80’s TV Shows - The Young Ones

"You Bastard! You complete and utter bastard!"

Between the years of 1982 and 1984, Rik Mayall and friends brought a little bit of Anarchy hit the British airwaves in the form of Mike, Rick, Vyvyan and Neil, otherwise known as The Young Ones.

The show took the traditional British sitcom and turned it on its head with an alternative comedy spin. The adventures of four college students living together in a house; a put upon and depressed hippie, a part time anarchist and Cliff Richard fan, an ultra-violent punk rocker and a short, cool dude all thrown together in a series of slapstick and sometimes surreal situations that created a humour that was, well, not to everyone’s taste!

Since the shows first airing, the cast members have become household names including Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Christopher Ryan, Nigel Planner and Alexei Sayle, though most of them have moved on to far less anarchic roles in TV since. The entire cast, except for Chris Ryan, began their careers as stand-up comedians working on London’s comedy club circuit in the late 1970s.

The Young Ones – How the hell do you describe it?
How on earth you describe The Young Ones to someone who has never seen it, I have no idea. Beyond the basic plot of four students living in the same house, there is no further sanity to the plot, if you can even call it a plot at all. Childish slapstick humour with an adult theme, probably overdoes the ‘adult’ bit so let’s go with adults behaving like kids as a better answer. However you would like to classify it the program, I loved every, manic minute of it when I was in my early twenties, way back then, and my own kids love it now.

Within just twelve episodes of The Young Ones, we had an atomic bomb, a house demolition, an appearance on TV’s University Challenge, A time warp, a brief visit to Narnia, talking rats and vegetables, socks that were alive and Neil, the Hippy joins the police force. And that’s just a taste of some of the highly intellectual topics covered. All that, along with some great live performances by bands like The Damned, Motorhead and Madness and some stand-up comedy interludes from Alexi Sayle, and there you have The Young Ones.

To give you a good idea what the Young Ones was all about, here is an extract from an article on the BBC’s own website regarding the show:

“Never before had violence of such degree, squalor, physical foulness, blood, sex and death, all been used as such a regular part of a flagship comedy programme.”

Vyvyan Loses his head

The Young Ones – Some quotes to remember
To be honest, I think you have to be a kid, in which case you will appreciate the farting, vomiting and senseless violence of the show, or, you had to have been in Britain in the late seventies / early eighties to really appreciate some of the humour of The Young Ones. I might be wrong on that, so please do correct me if I am. The sad thing is that there really were stereotypical punks, hippies, anarchists and cool guys just like the characters Vyvyan, Neil, Rik and Mike, in 1980’s Britain. The writers only had to exaggerate the real life characters on the streets, ever so very slightly, to make a comedy show for themselves. Thank God we Brits know how to laugh at ourselves!

If, like me, you do remember The Young Ones fondly, here are a few quotes from the show to bring back those happy, anarchic, memories:

“You Bastard! You complete and utter bastard! why dont you just go out and become a Policeman? Become a Pig? there's no difference you know?! I suppose you hate gay people too! Hippie!”

“Okay, guys, come on. As the one guy said to the other guy when he was getting fed up, I'm getting fed up. I want to wash my smalls, and I don't mean dip my tiddlies in a glass of water. Let's go!”

"Darling fascist bully boy, give me some more money, you bastard. May the seed of your loins be fruitful in the belly of your woman, Neil."

“NO, NO, NO, NO! We are not watching the bloody Good Life! Bloody, Bloody, Bloody! I hate it! It’s so bloody nice! Felicity Treacle Kendal and Richard sugar flavoured snot Briers! What do they know?”

“I hope you're satisfied, Thatcher!”

Like I said, you had to have actually been there in the 1980’s really!

Open up, it’s the pigs!

The Young Ones and Sir Cliff Richard
Despite the shows anarchic style, many famous people appeared as guests with The Young Ones and not all of them from the British Alternative Comedy scene. Perhaps the most unexpected collaboration came in 1986, when the cast of the Young Ones teamed up with Sir Cliff Richard to record a charity version of ‘Living Doll’. Chalk and Cheese come together for the sake of charity, Sir Cliff, reunited with guitarist Hank Marvin for the first time since 1975 and the cast, recorded a new version of the song for the charity, comic relief, which reached the No.1 spot in the UK.

Musical Interludes
As well as the comedy, in virtually every episode of The Young Ones there was a guest appearance by a current band. This was done, apparently, so the show would be regarded as a variety show rather than a pure sitcom, which would entitle it to a bigger budget from the BBC. Bands that were featured on The Young Ones, usually playing in the living room of the house included: The Damned, Madness, Dexys Midnight Runners and Motörhead.

The Young Ones – The Final Chapter
In the last ever episode of the Young Ones, first aired in June 1984, the housemates, having received their final exam results and come in the bottom four in the whole world, decide to rob a bank. Having crashed their intended getaway car, Vyvyans Ford Anglia, Rik finds a new getaway vehicle, a red London double-decker bus, which they escape in. Singing happily in the bus and planning their futures, Rick suddenly shouts ‘Cliff!’ upon which the bus promptly smashes through a poster advertising Cliff Richards’ 'The Young Ones Summer Vacation Tour' and straight over the edge of a cliff.

Phew, that was a close one!

The Young Ones – What came next?
The Young Ones was probably one of the few British Comedies that was unique and I can’t recall any other comedy show being quite like it either before or after. The cast themselves attempted to recreate the success of the show with things Bottom and Filthy, Rich and Cat and though they followed a similar theme, they didn’t really recreate the same manic comedy.

There was a very brief attempt to transfer the idea to the American market with a show called ‘Oh, No! Not THEM!’, featuring only Nigel Planner form the original series, but that didn’t even get beyond the pilot.

Personally, I think the show was one of those ‘just in the right place at the right time’ moments in British TV history. If it were made today, it would be dismissed as childish drivel and if it had been made a few years earlier, it would have been banned for being obscene. Instead, it came on to our the TV screens at just the right time when all the punks, anarchists and hippies of the late seventies had cut their hair and gone out to work, but were still young enough to laugh at how they were just a few years before.