Best British TV Comedy Shows -The Young Ones
Best British Comedy – The Young Ones
The Young Ones was first shown on British TV in 1982 and it was unlike any comedy that had ever been seen before.
It was a full on sitcom with a powerful anarchic streak.
The Young Ones TV show run for 3 series, it was for all intents and purposes a comedy of manners – it said ‘this is how students live and behave’ in a way which made young people laugh, it had out and out gross comedy but blended in surrealism and layers in some satire and lampooning.
Older adults didn’t get the show at all and that made us teenagers love it all the more.
It was written by two up and coming script-writers, Ben Elton and Rik Mayall and Rik’s then girlfriend, Lise Mayer.
Who's Who in The Young Ones
It starred Rik Mayall as ‘Rick’ a pompous, self-important politics student, Ade Edmondson as violent, punk-rocker Vyvyan, Nigel Planer as miserable, occasionally suicidal hippy, Neil and Christopher Ryan as the smart, streetwise Mike ‘the cool person’. Technically, there was a fifth ‘young one’, Alexei Sayle as any one of many members of the Bulowski brothers a seemingly villainous gang of siblings.
All but one of the 5 main characters were stand-up comedians at the time The Young Ones was made. All were regular performers at the then highly successful Comedy Store in London, famous for its regular ‘open mike’ nights, hundreds of comedians in the UK in the 80s and 90s either lived or died on its stage, it was like a rite of passage for British comedians to be roundly heckled there.
The Comedy Store spawned another venue, The Comic Strip, the brainchild of Peter Richardson (who was meant to play Mike in the Young Ones but had an argument with Young Ones producer, Paul Jackson leading to him being replaced by Christopher Ryan). Elton, Mayall and Edmondson had all been students together at the University of Manchester and had followed one another to London. The Young Ones also had a band or artiste playing a song in their living room in every episode. Britain really had seen nothing like it before.
The Young Ones - Sometimes 'Surreal' Comedy
It really was unique – animals featured more than once in walk-on parts or in musical numbers.
It had rats living behind the skirting boards who talked to one another and discussed the writing of Euripides.
Vyvyan owned a hard-as-nails hamster called SPG (Special Patrol Group) and all in all, just when it looked like the Young Ones might turn into a normal sitcom, it veered off at odd little tangents. You learned to expect the unexpected.
You either loved it or hated it – I was 19 in 1982 and I absolutely loved it, it was all my friends and I ever talked about and even today, has a huge cult following.
Radical Comedy, Unique Comedy
The TV audiences in the late 60s must have felt like Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a truly unique TV programme, very different to anything they’d ever seen before and the Young Ones did the same for audiences in the 1980s.
I am not sure if we’ve had anything like it since. It was very much ‘of its time’, Mrs Thatcher had just come to power with the Conservative Party and Britain had a lot of unemployed young people and was getting used to a different sort of government. War with the Falkland Islands in 1982 made the country feel like a very different place.
It was a time for more radical comedy and saw a resurgence of political (or anti-politics) humour, with many of the young writers of the time poking fun at Mrs Thatcher and her politics.
Ben Elton was a leading exponent of this type of humour and The Young Ones was his and Rik Mayall’s idea of creating a subversive comedy, totally out of step with Mrs Thatcher’s ideals for British young people.
Made FOR The 80's Teenagers
The 4 students in the Young Ones were an unusual, mismatched bunch of young men sponging off their student grants and other state benefits.
They lived in squalor and were all, in one way or another, larger than life.
The thing which made the Young Ones stand out from other comedies on TV at the time (in 1982 other comedies included Emery Presents, Tom, Dick and Harriet and Eric Sykes Show) was that it was 100% anti-establishment and it didn’t care who it offended.
1982 is in many ways a remarkable year in British comedy because it was the first year that more radical ideas were coming into comedy; for example Rik Mayall’s Kevin Turvy-The Man Behind The Green Door also made its debut in 1982 on the back of a regular slot on Three of A Kind, Comic Strip Presents and Alas Smith And Jones were also watched by millions when shown on Channel 4 and BBC2 respectively.
The Young Ones thumbed its nose at our parents’ generation –it was a comedy show, which felt like it was made for young people.
The Young Ones - Grotesque, Satirical, Surreal, Special
It lampooned other shows from time to time, amongst the best episodes were lampoons of The Good Life, which had been the antithesis of all that the Young Ones stood for and a brilliant lampoon of the long-running BBC quiz show, University Challenge, where viewers watch real undergraduates battle it out for an annual prize of best university quiz team, they are all very, very clever students –real people answering difficult questions. The Young Ones are supposedly contemporaries of these students!
After The Young Ones
Ben Elton went on to write 3 series of Blackadder with Richard Curtis and The Thin Blue Line, another successful BBC comedy starring James Dreyfuss.
He also wrote the play, We Will Rock You as well as 13 bestselling novels. Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson went on to have huge success with their own TV comedy, Bottom, which was very much in the same anarchic vein as The Young Ones, Mayall also starred as Alan B’stard a comedy Conservative politician and did an amazing series of cameos as Lord Flashard on Blackadder.
Nigel Planer continues to work as a successful actor on both stage and screen. Christopher Ryan has appeared in Bottom and Absolutely Fabulous amongst other comedy shows. Alexei Sayle is a bestselling novelist and continues to do stand-up comedy.
The Young Ones remains popular to this date because it was so different. It blazed a trail for other British comedies but none quite matched its mix of radical, grotesque,satirical and surreal comedy.