Monday, 16 June 2014

A Tribute to Rik Mayall

After his sudden, and still unexplained, death on June 9th of this year, Caitlin Moran succinctly summed up the appeal of the late Rik Mayall in five lovely minutes on Newsnight (see below).

Like Moran, my own impression of Mayall was developed from chortling with laughter whilst watching Bottom, The Young Ones and his cameos in Blackadder as a pre-pubescent child. The undeniable warmth of the tributes paid in the wake of his demise testifies to a writer and actor that could evoke strong emotions from  those he met and total strangers alike.

Such a following was won by Mayall through his work with Adrian Edmondson, combining extreme levels of brutal slapstick with a sense of juvenile naughtiness. No matter how vile Eddie and Richie’s antics might seem, they always had the viewer’s sympathies and attention. My own favourite moment from Bottom has to be during the Christmas special when the chaotic couple try to reattach a severed thumb with a stapler.

All  those who have ever played the severely under-appreciated video games Hogs of War will be aware of Mayall’s excellent taste for the irreverent. Although critics won’t pay it any attention, the actor’s voice-over work gave a lot of pleasure to many children. Even though such plaudits rarely make headlines, they are exactly the type of feat to focus on when summing up a figure’s lifetime contribution.

One of my Dad’s most repeated anecdote is the time he sat next to Mayall on a plane from London to Newcastle. The famous flyer was apparently chatty and frank ahead of his stand-up gig in the city and related a few insightful stories of his own during the trip.

The last decade saw Mayall slip from the limelight and find novelty roles in beer adverts and the odd television series. As it rises up the charts in posthumous celebration, his 2010 World Cup song, Noble England, is better than most anthems, fully deserving of its place above lesser acts. It might not be a shade on Lord Flasheart but it certainly evokes the same bolshie spirit.

British comedy is not the same without its alternative hero. Our island’s queer sense of humour was a perfect fit for his energetic antics, unleashing the big kid in all of us.

There has simply never been anyone else quite like Rik Mayall.


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