Those of us of a certain age received our comedy education from Rik Mayall. He showed us how it was done. If you grew up in the sixties and seventies you were used to television comedy being measured and safe. Sitcoms, with the odd honourable exception (Fawlty Towers) were comfortable.
Then came the eighties and The Young Ones. I watched the first episode on my tiny telly in my tiny bedsit. It was demented and splendid. None of it made any sense but it had that alchemy and the whiff of cordite that made it joyfully dangerous. I was in love with the scrofulous Neil and Vyvyan and all of the anarchy in that decrepit flat. But I particularly adored hopeless fantasist and pretentious buffoon Rick, the “People’s Poet”.
Mayall was so good at playing idiots. Before The Young Ones he was Kevin Turvey (in the sketch Show A Kick Up the Eighties), a half-witted self-styled “investigative reporter” with a heavy Midlands accent who rarely left his Redditch bedroom. His ranting monologues were conducted directly to camera from a swivel chair as Kevin, in his blue anorak, shared his thoughts on everything from Tarmac to sex.
Oh, it’s so hard to take in the fact that Mayall isn’t around any more. It’s easy to get maudlin about departed celebrities, but this is Rik Mayall. I didn’t know him, I never met him, though I saw him on stage once, at Middlesbrough Town Hall (his support act was a little-known Ben Elton).
But he’s a big part of my comedy memory bank: not just Rick, but Lord Flashheart in Blackadder: “she’s got a tongue like an electric eel and she likes the taste of a man’s tonsils”; Richie in Bottom, making “vodka margarine” for Christmas dinner (there was no brandy or butter). I’ll miss him.