In the early 1980s, Ben Elton, Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer teamed up to write The Young Ones1 - a hilariously 'alternative' comedy2 representing student life in Britain. Scumbag College students, Rick (Rik Mayall), Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), Neil (Nigel Planer) and Mike (Christopher Ryan) live together in the worst conditions imaginable, in a house rented from Mr Jerzei Balowski (Alexei Sayle).
Two series of the groundbreaking comedy were made by the BBC, receiving a rapturous reception.
Rick - Rick is a self-proclaimed anarchist, his clothing usually consists of a grey school shirt which is far too small at the neck, a black blazer, and dark blue jeans with a very large turn-up, although he has been known to don other clothing, such as his yellow dungarees, for special occasions. He talks with rather a strange 'posh' Midlands accent and is afflicted by quite a few very large spots, especially around the nasal area. He is a very loud character, but is also very resilient as he often comes in for lots of attacks from Vyvyan. He often writes poems and recites them to the other members of the household, declaring himself the 'People's Poet'. He also adores Cliff Richard, and - like the rest of the guys - enjoys being incredibly mean to Neil.
Vyvyan - A denim-clad, ginger-haired punk, Vyv Bastard is a medical student at Scumbag College. In the first episode of the series, when he actually goes to college, he returns with a severed human leg, which he mounts on the bonnet of his yellow Ford Anglia (a vehicle that boasts painted flames up its sides). He has a Scottish hamster called SPG - short for 'Special Patrol Group'3 - and is the most violent of the gang, typically enjoying demolishing parts of the house and inflicting lots of pain on Rick. As well as his denim outfit, he wears studs in his forehead, a ring through his nose, and chains round his neck.
Neil - A down-on-his-luck hippy (despite coming from a wealthy family), Neil Pye does the cooking and cleaning for the household. He can often be seen slaving over the stove preparing Lentil Casserole. His mission in life is to kill himself, which he attempts several times throughout the series (though he abandoned his attempt at self-crucifixion when he realised he'd never be able to get the last nail in). He spends a lot of time on the toilet, often tries to make sensible suggestions, and is regularly beaten about the head by another member of the household. Neil usually takes the blame for anything that goes wrong in the house, and he often cuts a lonely figure in the kitchen with his hippie flares and pumps.
Mike - Personally nicknamed 'Mike the Cool Person', Mike has a special relationship with Vyv, who he often hangs out with in the house. Mike is not actually a student, but claims to possess 'photos of the Dean'. The self-professed ladies' man of the house, Mike often acts peculiarly as he wanders off into his own sub-plots, often involving money-making schemes such as renting out Neil's room as a roller-disco. He acts as the leader of the group and frequently makes decisions about the best course of action. He is the best dressed of the bunch, generally wearing a suit or golfing slacks, and has ensured that the House Rules clearly state that he is exempt from any of the mundane cooking and cleaning tasks.
The Balowski Family - Alexei Sayle also starred, playing different members of the Balowski family throughout both series, as well as Jerzei, the guys' landlord, he also played Alexei Yuri Balowski, Billy Balowski, Reggie Balowski, Jester Balowski, and Brian Damage Balowski. Other roles he played were a train driver, a South African Vampire, and a Mussolini lookalike Policeman/Cabaret Singer.
Each episode had its own special theme and could be watched independently of any other, aside from the first two episodes. Most installments featured a music act, often invited into the house by Mike, but occasionally in different settings, such as the local pub. These acts were a canny inclusion on the part of the production team, who realised that musical guests transformed their show from a comedy into an entertainment production (entertainment shows got bigger budgets than comedy).
Some of the episodes in the second series contained subliminal messages or 'flash frames' - examples of these were a frog leaping, a tap dripping – all having absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the episode whatsoever. They were just shown for one or two frames of film, mocking the supposed 'subliminal advertising' which was rumoured to take place in early television shows. They also added to the anarchic 'anything goes' attitude to the show.
Many small sketches involving puppets were also incorporated which added to the comic genius of the shows. Such bizarre scenes as a tomato singing in the fridge, two carrots lying rotting by a sink or flies on a wall making a 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary about being flies on a wall. Other sketches allowed for some bizarre guest appearances:
Mark Arden and Stephen Frost (otherwise known as The Oblivion Boys) appeared as two policemen on the front page of the Guardian in 'Boring', two gate crashers at the party in 'Interesting', two argumentative ghosts in 'Cash', two secret agents in 'Nasty' (Sweater and Ruffles) and Mick and Tez, who deliver the 'two-ton poo' in 'Sick'.
Robbie Coltrane played 'Sully' the bouncer at Mike's Roller Disco (in Rick's room) in 'Oil', Dr Carlisle in 'Bambi', and he was the one-eyed Captain on the Pirate Radio Show in 'Time'.
Ben Elton, co-writer of the show, starred as the presenter of Nozin' Aroun' in 'Demolition', Kendal Mintcake in 'Bambi', a blind DJ in 'Flood', the schoolboy who 'gets Spazz' in the Grange Hill spoof in 'Sick', and the punter drinking a pint of 'Hawk' in 'Summer Holiday'.
Dawn French played the bible-basher4 in 'Interesting', the Devil in the commercial for 'Ouch, that's better - Painaway' in 'Nasty' and the Easter Bunny in 'Time'.
Jennifer Saunders, Dawn's comedy partner and Ade Edmondson's real-life wife, played the girl at the party in 'Interesting' whose bag is raided by Rick, and Helen Mucus, the violent serial killer in 'Time'.
Hale and Pace popped up in 'Nasty' as two grave diggers, and in 'Time' as two peasants.
Tony Robinson played the doctor with the elephant in 'Bambi' and one of the criminals awaiting deportation to Australia in 'Nasty'.
Other actors making appearances in the shows (which in the case of some were considerably 'star-studded') are Helen Atkinson-Wood, David Rappaport, Jules Holland, Chris Barrie, Arnold Brown, Alan Freeman, Stephen Fry, Ronnie Golden, Lenny Henry, Terry Jones, Hugh Laurie, Helen Lederer, Norman Lovett, Lise Mayer, Paul Merton, Griff Rhys Jones, Roger Sloman, Mel Smith and Emma Thompson
The best way to find out about The Young Ones is to watch them; bear in mind though, a strong stomach is required for many of the episodes!
The guys try to demolish the house from the inside, they have received a letter from the Council, stating that they are a health hazard.
Musical Guests: Nine Below Zero
The housemates move into a new house, Vyv discovers oil in the basement, and the workers hold a benefit concert to overthrow the dictator.
Musical Guests: Radical Posture, Alexei Sayle
As the title suggests the students are bored out of their brains, not even a terrorist siege, a visit to the pub or a game of Monopoly can liven them up.
Musical Guests: Madness
The guys try to escape the television license man, while also preparing for the explosion of a huge red bomb which seems to have dropped on the house during the night.
Musical Guests: Dexy's Midnight Runners
It's time for a party! The students invite their friends round for a few drinks and some music, the four horsemen of the apocalypse make a surprise appearance and the giant sandwich they leave behind comes in very handy.
Musical Guests: Rip Rig and Panic
The last in series one sees London flooded to biblical proportions, an axe-wielding homicidal maniac on the loose, a game of hide-and-seek and Vyv setting fire to Rick's Sociology file.
Musical Guests: None
Scumbag College gets the chance to meet Bamber Gascoigne and beat the posh kids on University Challenge; as usual the proceedings end up with violence when Vyv gets bored because he's not winning.
Musical Guests: Motorhead
The house is surprisingly empty after the guys have burnt all the furniture to keep warm. It falls to Neil to get a job, and after he gets thrown out of the Army Careers Office for saying he is a pacifist, he ends up finding his dream vocation as a London Policeman.
Musical Guests: Jools Holland and Company
After Neil takes a decidedly disgusting bath (in which he finds his bike) and Rick boards up his bedroom, the guys decide to stay up all night watching video nasties, only to be fooled by 'the old strange parcel routine'.
Musical Guests: The Damned
The morning after the night before, Rick makes an extra cup of tea for his 'special guest' as Vyvian tries to sober up, but escaping from the violent murderess within their midst is rather difficult.
Musical Guests: Amazulu
The lads are ill, Rick won't stop shouting and Vyv wastes nearly a full bottle of vodka on a petrol bomb. Unfortunately Neil starts with a sneezing fit which sparks a street riot, and all before his parents come round for tea...
Musical Guests: Madness
The end of term, the students are out on their ears, and to top it all off, the Nazi postman informs them that they came bottom in the whole world in their exams. A bank robbery ensues, followed by the death of SPG, and a ride in a double-decker bus.
Musical Guest: John Otway
The End of the Young Ones
The Young Ones have twice managed to enjoy chart success in the British singles charts. In July, 1984, Neil got to number 2 with a cover of Traffic's psychedelic hit 'Hole in my Shoe'5. Then, in March 1986, the gang reformed in aid of the first Comic Relief telethon, recording a version of 'Living Doll' alongside the original artists, Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin, guitarist with The Shadows. Thanks both to the good cause and a hilarious video, the song shot to number one. This marked the end of The Young Ones as a concept, with the gang disbanding in favour of new projects, including Bottom, another anarchic comedy that starred Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall, with occasional guest appearances by Christopher Ryan.