No one could match Rik's audacity... | Darren J Coles joins the chorus of Rik Mayall tributes

No one could match Rik's audacity...

Darren J Coles joins the chorus of Rik Mayall tributes

I don't normally write about famous people dying, but Rik Mayall was a hugely important part of my childhood development. When I think back to the happiest parts of my formative years, it can usually be distilled into one image: a fat lad (me), eating cold meat swaddled in layers of pastry, summer sunshine burning through the drawn curtains, intently watching Rik Mayall on the television, either by myself, or with a few select others.

I was an obsessive child. During the 90s, while other children were out making tree swings and playing kiss-chase, I was scouring the TV Times on a daily basis for programmes that would make me laugh. Anything would do really, if it had 'comedy' written next to it in alluring italics, I watched it like a fat lad watches cold meats swaddled in pastry. I vaguely remember a quadruple bill of Friday night comedy being screened on BBC Two, amongst which was a TV show called The High Life, an extremely camp sitcom about Scottish air stewards and Game On, a neurotic, sex-obsessed sitcom featuring a promiscuous blonde, a ginger bloke and an agoraphobic, which I think was the next logical step from the Odd Couple. Then there was Bottom.

Seeing Bottom as a mollycoddled 12-year-old was a fucking revelation. I have to say 'fucking', because any description of Bottom without swearing seems inappropriate. It was a cunting revelation. Of bastardly proportions. The appeals to my adolescent brain were numerous and not-at-all varied: they swore, they beat each other with a variety of (slightly rubbery) household implements, they shat themselves openly, they talked about shagging, they dropped obscure cultural references that I would use, but not understand for another ten years.

But the main draw for me personally was the two central characters, particularly that of Richard Richard. His effeminate, sweaty, finger-fondling gestures had me on the floor in tears. Richard Richard didn't even have to say anything funny to make me breathless with laughter. His excitable, pervy grunts and smarmy grin were enough. But fortunately, he did say funny things. VERY funny things. And I memorised all of them pretty sharpish.

I'm not sure which irresponsible parent first bought me, a 12-year-old child, the Bottom box sets on VHS, but I'm pretty glad that they did. Each series was two VHS videos sandwiched together in one massive plastic case. It was about the size of a King James bible, and to me it had just as much cultural value. The only reason I knew the word 'Tolstoy' at the age of 12 was because it was mentioned by Richie, who in series one couldn't get past the first page, and by series three had read the whole thing numerous times through sheer boredom. Although he concluded that he could've jazzed it up a bit, 'put a few nudey pictures in and a couple of car chases'.

My Bottom library rapidly expanded to include series 1-3, the outtakes video Bottom Fluff, the live shows (which my parents would never let me watch in front of my schoolfriends, for fear they would be outed for the irresponsible guardians they were), the reprehensible Guest House Paradiso (I forgave the flaws purely because it was Richie and Eddie on a BIG screen!) and an odd straight-to-video compilation of the live shows, segued together by a succession of different characters played by a bloke who now appears in Santander adverts. After what was probably 30 viewings, the chest-aching laughs wore off and I began to study the show. I became familiar with every movement and facial expression in each scene, I knew the camera pans, the shots, guessed where various overdubs were, learned the names of all the cast members and discovered continuity errors. ANYTHING that was new in the frame, I found it, like a pitiable game of Where's Wally?

Other kids in school used to watch Bottom, but only a small coterie of people have ever GOT it, as far as I was concerned. I frequently corrected other children on misremembered lines: ‘No, he says, “Foxy stoat seeks PIG!” No, it's fine... you just need to watch it again…’. I've forged the closest friendships of my life over my love of Bottom. Me and Gareth, my best friend throughout primary and secondary school, would sit in our bedrooms or pace around the playground together, reciting lines endlessly. I would hitch my grey trousers above my bulbous waist, while Gareth donned his Dad's specs with the lenses poked out, and we'd 'play Eddie and Ritchie' for what seemed like years.

We wrote new episodes for Bottom, one of which involved another Bottom fanatic, Michael, playing a ninja who would repeatedly kick us in our respective knackers. We were also girlfriendless, I might add. The parodies soon developed, and we started writing our own material, incessantly recording comedy cassettes, filming sketches and performing for pupils and teachers alike, a heavily-censored Eddie and Ritchie being the highlight of our repertoire.***** At the age of about 15, we managed to see 'Bottom Live 4: An Arse Oddity' at Cardiff International Arena. Arguably, it marked the point where the bottom of the Bottom barrel was being scraped for reams of recycled material, but I was lost in a white-noise of teenage adoration, unable to get over the fact that I was in the same auditorium as THE Rik Mayall!

A similar Bottom-related meet-cute happened when I was at Cardiff university, I met my close friend and comedy soul mate, Glenn. Our friendship began at a drama society social, where one of us mistakenly revealed that they might just accidentally know the entire Bottom episode Contest off-by-heart. The other undoubtedly gave a dubious smile, as if to say: “Pfft! You can't know it was well as I fucking do!” Soon we were quoting ad nausem, alienating friends, family and stray dogs that surrounded us, a dynamic that hasn't changed after six years. We even contemplated doing a stage version of 'Contest', an ambition that will hopefully be fulfilled at a provincial arts centre someday.

Over the years, I've sought out Rik Mayall's other work, from The Comic Strip Presents (the two characters he plays in Strike in two brief scenes completely overshadow the rest of the episode) to Drop Dead Fred (a story of childhood fantasy lost and regained makes me bawl every time) to How To Be A Little S*d to The Young Ones to everything else he's fucking done. I've even watched his more serious acting roles in programmes like Jonathan Creek, although I was always secretly hoping that Creek would kick him in the knackers, causing him to break character and scream: “HA HA! Missed BOTH my legs!’

I'm now indisputably over the age of 12, yet I still find Rik a hard figure to replace as a comedy writer and performer. No one can match the sheer audacity of his scene-stealing and the linguistic playfulness in the dialogue he co-wrote with Ade. The climax of the face-off between Rik and Ade is still THE best bit of Blackadder Goes Forth for me, as Edmonson's vainglorious opining about the nobility of WWII air duelling is cut short by Rik's pistol bullet, followed by the childish complaint: ‘Eugh! What a poof!’

I’m still doggedly pursuing my pretensions to be a comedy writer and director, probably at the expense of the more wholesome things a person should have in their life, and it can surely be traced back to Bottom and the loveable, deranged loser Richie. However, the spirit of Richie is a hard one to exorcise, and it may have done irreparable damage to my neural circuitry. I still mutter Richie quotes to myself involuntarily, like a nervous tick. And regardless of what state of mind I'm in, it still makes me laugh like nothing else.

Part of me thinks it's strange to be upset over the death of someone you've never met. Both of my parents are still alive, so I have yet to experience true grief. But if their deaths don't inspire a similar outpouring of articulate grief, then consider me a bona fide sociopath and lock me up. Or get me a well paid job in corporate finance.

On the other hand, this was THE Rik Mayall, who was bigger than Hitler, better than Christ, as the title of his autobiography boasted. And of all the people I admire, I reckon Rik might've been a man who lived up to my expectations. Judging from the copious amounts of interviews I've read and seen on YouTube, as well as stories from friends of mine who've met him, he seemed like an intelligent, joyous person, always armed with a double entendre or three.

Maybe this sad telly addict would've liked to have one day told his comedy hero to his face how much he meant to him as a kid, how he outrageously demonstrated to a young weirdo that perhaps being a flamboyant extrovert wasn't the WORST thing in the world to be... ...

What a poof!

Thanks for everything Rik, you fucking mad bastard genius!

Published: 11 Jun 2014

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