Twenty years ago, a 34-year-old Rik Mayall was writing the third series of Bottom. A 14-year old Tim was sitting in an ex-local authority house in Essex with a worn out VHS tape of series one and two, reciting the lines. Two decades later, Tim was blowing out 34 candles on his birthday cake in an ex-local authority house in Bedfordshire (yep, I’ve done alright) when he found that Rik Mayall had suddenly and mysteriously died.
Shock’s a funny thing. Because although I was sad when I read the news – it seemed to go in one eye and out the other, so to speak – it wasn’t until I woke in the middle of the night thinking about making “the best tea in London” for the gas man with the hot water tap that I remembered what a profound influence Rik Mayall’s Bottom (and that of his comedy partner Ade Edmondson) had had on my early life.
I was a young teenager when my parents split up. A relatively messy affair, the upshot (as it is in many family breakdowns) was a very vulnerable and lonely young man looking for some constants in a rapidly changing and turbulent world. Embarrassed to admit I was from a “broken home”, the 13-year-old me sought out new ways to feel like I belonged – by attaching myself to a non-league football team (Bishop’s Stortford FC for those who care), by trying to be funny (something I still largely fail to do on a personal and professional level), and by obsessively immersing myself in the world of television comedy.
A school friend of mine (going through a similarly difficult time at home) introduced me to Bottom in 1992, shortly after it began. We were both instantly hooked. It spoke to us in a way no comedy had done before. A student of mirth, I’d spent much of my childhood listening to audio cassettes of Tony Hancock and Yes Minister and watching Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses, but nothing – absolutely nothing – gripped my young mind like the adventures of Richard “Richie” Richard and Edward “Eddie” Elizabeth Hitler.
The anarchic mix of one-liners, slapstick and social commentary was the perfect fodder for young minds looking to feel part of something whilst raging against something else. At first a sweaty, desperate 30-something virgin and his (relatively) streetwise yet slightly psychotic mate might not appear the most relatable characters for teenage boys – but scratch beneath the surface and Richie and Eddie were no different to us.
Yes, their situation is made even more acutely desperate by time’s winged chariot hurrying near – but their obsessions with girls, booze and high-jinx were just like those of me and my friends – and their chances of succeeding in their ridiculous plans were just as likely as ours.
They normalised desperation, and they celebrated failure – they allowed us to let out our pent up frustration by shouting at each other, but not in an aggressive way – through catchphrases (“Edward Hitler you complete bastard! / I’m the BIRTHDAY BOY!”) and by pretending to hit each other with frying pans and fridge doors. But most importantly, Bottom made it OK to laugh (rather than cry) at very sad situations and embraced the value of having a friend (however unbalanced).
I don’t know how many times I watched “Gas”, “’s Up”, “Smells” etc between the ages of 13 and 15 – but it was a lot. And I don’t know what I would have done without them.
Bottom gave me respite from real life and bought time for wounds to heal. Bottom inspired me to want to be creative rather than destructive when I was down – and Bottom gave me hope when sometimes it felt like there was none anywhere else.
Richie and Eddie weren’t just idiotic men on a small screen in the corner of my room – they were my friends, and they were my comfort. They were losers, but they were my losers. They were mine and my friend’s secret obsession – and through their misadventures on screen, we framed our misadventures in real life.
I never got the chance to meet Rik Mayall and thank him for allowing his magnificent Bottom to be part of my life – but every time I arrive at work in Hammersmith I think of Rik and Ade and the BB’s Blues theme tune playing by the Bum Notes. But if it hadn’t have been for Bottom – I’m not sure I’d be doing what I do today…
Thanks for the memories Rik – you brilliant, brilliant, nutter…