1 9 8 2 – 1 9 8 4 (UK)
12 x 35 minute episodes
The Young Ones was one of the very first appearances of ideologically sound “alternative” comedy in Britain. Though named after a Cliff Richard song, there was nothing sweet or wholesome here . . .
The Cliff Richard fanatic was Rik, a violent vegetarian who wrote very dodgy poetry and shared a house with three other students: Vyvyan, a punk with studs in his forehead and a pet hamster called SPG (for Special Patrol Group – The 80’s Bully Boys of the British police force), Neil (a hippie lentil-freak who did all the housework) and Mike, who was by far the weakest character and had no real personality to speak of (He certainly got all the crappiest lines).
The Young Ones were students of course. They lived like students, they were poor like students and their house was the archetypical student digs.
They argued frequently about who would do the cooking or tidy up, or who had eaten Rik’s half-eaten apple from the (empty) fridge. Left-over food usually became animated and had some of the best one-liners in the script.
Cartoon-style violence reigned as this quartet proceeded to kick the house (and each other) to pieces at every opportunity.
The damage to the house was duly deducted from the rent by their Russian landlord, Jerzey Balowski (Alexei Sayle ostensibly playing himself as Jerzey and several other members of the Balowski family).
A highlight was the weekly guest band playing live in the lounge room: Madness, The Damned, Motorhead, Rip, Rig + Panic, Dexys Midnight Runners and the sensational mod band Nine Below Zero (playing Eleven Plus Eleven in the debut episode).
The jokes were either slapstick or very surreal. For example, the boys’ cleaning cupboard was actually a portal to Narnia a la The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
The Young Ones was superbly written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer. The 12 episodes featured many other members of the comedy cabaret circuit in guest roles, many appearing on TV for the first time.
These included Mark Arden and Stephen Frost, Keith Allen, Helen Atkinson Wood, Jim Barclay, Chris Barrie, Arnold Brown, Robbie Coltrane, Lee Cornes, Andy de la Tour, co-writer Ben Elton, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, Gareth Hale and Norman Pace, Lenny Henry, Helen Lederer, Norman Lovett, Pauline Melville, Paul Merton, Daniel Peacock, David Rappaport, Tony Robinson and Emma Thompson.
Not The Nine O’Clock News stars Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones also appeared, as did, with a nod to the previous generation of young blades, Terry Jones from Monty Python.
The younger generations loved the show and felt the series was right on their wavelength. More ‘mature’ critics were appalled at the wanton violence, infantile jokes and total disrespect for society; but many of these, too, were won over as the series progressed.
It was a series which certainly shook up television comedy and heralded the age of the “alternative” comedian.
Indeed The Young Ones continued well beyond its 12 episodes, with Mayall and Edmondson’s later offerings Filthy, Rich & Catflap and Bottom being essentially extensions of the series.
The Young Ones screened in the US on MTV in the late 80s and was an utter, utter, utter brilliant show. There was nothing like it before and there will be nothing like it again.
“I bet you think it’s very clever to laugh, with 3 million people on the dole”
The Balowski Family