Rik Mayall: Comedian and actor who helped revolutionise the British comedy scene as the punk poet and Cliff Richard fan, Rick
When The Young Ones hit British TV screens in 1982 it revolutionised comedy in this country. Its anarchic slapstick rode the wave of alternative comedy that had crashed on to the shores of British popular culture at the end of the previous decade and helped wash away the comedic old guard. As Rick, the aspiring radical poet whose mouthy bravado failed to conceal a wimpy suburban Cliff Richard fan, Rik Mayall was in the vanguard of the comedy revolution. He went on to appear in other hit sitcoms including Blackadder, The New Statesman and Bottom.
He was born in Harlow, Essex, the second of four children, to drama teachers. When he was three the family moved to Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire, where he performed in his parents' plays. He studied drama at Manchester University, where he met his future comedy partner Ade Edmondson, as well as Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, with whom he would write The Young Ones.
He first created a stir with Edmondson at the Comedy Store in 1980 with their double act, "20th Century Coyote". Mayall developed his first comedy characters, Kevin Turvey and a pompous anarchist poet, Rick. The pair, along with the Comedy Store compere Alexei Sayle and other comedians on the way up, including Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Dawn then set up a club of their own, The Comic Strip, in the Raymond Revuebar in Soho.
Mayall secured a slot for Kevin Turvey on the BBC Scotland sketch show A Kick Up the Eighties, which first went out in 1981. He and Edmondson, meanwhile, became The Dangerous Brothers, whose violence to each other prefigured their later partnership in Bottom.
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When Channel 4 launched in 1982 they latched on to Mayall and Co, and The Comic Strip Presents... made its debut on 2 November, establishing a reputation for its anti-establishment humour, and parodies such as Bad News on Tour, a spoof rockumentary with Mayall, Richardson, Edmondson and Planer as a heavy metal band. A week later the BBC put out the first episode of The Young Ones. Mayall had written a script with his then-girlfriend Mayer, and when Elton came on board the show had been commissioned as a six-part series. Mayall maintained his double-act with Edmondson, who played the sociopathic punk Vyvyan, with Nigel Planer's hippie Neil and Christopher Ryan (as "Mike the cool person") the other flatmates. A second series was as successful.
Mayall continued in The Comic Strip films, did more stand-up and starred with Edmondson as The Dangerous Brothers on Saturday Live, a British version of the American Saturday Night Live. Having appeared briefly in the first Blackadder series, he returned for the second as the dashing, roistering Lord Flashheart
In 1986, Planer, Edmondson and Elton joined Mayall in Filthy Rich & Catflap, in what was intended as a follow-up to The Young Ones. But viewing figures were poor and the series was never repeated on the BBC.
In 1987 came what was perhaps Mayall second best-known character, the Conservative MP Alan B'Stard, in the sitcom The New Statesman (1987-94), written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. His philandering, egotistical and unprincipled character caught the imagination of a nation fed up with the flash new breed of careerist politician. In the early 1990s Mayall starred in adverts for Nintendo, and with the money he bought his house in London which he called "Nintendo Towers".
In 1991, Edmondson and Mayall co-starred in the West End production of Waiting for Godot, with Mayall as Vladimir, Edmondson as Estragon and Christopher Ryan as Lucky. The critical reception was poor, though it did give them the idea for Bottom – a cruder cousin to Godot, they said. It ran for three series (1991–95), with Mayall as Richard "Richie" Richard alongside Edmondson's Eddie Elizabeth Hitler. The slapstick ultraviolence brought the series gained a strong cult following and several national tours were hugely successful at the box office.
On film, Mayall starred alongside Phoebe Cates in 1991's Drop Dead Fred as a troublesome imaginary friend, and in the critical and commercial flop Carry On Columbus (1992) with other alternative comedians. In 1993 Rik Mayall Presents, three individual comedy dramas, won him a Best Comedy Performer award at that year's British Comedy Awards.
In 1995 he co-starred in a production of the Simon Gray play Cell Mates, which became unfortunately best known for Stephen Fry's nervous breakdown and flight to Belgium, causing the play to close. Mayall never seemed to have forgiven Fry, saying in 2007, "You don't leave the trenches."
In April 1998, Mayall was injured after crashing a quad bike near his home in Devon.He was in a coma for five days. Doctors were close to switching off his life-support machine when he began to show signs of life. "I beat Jesus Christ," he later joked. "He was dead for three days at Easter." While he was in hospital the Comic Strip special "Four Men in a Car" featured a scene in which his character was hit by a car. Mayall and Edmondson joked about it in their Bottom stage show, Mayall referring to himself: "You must know him, that tosser who fell off the quad bike."
His first post-accident acting job was in the 1998 Jonathan Creek Christmas special, as DI Gideon Pryke, a role he reprised in 2013. Voice-over work included the video game Hogs of War, and though he was cast as the poltergeist Peeves in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first of the franchise, in 2001, none of his scenes made the final cut .
In 2002, he teamed up with Marks and Gran again as Professor Adonis Cnut in the ITV sitcom Believe Nothing, but it lasted only one series; they reprised Alan B'Stard – by now a Labour MP – for the play The New Statesman 2006: Blair B'stard Project, which had a successful West End run and national tour. Following 2003's Bottom 5: Weapons Grade Y-Fronts tour, Ade Edmondson had said they were "too old" to carry on, but the pair remained close friends.
Richard Michael Mayall, comedian and actor: born Harlow 7 March 1958; married 1985 Barbara Robbin (three children); died 9 June 2014.
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