Hard News by Russell Brown


The People's Poet is dead!

Back then, having someone send you the latest foreign TV on VHS wasn't a metaphorical in-joke: it was literally how you obtained such things in the 1980s. You'd share around the tapes, even have viewing parties. That was how I first saw The Young Ones.

I read about it before I saw it. It was being hailed as a bizarre, transgressive comedy, where objects spoke, flash frames flashed and the fourth wall was gleefully broken. But when you saw The Young Ones, it was about characters: monstrous, raging archetypes every one. (Well, except for Mike the Cool Person, who was created by and should have been played by Peter Richardson, and not that plonker Christopher Ryan.)

It must be odd for an actor or comedian to be overwhelmingly associated with the first major thing you did, but for many people Rik Mayall, who died overnight in in London, will always be the desperate, anally-obsessed, attention-seeking student rebel Rick, forever railing against Thatcher and quoting Cliff Richard.

The wonderful irony is that Rick, in his bombastic, pathetic glory actually did end up as the voice of a generation, as evidenced in this tribute in The Guardian from British Labour MP Jamie Reed:

When The Young Ones tore into my living room in 1982 my life changed. But for the People’s Poet, I would never have wanted to experience the squalor and madness of university life, and without that I wouldn’t be writing this tribute sat at my desk in Westminster today.

Buddy Holly made my father pick up a guitar, Rik Mayall made me crave comedy, satire and politics. He made me want to write, he made me want to think and he made me and every one of my friends want to be him. The character of Prik (silent "P") was like nothing I had ever seen before. He made me want to hold up a bank and threaten Margaret Thatcher, he made me fancy Felicity Kendal and I still avoid the rickety chair.

Our playground used to echo with “Vyvyan, you bastard!” and “Hands up who likes me?” Watched for the first time towards the end of primary school; at secondary school the repeats were looked forward to like Christmas Day. There was nothing like The Young Ones and nobody like Rik Mayall. For me and my friends, he taught us dissent – the same spirit that drove rock and roll decades before.

I actually interviewed Ade Edmonson when I washed up in London in 1986. He was, of course, nothing like Vyvyan, but a modest, amiable chap. I'm sort of glad I didn't get Rik Mayall: it would have been much more sad discovering that Rick didn't really exist.

Twitter is awash with favourite Rick quotes as I write, but undoubtedly this one fits best today ... 

"And the grown-ups will say 'But why are the kids crying?' And the kids will say 'Haven't you heard? Rik is dead! The People's Poet is dead!'"


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