To anyone born at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation, the death of comic Rik Mayall is going to come as an almighty blow.
When Not The Nine O’Clock News’s Mel Smith keeled over last year at 60 it was depressing enough but at least you could half rationalise it on the grounds of his larger-than-lifestyle.
But Mayall? Rik Mayall? The perennially fresh-faced, relentlessly puerile, desperately, professionally immature star of The Young Ones, Blackadder, Bottom and The New Statesman dead aged 54? Never! It all seems so terribly wrong you’re tempted to write to St Peter and ask him whether there hasn’t been some awful mix up at the pearly gates.
Well I am, anyway. Mayall may not rank among history’s more nuanced or sophisticated performers – “Rik Mayall is putrid – absolutely vile. He thinks nose-picking is funny and farting and all that. He is the arsehole of British comedy,” Spike Milligan once said of him, with his characteristic generosity of spirit and charm – but the era of Eighties and Nineties “Alternative Comedy” which Mayall helped launch would have been very much the poorer without him.
One of his funniest creations was his earliest – Kevin Turvey, the self-styled investigative journalist from Redditch, who’d tell you, with manic intensity, in his strong West Midlands accent about his adventurous day. Eg: “I was just sitting there eating my cornflakes. I don’t know how many I had had. Fifteen, sixteen, maybe. I wasn’t counting.”
Perhaps his comedy might have developed more if it hadn’t been for two formative disasters: early success in The Young Ones – which condemned him ever after to playing variations on the perma-sneery, uber-pretentious, slapstick student wanker Rik, such as Tory MP Alan B’stard in The New Statesman; encountering Footlights types like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson and realising he was never going to cut it in the intellectual comedy stakes, so he might as well keep it broad brush.
For me, his finest hour was as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder II
Flashheart (to the capricious, often difficult, and inclined-to-executing-insolent-subjects Elizabeth I): “Hi Queenie. You look sexy. Woof.”
Queenie (to camera): “I’ve got such a crush on him!”
Not subtle. Not in the slightest. But that was what Mayall was always brilliant at: being the most annoying person in the room who you wanted to hate but couldn’t help liking because he was such a stupendously, heroic cock.
You can detect this, perhaps, in the title he chose for his 2006 autobiography: Bigger Than Hitler; Better Than Christ.
There’s a hint of it, too, in his first and only tweet. “Opening my very own Twitter to stop another bastard from doing it. Sofuck off & don’t expect to hear from me any time soon. Love Rik x”