In the early 80's me and Trev Neal met at Manchester University. We were doing degrees in Drama (one each). I can't speak for Trev, but I was hardly the most academic of students. Nor was Trev. As our friendship developed, so did our interest in comedy, more commonly known then as mucking around a bit and getting up late.
We were blessed with having tutors who not only indulged our experiments in comedy but also actively encouraged it. (Every Monday night students would perform their latest experimental pieces at the department's Stephen Joseph Studio, a converted church where we once tried an 'alternative comedy' take on Chekhov).
One of our tutors was Dr David Mayer (later to become Professor David Mayer). David's daughter, Lise, was the girlfriend of a former student, Rik Mayall. The two of them, along with another former Manchester student, Ben Elton, had just written a new sitcom for the BBC called The Young Ones.
We had no TV. We were students, we had no money. Any money we did have had to be spent on beer. And tins of Goblin Dumplings (50p at Oobidoo. Everything at Oobidoo was 50p. That's why their slogan was - Don't ask the price. We always did.)
The Drama Department had a TV. And a video player! Every week David Mayer would video The Young Ones for us. And I do mean us, the two of us. Others may have come along too, but David, gently pushing us in all the right directions, knew it was important for us to see this show.
There'd been nothing like it. And it was made by students from Manchester! Not Oxford, not Cambridge. Manchester! It was the most ground-breaking Mancunion contribution to comedy since Frank Randle.
Sometime shortly after this, in 1983, David said; "Lise, Rik, and Ben are going to be at my house over the weekend. Would you like to come and meet them on Saturday night?"
Ok... stop. Take a big long break in reading. I'd like to leave a big long gap on the page but that'd be daft. Just imagine the time it's taking me, even now, for this to sink in. Would we, two stupid students, barely out of our teens, like to meet the creators of The Young Ones? At our tutor's house?
Let's deal with David Mayer's house first:
It was a mansion of myths. We'd never been there, but we'd heard the rumours. Apparently he had a shower with three heads! And a Picasso! And we were being invited there! To meet The Young Ones! (I know exclamation marks should be used sparingly, but... come on!!!)
Now, the meeting:
Of course we went. We even prepared: We spent Saturday afternoon scooting around Oobidoo, looking for fun items and generally asking the price. We settled on a wind-up spider.
And so we headed off on Saturday night to our tutor's home in the posh part of Manchester armed only with a wind-up spider. (I don't know at what age we learn to take wine to house do's, but whatever age, we hadn't reached it yet).
We arrived at the house. And whatever you read from this point onwards, I assure you, did happen. David greeted us and showed us into a huge half kitchen, half dining room, with a small dividing wall about three feet high in the middle. In the dining room half there was a circular table. And there was Rik, Lise, Ben... and possibly someone else (sorry someone else). David didn't introduce us (oh, he may have said something like "this is Trev and Simon") but he didn't explain who we were or why we were there. He then asked us to keep an eye on some steaks he was grilling in the far half of the kitchen.
Us? The two idiots whose diet consisted of tinned Goblin products? In charge of steaks? What was he thinking? (To paraphrase Paul Whitehouse).
And David disappeared! Where did he go? To this day no one can answer that. But the best bets are 'to have a look at his Picasso' or 'to have a shower'.
So... we kind of stood around. The others, at the table, carried on talking to each other. At one point we wound up the wind-up spider and let it have a little walk. It didn't get much of a reaction. But then, why should it? These fellows had demolished a house in their first episode.
We hadn't been asked to do much by our tutor. Just keep an eye on some steaks. But that wasn't our forte. We did our best. We wandered over to the cooker. We looked at them. And then they burst into flames.
How can a steak catch fire? I'm sure it's easy to burn a steak, to ruin it; but for it to catch fire?
Trev struggled to get the flaming grill out. He did, eventually, but not before the fire alarm went off.
The rest is a blur.
On Monday night we did a daft bit of comedy at The Stephen Joseph Studio. It ended with us dropping some kind of large object off a balcony onto our wind-up walking spider. The spider was smashed to bits. And Rik, and Lise, and Ben were there.
Afterwards we talked about Saturday night. They had no idea why we were there or who we were. They said they hadn't realised we were 'comedians', which could have been a compliment or not; but either way we had a long chat with our comedy heroes. And for the next few days they were around and about. One night I played cards with Ben and Rik (Ben insisted on giving me money for a taxi home. I insisted on refusing it. I walked the three miles home in the rain. What an idiot student.) Another night we sat chatting with Rik in the bar at the Contact Theatre (the theatre connected to the drama department). He gave us lots of advice and he even gave us his phone number (before mobiles... this was Rik's home phone number!) and told us to phone him whenever we wanted. He also gave us a quote to use on our publicity for our first Edinburgh show. He told us to use, "My favourite act!"
Up in Edinburgh, doing our first ever show in 1984, we walked past a poster for a band. I can't remember the band, but I can remember the quote: "My favourite band", Rik Mayall.
RIP Rik. And thank you. x