I'm 11 years old and I'm stood at my white MFI desk in my pink bedroom, in a bungalow, in Redditch - home to Rik Mayall, Kevin Turvey and me. I'm holding a purple and black spotted furry photo frame about the size of a passport and wondering what to put in it. I've got more photo frames than desirable subjects to fill them with as a result of a recent birthday present flurry and I'm stuck. Then I remember the squished up Sunday Mirror magazine I kept because of the article with Rik in. I measure it up and it'll fit in, so I cut him out, discard the mag and pop the cardboard back in to the frame with a considerable bashing. There he is, smiling away with that knowing Rik Mayall smile. Am I weird? I think. I feel a bit silly and self-conscious for a second, putting someone who I don't, y'know, fancy into a photo frame and placing him next to the keyrings and posters of East 17 and David Beckham. What if people think I actually fancy him? I pondered. But then I look to my right and see the close-up of Pepa, my guinea pig, who lives a separate illustrated life to the one in the hutch outside, in my photo-in-a-cushion cushion (this one turquoise and lime green spots and even fluffier) and I rest assured that you can frame anything you bloody well like. I don't care. I want to salute Rik, and this is the most fitting tribute I can think of.
It felt good to have Rik on my desk, next to my pencil holder, as if some of his genius would filter through the cheap plastic and into my young brain. And anyway, he deserved pride of place. For more hours than I could tot up the man had made me happier than anyone else I'd encountered on the telly. He was just so silly. The face with a thousand silly faces. I loved The Young Ones, The Comic Strip, Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Alan B'Stard (admittedly most of the politics went over my head as a kid but I got the gist) and Fred. But most of all it was Rik as Richard Richard from Bottom that made me laugh until I could not breathe.
As Richard Richard, or Richie as he was most often called, Rik's capability for lunacy was rocketed into a new hemisphere. I never really understood how Richie and Eddie Hitler, played by the brilliant Ade Edmondson, could really exist as they did, in a filthy Hammersmith flat, deprived of food, sex and pretty much every ounce of human respectability. But it didn't really matter, I just knew they were pathetic and therefore everything they would try to achieve would be terribly funny. The genius of the writing was one thing, but the delivery from Rik something else. Consider this example:
In Bottom 'Culture' Richie has an idea to play a game to keep them from eternal boredom.
Richie: What about pin the tail on the donkey?
Eddie: We haven't got a donkey.
Richie: Well er, pin the tail on the chicken.
Eddie: We haven't got a tail.
Richie: Well pin the sausage on the chicken.
Eddie: We haven't got a chicken.
Richie: Well pin the sausage on the fridge.
Eddie: Or a pin.
Richie: Sellotape a sausage to the fridge.
Eddie: We haven't got a sausage.
Richie: Put a bit of Sellotape on the fridge!
Eddie: Not much of game is it.
Funny enough - but now watch it:
The partnership between Rik and Ade was inimitable. The comic chemistry between them stood out years before Bottom in The Young Ones where Vivian would just call Rik "a complete bastard" at every opportunity. Me and my brother, who is three years older than me, would watch Bottom together during the rare moments of peace time between our daily fallouts and fights. In some loose vein I felt like we were Richie and Eddie. We lived in a bungalow with no other friends our age nearby (if you live in bungalow filled cul-de-sac in a new town chances are it's 100% elderly residents) and we were trapped with each other a lot of the time. We'd play games, fall out, get violent and then realise we only had each other so would make up again within a few minutes. Just like Richie and Eddie, but with less nose-hair and pliers, (although Adam did once try and get me to tie a piece of string to his door and pull his tooth out).
In the days after Rik's death when all these memories came flooding back, I re-watched clip after clip on YouTube and even reminisced with my first ever boyfriend (again when I was 11) on Facebook about our mutual love of Rik. We remembered our Bottom gang, which comprised of us two and two other male friends who would sit and read aloud my book of Bottom scripts at lunchtime and crease into hysterics while the rest of the class had no idea what we were going on about. It was a lovely time of life to remember, re-reading and impersonating Richie and Eddie together, as a four, a bunch of randoms.
Now aged 29, I also looked at what else was going on in my life at the time, and I quickly remembered that Year 6 at school started out in bliss but ended with difficulty. Suddenly, my dad left home to go to work in the Far East for 6 months and it rocked our family up in a way that it would never be the same again. He's still there, 18 years later. Contact is minimal and while life has moved on, what followed in those days were several complicated teenage years of heartbreak and loss. But during the horrible goodbyes and the sadness and confusion of losing my dad to the other side of the world, there was Rik. And this is why, I realised last week when I felt sick at the news that he had collapsed and died at his home aged just 56, I wanted to write something, to say thank you and to say, Rik, you cheered me right up.
What also propelled me straight back to those young days is the fact that Rik hasn't really been on screens so much since his 80s/90s 'heyday'. His recent hilarious performance in Channel 4 sitcom Man Down as Greg Davies' psychopathic dad was a treat, but it wasn't enough screen time for me. I did watch him do The New Statesman on stage a couple of years ago at the Trafalgar Studios in London but I was too afraid to go over and speak to him, for fear of him being any different to his characters. (This is an unrealistic expectation I know, but my job as a showbiz journalist had popped many a bubble thus far and I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it if he was a real life B'Stard.) When all the newspapers paid tribute last week, his wife Barbara thanked them for their coverage. I picked up the Metro on the Tube and because of it's huge picture of Rik on the front I thought about keeping it for a second, but I left it where I found it. When I was 11 I needed to quantify my admiration for Rik and back then the most appropriate course of action was to cut out a photo of him and frame it. Keeping the newspaper front page of his death really isn't the same.