Wallowing in Mayall Chauvinist Piggery

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

By Jan Etherington for TV Times, 12 – 18th september 1987

The rolling Yorkshire countryside is steaming in the summer sunshine. Rik Mayall is also perspiring gently, but that is probably because he is about to drive a London taxi at a barn door. It doesn’t seem the right time to reveal that he has failed his driving test twice before, but he mentions it anyway.

Mayall is playing Alan Beresford B’Stard in the new satirical comedy series The New Statesman, starting on ITV this Sunday. B’Stard becomes a Member of Parliament, a man so avaricious, unscrupulous and altogether wicked that he makes Vlad the Impaler look like an acupuncturist.

But, at the moment, he looks like a country squire in a striped shirt and flat cap. The cap has been appropriated from the taxi driver he has recently murdered and whose body, even now, is crumpled in the cab’s boot while the murderer attempts to dispose of the evidence.

Hence the barn door. Accelerating towards it is, Mayall admits, ‘a bit hairy’. But, because they are filming on the private roads of the Earl of Harewood’s magnificent estate in Yorkshire, at least he doesn’t have to watch out for a doubledecker bus appearing round the corner.

The scene completed, we take ourselves off to a convenient hayloft to discuss the giant leap for Mayall from the alternative-comedy humour of his creations – Kevin Turvey in A Kick Up The Eighties, Rick in The Young Ones and Richie Rich in Filthy, Rich and Catflap – to mainstream comedy.

‘The New Statesman isn’t a career move,’ Mayall says, seriously. ‘I’ve never done anything just because I felt I should do it, but because I really wanted to.

‘I know that some people will be expecting me to be Kevin Turvey or Rick from The Young Ones in this, but I’ve never really aimed at a specific audience. I’ve just done things I think are funny.

‘I’m being used more as an actor than I have before and, for me, the experimentation in this series is acting straight in order to get much funnier laughs.’

The most immediately obvious difference from Mayall’s former creations is that, in The New Statesman, he is not contorting his features, speaking in a silly voice, prancing about or breaking wind.

The first reaction from many people who see the series will be: ‘I didn’t know Rik Mayall was so handsome.’ He is, in fact, in serious danger of becoming a sex symbol.

‘A sex symbol?’ Mayall cries, incredulously. ‘But this man is a bastard!’

Sex symbols often are. Look at Rhett Butler not giving a damn about Scarlett in Gone With The Wind. ‘He was only being horrible to a girl, wasn’t he?’ Mayall responds.

Isn’t that important? ‘Yes, but this man is about to give a deadly virus to a primary school full of children,’ he says. ‘He sells faulty firearms to the police force. I don’t find that sexy!

‘That was why I wanted to make him ugly. I want to make all my characters ugly. Whenever I play someone I disapprove of, I make him ugly, but they said, “Stop pulling faces and be cool.”

‘So I’ve gone against my first instinct this time, if you like, but my instinct has been persuaded that it’s not infallible by people who know what they’re talking about. That’s something else I’ve learned – to take advice and direction from people I respect. Anyway, I’m not trying to be handsome.’

But he must be aware of his physical attractiveness? Not only does he have beautiful skin and perfect teeth, but smoky blue eyes and a disconcertingly gentle, relaxed conversational style, unlike anything we’ve seen of him on TV.

‘I’ve always had fan-mail from girls, but I just thought it was rather silly,’ he says, twisting a straw around his fingers. ‘Very flattering, but rather silly. It just happens when you’re famous…’

As a member of the anarchic The Young Ones, Mayall was part of a mould-breaking humour that was to the Eighties what Monty Python’s Flying Circus was to the Seventies. Their destructive, disgusting lifestyle was followed with glee by young viewers and with incomprehension by many others.

Mayall’s own lifestyle is traditional and surprising. He has been married for a year to Barbara, a makeup artist. They met for the first time years ago when she was applying his acne for the role of Kevin Turvey. They now have a daughter, Rosie, nearly one – ‘The most beautiful child in the world,’ says Mayall, proudly. ‘She has strawberry-blonde hair and silver eyes. Quite amazing.’

Rosie is teething now and a bit upset, so Mayall makes many phone calls home during the day, from the location. truck, to check that all is well.

Apart from The New Statesman, he’s in the middle of a crazily busy time. He has recorded a follow-up to C4’s The Bad News Tour, about the life and times of a heavy-metal band. It is called More Bad News, bringing together The Young Ones’ Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, and Peter Richardson from C4’s The Comic Strip Presents, in which Mayall and Edmondson have featured. Mayall has also arranged his brother’s wedding and just moved to a leafy, West London suburb in which one room of the house is designated Barbara’s artist’s studio.

‘She studied at Glasgow College of Art and she’s very talented,’ says Mayall. ‘It would be nice if she could spend more time painting.’

The New Statesman is written by the successful team of Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who wrote Shine On Harvey Moon, Roll Over Beethoven and Relative Strangers. Mayall admired their writing and approached them with the suggestion of writing something for him. It was some time before it became apparent that the subject would be politics.

‘I’m quite a political animal,’ Mayall says, ‘but, although I’m 30 next year, I still think of myself as a kid, and Laurence and Maurice are definitely grown-ups, Laurence, particularly, is like a father-figure to me. They speak with authority and have opinions that seem to carry weight – and they don’t mind what people think of them, which is a very grown-up thing as well.’

There is suddenly a crash behind us. Roy Scammell, the stuntman, has driven the taxi straight through the barn door and left it splintering on its hinges. Everyone applauds.

These days, someone else smashes things up for Rik Mayall.