"Rik was on the side of the underdog, the idiot, the struggler, the underclass"by John Kelly / June 11, 2014 / Leave a comment
Rik Mayall as Alan B’Stard in his satirical TV show The New Statesman ©PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images
Manchester University’s drama department featured an all-star cast in the mid-1970s with Rik, Adrian Edmonson and Ben Elton all in attendance. Also among the faculty was David (Doc) Mayer, a North American lecturer with a passing resemblance to The Cat in the Hat, whose daughter Lise was to become a creator and co-writer of The Young Ones. I was lucky enough to be there, having followed my fellow band members north after abandoning a Chinese degree at Oxford University.
A young Rik Mayall, slouching to lectures, would often approach the scraggly Trotskyite selling newspapers on the steps of the Manchester University Union building. “Morning Star” cried the vendor. “Morning, fan,” Rik would reply with a starry wave.
Rik lived in a squalid cottage in South Manchester, the prototype for The Young Ones’ student slum. His double act with Ade was honed in sessions at a local studio where students staged experimental performances. Ben wrote dozens of terrible plays. A few clever kids, chasing higher grades, staged scenes from Shakespeare and Ibsen. The avant-garde Situationist faction performed an alarming version of Waiting for Godot in which a dungareed lesbian tree urinated on Estragon before pulling coloured ribbons out of her vagina. Rik and Ade performed in a group named 20th Century Coyote that saw them hit each other repeatedly with bits of furniture. Footlights it was not.
Over the other side of town, punk bands were playing at the Nile Club, later to become the Factory and produce acts such as Joy Division and the Buzzcocks. I played bass in a blues band. Rik and Ade were regulars. Much alcohol was consumed. That was how we met.
Twentieth Century Coyote took their play, Death on the Toilet, to Edinburgh. The luvvies were underwhelmed. Rik stumbled round America with a touring Oxbridge Shakespeare company, moved to London and lived with his girlfriend, Doc Mayer’s daughter Lise, who bullied him into playing at the Comic Strip—a Soho strip club—where he helped invent “alternative comedy” with Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Alexei Sayle, Robbie Coltrane and others. Politically correct rants were the norm—an antidote to the working men’s club tradition of British stand-up which was often racist…