In 1980s England we were ruled under the iron fist of Maggie Thatcher, we were all worried about the Cold War ending in a nuclear disaster and the famous miners’ strike erupted a mass of the working-class finally trying to get back what they were owed. Teenagers were stuck in the middle of either not being told anything, or being told too much but with nothing to make sense of it, there was no escape. Before Frankie Goes To Hollywood brought out ‘Two Tribes’ for teens to identify what was happening, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, and Lise Mayer got together and wrote one of the BBC’s most influential comedy programmes, The Young Ones.
When asked to describe it most people can’t; there’s no explanation like it apart from those who were there when it arrived on the television set, those are the ones that will tell you “There was just nothing like it at the time.” Because of the BBC budget on comedy programmes at the time The Young Ones couldn’t actually be classed as a comedy solely, so bands were introduced on the programme so that it was ‘light entertainment’, but it was anything but.
The show was based around four characters; Rick, Vivien, Neil, and Mike who were undergraduate students at ‘Scumbag College’ in North London. Each character is a narrative for your prejudices about students; there was the snotty nosed poet who was heavily against the government, the trouble maker who you had no idea how or why he was in university, the hippie who made the grubby meals that students live off, and the cool guy who sleeps with everyone.
The comedy series was surreal, but equally fantastic. Since Monty Python’s Flying Circus no one had brought out a series as brilliant as The Young Ones; it was full of jokes you could not explain but it was also full of lines you could quote upon quote to to friends who loved it too. Given that it was brought out for the teenagers at the eighties, thirty years later it has stood the test of time and is still a favourite to many, including myself. It created a platform for many comedians who had their first appearances on the show.
The Young Ones were four of the most unconventional freaks you could ever meet, but their interactions with each other and those around them were what made the show so fantastic. Their rent was paid to Jerzey Bolowski, their insane landlord that would come into every episode and leave you laughing in confusion. This one character alone goes to show that each and every interaction – no matter how big or small, was meticulously planned which had been seen through Rik Mayall’s writing for his whole career.
As a programme that was just in clips it would be a mess, but the idea of it being a full sitcom that ran two series brought it all together and just made it work. If you’re about to start a new series make sure that The Young Ones is at the top of your list.
Written by: Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer, Ben Elton
Starring: Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan, Alexis Sayle