Rik Mayall is one of the rarities in British comedy, and even in British culture generally, to be universally loved and acclaimed and never seemed to really make enemies.
When he died in June of 2014, the country mourned the passing of one of the true greats of British comedy. We all said a goodbye that came far too soon. He was a part of our youth – as though a family member we’d never met had died.
He made us laugh over and over in shows such as The Young Ones, Bottom, The New Statesman, his cameos in Blackadder and video game triumphs such as Hogs of War.
But while we all remember his iconic performances such as Rik in The Young Ones, Alan B’Stard in The New Statesman, Lord Flashheart in Blackadder and Richard in Bottom, even some of the most die-hard of Rik Mayall fans might not know of some of the programmes and movies that he had appeared in over the years.
Here are eight Rik Mayall performances that you probably forgot about, or didn’t even know about at all!
8. The Big One (1995)
This is quite an obscure Rik Mayall production that aired as a TV movie in 1995 which also starred Phil Daniels.
The Big One’s plot revolves around an estate agent, played by Rik Mayall, who assumes the identity of a dead gangster. Now, I ask you, what could possibly go wrong with that?
7.An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Released just over a year before Rik Mayall truly burst onto the scene in Britain and became a household name, An American Werewolf in London stands as one of the greatest cult horror films of all time. It is one of those rare instances where the blend of horror and comedy has been crafted perfectly. Mayall made his film debut in 1981 in the John Landis cult classic.
Written and directed by cult icon John Landis, director of other classic comedy films such as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Coming to America (as well as serving as the director for Michael Jackson’s Thriller), the story follows two American students who go for a backpacking holiday in England, specifically across the moors of Yorkshire.
However, after incurring the wrath of some locals in a very stereotypically northern pub at the beginning of the film, the two students are attacked by what later is revealed to be a werewolf after getting lost on the moors. But what some of you may not remember is that Rik Mayall, who would have been in his early 20s at the time, was sat in that Northern pub as one of the pubgoers playing chess.
The film was released in August of 1981, which proceeded Rik Mayall’s rise to becoming arguably Britain’s most recognisable comedian by about 16 months. After the Young Ones debuted to fanfare, especially in younger circles, the entire cast catapulted into stardom. But it was the perceived star and co-writer, Mayall, who received the biggest push, and was well on his way to being one of the most loved and acclaimed comedians in Britain.
He’s not in the scene for very long, and only really has one line that is drowned out by the noise of the crowd, but it’s still fascinating to see Mayall before becoming a household name.
6.The Black Adder (Series 1) (1983)
Rik may have wowed us as Lord Flashheart, but his humble beginnings began in series one as Mad Gerald.
Among Blackadder fans, the first series of the show stands as a bit of an anomaly in relation to the success of the rest of the show on the whole. Being the only series of the show to be co-written by Rowan Atkinson, the first series was set in an alternative historical timeline, after the death of King Richard III who was the last king to die in battle – as well as the last monarch of the recognised Middle Ages, having been killed in the final conflict of the War of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Of course, in this historical timeline, Richard III was killed by the incompetence of his nephew’s son, Prince Edmund. In reality, Edward and Richard, the younger nephews of Richard III, were allegedly disposed of by Richard in a quest to become king, as he recognised the legitimacy of their claims to the throne. Though no one is certain of how and when they died, it is believed that Richard had them killed secretly so that he could become king.
In this alternate historical timeline, Richard grows up and succeeds Richard III after his uncle’s death, and becomes the fictional Richard IV, as opposed to the factual successor Henry VII – the first monarch of the House of Tudor.
In comparison to the later series in the show’s cannon, the dynamics of Black Adder were somewhat different. For example, instead of Edmund being the Machiavellian conniver that he is presented as in the second, third and fourth series of the show, he is presented as a somewhat intelligent but mostly clueless weasel, bereft of the sort of charm or wit that his ‘descendants’ had in abundance.
The show is also known for its sprawling sets, film shooting and costumes which were all extremely expensive. And considering that it is by far the weakest of the show’s series from a comedy standpoint too, it was only given a second series when Richard Curtis and new writer Ben Elton promised to reign in the budget and craft a more conventional sitcom-style show.
There are some highlights in the series’ confused attempts to find itself as a genre, and one of them is Rik Mayall’s almost unrecognisable turn as Med Gerald, who Prince Edmund meets having been locked up in a dungeon.
Though Rik Mayall’s later roles members of the Flashheart dynasty in series’ two and four are far more fondly remembered, Mad Gerald marks the first time that Rik Mayall – who some consider to be a spiritual and extended member of the Blackadder core, appeared in the show.
5.The Wind in the Willows (1995)
Here we see the first instance of the quality of Rik Mayall’s voice acting that everybody has been sleeping on over the years. The Wind in the Willows will be remembered fondly by many of you reading this article, having been released as a straight-to-TV movie back in 1995, based on the children’s novel of the same name. It features the voice talents of the likes of the aforementioned Rik Mayall, as well as Michael Palin, Michael Gambon and Alan Bennett.
For the wealthy and opulent Mr Toad, Mayall perfectly captured the voice of the grossness of excessive wealth, with his voice layered in elements of corpulence and a ham-fisted love of all things that money can bring, which is really good stuff considering it was for kids.
With an instantly recognisable voice, Rik Mayall showed that he was more than just a comedian and could appeal to a much wider audience, with a voice performance that kids and adults alike loved.
4.The Snow Queen (1995)
The mid 90s was a busy time for Rik Mayall when it came to lending his voice to animated kid’s films, and in 1995, he took the voice acting role of The Robber King in The Snow Queen.
The film is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale of the same name, and it boasted a pretty dynamite cast of British actors such as Rik Mayal, Helen Mirren, who played the titular role, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton of Harry Potter fame.
It’s amazing to think that the very same year that Rik had concluded the third and final TV series of Bottom – one of the most adult orientated comedy shows on TV at the time – he was lending his voice to some of the most treasured nostalgia trips for kids growing up in the 90s.
3.Watership Down (TV Series – 1999 to 2001)
I don’t care what anyone says, there is no way in this world that the film Watership Down, on which the TV series was based, should have EVER been given a U by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) upon its release in 1978. And if you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I mean.
But aside from how mentally scarring this supposed children’s film, intended to be universally acceptable for all ages, was on the kids of the late 70s and beyond, the film series tended to follow suit. And though Rik Mayall wasn’t in the 70s movie adaptation of the classic novel, he did work as the seagull Kehaar in the first two series of the TV show.
For anyone who has seen the original film, you might remember that having his wing injured by the cat, he is initially distrustful of the rabbits on the farm. However, in the TV series, he is far more trusting of them and often acts as the rabbit’s secret weapon to help get them out of trouble.
Rik Mayall voiced the bird Kehaar in the TV series based on the movie Watership Down
Rik Mayall was able to use all of the frantic energy that he is able to conjure in his voice acting, and again we have an entry where an otherwise rude and crude Mayall was actually secretly the voice behind all of our childhoods. Mind you, for anyone who has seen the Watership Down movie, I can imagine your childhood took a bit of a battering for a while.
Seriously, talk about disturbing.
2.Believe Nothing (2002)
Believe Nothing was the penultimate comedy vehicle for Rik Mayall that ITV had big ideas for back in the summer of 2002. Back at the dawn of the new millennium, the world of the British comedy show was very different to what it is now.
Back then, The Office was ripping up the rule book on what worked and what was old hat, and as such Believe Nothing seemed to just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. BBC had dominated the sitcom landscape for the last decade or so with the likes of Men Behaving Badly, The Royal Family, Red Dwarf, Game On, Bottom. The Royal Family along with many, many more.
For ITV, they were getting behind Believe Nothing, with Rik Mayall teaming up once again with writers Maurice Gran and Lawrence Marks in an effort to try and recreate the magic made when the trio set about brutalising 80s Thatcherism with some of the most blistering and complex satire we’ve seen in the UK in The New Statesman.
But The Office ruled all, and meant that the mantle of sitcom king was firmly in the hands of the BBC (this was years before the mockumentary style of sitcom itself, ironically, became old hat) and through various mistakes like a 10pm timeslot on a Sunday night, the show never really hit it off.
One of Rik Mayall’s final comedy vehicles was Believe Nothing in 2002
It’s a rare treat for Rik Mayall fans though, as he is given complete control of the screen at all times with his force of nature presence, and given that it was a sitcom written with him in mind as the central character, you can imagine what Rik Mayall looks like when he’s let off the leash and told to make us laugh.
A good, funny programme, but just either ten years too early or ten years too late it seems, but with Rik starring, as you can imagine, in the role of Adonis Cnut, the Quadruple Professor, self professed national treasure, in-house philosopher for Oxford and regarded as the cleverest man in England, it’s a treat to watch Rik Mayall play the role he was born to play.
1.Spongebob Squarepants (2006)
This one was really a meeting of two worlds you never, ever thought would meet. In 2006, the Spongebob Squarepants episode – Chimps Ahoy – featured some very surprising guest stars.
A 2006 episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Chimps Ahoy, featured some very familiar voice guests
In the episode, we learn that Sandy has been living in Bikini Bottom on the dime of her Chimp benefactors, who have been funding her research into new inventions. When they announce that they are coming to visit, she is worried that they will not like her inventions, and therefore will have to leave Bikini Bottom after having her funding cut off.
Now, this seems like a fairly standard (if a little zany) episode of the long-running kid’s cartoon show (that is secretly aimed at adults), but when you listen closer, you can hear some familiar voices. Yes, the three chimp benefactors are none other than Christopher Ryan, Nigel Planer and Rik Mayall. Do you think someone on the production team was a fan of The Young Ones? I’d say so.