For all his anarchic contempt for the proprieties, despite his in-your-face iconoclasm, the suspicion emerges that the public image of Rik Mayall: Lord of Misrule (Saturday, BBC2 10.05pm) was cushioned with so many layers of irony that cocking a snook — at adults, convention, the establishment — was itself being satirised. He mocked mockery itself. Perfectly in keeping is the wonderfully cliché-ridden narration, voiced by Simon Callow, that ends with a broken-voiced recitation of the lyrics from Cliff Richard’s “The Young Ones”. It casts doubt on the gravity of the more fulsome tributes to the comic who died aged 56 in June.
“If he was a mathematician, you’d go ‘genius’. If he was Einstein, he’d get a Nobel Prize,” avers Ruby Wax. Well, obviously. “He was a golden youth,” says Ben Elton. Alexei Sayle calls him sublime. John Lloyd, producer of Blackadder, talks of the presence of greatness. The film veers in and out of Mayall’s nothing-sacred irreverence. A dazzling comedic line-up includes Simon Pegg, Greg Davies, Lenny Henry and Michael Palin, variously solemn, tongue-in-cheek, affectionate or reverential. The overriding impression is of Mayall’s energy. God knows what it did to the performers but it leaves the spectator exhausted.
The film’s generous collection of clips and excerpts illustrates Mayall’s professional development. The mugging and grimacing, the eardrum-bursting decibel level of the all-screaming, all-shouting, all-biffing early days was all-too-obviously aimed “over the heads of the grown-ups” (says Pegg). From yah-boo naughtiness, Mayall moved on to the ability to upstage everyone, from a pontificating Ben Elton to the hapless Blackadder cast — Rowan Atkinson “was blown out of the water”, according to Lloyd.
Mayall’s influence lingers: Toast of London’s self-destructive, frantic tunnel vision bears his traces. The programme gives even those who are not unconditional worshippers some idea of Mayall’s ebullience and even, unexpected, charm.
Photograph: BBC Pictures
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