TV Review: Rik Mayall – Lord of Misrule, BBC2

Rik Mayall

2014 has not been a good year for comedy departures. Robin Williams and Joan Rivers left us, but it was Rik Mayall’s sudden death on June 9 that struck the most resonant chord with me. Without getting all UKIP about it, Mayall was a Great British Comic and the BBC tribute Lord of Misrule was a fitting send-off.

There were a few things missing here. Most notably Ade Edmondson chose not to take part. Rik’s death obviously hit him hard and apparently he didn’t feel comfortable discussing his long-time friend in this context*. There were a few other omissions too. No Nigel Planer, no mention of Mayall’s ITV series Rik Mayall Presents.

And Simon Callow’s pun-laden narration was a trifle odd, but on the other hand there was also much to relish – mainly the chance to catch Mayall at classic full throttle. Here was Kevin Turvey – were Brummies considered dim before Turvey? There was Alan B’Stard, kicking a Falkland veteran’s crutch away. There was Lord Flashheart with a canoe in his pants. Not sure about John Lloyd’s comment that Mayall was unrecognisable in Blackadder when he entered – you could never miss Mayall. 

This was very much a glowing profile, so there were no critics offering a more balanced appraisal of his work. I don't recall his movie Drop Dead Fred doing as well as is suggested here. But his best work was breathtakingly brilliant. A few years ago I think people were saying that The Young Ones hadn’t aged very well, but the clips here, mostly cartoonish pre-Bottom violence between Rik and Ade, looked pretty good to me. Bottom, of course, was their sitcom take on Samuel Beckett and should be a compulsory A Level text.

Perhaps it's understandable that Rik’s flops were passed over, because there was so much good stuff to get in. The Comic Strip films got a mention but probably deserve a documentary in their own right. We could also have an entire programme about his eyes or his habit of sticking up two fingers to the camera.

It was particularly touching to see him back on form at the end as the dad in C4's Man Down with his comedy clone Greg Davies. There was a lovely circularity as early on a photo revealed Rik’s real-life dad larking about, albeit not shagging a wall as Rik was seen doing in the clip. The nuttiness gene clearly ran in the family.

*Edmondson said this to the Guardian in October: "I was sent the synopsis and it was all wacky and wild. You could see it was just going to be a load of talking heads and clips, so I pulled out of that…I just think he deserves something better than that. And I think, if someone important dies, you can’t be flippant about it.”

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