It’s hard to believe that it’s been exactly a year since the lovely, brilliant Rik Mayall left us. His death – and the fact that it’s already been a year since it happened – is, for me, a reminder of both how quickly time passes and how important it is to live our life fully while we’re here (and of course those two things are connected). And if there was someone who lived his life fully – someone who was totally and utterly himself while he was on this planet – it was Rik Mayall.
His speech to the students of Reading University in 2008 – in which he gave his five mantras for leading a happy life – was testament to that:
Rik was my childhood (and adulthood) comedy hero. Here’s what I wrote when he passed away:
People Say You Should Never Meet Your Heroes. Those People Never Met Rik Mayall
As a kid growing up in a nice middle class house in nice middle England – literally, it was the West Midlands – in the 1980s, my parents weren’t fond of us watching ‘rubbish’ on television. ‘Rubbish’ largely covered a) anything that was obviously loads of silly fun, b) anything showing on ITV and c) anything American. Shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider were, therefore, triple threats; and we were a house that chose Multi-Coloured Swap Shop over Tiswas every Saturday morning. Because while Noel Edmonds and Posh Paws were clearly loads of silly fun, Tiswas was even sillier. (And possibly more fun. I don’t know. I wasn’t allowed to watch it.)
So I’m sure it’s only because it was on the BBC that we were allowed to watch The Young Ones.
And when we did, we didn’t know what had hit us.
Throughout its two series, we talked about it with our friends in the playground, and my sister and I did endless Rick (or rather: “Rrrrrick”) impressions. I even sat in front of the TV with my cassette recorder, taping the show so I could listen back to the audio of it in my bedroom. The brilliant, silly-but-smart slapstick comedy of The Young Ones made me laugh in my belly. But most of all: Rik Mayall did.
I had already known and liked Rik as the character Kevin Turvey (in fact, that’s when my and my sister’s impressions of him started) but with The Young Ones, it developed into full-blown love.
I wrote him a fan letter during The Young Ones reign – I was only 12 – and he wrote a short letter back, including a signed photo (which I of course proudly took to show my friends at school). Being unaware of the phrase ‘quit while you’re ahead’ – I was only 12 – I wrote to him again. And again he wrote back, this time including a flyer for his forthcoming play: The Government Inspector. I didn’t go and see it – I was only 12 – but years later I saw Michael Sheen in a production of it at The Old Vic. His performance was, essentially, one big Rik Mayall impression.
The ’80s continued, and while I’m sure Michael Sheen dropped his Rik impressions, my sister and I didn’t: fuelled as we were by The Dangerous Brothers, Filthy Rich & Catflap and of course Mayall’s cameos in Blackadder – not just as Lord Flashheart (“Woof!”) but also Mad Gerald (“Mr Rat!”).
And then, in the ’90s, I met him.