The Young Ones (BBC, 1982-84) was an anarchic sitcom about four students in a North London house - Rick (Rik Mayall), a faux anarchist and self-styled People's Poet, Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), a punk medical student with an appetite for destruction; Neil (Nigel Planer), a permanently depressed, lentil-loving hippy, and Mike (Christopher Ryan), a dapper ladies' man (or so he would have his housemates believe).
The Young Ones was unlike any other previous sitcom. Instead of sticking to familiar story structures and neat resolutions, The Young Ones took an almost surrealist approach to sitcom, with the story frequently departing on random tangents to completely unrelated characters and jokes. In this respect the influence of sketch shows such as Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74) and Spike Milligan's Q (BBC, 1969-80) can clearly be seen.
Just as Monty Python incorporated animated sequences, The Young Ones featured puppets, including the house's resident rats, and Vyvyan's pet hamster. As well as sketches and stand-up comedy, most episodes also featured a musical number performed by then-current bands like Madness and Dexy's Midnight Runners. It often seemed more like a bizarre variety show than a sitcom.
The Young Ones was a huge success and made bona-fide television stars out of its cast. Mayall, Edmondson and Planer all went on to star in The Comic Strip Presents (Channel 4, 1982-88, BBC, 1990-93) and Filthy Rich and Catflap (BBC, 1987), while Mayall and Edmondson starred together in Bottom (BBC, 1991-95).
The show also featured the debuts or early appearances of a whole galaxy of future British comedy talent, including co-writer Ben Elton, Keith Allen, Chris Barrie, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Hale & Pace, Hugh Laurie, Paul Merton, Tony Robinson, Jennifer Saunders and Emma Thompson, while Alexei Sayle played multiple roles including the sinister Eastern European landlord Jerzy Balowski and his extended family. One key name was missing from the cast, though - Comic Strip founder Peter Richardson was originally cast as Mike, but he preferred to work on his own projects.
Just twelve episodes of The Young Ones were made, broadcast in two series in 1982 and 1984, though it has remained one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms, still recalled with affection despite the fact that much of it has noticeably dated, with jokes about Margaret Thatcher's government, police brutality (in the wake of the 1981 Brixton riots), video nasties and the Bomb.