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Rik Mayall 1958-2014 obituary: A true one-off and comedy eccentric

By and Mayer Nissim
There's something horribly grim about stalking somebody's social media accounts after they've died, but it is fitting of the late Rik Mayall that a glance at what might have been a brief foray into the world of Twitter should provide much amusement.

Assuming it was actually his, Mayall's journey into Twitter lasted a single tweet back in 2010 and it was suitably brash, uncompromising, sweary and laugh-out-loud funny. Exactly like the man who so many TV viewers had grown to love over the last 30 years.



Mayall grew up in Harlow, Essex, but it was as a drama student at Manchester University where his career began as he forged a long-standing friendship and comedy double act with Ade Edmondson. The duo also met Lise Mayer and Ben Elton in Manchester, who they would later team up with on the '80s comedy classic The Young Ones.

In the 1980s, Mayall and Edmondson were leading figures in what was christened the 'alternative comedy movement', performing regularly at the Comedy Store with their 20th Century Coyote act alongside up-and-coming stars such as Alexei Sayle and French and Saunders.


Some of Mayall and Edmondson's early sketches would morph into much-loved characters - their Dangerous Brothers skits were essentially a precursor to Bottom. They also helped land him a first TV break in 1981, when he had a regular slot as his character Kevin Turvey on BBC Scotland's sketch show A Kick Up The Eighties.

One year later, Mayall and Edmondson would take their explosive stage shows into the mainstream when the surreal student sitcom The Young Ones was launched on BBC Two. Mayall played the snotty-nosed brat and Cliff Richard-loving Rick, while Edmondson starred as the unhinged punk Vyvyan.

The show ran for only two series, but it made stars of the cast and had a lasting legacy on the landscape of TV comedy as it brought the anarchic and offbeat humour of the Comedy Store into the nation's living rooms.


It was also in the early '80s that Mayall started appearing alongside Edmondson, French and Saunders, Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson in Channel 4's Comic Strip films, which like The Young Ones would inspire and influence a whole generation of comedians.

Mayall's wildly energetic and natural exuberance meant that even when he had cameo roles, he often stole the show. His guest slots in Blackadder, and particularly his performance as the woof-ing sexually rampant Lord Flashheart, were some of the show's fans' favourite scenes. Even in a show that featured the comedic giants of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson, Mayall was able to make his presence felt through his sheer force of nature.

Their vulgarity and all-in approach to slapstick meant that his relationship with Edmondson was wrongly dismissed by some, but in truth they were one of the all-time great comedy duos. Frequently owning the screen despite all the madness around them on The Young Ones, they and Planer had one series as Filthy Rich & Catflap, a show whose reputation has only grown in the year since its six episodes aired.

After that came Bottom. Hated by many critics for its smut and violence, it was loved by legions of fans for much the same reasons. Physical comedy, and Bottom was always physical, is a rare skill, and the audience always felt every frying pan to the face.


After three series, several successful stage shows and a sort-of movie spinoff Guest House Paradiso, a fourth series was commissioned in 2012, but Edmondson pulled out to work on other projects.

"I kind of got railroaded into it. And then I decided after we'd written two that I didn't want to do it. For complex reasons," Edmondson told Digital Spy of the failed reunion. "Mostly, because I thought it was a backwards step. Secondly, because I've already done that. There's too much else to do in life. My other passions in life are stronger."

Mayall was open about his disappointment, but long before then had also struck out on his own to lead several projects. There was a well-loved turn in a Jackanory adaptation of Road Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine. His Alan Beresford B'Stard in The New Statesman gave the government of the day the kicking it so richly deserved - before giving New Labour the same treatment in a later incarnation. ITV also gave him his own show, Rik Mayall Presents.

There were darkly comedic dips into the big screen, with leading roles in Drop Dead Fred and Britflick Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis. A quad bike crash in 1998 would seemingly slow him down - Mayall was in a coma for several days - but he continued to work until soon before his death. Later roles included guest spots in Jonathan Creek and - helped by the uncanny resemblance - Greg Davies's dad in Man Down.


He later addressed the accident in true Mayall fashion. "I beat Jesus Christ," he said. "He was dead for three days at Easter. When I crashed it was the day before Good Friday, Crap Thursday, and I was technically dead until Easter Monday - that's five days... beat him 5-3." The ridiculous title of his 2005 spoofed-up memoir was Bigger than Hitler - Better than Christ, and with more sitcoms in the bag than Adolf and more days on the slab than Jesus, he had reasons for both claims.

Mayall was still living with Young Ones co-creator and writer Lise Mayer when he embarked on a relationship with make-up artist Barbara Robbin. He and Robbin married in 1985 and had three children together - Rosie, Sidney and Bonnie. While not giving away too much detail, Mayall said in later interviews that he and Mayer were now on friendly terms.

"It is all down to my daughter, Rosie, who turned 18 last August, that Barb and I are together," he explained in a 2005 interview. "Now we've got to take her to vote and show her where to put her cross." He added of his marriage: "I'm not bragging, but we're in love."

Asked last year if he still had the same passion for his work, Mayall gave the answer anyone who had watched him in action already knew.

"Yes I adore it, it's my life, it's what I do. It's always been the passion and I adore it, it's my everything," Mayall said. "I'm in my 50s and I want to work out what I'm going to do for the next 25 years so this is the next chapter." That we've been robbed of that is tragic. That we have 35 years of his comedy with which to celebrate his life will ease that frying pan blow.

Rik Mayall - life in pictures:


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