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Mayall, Rik (1958-)

Actor, Writer

Main image of Mayall, Rik (1958-)

Born in Harlow, Essex in 1958 to drama teacher parents, comedy performer and writer Rik Mayall was an integral member of the 'alternative comedy' scene that emerged on British television in the 1980s, and is most famous for his role as the obnoxious poetry-writing sociology student Rick in anarchic sitcom The Young Ones (BBC 1982, 1984), the huge success of which owed a great deal to Mayall's energy and screen presence. His performance as Rick was loud, shrill, physical and totally uninhibited, endearing viewers to the character's awfulness and the hypocrisy of his outspoken anarchism (at heart, Rick was deeply conservative). Mayall's readiness to embrace abhorrent characters was key to the success of his persona, and he carried this over to later characters in shows like The New Statesman (ITV 1987-1992, BBC 1994) and Bottom (BBC, 1991-1995).

Mayall met his comedy partner Adrian Edmondson in 1975 whilst a student at the University of Manchester. He performed sketches and stand-up in The Comedy Store and The Comic Strip Club in London as part of a double act called with Edmondson called 'Twentieth Century Coyote'. This led to his television debut performing solo on Boom Boom... Out Go The Lights (BBC, 1980), where he introduced a version of the character that would go on to become The Young Ones' Rick. Similarly, Mayall and Edmondson's stage act 'The Dangerous Brothers' would go on to appear each week in the first series of Saturday Live (Channel 4 1985-1987). This was an idea borrowed from the US sketch/stand-up show Saturday Night Live, which attempted to televise the energy of London's comedy club scene, though their segments were pre-recorded sketches rather than live television performances.

A regular sketch in the show A Kick Up The Eighties (BBC 1981, 1984) showcased Mayall's character Kevin Turvey, a dreary Brummie investigative journalist who was given his own one-off show Kevin Turvey - The Man Behind The Green Door (BBC) in 1982. Mayall was also a regular cast member of the parodic teleplay series The Comic Strip Presents... (Channel 4 1982-1988, BBC 1990-1993, Channel 4 1998, 2000), and co-wrote (with Peter Richardson and Pete Richens) a 1984 episode, the spaghetti Western spoof 'A Fistful of Travellers Cheques'.

But his biggest television breakthrough was The Young Ones, which followed the surreal antics of the four occupants of a dilapidated student house in London, and was co-written by Mayall with Ben Elton and Lise Mayer (Mayall's then partner). Two years after the last episode was broadcast, Mayall reprised the role of Rick and reunited with the cast of The Young Ones for a Comic Relief charity record. Cliff Richard and The Young Ones went on to top the singles charts with their version of 'Living Doll' in April 1986.

Mayall teamed up again with his Young Ones co-stars (Edmondson and Nigel Planer) for the less successful sitcom Filthy, Rich and Catflap (BBC 1987) in which he played Richie Rich, a talentless egomaniac actor. The New Statesman was much more memorable, and saw the creation of another of Mayall's long-running sitcom characters. Alan B'Stard was a smug, conniving and morally bankrupt Conservative MP in this vicious political satire that was first broadcast when Margaret Thatcher was still the Conservative Prime Minister.

In 1991, Mayall reunited with Edmondson for another sitcom. The pair jointly wrote Bottom, in which Mayall played Richie Richard alongside Edmondson's Eddie Hitler, an 'odd couple' of flat-sharing unemployed middle-aged bachelors with a mutual hatred of each other, but bound together by circumstance. Most of the comedy revolved around toilet humour and cartoonish violence, but its vulgarity proved endearing to audiences whose approval gave Mayall his third big sitcom success, which continued to tour in a stage version long after the final episode was broadcast.

Mayall was also an occasional guest star in Blackadder (BBC 1983-1989), and provided the voice of a malevolent baby in the mini-sitcom How To Be A Little Sod (BBC 1995). Some of his film credits include the Hollywood flop Drop Dead Fred (US, 1991) in which he starred alongside Phoebe Cates as her imaginary friend, and the British turkey Bring Me The Head of Mavis Davis (d. John Henderson, 1997) in which he plays music industry manager Marty Starr who plots to kill his fading pop star client.

Mayall was absent from British television screens for a period in the late 1990s recovering from a near fatal accident where he spent some time in a coma after crashing on a quad-bike in the grounds of his Devon home. Since then, his output has been less prolific, but he as appeared in the films Guest House Paradiso (d. Adrian Edmondson, 1999), a big screen version of Bottom, and Day of the Sirens (d. Ray Brady, 2002) as a camp DJ. He also starred in the sitcom Believe Nothing (ITV 2002) as an egotistical Nobel prize-winning Oxford professor named Adonis Cnut, a member of the Council for International Progress, an underground organisation that aspires to control the world.

Hannah Hamad

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)Boom Boom... Out Go the Lights (1980)

First TV showcase for the new wave of alternative comedians

Thumbnail image of Bottom (1991-92, 1995)Bottom (1991-92, 1995)

Shamelessly scatalogical sitcom featuring two loathsome flatmates

Thumbnail image of Comic Strip Presents..., The (1982-2000)Comic Strip Presents..., The (1982-2000)

Long-running film showcase for the alternative comedy generation

Thumbnail image of Kick Up the Eighties, A (1981, 1984)Kick Up the Eighties, A (1981, 1984)

Satirical sketch show introducing Rik Mayall's Kevin Turvey

Thumbnail image of New Statesman, The (1987-92)New Statesman, The (1987-92)

Rik Mayall stars as spectacularly corrupt Tory MP Alan B'Stard

Thumbnail image of Wolcott (1981)Wolcott (1981)

Drama series about a black detective based in East London

Thumbnail image of Young Ones, The (1982-84)Young Ones, The (1982-84)

Anarchic sitcom which launched a generation of alternative comedians

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Thumbnail image of Alternative ComedyAlternative Comedy

The new broom of early '80s humour

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