Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tom Gutteridge Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Tom Gutteridge Columnist

Article excerpt


IHOPE you'll forgive me if I add a final paragraph to the plethora of tributes paid to the comedy genius Rik Mayall, who died last Monday.

I feel justified in claiming this last word, because I was involved in his first - I gave Rik his first big break.

In 1981 I was producing a comedy series for BBC2. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the whimsical Richard Stilgoe, the man with the beard on Nationwide. But after Not The Nine O'Clock News hit our screens, television wanted its comedy with a sharper edge.

Although my office was in London, the BBC asked me if I'd mind making the show up in Glasgow, because the London studios were short of makeup artists, and they were desperate to use their regional resources (Rik ended up marrying one of them, a lady called Barbara Robbin). They had just formed a new comedy unit up there, under Sean Hardie, the coproducer of Not The Nine O'Clock News.

Sean and I teamed up and set about casting the show, which we called A Kick Up The Eighties. We wanted comedy actors, rather than comedians - people who could convincingly turn their hand to multiple characters, in the way Rowan, Mel, Gryff and Pamela had done.

We chose Miriam Margolyes first - she could play anything - and then we had an agonising choice between Emma Thompson, whom my agent had just signed while she was still in the Cambridge Footlights, and Tracey Ullman, whom I'd discovered in a fringe play called Four In A Million at the Royal Court. We auditioned them both, and Tracey's ability to sing and dance just got the edge. Emma was very nice about it afterwards.

When it came to the men, Rik Mayall's name kept bobbing up, but we discarded it.

We'd both seen Rik with Ade Edmondson at The Comedy Store, and we couldn't get his rubber face, wild eyes and manic character out of our mind - he was unlike anything we'd ever seen. We particularly liked his mad, rambling monologues as Kevin Turvey, based on Rik's experience of growing up in the Midlands.

Rik represented a new wave of comedy that was only just breaking, but we weren't convinced that as an actor he could provide suffi-cient versatility for the numerous characters and situations. …

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