Arts: The manic who fell to earth

Rik Mayall cheated death - now, fully recovered, he has a characteristic message for it.

On his finger Rik Mayall wears a death's head ring. He bought an identical one for his 11-year-old son Sid as a mark of their bond. The ring's appeal was simple. Up go the two fingers, a gesture that Mayall has used in his act since his earliest days at the fabled original Comedy Store in Soho. "It's saying 'fuck you, death'."

Mayall is not exaggerating. He is a man who cheated death in a near- fatal accident. It's the sort of disaster and bizarre recovery that would fit perfectly into a script featuring his manic TV alter-ego Richie from Bottom, who, teamed as usual with Ade Edmonson's nutter Eddie, has now been transferred to the movie screen in Guest House Paradiso.

Mayall affirms that he has made a complete recovery from the accident in April 1998, when he fell off a Quad four-wheel bike at his Devon farm and was found unconscious with blood seeping out of his nose, eyes and ears. His skull had been cracked but the skin was not broken.

When he awoke five days later he was confused and unable to speak. Blood was clogging up his brain. He was sure he should not be in hospital and attempted comic escapes like taking wrong turnings when on walks with nurses and running to a door only to find it locked.

On arriving at a private hospital in London's Harley Street he gave an attendant the slip, ran into the street, hailed a cab and got back to his London home. A doctor was called who gave him an injection and the next thing he knew he was waking up at Charing Cross Hospital.

He dates his recovery to a two-day deadline given by a surgeon before the top of his skull would have to be lifted so that the excess blood could be drained from his brain. "I went home and worried, worried, worried about it, and the next day it was gone. Whether that's a medical technique I don't know, but it was all clear. "

But he was still confused and forgetful. He recuperated over the summer of 1998 and in September started working - first on voiceovers, then in an episode of Jonathan Creek - and went to South Africa to act in the yet-to-be-released movie Merlin 2000.

He was put on medication because of the risk of epilepsy, but after a few months saw no point in taking the pills - and anyway he fancied a drink. Another Bottom-esque incident ensued. His wife Barbara came home to find him shaking up and down on a bed. Aghast at apparently discovering him maniacally masturbating, she went in and saw that he was biting his tongue, which was bleeding. "She thought, 'What a relief; he's having epileptic fit.' It's true. What more love could a man want? So I ended up in hospital again."

He says that he has recovered 100 per cent of his mental capabilities. There are minor memory lapses where he admits he might be "a little vague, a word might evade me". But it is in his relationship with Ade Edmonson, his partner of 25 years, that the balance of power appears to have subtly but decisively shifted, despite his assertion that the only thing that has changed is that they are now even closer. When Mayall was half or three-quarters recovered - his own assessment varies - they finished trimming the script Guest House Paradiso down from more than three hours to some 90 minutes and then they started discussing possible directors. They soon realised that there was only one suitable candidate.

Their relationship is such that Edmonson would never have put himself forward. "We don't behave like that. It's just not done. I think it must have come from me. He must have thought, 'hey, maybe I can do it' as I thought 'why don't you do it?' It sort of happened in the conversation, but it seemed obvious. He's much too - proud is not the word - too honourable to suggest himself. And I don't think he was ever planning it all along."

There was no question of Edmonson taking advantage of his friend's weakness. Though that did not stop Mayall mercilessly ribbing him. "I called him the dear leader after that." And Mayall raves about how brilliant a job Edmonson made of directing his first movie..

The resulting film sees what Mayall refers to as more three-dimensional characters exploring their inner Tom and Jerry selves. Richie and Eddie are running a hotel from hell set in a bleak corner of England next to a leaking nuclear power plant.

The characters are drawn and acted so well, he says, because they are so close to him and Ade. Behind the comedy he sees a connection to the bleakness of Samuel Beckett. "It's all unconscious, but it's a kind of tone that attracts or suits us. There will always be two guys who don't fit in, don't belong. Perhaps there's something similar that humanity, all individuals feel. That bleak edge of the cliff top."

In a recent three-week burst of creativity Mayall and Edmonson wrote their first draft for what they hope will be their next film and whose theme Mayall wishes to keep quiet, though Edmonson has spoken of a space ship full of shit.

"I have an uncontrolled imagination which sometimes is merely wittering. When Ade and I are together he says sometimes, 'shut up about it, go make the tea'. And I go make the tea while he's writing down what we've just been talking about because I don't listen enough."

Mayall says he now has more concentration than he used to, which may be true in short bursts, but as our interview wears on, his mind wanders off more and more.

"At funny times during the day memories will come to me. I might be in the shower and I can suddenly remember something from primary school, like walking around a particular corner or seeing a face from years ago or a phrase that someone said when I was on holiday when I was 13..."

His professional future he sees as consisting of more films, as Edmonson's stature as a director grows, more of the same mix of serious and comic roles, and the possible fulfilment of his ambition to bring Beckett's Waiting for Godot to the screen.

He's happier than ever, even closer to his already close family of wife Barbara and three children. He feels that there's an element of being given a second chance, though he doesn't think life fits so easily into such categories.

"Sorry to be dull, but I'm just happy. I think I'm a better actor as well, in my mind, because I've experienced more. I'm not saying all actors who want to be better should go throw themselves on a Quad bike, but imagination can be helped by experience. I think I'm relieved at last, because of my age. I think it maybe hurried my... oh bollocks, you're the writer. What's that thing that men have when they're 40?"

He's having one of those memory lapse moments. I proffer male menopause.

"Menopause. Yes, thanks," he replies. "I think that's been hurried. I feel mature now."

Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

'Rebel without a Cause', 'East of Eden' and 'Giant' re-released

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
TV The second episode of the hit HBO featured a surprise for viewers
Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Arts & Entertainment
Gian Sammarco plays Adrian Mole in 'The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole'
books

Sue Townsend's much-loved character will live on
Arts & Entertainment
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show
TV

Kylie Minogue quits The Voice UK

Arts & Entertainment
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Favour Asikpa and Thandie Newton in 'Half of a Yellow Sun'
film

Review: Half of A Yellow Sun

Arts & Entertainment
Andrew Motion would send 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens
booksLeading writers protest against government restrictions on prisoners receiving books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
    Supersize art

    Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

    The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    James Dean: Back on the big screen

    As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
    Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

    How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

    More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
    10 best activity books for children

    10 best activity books for children

    Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
    Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

    Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

    Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
    Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

    Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

    Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

    With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
    Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

    NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

    Politicians urged to find radical solution
    Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

    Ukraine crisis

    How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

    A history of the First World War in 100 moments
    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

    Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
    Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

    Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

    Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?