Cardboard Children – Rik Mayall

By Robert Florence on June 10th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Rik Mayall is dead.

This column was supposed to be an analysis of my last Top 50 boardgames video, but I wanted to talk a little bit about Rik Mayall. “What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?!” I hear you ask.

First of all, Rik Mayall has a great deal to do with British childhood. This is a British website, created by some of the best British writers ever to write about games – your boys Rossignol, Gillen, Meer and Walker. And I bet all those guys, like me, had their childhoods poked at, prodded and given the vicky-v’s by Rik Mayall. He was that big. He was that important.

I was a good boy. I was a quiet child. I had (and still have, thank god) a brother and three sisters, but they were (and still are, thank god) a fair bit older than me. When I was a little boy, my siblings were getting on with being teenagers – drinking, socialising, partying.

I played games and I read books and I watched TV. That’s what I did. That’s pretty much all I did. My parents were older than most parents. I was a late child. My ma had lost two children before I was born. I was the baby she was warned not to try for. I popped out fit and healthy anyway. Fuck it, why not? I wish I’d managed to defy expectations more often. That might have been my one and only miraculous achievement – just getting here. It’s enough, I suppose.

My childhood was a good one. I lived in my own little world, of games and sci-fi and horror and nonsense. My parents, already middle-aged, made sure my world was one of Bing Crosby and Perry Como and Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra too. My da, though, was an interesting guy. I’ve written about him before on these pages. I think I’m probably always writing about him, everywhere. He was interesting because he lived his life with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. And another foot in the future, somehow, despite only having two legs. He was the one who wanted to watch The Young Ones. He was the one I watched The Young Ones with. I was 6 years old.

Did he ban me from watching it, with all its violence and bad language and anarchy? No. He wanted me to watch it, and I remember him watching me as I watched it. The Young Ones taught me to hate Margaret Thatcher and to dance like Alexei Sayle and to love The People’s Poet, Rick, who is now actually dead. The People’s Poet is dead, as is my da. How awful is that?

“What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?”

I was thinking last night about Rik Mayall, and The Young Ones, and the alternative comedy movement. I remember how it changed me. I remember how it changed everything. I was a quiet boy, like I said. I cried on my first day at school. I couldn’t bear to be separated from my parents, and people were noisy and teacher would shout and it was scary and I wanted to go home. But then comedy happened, and Rik Mayall happened, and I was taught that noise and chaos was amazing and that it wasn’t wrong to flick the vicky-v’s at people in positions of authority. In Blackadder, Rik Mayall would swing into view and be the loudest guy in the room. Everybody loved him. It was fine to be the loudest guy in the room. It was good to be fearless, loud and funny. It was fine to be a show-off, as long as you had that glint in your eye. It was even good to be an outsider. Hey, it was cool to be an outsider, as long as you had your own thing going on.

Look at comedy today. Much of it is small – a comedy of awkwardness, and little glances to the camera. A comedy of the struggle inside conformity. When I was a kid, comedy was Rik Mayall screaming the most profound obscenities. Comedy was Ade Edmondson alleviating boredom by battering people with a cricket bat. Comedy was Alexei Sayle stamping down the street towards us, shouting about injustice. Comedy, when I was a kid, gave us confidence. It made us bold.

The Young Ones was transformative. It really was. I saw my friends change from tiny little whispering things into yelping rogues who swore like sailors. I watched as my best pals got loud and wild – two things I think any healthy human being needs to be.

I played pen and paper RPGs with my friends. Without the alternative comedy movement, I don’t think I could have done that. Kids in a room pretending to be characters? Acting? Trying to make each other laugh? How could we have done that without people like Rik Mayall?

I wanted to bounce off other people. I’d seen how Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson had pinballed against each other. It was intoxicating, and it was how friendships should be, surely? I now wanted my games to be social. I needed to be with people, poking fun at them, making them react. I needed a shared laughter. I played board games that would let me be loud and crazy. To this day, my favourite board games are the ones that let me fully interact with others. I love the board games that let us all go wild.

What would I have been without The Young Ones? What would any of us, of my generation, have been?

“What does Rik Mayall have to do with board games?”

This is the point I’m always trying to make. Let’s be straight here – to the uninitiated, board gaming looks like the most square, dull, tragic thing ever. It does, right? But that’s not how I play board games. What board gaming is, to me, is a hugely social, funny, loud, wild event. It’s all “FUCK YOU!” and smashing dice across the board and crude jokes and uproar. It’s why my Top 50 list, particularly in its upcoming Top 10, will show a huge bias towards fun and interactivity. It’s why I never really understand people who play solitaire board games. Surely the point is to play with people?

You can’t be square and play board games. “We’re all going to get together tonight and pretend to be aliens and we’re all going to shout at each other and get drunk and swear and laugh and scream.” We play board games, we behave like 10 year olds, right? There’s nothing uncool about that. It’s totally cool.

Rik Mayall behaved like a 10 year old all his life. He was like a fucking rock star.

There is no The Young Ones for my 7 year old daughter to watch. What would she see if I showed her the comedy of 2014? A fucking panel show, with every guest a middle-aged man? Great, right? It’s why it’s been such a pleasure making these board game videos with her. We’re making videos about her da’s toys, like her da is 10 years old or something – and yet thousands of people are watching them. That’s hugely exciting to her. Her confidence is growing. She’s getting louder.

I thank Rik Mayall, and all of those brilliant comedians who made my childhood so exciting. I idolised that bunch, and they made me a lot less afraid of the world. They made me fall in love with the loudness and wildness of people.

And because I love people, I love board games.

And that’s what beautiful, brilliant Rik Mayall has to do with board games.

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62 Comments »

  1. Ir0nM0nkey says:

    Awesome post and incredibly poignant – my debate now is whether to introduce my 8 year old son to The Young Ones !

    • Artiforg says:

      Do it!

      I showed my daughter Bang! Bang! With Reeves and Mortimer as a taster of slapstick and she loved it so you may want to start with that. She was 6 at the time. She’s now 8, and I think ready for the Young Ones.

    • Ztox says:

      BEST…SHOW…EVER…

      p.s. I was late to the party (born in ’88) so shows that it holds up well :)

  2. fish99 says:

    “This is no time for being an ugly, ignorant, no brained arse head from hell!”

    (points for anyone who can add the punchline)

    • Mechorpheus says:

      We’re a bit stumped then aren’t we?

      RIP Rik, you magnificent bastard.

  3. Premium User Badge

    RedViv says:

    Being loud and loving people and being nicely rude are still traits that I love in people, after having learned to love them in myself (the traits, not most of the people), and Rik Mayall had no small part in that. Presence that will be missed. Thank you for these words, Rab.

  4. Einhaender says:

    So he literally has nothing to do with board games after all… It’s like saying “What has Hitler to do with domestic violence?”

    Nonetheless great read about your relationship with board games.

    • Barchester says:

      To be fair, he once played a brilliant game of chess with Ade Edmondson on Bottom.

  5. w0bbl3r says:

    Awesome to pay your respects to the incredibly funny and talented Rik.
    But you harp on about your childhood more than anything else, like you used this as an excuse to write your biography.
    And I don’t think it’s strange that your old man allowed you to watch the young ones. It was for everyone. Yes, it was a bit more gratuitous than other shows had been, but this was a strange time in british society, where punk had become mainstream (and died mainstream) and had infected almost every aspect of entertainment.
    Every child I knew (I was around 10 when the young ones came out, or thereabouts) watched the young ones.
    Then we watched the hilarious (underrated) Filthy, Rich and Catflap. Then we grew up and watched bottom.
    But there was also the dangerous brothers, on saturday live and friday night live. Alan B’stard. All the channel 4 stuff, like The comic strip series of movies.
    All very similar, silly, anarchic kind of stuff, all seemingly for grown ups. But all seen by kids of my age and younger at the time.
    If they were on too late, my dad recorded them for me (on our old betamax video recorder. I am THAT old) and I watched them the next day, and the day after, and the day after, until the tape wore out.
    Rik Mayall was more than that, though. An incredible writer of comedy and drama. And a phenominal stage and screen actor of more dramatic roles.
    I am not ashamed to say I shed a few tears on hearing of this guys death. He made a bigger impact on my life than a lot of real people have done (and in a far more positive way than most).
    R.I.P. Rik, you bar-stard

    • tigershuffle says:

      well said w0bbl3r
      was just about to write something very similar.

      As Im a boychilld of 46 years, Im so glad that I got to grow up watching all the shows you mentioned.
      As a lefty student of the 80s (only FE College not Uni…..yes i was that stupid) I think most of my friends and I wanted to be like Vyvvian but knew all to well we were all like Rik.
      Rik Mayall I salute you

  6. Draycen says:

    Well said Rob He will be so very sadly missed.

  7. C0llic says:

    I was truly saddened and shocked by his death in a way quite unlike most celebrity passings.

    He was far too fucking young and far too fucking talented. Thanks for writing this.

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    tigerfort says:

    Speaking personally, I play solo boardgames because they remind me of good times playing non-solo boardgames (and my RSI limits computer gaming), at times when playing with friends isn’t possible for one reason or another.

    I was never a great fan of “The Young Ones”, growing up*, but despite that it was so obviously right in important hard-to-define ways. And I’ve loved Rik Mayall in so many things since. Good words, Rab.

    *honestly not sure why not, although I think the things that really spoke to me tended to be less shoutily – if no less openly – subversive.

    ETA – Separately, Kudos to whoever was responsible for the front page of today’s Times

  9. thebigJ_A says:

    Hi i’m american and whats a rik mayall?

    • Matzerath says:

      Drop Dead Fred, of course! Also, second guy playing chess in the pub at the beginning of American Werewolf In London.

      • Neurotic says:

        His bit in that is absolutely brilliant. Fits the character perfectly!

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      Rikard Peterson says:

      Hi, I’m Swedish. Read the article, and you’ll get an explanation.

    • Zenicetus says:

      Some of us Yanks might know him better as Lord Flashheart from the Blackadder series.

      I have a vague memory of seeing a few The Young Ones shows on the BBC America cable channel, but I’m probably a few years too old to have really appreciated it.

      • Underwhelmed says:

        In the early 90′s, several cable channels in the US showed the Young Ones as well, Comedy Central springs to mind, which is where and when I was first introduced to the show. I still have some VHS copies of the show laying around despite having not owned a VCR for the last 5 or 6 years (a friend of mine and I each purchased 2 of the 4 tapes the show was sold on). I loved that show so much when I was younger I held on to the tapes just because.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      Like all Brits, he was funny.

  10. Drake Sigar says:

    Thanks, I hoped this would be mentioned on RPS.

    Despite all the celebrity deaths over the years, none of them have really made me reflect back on my childhood and think on how much better my world was with them in it, until now. I always smile when I think of Rik.

  11. Lion Heart says:

    youll be missed, cya around rik.

  12. Uglycat says:

    Rik Mayall did the voice over for the much ignored ‘Hogs of War’, which is my only segue out of this conversation.

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      Rizlar says:

      Hogs of War was brilliant! Rik Mayall must have done so much great stuff, didn’t realise he was in HoW but I can hear that voice perfectly now.

  13. morbiusnl says:

    this is the reason I keep coming back to this site. thank you.

  14. SkittleDiddler says:

    RIP, Rik with a P. The Young Ones guided me into a permanent state of arrested development, and for that I am extremely grateful to you.

  15. sonson says:

    Best thing-and indeed, the most RPS thing- Ive read on here in a long while. Beautifully said Rab.

  16. Barberetti says:

    I was hoping this would get a mention on RPS. Thanks Rab.

    On the subject of Rik and board games, here is the chess master himself ..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_g_ZbGquSM

    R.I.P. Rik, and thanks for all the laughs.

    • Groove says:

      That’s actually an uncanny replica of some of the people I’ve tried to teach games to.

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    deadfolk says:

    Thank you for this, Rab.

    This is why I come here.

  18. BooleanBob says:

    Horrible Histories

    • Gothnak says:

      This gets a vote from me too. I’m 40 now, and i saw the Young Ones growing up.. However, i think Horrible Histories is a fantastic show for kids, as is Yonderland which i quite happily watch and enjoy myself. Feels a bit like Monty Python for kids.

      Most stuff is indeed crap though, and anarchy and lampooning of government is sorely missing these days without Spitting Image either.

    • bigredrock says:

      I’m Sorry I’ve Got No Head

  19. WelynDowd says:

    A very poignant piece, thank you. RIP Rik, you are sorely missed.

  20. jsjwooowooo says:

    Thanks for teaching me about Rik Mayall. You and your daughter rule! Keep making awesome videos!

  21. Quine says:

    I remember the time he somehow ended up doing Jackanory- George’s Marvellous Medicine I think,
    It took BBC kids programming a while to recover from that one. Great stuff…

  22. Spacewalk says:

    He was also in Bad News which is probably my strongest memory of him. Because I was listening to the album the other day.

  23. Little_Crow says:

    “Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!”
    “And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, “Other kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?”

    It’s a wonderfully apt quote, except with a special Young Ones treatment and he’s attempting suicide with laxatives.
    R.I.P. (p)Rick

  24. Winged Nazgul says:

    Some of us ‘murricans of a certain age remember Rik Mayall and The Young Ones as well courtesy of MTV in its halcyon days. RIP you lovely bastard.

  25. Kadayi says:

  26. Hydraulic Meerkat says:

    I don’t remember what network had them, but i was exposed to both Red Dwarf and The Young Ones growing up in Canada, and they quickly became some of my favorite shows. Truly sad news.

  27. Randomgit says:

    In honour of Rik’s passing I plan to eat my own ear wax. And we all know how horrid that tastes, right kids?!

  28. hprice says:

    It was so sad to see the news yesterday morning. I’d only been thinking about the Young Ones and The New Statesman recently, and then … Time to get both on DVD finally, I think.

    But … woah … Rik Mayall was most definitely not about swearing, and being loud and obnoxious. He was a quite quiet bloke in real life who just happened to have the writing and acting ability to put life into seriously awful characters who we loved and hated in equal quantities.

    Cases in point:

    1) Rick, the people’s poet was a horrible person. Vyvian, his mother, and the others in the flat hated him. He showed how some left wing people can be pompous, self-centred people who will change nothing but at the same time be Cliff Richard fans. Nothing there to be remotely proud about, really.

    2) Blackadder – Flashheart was an appalling showoff. He stole our hero, Black Adder’s girl, Bob, and was an unsufferable loud mouthed oik. Entirely full of himself, its a shame that Black Adder never got to shoot him dead. I loved Mayall, and he stole the show as FH, but I always wanted to punch FH in the flippin’ face.

    3) Alan B’stard – Another horrible bloke. The most Conservative Tory you could ever have. Worse than Thatcher … but he did it all with such bravado that he became almost likeable. Bit like Alan Clark in a way. You have to respect the total loathsomeness of the bloke.

    4) Richie Richard – A perverse pathetic little man living in a flat with an almost similiarly pathetic little man called Eddie Hitler. They’re the bottom of the bottom, the lowest of the low. Nothing remotely to like about there really. Nothing to aspire to.

    [Never saw Filthy, Rich and Catflap so cannot comment on that]

    So … how the hell you got from being a quiet child to where you are now … flippin eck. I’ve been a quiet bloke all my life (I have an anxiety disorder, autism and depression) and admired what Rik Mayall did but blimey, I would never have taken from it that it was ok to be loud, obnoxious and be a total prick. Jesus. The more I read the articles here on RPS, the less I want to come back here.

    Mayall was about REAL comedy. The comedy that arises from people’s quirks, vulnerabilities, social standing etc. He was about showing reality, but being incredibly silly with it. He was fighting against the comedy that up to then was the main stay of the British sitcom. Cosy, boring, middle-class or racist/sexist working class. Jokes about black people and my mother in law. Sitcoms like Terry and June, or The Good Life. That’s what the real alternative comedy was about. It was in a way like punk in that it was in the same sort of era. It was absolutely nothing about being obnoxious or a total arsehole to any one except those in a position of power.

    God save us from those who think being loud, noisy and sweary is good … Without the talent like Mayall’s in a setting like a comedy program that kind of behaviour is just obnoxious … but he can’t because he doesn’t exist. Oh well, better just avoid them like I normally do then.

    And don’t even get me started on today’s comedies and stand ups. Today’s comedy seems to be about social awkwardness and maliciousness. There is none of the silliness that there used to be in, certainly the UK comedy scene. The US scene seems to be totally about gross-out and mocking the audience in ways that the audience do not even recognise.

    When I was a kid, I drowned myself in comedy, and listened and watched things from Tony Hancock and The Goon Show all the way up through The Grumbleweeds and The News Huddlines (Remember those pop pickers??) … through The Mary Whitehouse Experience, On the Hour, Victor Lewis-Smith’s shows on Radio 1, and even Saturday Night Fry which had a listener ship of about 3.

    All those shows either good or bad still had a very British silliness to them that seems to have died a death. Now all we get are poseurs who think they’re funny but are as funny as Harry Hill or Miranda Hart or syphilis ie not at all.

    Such a shame. I would have liked to have enjoyed a decent obit on here about Rik Mayall but for me it just hit all the wrong points. Rik Mayall and the other guys legacy was to make comedy that was real, was actually funny without being cringe worthy, said something about real life, but also was incredibly silly with it. Also,if you do anything with enough enthusiasm, even hitting someone over the head with a frying pan becomes funny. If you do it like Rik and Ade did … it becomes transcendent.

    Rant over … best wishes (ha!)

    Hprice (cantankerous and humourless git since 1967)

    ps I shall leave you with my favourite bit from Bottom … Happy Xmas …

    • Premium User Badge

      JamesTheNumberless says:

      You’re absolutely right about his characters. Rik made a career out portraying characters with no redeeming features. None of them are even funny or clever, it’s the way he plays ‘em. For me it’s Rik the actor who is the inspiration, we love the characters because of his acting and his writing.

      • hprice says:

        Thank you James. I thought I was alone in my thoughts for a moment, and the entire universe had gone entirely mad for a second there :D. I thought Rik deserved something a bit more … thoughtful rather than just being an excuse to be an obnoxious twat (not that I am of course :D)

        It seems we live in strange times. Many thanks again for your reply.

        Best wishes

        HP.

    • Kairased says:

      I think you may have missed the point a bit…
      This is not about the quality of his writing or style of comedy…this is about how people like him were a symbol that said “coming out of your shell and being a bit louder and more silly can be a good thing.”
      It’s about inspiring confidence…sometimes you have to be loud and obnoxious and hilarious to do that.
      It’s one of the many effects Rik and comedians like him had in the 80s.

      This isn’t about viewing his work as an objective thing…comedy is subjective anyway. Plenty of people would dislike his style.
      This personal piece is about what effect Rik’s comedy had on him and his life…which I personally find more interesting than just discussing the details of what made him a good writer or performer…which he obviously was.

  29. Premium User Badge

    Sinomatic says:

    Woof!

  30. Rolento says:

    A mash up from my favourite Bottom episode:

  31. AlwaysRight says:

    Get your daughter watching ‘House of Fools’ Rab.

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    Tom De Roeck says:

    So Adam gets left out again? SORRY ADAM, THEYRE PLANNING AN EARLY RETIREMENT PARTY.

  33. Melipone says:

    Thanks for posting this Rab – hearing about his death really did kick me in my 12 year-old self’s bollocks. Being a few years your junior, for me it was Bottom that I would sit up with watching with my mum, who disapproved of swearing but found the program too funny for that to get in the way.

  34. frightlever says:

    Modern anarchic comedy – We Are Klang, maybe? I think the alternative ethos turned into something a lot more cynical than the old alternative movement, that naively thought it could actually make a difference. Now it’s your Frankie Boyles and all those other comedians who get off on attack humour.

    I was a big fan of Mayall, right from seeing 20th Century Coyote on Bang Bang, Out go The Lights through pretty much everything he did, even Hotel Paradiso. It’s somewhat ironic that his career highlight, IMO, was acting in the New Statesmen – a sitcom written by the same guys that came up with Goodnight Sweetheart.

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    JamesTheNumberless says:

    Great article, I grew up in the same city around the same time, and was a very similar sort of kid. Although I had nobody to point me towards the Young Ones, I knew Rik from Bottom, and as Lord Flashheart. But also, and more broadly, I think our generation, born around the heyday of Punk, benefited from a very healthy dose of anarchy and eccentricity in all forms of entertainment both adult and child oriented.

  36. Groove says:

    I really appreciate the article, it touched on so much of what I was thinking. RIP.

  37. popedoo says:

    Many many thanks for this article.

    Rik was a childhood hero of mine.

    I had the great great privilege of getting to work with him a few years ago and he was an absolute hoot.

    RIP a legend!

  38. sonofsanta says:

    I think that’s the best thing I’ve seen written about Rik this week.

    This may be because it’s about what he was, what he represented, instead of what he did.

    Marvellous stuff.

  39. rexx.sabotage says:

    Thanks for sharing these words :]

  40. ChrisSuffern says:

    Amen to that. Great post. Pretty much summed up why I play board games, and what I look for when playing board games.

    RIP Rik. Drop Dead Fred was one of my favorite movies as a kid.

  41. Kairased says:

    My dad passed away last year and the way you describe being introduced to the Young Ones is exactly how it was for me too. Both my mum and dad HAD to show it to me. It was important to them and it became important to me.
    Some of my favourite memories of my dad is him yelling out Young Ones quotes at the best times.
    And I had the same experience…it’s not like I became “confident”, but I found a kind of important confidence in that anarchic humour too.

    This is maybe the first celebrity death that’s hit me this way.
    I’ll always remember my dad the most fondly when I watch The Young Ones…so on top of everything else, thanks for that Rik.
    Ya bastard.