Back in my school days, one of the highlights of History lessons was the occasional episode of Blackadder. At the end of the year – if we had worked well – our teacher would pull out the DVD set and we would pile around a portable TV to watch some episodes. The tongue-in-cheek British humour, along with some brilliant acting, made this a real treat; we would look forward to watching the dim-witted Blackadder, the over-the-top Queen and, in one episode of Blackadder II, the hilarious Lord Flashheart.
Lord Flashheart was, of course, the result of comic genius Rik Mayall, who was put to rest in a Devon ceremony held yesterday afternoon.
The Essex-born actor was born to two drama teachers, performing in their plays from a young age. The acting bug stuck and inspired him to study drama at degree level at the University of Manchester. This is where he met Adrian Edmondson, his future partner-in-crime and close friend. The two collaborated first in small time stand-up comedy before moving onto television; Mayall’s early character, Kevin Turvey, showcased his talent, but it was 1982’s The Young Ones that threw him into the spotlight. The show followed the lives of four undergraduates living in a run-down flat, and was one of the first alternative comedies of the British 80’s. The show was innovative at the time due to its use of bizarre cutaway gags and frequent destructive slapstick; although viewership was initially low (more tuned in to watch re-runs after the series was cancelled), Mayall had shown he was not your typical, mainstream actor. This performance paved the way for parts in future shows such as The New Statesman, his very own show alongside Edmondson, Bottom and, of course, the great Blackadder. This Essex boy had finally made it big. Mayall once told The Daily Mail: “I had a happy childhood, happy teenage years and was famous by the time I was twenty-two. A charmed life.”
Indeed, his charisma and, oftentimes, lack of political correctness made him the legend he is. His youngest of three daughters, Bonnie, has fondly described him as ‘foulmouthed’ as well as ‘wonderful’ and ‘hysterical’. Edmondson – who Mayall would often visit to write dirty jokes with in his spare time – yesterday said that he was privileged to ‘have shared [some carefree days] with him’ before adding, playfully – and in a typically Edmondson-Mayall facetious style –“Now he’s dead for real. Without me. Selfish b******!”
Mayall died of cardiac arrest last week at the age of 56, but he is kept alive through his work, his success and those who remember him bringing a smile to their faces.