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The best of Rik Mayall (1958 – 2014), master of the grotesque

9 June 2014

5:27 PM

9 June 2014

5:27 PM

Sad news reaches us at Culture House that Rik Mayall, one of the mainstays of my TV-addicted teenage years, has died at the age of 56. A virtuoso of all that was most grotesque and loathsome in man, Mayall made his name leading memorably in a number of game-changing sitcoms, including Channel 4’s the Comic Strip Presents…, ITV’s The New Statesman and BBC Two’s The Young Ones and Bottom. The delight with Mayall was that the more odious his characters became the more mesmerising he got. Here are some highlights:

1. Richie, Bottom

A lot of people didn’t get Bottom. I loved it. It was like a cross between Beckett and Feydeau. And well before I knew who either Beckett or Feydeau were, its sweaty nihilism worked a treat on me. It still does:

2. Lord Flashheart, Blackadder

Mayall only appeared twice in Blackadder: as the macho Elizabethan best man Lord Flashheart and his 20th-century mirror-image Wing Commander Flashheart. Both became Blackadder classics:

3. Alan B’Stard, The New Statesman

I never quite got The New Statesman, but Wendy Cope liked it when she reviewed it for the The Spectator, ‘I liked Mayall’s unusually restrained performance as the new-style young Tory MP. The face handsome, wholesome, manic, calling to mind a slightly deranged but utterly committed school prefect — seemed exactly right to me.’

4. Rick, The Young Ones

Mayall’s mastery of low-lifedom was all-embracing. He could do them all: the neurotic and cruel, arrogant and cuntish, and, as demonstrated in The Young Ones, snivelling and self-righteous (I always imagined Rick becoming a vicar):

5. The Comic Strip Presents…

And here he is in one of his earliest TV roles in The Comic Strip Presents… War from 1983:

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