Rik Mayall: Panglobal Phenomenon | Review of a new Radio 4 documentary about the star
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Rik Mayall: Panglobal Phenomenon

Review of a new Radio 4 documentary about the star

‘A joke is just something you say while you’re being funny,’ says Rik Mayall in Radio 4’s new documentary about his life and career.

It’s a telling line, as Mayall’s manic, ineptly arrogant  persona was pure comedy,  a force of nature transcending any cerebral writing.

Tonight’s Panglobal Phenomenon – named after  the alternative comedy pioneer’s typically megalomaniacal description of himself – sheds new light on its subject via previously unheard recordings of the comic’s creative process.

They were made by Max Kinnings,  Mayall’s collaborator on his 2004 memoir-of-sorts, Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ. Apparently the publisher commissioned a straightforward autobiography, and were taken aback when the pair delivered a highly fictionalised, highly boastful take on reality - though it would be naive to believe HarperCollins had no clue what they were letting themselves in for.

In writing the book, the pair separated Rik the person from ‘The Rik’, the heightened, pompous, performative alter-ego… with the emphasis very much on the ‘ego’. Mayall would then riff freely around aspects of his life, and it’s this process that was caught on tape.

It’s a joy to hear Mayall’s playful voice from beyond the grave, while the documentary also captures the rough-and-ready spirit of alternative comedy from which Mayall the comic was born, and then played a large part in shaping via the likes of The Young Ones and Bottom. 

Inspired by punk, he was always seeking to be subversive, which, it is clear, meant not worrying too much about finesse while embracing mistakes.

Kinnings, who presents the show, says: ‘Throughout it all, we maintained the golden rule of creativity that it's OK to fail. It's OK to get it wrong. And in fact, in getting it wrong, you might well get it right. That was very much the spirit of working with Rik.’

Thats loose spirit was very much alive in the knockabout comic-book ultra violence of his partnership with Ade Edmondson, and to a lesser extent the the deluded revolutionary poet of Kevin Turvey, his early character and a  prototype for The Young Ones’s Rick.

It also informed his generosity when working with collaborators . ‘He empowered everybody to trust their instincts,’ says director Bob Baldwin. ‘He would give you permission, effectively, to say anything.

‘He was the ultimate collaborator. He didn't actually think of ideas as being something you can possess. They were just in the ether and who and everybody would be able to just grab them.’

The likes of Helen Lederer, who worked with him on Bottom, The Comic Strip creator Peter Richardson and fan Sanjeev Kohli provide more professional context while  Mayall’s three children – Sid, Rosie and Bonnie – also speak fondly about the about their father’s loving, mischievous spirit, reassuring fans that the on-stage scamp was not purely an act. 

There’s has been a suggestion that Mayall began to fall for his own jestful hype, especially after being seriously injured in a quad bike accident in 1998. But not that makes much difference to the impressive body of work he left behind before he died in 2014, at the age of 56.

In addition to the well-known hits, Panglobal Phenomenon includes early recordings from the likes of Fundamental Frollicks and The Oxford Road Show – as well as Mayall’s anarchic interactions with mainstream programmes like and  Wogan, Pebble Mill and Steve Wright In The Afternoon.

And all this is only likely to inspire listeners to dig out some of that magnificently unhinged comedy from the archives.

Rik Mayall: Panglobal Phenomenon is on Radio 4 at 8pm today and then on BBC Sounds

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Review date: 1 Jun 2024
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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