Wednesday, 11 June 2014

RIP: Rik Mayall

I remember first being enchanted by Rik Mayall's performance in a TV show called "A Kick up the Eighties". It starred Tracy Ullman, and David Copperfield (not the magician!), and Rik Mayall.
While the rest of the show largely consisted of sketches of a rather general sort, Rik was quite different. He presented his own slot as Kevin Turvey, investigative reporter, facing to the camera, in what was a series of monologues, which often drifted from the subject. But what held it together was the character of Kevin Turvey, brilliantly created.
It was just Rik, sitting in a chair, in a kind of parody of Rodin's thinker, the lights down, and then they would rise, and he'd turn to face the camera. And you know instinctively that this was one of the highlights of "A Kick up the Eighties", and long after the other sketches had faded into oblivion, you would still remember Kevin Turvey, and his distinct working class Birmingham accent.
Here's one part of one of those sketches, appropriately on the subject of death:
"Good evening, everybody, wherever you are.  My name's Kevin Turvey, but you can call me Kevin Turvey.  Alright, settle down, settle down.  I thought we'd start, like, with a little joke, right, because this week I've been investigating death.  Death:  the grim rapist.  What is it?  Where is it?  Why is it?  You could even say "is it?"  You could say anything.  Like, a lot of people say anything.  "
"I mean, like, the other day, right, I went round to see Theresa Kelly, who's, like, this girl that I know.  Well, not like her, she is her, you know.  Well, at least I hope she is.  Otherwise, I'd be in a bit of trouble if she wasn't, anyways.  So, I decided to go and see her on a bus, right.  I decided not to go in a car, like, 'cause then I'd have to get, like, loads of money together, and, uh, book up a load of lessons, and buy a car.  It's just too much trouble.  So I went straight down to the bus stop, right, and started to wait."
"And just as I'd almost finished waiting, right, this bus started to come up the hill.  I thought, "Great!  I hope this is a 64, like, I really hope it's a 64."  And sure enough, it was.  I thought, "Great!"  Well, it was bound to be a 64 really, 'cause only the 64s come up that way.  So I stuck my hand out to stop it, and it went straight past. "
"Straight past!  I thought-well, I can't actually say what I thought, you know, 'cause, like, there's this rule at the BBC that says that you can't actually talk properly, you know.  You have to pretend to talk the way that people who invented TV 50 years ago used to talk, like, when they were at dinner parties pretending not to swear.  It's a very good rule.  I don't quite know why they have it.  I think it's probably to save money or something like that.  Anyway, it's a very good rule."

You can view it at:
Rik went on to "The Comic Strip Presents", with his friend Adrian Edmondson and they were together again in probably one of the most anarchic shows on BBC2 - "The Young Ones". With such a collection of grotesques, masquerading as students, Rik's character seemed almost normal (as a student) alongside firebrand maniac Vivian. The first series was excellent, but the scripts were thinning out, and the second series was not quite as good.
Rick: I'm going to write to my MP!
Neil: But you haven't got an MP, Rick, you're an anarchist.
Rick: Oh right. Then I shall write to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen.
Undaunted, Rik put in two appearances as "Lord Flashman" in Blackadder. These were typical over the top affairs, more cameos, but to counter that, extremely loud ones!
Flashheart: It's me, Flash! Flash by name, Flash by nature. Hurrah!
Blackadder: Where have you been?
Flashheart: Where haven't I been! Woof!
I never saw his TV show "Bottom", apart from one episode, and I have to say that I was not greatly enamoured of that. But I did catch a glimpse of him on "Jackanory", where he was a natural storyteller.
"The New Statesman", provided excellent range for his talents as backbench Tory MP, Alan B'Stard. While not perhaps as subtle as "Yes Minister", it nevertheless struck a chord, especially under Mrs Thatcher's lean to the right for the Conservatives
Of backstage, it was heartening to read Maurice Gran, co-writer of "The New Statesman" say that:
"Rik had a guilty secret: he came from a lovely family, and as a result, he was beautifully well brought up with impeccable manners. At the end of each week's recording, he would individually thank every member of the cast"
Some of "The New Statesman", like "Yes Minister", still rings true today under the coalition government
Alan B'Stard: You know the really great thing about a fudged coalition is that neither of us need to carry out a single promise of our election manifestos.
And I heard one person tell BBC Radio Jersey today that he was gay, didn't want children, and therefore why should he support any services for children with his taxes. That's the spirit of Alan B'Stard, and not a million miles from the attitude expressed here:
Alan B'Stard: We hear an awful lot of leftie whingeing about NHS waiting lists. Well the answer's simple. Shut down the health service. Result? No more waiting lists. You see, in the good old days, you were poor, you got ill and you died. And yet these days people seem to think they've got some sort of God-given right to be cured. And what is the result of this sloppy socialist thinking? More poor people. In contrast, my policies would eradicate poor people, thereby eliminating poverty. And they say that we Conservatives have no heart.
But if he needed to, Rik Mayall could play a straight role very well indeed. As Detective Inspector Gideon Pryke, he gave a more measured performance in two episodes of the show.
A sparkling talent, who will be much missed, Rik leaves behind a fine body of comedic work which I am sure will stand the test of time. I've enjoyed his cameo appearances, and "The New Statesman", and "The Young Ones", and I can still remember when he first came to my attention, the only character in a sketch show who had realism - mad, eccentric realism, of the kind that typified so many of the his acting roles - but realism none the less. The other actors played parts in sketches. But Rik Mayall, for his brief exchanges with the audience, became Kevin Turvey.
Here's another snippet of his genius at play:
"Anyway, this week I decided I'd investigate tarmac.  You know, like why it's black and things like that.  So I got up, like, really early on the first day of my investigation and thought I'd have a really good breakfast, you know, cereal.  So I went into the kitchen, right, got out the cornflakes, put it on the table, went over to fridge, like, 'cause that's where I keep my milk, you know.  Opened up the door, and guess what?  There was no milk!  I thought, "That's alright, I'll go to Tesco's and get some milk," like, 'cause they got loads down there, you know.  No, they have.  I've been there, I've seen it.  Racks and racks of it."
"Anyway, I went down there.  Went in, like, through the door, you know, 'cause, like, they got two doors there, you know.  There's one that says "in" and there's one that says "out," and I went in the one that says "in," right.  I went in there, and that's when this really strange thing happened, 'cause I saw this woman in there.  Well, it's not odd in Tesco's, is it, really?  But this one was.  I thought, "Crikey, that's Noel Gordon."  I thought, "It can't be Noel Gordon.  Not in Tesco's, like."  So I crept up behind her, and tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned 'round.  D'you know what?  I was right.  It wasn't."
"So I got the milk, like, you know, took it home, and poured it on me cornflakes, like.  Well, not all of it, just a bit, like, you know.  Put the top back on, and put it back in the fridge, like, on its own.  Well, not absolutely on its own, there's a bit of cheese in there, I think, and some ice, you know.  But that's not important anyway."

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