Return of B’Stard, the Dishonourable Member

by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog

The Yorkshire Post, 16th May 2006

Rik Mayall is bringing his iconic creation Alan B’Stard back ­ this time to the stage. He spoke to Arts reporter Nick Ahad

One thing you could never accuse Rik Mayall of is modesty.

“This is the greatest play, written by the greatest writers and starring, obviously, the greatest actor there has ever been,” says the former Young One, who is out on the road, touring the country with a new incarnation of what he no doubt thinks is one of his greatest-ever characters, Alan B’Stard.

First aired back in 1987, The New Statesman, by legendary television writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, was enormously popular and provided Mayall with a perfect platform to do what he does best ­ playing the fool and a wholly unlikable fool at that.

Alan Beresford B’Stard, Conservative MP for the North Yorkshire constituency of Haltemprice, lived up to his moniker. Outrageous, nasty, Machiavellian, the portrayal of an MP so devoid of morals was seen as hilarious by viewers and appalling by many MPs, among them Teddy Taylor, Conservative member for Southend, who said rather uncharitably that: “It was so immature and childish it reminded me of a Neil Kinnock speech.”

While politicians had been the butt of the joke before, from Mike Yarwood’s impressions to the bumbling incompetence captured in Yes, Minister, the New Statesmanwas not only laugh-out-loud funny, it was also cruel and unforgiving.

Coming just before the endless revelations of sleaze which dogged the Conservative Government, it was also incredibly timely.

Unsurprisingly, Mayall has his own view on the effect of the programme, claiming credit for “bringing down the Thatcher Government.”

While one suspects his tongue is permanently in his cheek, since those early days of The Comic Strip and the Young Ones, British society and politics have changed and the stage version of The New Statesmanfocuses its bile on New Labour and on the spin doctors who many think are responsible for turning the wheels of Government.

“If you want a world exclusive, I can give you one,” teases Mayall, displaying the sort of media manipulation skills of which any New Labour spin doctor would be proud.

“I have it on pretty good authority that Tony himself will be coming to see the show at York.”

Mayall is so good that, just for a split second he has me, and shows the anarchic spirit that made him ­ and still makes him ­ the perfect choice to play the amoral MP.

From the minute he begins the interview, it is clear that Mayall has been so infused once again with the strange surreal world in which B’Stard lives, that he himself is going to behave in a slightly strange way.

Immediately after declaring the greatness of everything and everyone involved in the play, he tells me he has always wanted to speak to me.

“I have pictures of you on my wall, it is such an honour, I’m so nervous and excited, what a great moment,” says Mayall. delivering his speech with all the charm and saccharine sweetness demanded by Blair’s media-savvy Government. In an attempt to get Mayall to speak seriously for just a moment, I ask about the character.

“This time around he is an absolute powerhouse of evil, he controls the whole Government,” says Mayall.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun playing a character.”

Why, though, go back? Is the urge to make a political statement in the present climate a factor?

“I was with Ben (Elton) in the Groucho Club and we saw Little Richard and his advice was stop at the top. That’s why we ended the show. But I’m nearly 50 years old now and I wanted to do something. I didn’t want to go back on telly, that has become so restrictive and so anal that I didn’t want to do it. Doing a live gig is the best thing, that’s where it really is at now.”

Approaching his half-century, can Mayall maintain the energy needed to be a convincing Alan B’Stard night after night?

“I love it, it’s brilliant.

“The writers are on the road, so we can keep it very up to date and changing all the time ­ we had a few jokes about Prescott a couple of weeks ago written in,” says Mayall, before catching himself being serious and putting on his “sleazy” voice.

“There’s something so sensual about being on stage and making a whole auditorium laugh and have them there in the palm of your hand being able to manipulate them and use them.”

If Mayall carries on this irreverent approach ­ and he says he does ­ on the stage, who knows what will happen when the show plays to audiences this week?