Monday, 9 June 2014

Remember the Alamo. 4 reasons I loved Rik Mayall.


Rik Mayall died today. Which is ridiculous because he's brilliant and unkillable. A mad lion with a soft voice and crazy eyes. He simply can't be dead, because it is stupid and wrong.

I knew about it for an hour or so, and I thought, "Oh, that's sad - I liked him," and went for a walk and thought about other things. Then I got back in and it was on the news and there he was, in clips, still alive. Wonky moustached Flash-Heart. Shouting, bug eyed Richie. Self important people's poet Rik in the Young Ones. And I cried like I knew him.

It is no exaggeration to say that a huge part of who I am is down to Rik Mayall and the characters he played. Played? That doesn't seem enough of a word. The characters he was. Leering out of the cathode ray tube at my young, impressionable face, shaping my mind and my behaviours. Forming my growing, adolescent self in his image.

Certain things stand out.


Seeing 'Bambi' for the first time, 13 years old. Astonished at what television could be. I watched forwards into series two of the Young Ones and backwards into repeats of series one, amazed at this weird, spotty young man. Rik, with a silent P. So awkward and so insignificant, yet so utterly possessed of his own worth.

I don't know if I thought, "That's me!", but I should have.


Reciting Rik's monologue about killing himself, sitting on a wall with Lisa Rhodes at the skate park, hoping that if I was funny enough she would go out with me. "And punks and skins and rastas will gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader!" She laughed. I was delighted. I didn't know what punks, or skins, or rastas were. But man, I was selling this. I did the whole speech again. She laughed again, but with less certainty.

She never went out with me.


Performing the entire episode of 'Nasty' on the last day of Middle School. I played Ric. I wore my Harrington jacket, covered in badges, big anarchy sign chalked on the back. Stupid cap, spotty face. It was uncanny. It was quite the performance. One of the proudest achievement of my life is the wall we built. In the episode, Vyvyan can't get the plug for the video to reach the socket. So he goes outside, braces himself against the wall and pushed the entire side of the house towards the VCR. A lesser 13 year old would have thought, "That's probably one of those things you can only do on TV, and not on the stage of a Bradford Middle School." That man would have been a faint hearted loser. Using every piece of wood in Mr. Leech's craft room, I constructed the greatest wall in the history of amateur schoolchild anarchic theatrical comedy  adaptation.

On the night, the wall fell apart, no-one remembered their lines (except me - I was word perfect) and none of the audience seemed to really understand what was going on. We left the stage - and indeed the school - in something of a mess and ran off into the last Summer of childhood. It was one of the best days of my life.


Lord Flash-Heart. It was only when re-watching Blackadder a number of years ago that I realised how much of my personality was owed to Rik's astonishing performance in 'Bells'. Bursting through the ceiling, staring straight into the camera and announcing, "It's me!" Like Rik the people's poet before him, Flash became the default setting for a certain part of my persona. We all like to think we break the rules. Generally, we don't. But there's a little bit of Flash-Heart in me that I enjoy. Disrupting what's going on, loudly proclaiming his own importance over everyone else's, breaking even the rules of the story he is in with his salute to the camera - he's the reason I occasionally burst into a room, shout my own name and try to steal somebody's wife.

There have been many other things that Rik Mayall did that brought me pleasure. His one off TV plays were beautiful. Alan B'Stard MP was fun. But it is Rik, the spotty, self important poet from The Young Ones, who matters most.

Lost, afraid and sensitive, Rik was a child who wasn't ready to be a man. Desperate to appear worldy wise and cynical - "Thatcher's bloody Britain!" -  yet overcome with innocence and childlike glee - "It's a telescope! WITH A MOUSE INSIDE!" Rik was reassurance to a boy on the verge of terrifying adolescence. Never cool, always cowardly. Unable to dress right, always on the outside of the joke. Yet brimming with unshakeable confidence that his was the voice that would be remembered.

Without him - without the brilliant comedian who made him - I would not be who I am.

You may thank or blame him for this.

I thank him.