When Rik Mayall died at the relatively young age of 56 last June, the country lost one of its comedy greats.
Rik would have been 57 on Saturday, March 7, and among those remembering him will be Hebden Bridge writer Dominic Vince, who with his long-time friend and co-writer worked with the actor and comedian to create what Mayall himself called “My last great character” - that of the immoral Elton, the last snowman in the world, in the dark-tinged decidedly adult audio comedy The Last Hurrah.
Writing for Rik, knowing he would read each line, knowing which bits he’d love, was the most exciting experience of my lifeDominic Vince
Recorded for BBC Radio 4, a specially adapted radio version of the show, “The Last Hurrah, Interview with the Snowman,” will go out on BBC Radio 4 Extra, on March 7 (Rik’s birthday) and March 14 at 11.30pm. Full versions of the show are also available at www.thelasthurrah.co.uk.
Dominic, Craig Green and Rik worked closely on the project for two years during which they became good friends, said Dominic who remembers his time working with Mayall with great pride and affection.
“I’d loved Rik Mayall since I was eight, watching his superb narration of George’s Marvellous Medicine for Jackanory,” he says.
“His energy was infectious and the anarchic unpredictability gave you a sense that absolutely anything could happen.
“This same spirit I rediscovered as a teenager watching the first episode of Bottom, my eyes widening, my jaw dropping, as I realised that I’d just found everything I could ever want from a television set.
“It was this unpredictability that made people nervous when meeting him, and in May 2010 I found myself and old school friend Craig Green shifting about at the gates to his Devon house wondering if we were too early, the first (of over 20) drafts of Episode One of “The Last Hurrah” in our hands.
“On walking down the drive we were accosted by a little white dog and Rik appeared from an upstairs window shouting ‘Don’t worry, you can do whatever you like to her – she’s French!’
“This was Rik’s public face, for in public Rik only ever appeared in some form of character (usually a very egotistical, inept, often sexist, and arrogant one).
“This preserved his mystique and the privacy of his family life, which since his near fatal quad-bike crash in the 90s had become deeply important to him.
“To the world outside he was ‘Dr The Rik Mayall, Pan-global Phenomenon,’ as he loved to introduce himself. To us he became just ‘Rik.’
“We were there to discuss the scripts for a planned audio comedy called The Last Hurrah.
“Right away we could see how keen he was on the project, in particular his main character Elton, an immortal and deeply immoral snowman,” he said.
Dominic recalls there was never any hierarchy in the working relationship, but on that first day they felt like students presenting their work to an old master.
“He was deeply professional and painstaking, and went over every line. He expanded everything, all the characters, the whole concept.
“This was the first meeting of many over two years. When I first suggested we call the project The Last Hurrah he protested saying, ‘I don’t want people saying this is Rik’s Last Hurrah.’
“The next time we saw him he’d changed his mind and we were surprised to hear him say ‘Boys, this is my last hurrah, so we’ll go with that.’
“He meant it, and its all the more poignant now.
“Rik saw the project as an opportunity to make something uncensored, unfiltered, genuinely independent and genuinely for the fans, distributed by us and uncontrolled by anybody else.
“We made six episodes with a small cast in a studio in Plymouth.
“Series two was quickly written by myself but will now sadly never be recorded.
“There were times when we were all laughing so much we were on the floor crying.
“Then there were quiet, fatherly talks (career, fatherhood) which was when being with Rik seemed the most surreal and we had to take a mental check that this really was Rik, and this really was happening.”
It was an experience Dominic says he will never forget.
“I loved working with Rik as he took his comedy very seriously, as I do.
“Writing for Rik, knowing he would read each line, knowing which bits he’d love, was the most exciting experience of my life.
“The idea that I’ll never be able to write for him again, (although I still do) even after nine months since his death, is a painful one.
“But above all I miss his company and friendship, the giddy excitement of seeing his name come up on my mobile call alert, not knowing whether, on my answering, he’d pretend to be an IRA terrorist or that he thought my wife had answered and he was phoning to call off their affair.
“I suppose, in the end, life seems less unpredictable without him in it.”