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Pat Stacey on TV: Shoddy tribute fails to honour memory of Rik Mayall

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The Young Ones (left to right) Vyvyan played by Adrian Edmondson, Neil played by Nigel Planer, Mike played by Christopher Ryan and Rick played by Rik Mayall

The Young Ones (left to right) Vyvyan played by Adrian Edmondson, Neil played by Nigel Planer, Mike played by Christopher Ryan and Rick played by Rik Mayall

The Young Ones (left to right) Vyvyan played by Adrian Edmondson, Neil played by Nigel Planer, Mike played by Christopher Ryan and Rick played by Rik Mayall

ADRIAN Edmondson declined to take part in Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule, a tribute to his best friend and long-time creative partner who died in June at the age of 56.

 In a recent newspaper interview, Edmondson, a very shy man who shuns the limelight when not working on stage or television, explained why.

“I was sent the synopsis and it was all wacky and wild,” he told The Guardian. “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.”

Edmondson was right not to participate. It was a shoddy offering, made all the more disappointing because it came from the BBC, where Mayall and Edmondson made The Young Ones, the under-rated Filthy Rich & Catflap and their very best work together, the gloriously anarchic and hilarious Bottom.

He was right too about it being a half-hearted mix of clips and contributors. A few of the latter – Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones, Lenny Henry, Ben Elton, Michael Palin, Christopher Ryan and Greg Davies (who, having been repeatedly told he bore a striking resemblance to Mayall, had him play his father in the sitcom Man Down) – had plenty of nice things to say. But where were the other important people in his life and career?

maligned

There was no Nigel Planer; no Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French or Peter Richardson from The Comic Strip Presents days; and no Stephen Fry or Rowan Atkinson from Blackadder, in which Mayall memorably appeared twice.

The programme skimmed through his career, giving little prominence to The New Statesman, a truly groundbreaking sitcom, and making only the briefest mention of his one Hollywood star vehicle, the unfairly maligned comedy Drop Dead Fred.

Overlooked entirely were Mayall’s straight-acting roles, including the West End play Cell Mates and a series of six excellent plays he made for ITV in the 1990s under the title Rik Mayall Presents. Aside from these glaring inadequacies, the whole thing was wrapped up in a jokey, irritating voiceover by Simon Callow – presumably the “wacky and wild” element that so repelled Edmondson.

What made the programme just about bearable, through gritted teeth, was the wonderful array of clips, many of them, including footage of the young Mayall and Edmondson performing as 20th Century Coyote, extremely rare. Yet even here the programme fluffed it by failing to identify the year or origin of much of the material.

I’d love to know, for instance, where a riotously funny clip of Mayall, accompanied on guitar by Bill Wyman, singing Elvis Presley’s Trouble (with his own lyrics, naturally), comes from. Perhaps we’ll find out if anyone ever gets around to making a better and more respectful tribute than this shabby mess.

In contrast, Jaclyn Parry’s excellent documentary about Sammy Davis Jr, The Kid in the Middle, was an object lesson in how to celebrate an icon.

Here we had people who were closest to the extravagantly talented entertainer and trailblazer for black America detail his extraordinary rise to fame (he was hoofing in vaudeville at five), his sharp fall from grace (he died owing millions of dollars to the taxman) and the hatred and very real death threats he and his white second wife, the actress May Britt, faced from racists. Tremendous stuff.


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