Rik Mayall Interviews and Articles Archive

The Pan Global Phenomenon in all his verbal glory.

Category: 2002

You’ve Got Mayall

By Emma Perry for Time Out, 10th-17th July 2002

Rik Mayall returns to television – for the first time since his quad bike accident – as an evil scheming B’Stard. But no, it’s not another series of The New Statesman, although Believe Nothing is penned by Statesman writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran. This time Mayall plays a professor – a genius – set in the mahogany world of academia. And in a nod to continuity, the new character is called Adonis C’nut (pronounced Canute).

‘It was tempting to continue Statesman and have Rik as a New Labour minister denying he’d ever been in the Conservative Party, but Rik didn’t really want to go over old ground,’ says Gran. ‘I think it would have been fun for a special but I’m not sure you could have gone on and on with it.’

There are similarities to the two characters, partly in the way Mayall plays them, but essentially where do B’Stard and C’nut part company? ‘Adonis is supposed to be brilliant whereas Alan was cunning. He’s more generous than Alan but it’s very hard to persuade Rik to play a part in which he’s not allowed to hit anyone. It’s the unwritten law,’ explains Gran.

And there’s plenty of violence in the first episode, particularly in the sadomasochistic relationship between C’nut and his manservant Albumen (Michael Maloney), who is not as idiotic as the Baldricks of this world but does get things wrong.

The set-up isn’t slick like American sitcoms, but actually, after some initial frustration (what’s the relevance of the Council For International Progress? What is C’nut a professor of and where is he based?) it comes together. And there’s a lot packed into 23 minutes. Gran explains they weren’t looking for neatness: ‘There’s not a story arc as such, I think we’ve become overly restricted by the worlds we create. In the same way that Kenny dies in South Park every week, this series is called Believe Nothing, and that means you should take everything you’re presented with as a desperate attempt to entertain.’

Mayall provides the physical slapstick while Marks and Gran are keen on a bit of word-play. And there are some great incidental bits (which Gran says he’s most fond of), like when Albumen is faced by the press after a quiz show appearance, and gets a word jumble question from Dave Short of Puzzle Week. It would spoil the joke to quote him. Believe Nothing is a sitcom that avoids being formulaic, but retains its own logic.


You Beauty

By Sally Brockway for What’s On TV, 13th-19th July 2002

Believe Nothing
ITV1 Sunday

How death defying Rik Mayall made it back to our screens as the most attractive man in Britain….

Don’t get us wrong. Rik Mayall did want to talk to What’s On TV when we met up with him on the set of his new sitcom. But he still groaned when he missed yet another England goal in their World Cup clash with Denmark.

‘Not another one,’ moans Rik, as a roar goes up from the next room where his co-stars in ITV1’s Believe Nothing are watching the match. ‘I missed the first two goals when filming overran, and now this. It might never happen again. I hope you’re grateful,’ he jokes.

But despite all the swearing, Rik is happy to chat about his latest screen characterProfessor Adonis Cnut. ‘I looked up Adonis in the dictionary. It literally means “beautiful man”, says Rik, preening his hair and grinning. ‘Adonis is irresistible to women and the cleverest person in Britain. You might even say that I was typecast. In fact, I’m getting more and more like him as time goes on!’

The new six-part comedy is set in the slightly skewed world of Oxford academia where nothing is quite as it seems. The series also stars Michael Maloney as Adonis’s faithful servant, and Emily Bruni as the only woman capable of resisting his charms.

This is 44-year-old Rik’s first TV series since he narrowly escaped death four years ago after a horrific quad bike accident at his Devon farm. He suffered a fractured skull and a brain haemorrhage. Doctors warned his wife Barbara that Rik could die from the injuries, but, miraculously, he managed to make a complete recovery.

‘I think by doing a live tour of Bottom, I’ve more than proved that I can still do the job,’ says Rik, who starred alongside Adrian Edmondson in the BBC2 comedy. ‘I do worry about making mistakes, and I’m very careful about the work I choose. But nothing has changed. There are no ill effects and I still remember lines just as well.

‘The only reminder of the accident is that I have to take pills — it’s something you have to do when you’ve had a brain injury. And unfortunately I can’t drink alcohol any more.

‘I know that’s no big deal when you’ve been on the brink of death and pulled through, but I do miss waking up in the morning with a hangover.

‘It’s been difficult during the World Cup. It would have been nice to watch the matches in a pub with a beer. In fact, it would have been nice to watch the matches, full stop! When I get home, my son will say, “What did you think of the goals, Dad?” And I’ll have to say, “I didn’t see them!”‘

Ein Rik, ein Reich

The Sunday London Times, 7th July 2002

Rik Mayall just wanted to play Hitler. But now the row over his euro ad is obscuring a tale of triumph over tragedy, writes Richard Brooks.

The cigarette lighter is the giveaway. On it is a Union Jack motif.

Rik Mayall picks it up and lights yet another fag. He had bought the lighter because it rather tickled his fancy. Yet its symbol­ism is not lost on the man who is being attacked for his portrayal of Hitler in a No to the euro commercial.

Mayall’s Fuhrer, ranting: “Ein volk! Ein Reich! Ein euro!” before later whimpering: “Euro, oh, yes please”, lasts for only five seconds of the 90-second film. Yet the little episode has been roundly con­demned by Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and Fred Tuckman, a former Conservative MEP and vice-president of the Anglo-Jewish Association. Even Tony Blair has added his voice of concern.

Yet Mayall is unrepentant. “Actually, I only did it because I’d always wanted to play Hitler,” he says, before smiling that alarming, manic trademark grin we’ve grown used to over the years.

No, Mayall does not think playing Hitler is offensive. “It’s satire. Look, I’m saying what I say because if Hitler tells people to support the euro then surely they won’t. That’s the point of it.”

And as for it being anti-semitic, Mayall points out that his wife Barbara is Jewish. “So my children are Jewish, too, as the Jewish race goes through the mother’s line. And I suppose that if the SS were to march in, I’d be in the concentration camp, too, for collaboration simply for marrying Barbara.”

But apart from “always wanting to play Hitler”, why did Mayall decide to take part in the No campaign along with other entertainers such as Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves, John Sessions and Bob Geldof? Was he really opposed to the euro?

His reply is somewhat equivocal. “I’m not a joiner. So that means no to joining the euro. In fact, I shouldn’t really tell you this but for years I used to go to the Groucho club. But I’d never actually joined. God, I’m going to be in trouble now.

“So on the euro it’s really that I’m an independent sort of person. If we join the euro then the people in Brussels will take even more decisions on our behalf. I don’t trust the financiers of Europe. Look, Britain resisted the Armada and, yes, Hitler too. I like this distance we in Britain have. A little island between mainland Europe and America.”

So does his support for the pound make Mayall a Little Englander? “Um, I’m British, not really English.” He was initially brought up in Essex (the village of Matching Tye, though Tie would have been funnier) before moving to the Midlands.

“In fact, I’ve got bits of Irish and Scottish blood in me from way back. When I was in Edinburgh last year I went into a kilt shop and told them my name was originally Meall, not Mayall. The shop assist­ant looked up Meall and told me my family had come from Angus. He found the right kilt.”

The furore over Mayall’s por­trayal of Hitler has obfuscated his return to the limelight after a forced four-year absence. In 1998 Mayall, then at the height of his career thanks to starring roles in The Young Ones, The New Statesman and Bottom, nearly died. At Easter he had gone to his new farmhouse home in Devon. He was riding a quad bike when it fell on its side. Mayall, who was not wearing a crash helmet, was thrown out. He suffered serious head injuries with two life threatening haematomas and a fractured skull. He was rushed by police helicopter to a hospital in Devon. The next few weeks were a living hell for Mayall’s wife and three children.

He was unconscious for five days. Then, on regaining consciousness, he tried and failed to break out of the hospital. He was transferred, after another five weeks, to a private one in London. This time he escaped successfully within hours of his arrival.

Wearing a jacket and some tracksuit bottoms, he reached the front door unnoticed, hailed a cab and was taken back to his home in Notting Hill. “I just hated the hospital,” he recalls.

Mayall does admit, though, that he was “seriously mad” at the time. “Let me tell you what I mean. I was seeing smells and smelling colours. It was like being on acid. Well, I suppose it was, though I’ve never taken LSD.”

When he arrived home Barbara had the good sense to ring their family doctor. The doctor quickly knocked Mayall out with a shot and he was taken to the Hammersmith hospital. There the medics tend to be were really concerned that 40% of his brain was still full of blood. To get rid of it, his consultant told him, he would have to cut open his skull.

It is at this point in his narrative that Mayall leaps up from his seat and rushes towards. For a second I fear he is going to manhandle me. Instead, he puts both his hands on my head, as if to play-act reprise the the skull operation. It’s an unsettling experience.

In the end Mayall never had the operation. “Somehow the blood began to go. Maybe it was the threat of having my skull opened,” he says.

Slowly Mayall began to improve. By September 1998 he was ready to try a bit of work — a recording for children’s television. He was terrified. “What really worried me beforehand was not knowing whether I could still pretend to be somebody else. I can’t tell you how happy I was to find out I could.”

Gradually he has done more and more work. He had a little part in the first Harry Potter movie, though it was cut out. “At least I got this phone call from the producer warning me.” His character is also in the second Potter film, although Mayall was not asked to reprise the role.

Last year he did a road show around Britain with his best friend Ade Edmondson, whom he first met when they were studying drama at Manchester University in the late 1970s. The two have starred together in the Comic Strip series, Bottom and, most famously, The Young Ones.

On the latter Lise Mayer, now the lover of errant Angus Deayton, was a scriptwriter and Mayall’s girlfriend. By the mid-1980s he was double-dating both Mayer and Barbara. But the Mayer relationship came to a dramatic end. Halfway through a television awards bash, Mayall told Mayer he had to pop to the loo. In fact, he had a taxi waiting to take him to Heathrow where Barbara was waiting. They eloped to Barbados and married.

The legacies of Mayall’s accidents are with him still. He has to take tablets, cannot consume alcohol and confesses to having had a couple of epileptic fits. He admits, too, that while performing with Edmondson last year he had trouble remembering his lines. “Ade would joke about it on stage,” he says.

Though work has become more challenging, Mayall is not, however, avoiding it. Ten days ago he finished recording his next series, Believe Nothing. Each of the six half-hour episodes took 2½ hours to shoot before a live audience. Not surprisingly, the work took its toll on Mayall. He encountered some difficulty in not only remembering his lines, but also in the process of learning them.

Still, the series – in which he plays Adonis Cnut, pronounced like King Canute, the cleverest man in Britain – works a treat. A bold satire, it pokes some fun at new Labour and, as it title suggests, adopts a healthy cynicism about the modern world.

Believe Nothing is written by his old pals Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who in the late 1980s also created Alan B’stard, the obnoxious Tory MP of The New Statesman for Mayall.

I wonder if he has any party allegiances? His breakthrough Young Ones character was, after all, a middle-class student anarchist and surely B’stard was enough to put anybody off voting Conservative? Mayall points out, however, that New Statesman scripts sold at Tory party conferences. The assumption was that Tories could laugh at themselves, though, it would, on reflection, have been even more alarming if they had bought the scripts because they admired B’stard.

“The New Statesman was my way of destroying Thatcher,” he says. “She’d destroyed Daddy’s college.” Mayall explains that his father’s further education college near Bromsgrove had been shut by Thatcher through local authority cuts. “Daddy had really become a big name in the area for the theatre he had there.” It is both odd and rather endearing that Mayall, a 44-year-old man, should talk so unselfconsciously of “Daddy”.

Mayall eventually goes on to try to explain his political philosophy. “I’m an anarcho-surrealist,” he says. My puzzlement must show. “Yes, I don’t know what it means either,” adds Mayall, though by the end of our interview I’ve come to the conclusion that his description is accurate.

Mayall clearly has a lot to live for. Like many with an earthshattering experience, he has refocused his life. He keeps fit by running (“I’m unbearably lively at breakfast time”) and never has hangovers now that he no longer drinks.

His 17-year marriage to Barbara is a happy one. “Look, life is good now,” he beams. “I’m lucky with family and friends. But I’ve now been to the very edge and looked over. I can tell you what it was like. It made me realise just how mortal we are.”

Comic Rik’s wife is Jewish

By Grant Rollings for The Sun, July 2002

COMEDIAN Rik Mayall says he can’t be anti-Semitic – because his wife and children are Jewish.

The former Young Ones star was criticised last week for his spoof portrayal of Hitler in a £1million anti-euro cinema advert.

Dressed as the Nazi leader, Rik rants: “Ein Volk! Ein Reich! Ein Euro!” (One people! One empire! One euro!).

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which represents Jewish people here, claimed the three-second clip of Rik in uniform “belittled” the memory of the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

Yet the dad-of-three says he doesn’t need any lectures about Judaism and the sensitivities aroused by references to Hitler.

Rik, who has been married for 17 years to Barbara, explains: “My wife is Jewish, so my children are Jewish, too, as the Jewish race goes through the mother’s line.

“And I suppose that if the SS were to march in, I’d be in the concentration camp for collaboration simply for marrying Barbara.”

The No Campaign commercial, that will be seen in 200 cinemas from July 12, also features Sir Bob Geldof, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Johnny Vaughan.

All urge voters to oppose plans to replace the Pound with the euro.

But it is Mayall’s performance in the 90-second advertisement that has particularly rattled the pro-euro camp, with the European Commission describing it as being in “appallingly bad taste” and “insulting”.

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy describes the commercial as “offensive”.

However, the funnyman insists the Yes camp has missed the point of his skit, which he says is meant to be satirical.

Rik, 44, says he is against the euro because he wants Britain to remain independent of Brussels.

He says: “In essence, the argument we in the No camp wish to get across is that it is possible to be a European but against the euro — and able to use national stereotypes to laugh at Europeans.”

But his use of Hitler as a stereotype has failed to raise a laugh among leading members of the Jewish community in Britain, many of whom have branded it as tasteless.

Labour peer Lord Janner, who is chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, described the portrayal as “crass, distasteful and totally inappropriate”.

He added: “Those responsible should withdraw this offensive advert immediately.”

But No Campaign director George Eustice argues: “It is a harmless comedy sketch for three seconds in a 90-second film.”

When Tony Blair was questioned about the ad in the House of Commons last week, he played down its significance by saying: “A joke is a joke.”

The Prime Minister added that economic arguments would win the day on whether the UK adopted the euro — not celebrities or pop stars.

Rik believes passionately in the serious message behind his Hitler spoof.

In an interview in yesterday’s Sunday Times, he said: “It’s satire. Look, I’m saying what I say because if Hitler tells people to support the euro then surely they won’t — that’s the point of it.

“I’m not a joiner. So that means no to joining the euro.

“So on the euro it’s really that I’m an independent sort of person.

“If we join the euro the people in Brussels will take even more decisions on our behalf.

I don’t trust the financiers of Europe.Britain resisted the Armada and, yes, Hitler too.

“I like this distance we in Britain have. A little island between mainland Europe and America.”

Rik is not the first comedian to make fun of Hitler.

John Cleese, Spike Milligan and Mel Brooks have also sent up the German dictator.

Last week Jewish stand-up comic Ian Stone insisted Hitler should not be off-limits to comics.

Ian, 38, who performs regularly at London’s Comedy Store, said: “The whole point about this is that it is a joke.

“I didn’t think it was particularly funny but that doesn’t mean Rik shouldn’t have done it. Just because people have done appalling things doesn’t mean that you can’t make a joke out of them.”

Rik, who is about to appear in his first major television series since recovering from the 1998 quad bike accident that almost killed him, is well known for his digs at Right-wing politics.

He is famous for mocking the Tories in his Eighties TV series The New Statesman, in which he played lying, cheating Conservative MP Alan B’stard.

Rik claims he wanted to “destroy Thatcher” because cutbacks made by the former Conservative Prime Minister led to the closure of the collegE where his father worked.

Rik, who was born in Essex and brought up in the Midlands, considers himself to be British.

He says: “I’m not really English. In fact, I’ve got bits of Irish and Scottish blood in me.

“When I was in Edinburgh last year I went into a kilt shop and told them my name was originally Meall, not Mayall.

“The shop assistant looked up Meall and told me my family had come from Angus. He found the right kilt.”

Bouncing Back from the Dead

By Alison Slade for TV TImes, 13th-19th July 2002

Four years after he almost lost his life in a quad bike accident, Rik Mayall is back on TV in an outrageous new role. Early retirement, he says, was never an option.

Rik Mayall is bouncing off the walls. And as he launches into another verbal eruption, I can only sit in silence, mesmerised by his incessant energy. How very wrong I was…

It’s the first time I’ve met the 44-year-old, and I’d halfsuspected he’d be nothing at ail like his famous TV alteregos — such as wild-eyed anarchist Rick from The Young Ones, frying pan-wielding Richie from Bottom or smooth-talking Tory MP Alan B’Stard from The New Statesman. But in reality, he’s every bit as manic. Hand gestures accentuate every sentence, and occasionally he’ll stretch his vowel sounds la Kenneth Williams, or indulge in a rude word.

Today, he says, he’s very, very existed. He’s just finished rehearsals on the last episode of Believe Nothing, a new satirical comedy-written by the creators of The New Statesman, Lawrence Marks and Maurice Gran -which begins on ITV this Sunday.

‘It’s fantastic!’ he declares, in typically dramatic fashion. ‘And it’s playing to my strengths, which are vanity, cowardice, avarice, lust, snootiness. haughtiness, disregard, and a sense of Britishness!’

All words which could, of course, be used to describe B’Stard. But Believe Nothing, he stresses, is not The New Statesman 2. Set in an Oxford College, Mayan is Professor Adonis Curt, the cleverest man in Britain, who acts as a consultant to governments across the world, and is in need of a new challenge. The f rst is to fill a vacant seat on ‘The Council for International Progress, an underground organisation which controls and manipulates everything which goes on in the world. The second is to get the sexy, yet neurotic, Dr Hannah Awkward (Emily Bruni) into bed. Throughout all his endeavours, he’s accompanied by his faithful manservant, Albumen (Michael Maloney).

‘With The New Statesman, we attacked national politics; this is a global thing, but it can’t really be pinned down — it’ll attack several things and support others,’ he explains.

So who’s in the firing line this time round? ‘Dare I say the media? The title, Believe Nothing, is very significant because we’re learning to believe and trust no one — it’s all received information.

‘I think that’s the malaise we live in — ooo, there’s a posh word,’ and then he’s off, messing about in a mock Brummie accent, ‘I loike a bit of malaise on me salad, downtyou know…’

Rik’s enthusiasm about Believe Nothing is hardly surprising, given that it’s his first TV series since 1998, when he almost lost his life in a quad-bike accident. The 600lb machine overturned on him at his Devon farm, leaving him with a severe brain haemorrhage, and in a coma for a week.

It’s the kind of life-changing event which may have prompted others to put their career on the backburner; perhaps devote more time to their loved ones. But while Rik’s a dedicated family man (he’s been married to wife Barbara for 15 years and the couple have three children, Rosie, 15, Sidney, 12 and Bonnie, six), early retirement was clearly never an option.

‘Work gives me pleasure,’ he states, matter-off-factly. ‘Hey, I was all but dead for five days and the doctors gave me a bit of extra time, so I’m very happy. And I may as well admit it, I was born to be on stage. That is the simple truth.’

Which probably explains why, since The Young Ones shot him to fame 20 years ago, he’s barely stopped performing. Has he always been career orientated? ‘I’ve never been career orientated, no, no!’ he snaps in horror. ‘I’ve just been Rik orientated, I need to express myself and make noise.

‘That was the worst thing about the accident because for a few months, my brain wasn’t working properly and I thought, “How will I work?”

‘The first thing I did afterwards was a voiceover for a cartoon and I only had about six lines, but I was so happy, I could have wept!’

Believe Nothing

Manchester Online, July 2002

Rik Mayall reckons he’s typecast in his latest part as the world’s brainiest man who women can’t resist. “What could I do? the role is perfect for me,” grins the former Young One and star of new ITV1 comedy, Believe Nothing. Set in Queen Edward’s College, Oxford, the Manchester University graduate plays Professor Adonis Cnut. He may be the cleverest man alive, but he’s bored and looking for a new challenge.

“It was written for me and I have to say I’ve really enjoyed playing him. He’s intelligent, charming and arrogant. In fact, as we filmed the series, I found myself growing more and more like him.”

Rik played right-wing Tory MP Alan B’stard in The New Statesman, which ended in 1992. Believe Nothing, also written by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, is seen as a bold follow-up for the same trio. “This is my first sitcom for a few years and what I liked about it is that Adonis makes me laugh so much,” says Rik.

“I haven’t had this much fun in ages. It mocks the way this country is run by Oxbridge people – that’s the one thing I don’t have in common with Adonis. I went to Manchester and I only got a 2.2 degree.”

Screened from 10pm on Sunday, July 14, Michael Maloney co-stars as the professor’s faithful manservant, Albumen. On the evidence of a very funny first episode, he could soon be rivalling Blackadder’s Baldrick as a cult sidekick hero.

Actress Emily Bruni – last seen as posh Sarah, who seduced Oz in Auf Wiedersen Pet – is Dr Hannah Awkward. Hoping to be appointed to the new Chair of Pedantics, she appears to be the only woman capable of resisting the professor’s charms.

In a wonderfully bizarre plot, the young female academic displays an encyclopaedic knowledge of Coronation Street when Prof – “they must be talking working class” – Cnut is asked an eliminating phone question while trying to get his manservant into the chair on the TV quiz, “Get Rich Quick”.

Metropolis star Emily’s first role after leaving drama school at 20 was as Rik’s daughter in the Channel 4 film, Remember Me.

“I was really nervous. It was a big deal for me and Rik was so sweet,” she recalls. “I remember him telling me that, as an actor, it’s OK to feel fear, but that you should never, ever, be embarrassed.”

There’s a long list of guest stars sprinkled throughout the series, including Rory Bremner as President Shrub and Melvyn Bragg as himself, with Mayall’s character filling a vacant seat at a shadowy underground organisation that manipulates everything that goes on in the world.

Fresh from the recent controversy over his portrayal of Hitler in an anti-euro cinema commercial, Rik, 44, explains: “There’s so much to the series. Global warming is explained away as a hoax, Tony Blair is in it, so is David Blunkett. We see President Nixon, too. Anything is possible and you can’t be sure of what is real, hence the title – Believe Nothing.

“I think I know something about good writing and drama – my father was head of a drama department, I grew up with it. When I read the script for this, I was staggered by how masterful it was.” It’s now four years since the Essex-born actor almost lost his life in a quad bike accident. He suffered serious head injuries when he fell off the vehicle at his farm in Devon.

He was flown unconscious to hospital and doctors feared Rik would either die or suffer permanent brain damage.

He says: “My life hung in the balance. The slightest increase in pressure on the brain from either swelling or bleeding and that would have been it.

“Although I am fully recovered, I don’t want to make any mistakes. I’ve proved I can still do the job – I did a three-month tour playing at 3,000-seaters and that was enough proof for me. But I’m probably more careful than I was. I had no doubts about Believe Nothing.”