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Kick Up the Eighties, A (1981, 1984)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Kick Up the Eighties, A (1981, 1984)
BBC Scotland, 21/9/1981-24/1/1984
10 x 30 min in two series, colour
DirectorBrian Jobson
Writers includeKim Fuller
 Guy Jenkin
 Ian Pattison
 Rob Grant
 Doug Naylor

Cast: Richard Stilgoe, Tracy Ullman, Miriam Margolyes, Roger Sloman, Ron Bain, Rik Mayall [as Kevin Turvey], Robbie Coltrane

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Themed topical sketch show, featuring weekly contributions from 'investigator' Kevin Turvey.

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Best remembered for giving early exposure to the still little-known Rik Mayall, A Kick Up the Eighties had little other connection to the alternative comedy boom. The series' roots were much older, its format lifted from '60s satirical show The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67), with former Nationwide (BBC, 1969-84) presenter and humorist Richard Stilgoe in the David Frost role. Each edition featured a series of sketches around a particular social theme (work, death, sex, television), threaded together by Stilgoe's lightly cynical commentary. Notwithstanding the quality of the cast, notably Miriam Margolyes and rising star Tracy Ullman, few sketches really ignited, and the satirical impact was weak by comparison with the series' nearest contemporary rival, Not the Nine O'Clock News (BBC, 1979-82).

Mayall took no part in the sketches, appearing as brummie 'investigator' Kevin Turvey in a self-contained monologue that was the highlight of each episode. With the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a true idiot, the clueless Turvey would recount the events of his week, building digression upon digression and usually maintaining only the most tenuous connection to the designated theme. His 'investigations' invariably ended before they'd begun; instead, the audience would be offered hilarious insights into Kevin's confused, wretched existence: his abject failure with women, the manifold indignities and abuses he endured from postmen, policemen and passing strangers.

Thanks to Mayall's restrained performance, Turvey was a masterful creation, a breed apart from his deliberately exaggerated grotesques in series like Filthy Rich and Catflap (BBC, 1987) and Bottom (BBC, 1991-92; 1995). To sustain the illusion, it was Turvey's name, not Mayall's, that appeared in the end credits. The character resurfaced for a one-off pseudo-documentary, Kevin Turvey - The Man Behind the Green Door (BBC, tx. 13/9/1982), in which Kevin further expounded his dim-witted philosophy and viewers witnessed for themselves his routine humiliations.

Among A Kick Up the Eighties' writing credits were some who would go on to more lasting success: Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (Red Dwarf, BBC, 1988-99); Ian Pattison (Rab C Nesbitt, BBC, 1989-99); Guy Jenkin (Drop the Dead Donkey, Channel 4, 1990-98). When the series returned in 1984, with Robbie Coltrane in Stilgoe's place, it had taken on a more straightforward sketch show format, though retaining Turvey's tortuous investigations. Coltrane and Ron Bain returned later the same year (with Louise Gold and John Sessions) for the similar Laugh??? I Nearly Paid My Licence Fee (BBC, 1984).

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Beautiful moment (0:56)
2. Compatibility (2:04)
3. Kevin Turvey investigates (4:43)
4. Swingers (2:45)
5. Marriage (1:23)
Complete edition: 'Relationships' (29:14)
Frost Report, The (1966-67)
Coltrane, Robbie (1950-)
Margolyes, Miriam (1941-)
Mayall, Rik (1958-)
Alternative Comedy
TV Satire