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24 September 2014

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The Young Ones

The Young Ones

Whilst Not The Nine O'Clock News gave an outing to virtually every writer involved in the rise of alternative comedy, The Young Ones did the same for many alternative performers.

The Young Ones launched the career of Ben Elton as a major writer, and was the first situation comedy of the Alternative generation.

Adrian Edmondson as Vyvyan

The series follows the lives of four dislikable social inadequates, each ostensibly studying at Scumbag College, but actually just doing whatever the hell they liked and having extremely strange, surreal adventures in the process.

The series starring Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Christoper Ryan ran from 1982 until 1985 for 26 episodes - not a bad airing for one of the most highly-charged, material-hungry British sitcoms ever made.

The Young Ones came into being partially as a result of the standup routines that then-Comedy Store regulars Mayall, Edmondson, Planer, Peter Richardson and others were creating, and which had already become the series which was to be known as The Comic Strip Presents.

Rik Mayall as Rick

Draft scripts from Mayall and Lise Mayer were full of the raw, punkish energy that the BBC were looking for, but it was Ben Elton who was responsible for making it all work. Along with Blackadder, The Young Ones is Ben Elton's greatest sitcom work.

The setup of The Young Ones seems childish, and the stories themselves extremely fragmented. In many episodes the actions of the main characters seem to do nothing except hate and victimize each other - with everyone bullying hippy Neil, ignoring the claims by self-styled anarchist Rick that he's the 'most popular member of the house', punk psycho Vyvyan hitting everything and saving his love only for his hamster.

Only cool dude Mike seemed above the fray in adventures that included Vyvyan discovering oil in the basement, an atomic bomb falling on the house, and everyone going through a time warp.

Nigel Planer as Neil

Underneath the post-punk, rock culture insanity however, classic sitcom rules worked; Neil was a put-upon housewife in all but name, Rick and Vyvyan wayward teenagers with a penchant for (on one hand) fatuous semi-Marxism and (on the other) hitting people, with Mike the father figure whose plans for making money resemble an even-less-competent Del Trotter.

They faced enemies such as the constantly tricksy Balowski 'family' - played in their entirety by Alexei Sayle - and the foul Footlights College team in an episode in which our heroes end up on University Challenge.

It was the style and the characterization of The Young Ones, rather than its stories, which was entirely new. 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.

Christopher Ryan as Mike

It was, like Not The Nine O'Clock News, a signal to the old guard that comedy was going in a different direction, and it wasn't going to be comfy. Even the musical interludes - which had featured in other shows such as The Goons - were harder, with bands like Madness, and Motorhead performing.

The Young Ones eventually exited in typically surreal fashion, stealing a bus and driving it over a cliff after a haphazard armed robbery and allowing its stars to move on to other things.

It proved in itself a difficult act to follow for all its major stars. Filthy, Rich and Catflap and Bottom were never quite as good. Whilst most of the other writer-creators of the time used the doors it opened, they did so in very different ways. The Young Ones was too random, too punkish, to make it a format that could be rubberstamped elsewhere. 


Adrian Edmondson
Rik Mayall
Nigel Planer
Alexei Sayle
The Balowski family
Christopher Ryan


Ben Elton
Rik Mayall
Lise Mayer
Paul Jackson

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