No doubt you’ve heard the news of the passing of Rik Mayall earlier this week. He was a comic actor and writer and, with his frequent partner in crime, Adrian Edmondson, Mayall was an innovator of 1980’s alternative comedy. He was also one of the founders of The Comic Strip in Soho.
And though Rik spread his anarchic, surrealistic slapstick through other mediums, he and his compatriots undoubtedly made their biggest impact through television.
Legendary comic Rik Mayall
Here’s a sampling of some of Mayall’s best loved roles:
The Young Ones
If you were an American teenager in the early 80s you might remember watching this radical sitcom on MTV about four undergrads of Scumbag College sharing a squalid student house. Mayall played Rick, a self-proclaimed anarchist who was actually a self-absorbed hypocrite desperate for acceptance.
In the classic historical comedy series Blackadder, Mayall’s appearances were few but memorable namely as a recurring rogue and alleged friend of Blackadder, Lord Flashheart. Whether as a WWI flying ace or an Elizabethan swashbuckler Flashheart is pompous, rowdy and unaccountably popular, especially with the ladies.
Filthy Rich and Catflap
Lesser known in the US, this one-off series stars Mayall as Richard Rich, a self-deluded, barely working actor who thinks himself a virtual household name. So convinced is he of his success, he hires a bodyguard named Catflap (Adrian Edmondson) to protect him from obsessed fans and those who would take advantage of his fame.
The New Statesman
This political satire series had Mayall portraying a most despicable, over-the-top politician named Alan B’Stard. Devious, lecherous, and the height of egomaniacal, B’Stard is a scheming ultra-Conservative MP who resorts to murder when it serves his purposes. This parody of B’Stard’s Conservative party advert pretty much lays out his world view.
In this sitcom, Mayall reunited with Edmondson once again to play two unemployed flatmates, in some ways a continuation of The Young Ones. Richie and Eddie spend their abundant free time trying to figure out how to get women to have sex with them and usually end up beating the living daylights out of one another. Though Richie considers himself socially superior to Eddie, his pompous airs usually backfire on him.
In his final television project, Rik plays Greg Davies’ dad (which is quite biologically impossible since Mayall was only ten years older than Davies, but oh, well). Davies is a teacher going through a very rough patch in his life and his eccentric, spiteful father only makes matters worse.
Rik Mayall died at home at the age of 56. His wife has recently reported he had an acute cardiac event. It is sad indeed to lose such an influential comic voice at a relatively young age. We can only hope that those who were inspired by his style and audacity will continue to share his legacy in their own work.
If there’s a favorite Mayall character, series or scene you’d like to mention, please share your memories with us in the comments section below.
Carmen is an American wife and mother of two college students who live away from home. With her yellow lab Malcolm by her side, she watches and writes about British television for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK I Learned from the BBC. Read more of Carmen’s posts here.