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Obituary: Rik Mayall

Rik Mayall with Clive Hayward in The New Statesman – The Blair B'Stard Project at the Trafalgar Studios, London, in 2006. Photo: Alastair Muir

Like the best comic creations, the beating heart of Rik Mayall’s often outrageous characters was anarchic aggression. A leading figure in the alternative comedy movement that emerged as the dissolute 1970s gave way to the strident 1980s, he found targets aplenty in an era of divisive politics and widening social inequalities.

Born in Harlow, Essex, to drama teacher parents, Mayall grew up in Droitwich, Worcestershire, and showed an early inclination towards performing. Aged six, he appeared in a production of The Good Person of Szechwan and was singing (albeit poorly enough to be told to mime) in the school choir by the time he was 10.

While studying drama at Manchester University, he met Adrian Edmondson and formed what was to be a hugely successful and long-lasting comedy partnership. As the Dangerous Brothers and, later, Twentieth Century Coyote, the pair quickly established themselves on the developing comedy circuit with an act that was scatological, unpredictable and revelled in cartoon violence.

The pair cemented their growing status with regular appearances at London’s Comedy Store, where Mayall also introduced solo characters such as the opinionated, anarchistic student-poet Rick and the inept, anoraked “investigative journalist” Kevin Turvey. That character gave Mayall his first television exposure, on BBC Scotland’s A Kick Up the Eighties (1981).

When he and Edmondson decamped from the Comedy Store to Soho’s Raymond Revue Bar to form the Comic Strip, the move attracted a raft of young talent including Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle and Nigel Planer. Together, they ventured into television with the long-running The Comic Strips Presents…, beginning with the Enid Blyton parody Five Go Mad in Dorset, broadcast on Channel 4’s first night in 1982.

The same year, the first series of the cult-attracting The Young Ones, co-written with fellow Manchester University colleagues Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, established Mayall (in the guise of the resurrected, disaffected poet Rick) and Edmondson (as the violent punk Vyvyan) at the centre of the alternative comedy world. The show ran until 1984 and spawned the first charity single for Comic Relief, in which Cliff Richard was mercilessly lampooned in a cover of his 1950s hit Living Doll.

Mayall and Edmondson reunited for Ben Elton’s short-lived Filthy, Rich and Catflap in 1987, and again to co-write and appear in Bottom, which ran from 1991-95 and also produced a live stage version. Mayall also made guest appearances in several of the Blackadder series between 1983 and 1989.

He scored a solo hit with the unlikely writing team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran as the sleazy, snout-in-the-trough Tory MP Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman (1987-92). The character reappeared on stage as a Labour party convert in The Blair B’Stard Project (Trafalgar Studios, 2006).

In 1993, Mayall presented a series of hour-long showcases, Rik Mayall Presents, for ITV. He teamed up with Marks and Gran again in 2002 to play a “quadruple professor” Oxford don in Believe Nothing, and took the title role in Mike Bullen’s All About George (2005), both of which managed just one series each.

In 2013, Mayall appeared in the comedy Damo and Ivor on Irish television and played Greg Davies’ father, despite being only 10 years older, in the Channel 4 comedy Man Down.

His stage appearances included the self-important dandy Ivan in Gogol’s The Government Inspector opposite Jim Broadbent’s befuddled mayor at the National Theatre in 1985. In 1987, he reunited with Edmondson to play Vladimir in a West End run of Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre.

He was also seen in two Simon Gray plays, both alongside Stephen Fry: a revival of The Common Pursuit at the Phoenix Theatre in 1991 and the ill-fated premiere of Cell Mates at the Albery Theatre (now the Noel Coward) in 1995, which was forced to close abruptly when Fry fled to Belgium after just three performances.

In 1979, in response to Ken Campbell’s 24-hour-long The Warp, Mayall and Edmondson wrote a short play, The Wart.

Film appearances included the frenetically unfunny Drop Dead Fred (1991); a murderously inclined record producer in Bring Me the Head of Mavis Davis (1997) and a disturbed, and disturbing, hotel owner in Guest House Paradiso (1999). He also performed as Peeves the Poltergeist in scenes filmed for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) that were cut from the final release.

Mayall married the make-up artist Barbara Robbin in 1985.In 1998, he survived an accident on a quad bike, following which, he later recounted with relish, he had been declared “technically dead” for five days while being treated in hospital. His survival was duly noted in the title of the autobiography he published in 2005, Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ.

Rik Mayall, born Richard Michael Mayall on March 7, 1958, died suddenly on June 9, , aged 56. He is survived by his wife and their three children.

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