sneak a viewing, careful not to clink the Honey Puffs spoon too loudly. I’d get in the whole episode then it was off to play cricket. Then I’d play dumb while, after lunch, mum, dad and my brother would watch the episode, or at least start it, and then decide whether it was suitable for me to watch. When I got the call up I’d pretend it was my first viewing. I’d watch it again. (Demented glee). And then again every day after school – sometimes twice – I was like a dealer, introducing it to friends after school. And then finally, after a torturous week of school and life I’d get to the Friday night excitement of another episode. A new episode.
Later – after so many viewings, after wearing out the homemade tapes – I’d buy the full series (it always seemed like just one long season of 12 shows, not two sets of six, but you watch them now and it’s quite clear, the distinction) and with no real aim for irony we’d watch them in a student flat that took the set of The Young Ones as its inspiration and aimed lower.
The whole alternative comedy scene of the early 1980s was crucial for me – still is. And it started, in my world at least, with The Young Ones. That was my introduction to a lot of great music, and to Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle, to Blackadder, French & Saunders, Lenny Henry, Robbie Coltrane – Motorhead! – and, sad bastard or not, to quoting verbatim. And though I loved all of the characters in The Young Ones and had different favourites after further viewings it was Rick. (It was Rik). It was always (P)Rick!
“Once in every lifetime…”
R.I.P Rik Mayall.