|The Young Ones|
|Genre||Sitcom Surrealism Dark comedy Screwball comedy slapstick comedy|
|Written by||Ben Elton|
|Directed by||Paul Jackson|
|Opening theme||"The Young Ones" written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett performed by the cast (originally performed by Cliff Richard and The Shadows)|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||2|
|No. of episodes||12|
|Running time||approx. 35 minutes|
|Original network||BBC Two|
|Original release||9 November 1982 -|
19 June 1984
The Young Ones is a British sitcom written by Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, and Lise Mayer, starring Adrian Edmondson, Mayall, Nigel Planer, Christopher Ryan, and Alexei Sayle, and broadcast on BBC Two for two series, first shown in 1982 and 1984. The show focused on the lives of four students and their landlord's family on different plots that often included anarchic, offbeat humour. The show often included slapstick gags, visual humour and surreal jokes sometimes acted out by puppets, with each episode also featuring a notable selection of guest stars and a musical number from one of the noted performers during the programme's broadcast period.
The Young Ones helped bring alternative comedy to British television in the 1980s and made household names of its writers and performers. The show became a notable icon of 1980s British popular culture, and received its own game and a home-media release, while becoming the first non-music-related programme to appear on MTV in 1985. The show was voted number 31 in the BBC's Best Sitcom poll in 2004.
In the early 1980s, much of the programme's cast operated on London's comedy club circuit, gaining significant popularity at The Comedy Store--Alexei Sayle was the prominent act, drawing attention as the manic, aggressive compere; Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall worked together in the troupe 20th Century Coyote, and later became the double act The Dangerous Brothers; and Nigel Planer worked in the double act "The Outer Limits" alongside Peter Richardson. All principal members later opted to make their own club as The Comedy Store became popular, and formed The Comic Strip in the Raymond Revuebar club in Soho, with French and Saunders and Arnold Brown. The new club proved immensely popular amongst London's comedy venues and brought the group to the attention of Jeremy Isaacs, head of the new Channel 4.
Richardson opted to bring the group to television in a project entitled The Comic Strip Presents..., and began negotiations with the new channel to secure a deal for a series of six self-contained half-hour films, in which the group would perform as comedy actors rather than stand-up performers. Channel 4 agreed to the deal and aired the programme on the channel's opening night on 2 November 1982. In response to this, the BBC opted to recruit the group for their own comedy projects, and began negotiations with Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star in a sitcom that would operate on a similar broadcast arrangement, under the title of The Young Ones, which alludes to and subverts[further explanation needed] the song of the same name, written by Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett, and performed by Cliff Richard and The Shadows, which had become a No. 1 UK hit single in 1962. The group agreed to join the project and work proceeded on the sitcom, with Mayall co-writing the scripts with his then girlfriend Lise Mayer, and Ben Elton (who had attended the University of Manchester with Mayall and Edmondson). Paul Jackson was installed as a producer, but his presence led to him clashing with Richardson, forcing the latter to abandon the project. As a result, his replacement was Christopher Ryan, the only member of the group who was not a stand-up comedian. According to Jackson, the finished project was met with complete disbelief by the BBC, but the recent arrival of Channel 4 led the broadcaster to air what had been created a week after its opening night, on 9 November.
To help make it stand out, the group opted to combine traditional sitcom style with violent slapstick, non-sequitur plot turns, and surrealism. These older styles were mixed with the working and lower-middle class attitudes of the growing 1980s alternative comedy boom, in which all the principal performers except Ryan had been involved. In addition, it was also decided that every episode, with the exception of one, would feature a live performance by a band, including Madness, Motörhead, and The Damned. This was a device used to qualify the series for a larger budget, as "variety" shows attracted higher fees than "comedy" at the time. Episodes were generally produced to be over 35 minutes long, though were edited to half-hour when later repeated on the BBC or satellite channels.
The programme focuses on the lives of four undergraduate students, all of whom share a house in squalid condition, while attending their studies at the fictional Scumbag College--aggressive punk and medical student Vyvyan Basterd; conceited wannabe anarchist and sociology student Rick; oppressed, paranoid hippie, and peace studies student Neil Wheedon Watkins Pye; and suave, charming, would-be underground mob boss, Mike "The-Cool-Person". In addition to the students, the episodes also feature appearances from the Balowski family, the head of whom acts as the group's landlord, who also appeared in the role of occasional independent characters such as a Mussolini-lookalike Police Chief).
The content of the episodes could be classified as a comedy of manners, because of its take on British culture, political climate and social backgrounds during the 1980s. A particular example of this is the second series use of "flash frames" in each episode, to mock the public's fear of subliminal messages in television and music.The Young Ones was more notable for its use of violent slapstick, which Edmondson and Mayall had been using in their double-act routines, the use of surreal elements such as puppets playing the role of talking animals or objects (in a similar manner to The Goodies), use of lengthy cutaways with no relation to the episode's plot, and frequent breaches of the fourth wall for comedic efforts, either to break a punchline to a joke or make a plot point obvious; in several occasions, Sayle used this element to break from his character and address the audience in his real-life Liverpudlian accent.
The Young Ones featured five main cast members, each with a specific role on the programme as listed below:
Alongside the main cast, the programme also featured a variety of guest appearances, including comedians, actors, and singers, who each took on the role of a supporting character in an episode's plot or cutaway elements. Notable guests on the programme included Ben Elton, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Hale and Pace, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Mark Arden, Stephen Frost, Jools Holland, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Anthony Sharp, Terry Jones, Chris Barrie, Norman Lovett, Lenny Henry, David Rappaport, Robbie Coltrane, Tony Robinson, Andy De La Tour, and Emma Thompson.
In New Zealand, the show premiered late at night on 30 August 1985, after TVNZ purchased the broadcast rights.
In the Netherlands, the show was aired in 1985 by public broadcaster VPRO.
In Catalonia, public broadcaster TV3 began airing the show in February 1986 on a Sunday evening slot. The show became very popular and got several re-runs in successive years. Indeed, in 2016, Nigel Planer appeared in a show involving foreign travellers visiting Catalonia. One of the characteristics of the Catalan dubbing is that Vyvyan speaks with a thick Catalan rural accent, totally opposed to his urban environment in the series.
In Galicia it was shown on regional channel TVG with great success among younger audiences.
The series' theme song featured the cast singing Cliff Richard and The Shadows' UK No. 1 song "The Young Ones" (1961), the title song from the film of the same name. Throughout the series there are many references to Richard, as Mayall's character is a devout fan.
In 1984, after the second series, Planer (in character as Neil) reached No. 2 in the UK charts with a version of Traffic's "Hole in My Shoe". The accompanying Neil's Heavy Concept Album, a loose collection of songs and spoken comedy, included appearances by The Young Ones alumni Dawn French and Stephen Fry.
Eleven of the twelve episodes had a musical guest performing in the house or street. By including the groups, the show qualified as variety rather than light entertainment by the BBC and was allocated a bigger budget than a sitcom. Groups that appeared included Dexys Midnight Runners, Motörhead, The Damned, and Madness, who appeared in two episodes. The one episode that featured no musical act still fulfilled the variety criteria by including a lion tamer whose presence also directly contributed to the plot.
Some of these performances were omitted from DVD release for copyright reasons. Some musical acts were also edited out for similar reasons on some satellite reruns. On the 2007 DVD release, all the music acts are restored uncut.
In the first six episodes of the series, a person whose hair covers their face appears in the background of some scenes, such as to the left when Neil gets hit by Vyvyan with a kettle in "Bomb". In the episode Demolition he appears slumped against the back wall when Rick is watching TV. These rumours of a mysterious fifth housemate have been the subject of fan speculation on the internet. In 2016 journalist Peter Farquhar sent members of the cast and crew email enquiries about this unnamed character. Writer Ben Elton replied saying "I have no idea what you are talking about I'm afraid..." but Geoff Posner, one of the directors of the series replied saying that he and Paul Jackson "thought it would be fun to have some ghostly figure in the background of some scenes that was never explained or talked about..."
During an event at the Bristol Slapstick Festival 2018, Ade Edmondson was asked about the fifth housemate during an audience question session and named the person playing the 'fifth housemate' as his university friend Mark Dewison. Mark also played a speaking role as Neil's friend (also called 'Neil') during series one episode "Interesting". He emerges from Vyvyan's full vacuum cleaner bag and ends up being shoved into the fridge by Rick. However, inspection of the episode shows that both Dewison and the fifth housemate appear together in the same shot towards the end of the episode.
In an exclusive documentary How the Young Ones Changed Comedy that aired in 2018 on Gold, series co-writer Lise Mayer stated that the idea was there had been a party at the student house at some point in the past and there was a person who had just never left. This is why you see them just hanging around.
Although the series was set in north London, many external scenes were filmed in Bristol, namely the suburb of Bishopston, where the student house is situated at the top of Codrington Road. Other locations include the Fascist Pig Bank, the Launderette and the Army Careers Office, all around the corner on Gloucester Road. The pub in which Vyvyan's mum works, the Kebab and Calculator in the series, was the Cock of the North (since renamed the Westbury Park Tavern) in Northumbria Drive, Bristol. A brief scene in a pharmacy was filmed outside GK Chemists, now taken over by Lloyds Pharmacy, in St Johns Lane, Bedminster. The shop was renamed "OK Chemists" for the scene, in which Mike goes to buy cough medicine, but orders £180 worth of Durex condoms instead--"Force of habit".
All four characters attended the fictional Scumbag College. As Neil sometimes wore a University of London T-shirt, it seems likely that Scumbag is one of the University of London's constituent colleges, although they were never seen attending the institution and were rarely seen studying.
The end of the series was not the last appearance of The Young Ones. For the British charity television appeal Comic Relief, the four recorded a song and video for Cliff Richard's "Living Doll", accompanied by Richard and Shadows guitarist Hank B. Marvin. Alexei Sayle was not involved, as he felt collaborating with Richard was against the alternative ethos of the show, but had already achieved chart success in 1984 with "'Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?".
In 1984, Planer released an album of music and skits in character as Neil, entitled Neil's Heavy Concept Album. Musical direction was by Canterbury scene keyboardist Dave Stewart. It featured Stewart's alums Barbara Gaskin, Jakko Jakszyk, Pip Pyle, Gavin Harrison, Jimmy Hastings and Rick Biddulph. "Hole in My Shoe", a single taken from the LP, reached number 2. Soulwax used "Hello Vegetables" to kick off their Radio Soulwax mix "Introversy."
The program became a cult hit in the United States after MTV began broadcasting edited versions of the episodes during the summer of 1985. Conan O'Brien cited the show as one of his influences during a Q&A at the Oxford Union.
At the 1986 Comic Relief stage shows, The Young Ones performed "Living Doll" live (following a short skit which involved Rick doing a comic song about showing his underwear and bodily parts, before being ejected from the group by Mike, and Vyvyan supposedly having backstage sex with Kate Bush with Neil as his contraceptive). The skit climaxed with Neil claiming Cliff Richard could not perform with them as he was "doing time" (the musical Time was premiering the following week) and John Craven had been booked as a replacement, only for Cliff to then appear. However he was only available to appear on the second night of the run, with Bob Geldof replacing him on the other two nights.
On one occasion, Edmondson, Mayall and Planer as their "Young Ones" characters did a parody of the song "My Generation" by The Who.
Mayall, Planer, and Edmondson reunited in 1986 for the Elton-written Filthy Rich & Catflap. The series had many of the same characteristics as The Young Ones as did Mayall and Edmondson's next sitcom Bottom. Ryan, for his part, was regularly recruited to play roles on associated series (such as Happy Families, Bottom and Absolutely Fabulous). Mayall, Edmondson and Planer have also appeared in episodes of Blackadder.
Both series were repeated consecutively over twelve weeks in early 1985, but went unrepeated for four years, when the second series was shown on BBC Two. In the mid-1990s all twelve episodes of The Young Ones were shown on BBC Two in a 30-minute revised format, missing scenes and dialogue. The series was also shown on digital channel UK Gold throughout the 1990s. A mix of both the edited and unedited versions was shown in the 2000s (decade) on UKTV G2 and Paramount Comedy 1.
DVD releases were initially very basic: Only the US "Every Stoopid Episode" edition featured excerpts from existing documentaries, and no extra footage was included. Musical references proved difficult to clear so "The Sounds of Silence" (one line) and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" were excised from the US editions. A new DVD release of all episodes ("Extra Stoopid Edition") was launched in November 2007, containing new documentaries and two commentary tracks. This edition restores the line from "The Sounds of Silence" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues". The music video "Living Doll" featuring Cliff Richard has not been included on any edition, and neither is the live performance done for comic relief in 1986.
A pilot episode was filmed of an American version of The Young Ones, titled Oh, No! Not THEM!. It featured Planer as Neil and Jackie Earle Haley, and had a claymation opening credit sequence. The Fox network did not pick up the series. It was produced by David Mirkin.
Robert Llewellyn wrote in his book The Man in the Rubber Mask (1994):
The Young Ones was taken over the Atlantic in the mid eighties, and Nigel [Planer] was the only member of the British cast to go. He had experienced a fairly hideous time, worried sick that he was going to have to stay there for six years with a group of people he hated who managed to make The Young Ones into a sort of grubby Benny Hill Show. He was hugely relieved when the pilot was a flop and he was released from his contract.
In the episode "Bambi", the housemates appeared on University Challenge, where they played against Footlights College, Oxbridge, a reference to the Footlights drama club at Cambridge University. The Footlights College team was played by show writer Ben Elton and three actors who were once members of the real Cambridge Footlights: Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, the last of whom had actually appeared on the quiz show while at Cambridge. The episode title is a reference to the show's presenter, Bamber Gascoigne, impersonated by Griff Rhys Jones.
In the episode "Sick", the quartet enter a scenario parodying The Good Life, after Neil's mother says the sitcom should be more like The Good Life and Vyvyan has an outburst against it, saying, "It's so bloody nice! Felicity 'Treacle' Kendal and Richard 'Sugar-Flavoured Snot' Briers! They're nothing but a couple of reactionary stereotypes, confirming the myth that everyone in Britain is a lovable middle-class eccentric. And I hate them!"
Mayall and Edmondson elaborated on some of the series' concepts later in their sitcoms Filthy Rich & Catflap (written by Elton, with additional material by Mayall) and Bottom (written by Mayall and Edmondson. Christopher Ryan also made appearances as the character "Dave Hedgehog").
Most of the regular cast (and several of the guests) also appeared in Channel 4 and BBC Two's The Comic Strip Presents comedy shows. All four main actors went on to gain reputations as both dramatic and comic actors.
In 1990, ITV puppet series Spitting Image made reference to The Young Ones when four members of the Margaret Thatcher cabinet reminisced about their younger days, with all four playing one Young Ones character each: Cecil Parkinson as Mike, Douglas Hurd as Vyvyan, Michael Heseltine as Rick and Geoffrey Howe as Neil.
When originally broadcast, episodes were shown on BBC Two Tuesdays at 9 pm.
|Ep||Title||Musical performance||Original air date||Director||Ratings
(BBC Two Top Ten)
|1||Demolition||Nine Below Zero
|9 November 1982||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|2||Oil||Radical Posture (with Alexei Sayle)
performing "Dr. Martens Boots"
|16 November 1982||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
performing "House of Fun"
|23 November 1982||Geoff Posner||N/A||N/A|
|4||Bomb||Dexys Midnight Runners
performing "Jackie Wilson Said"
|30 November 1982||Geoff Posner||N/A||Did Not Chart |
|5||Interesting||Rip Rig + Panic (with Andrea Oliver)
performing "You're My Kind of Climate"
|7 December 1982||Paul Jackson||3.55 ||Joint 6th|
|6||Flood||No musical performance, but a lion tamer does perform to the song
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Tight Fit
|14 December 1982||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|Ep||Title||Musical performance||Original air date||Director(s)||Ratings
(BBC Two Top Ten)
performing "Ace of Spades"
|8 May 1984||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|2||Cash||Ken Bishop's Nice Twelve
performing "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
performing "Stupid Noises"
|15 May 1984||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|29 May 1984||Paul Jackson||4.05||2|
performing "Moonlight Romance"
|5 June 1984||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
performing "Our House"
|12 June 1984||Paul Jackson||N/A||N/A|
|6||Summer Holiday||John Otway
performing "Body Talk"
|19 June 1984||Paul Jackson
The series achieved a larger audience through 1980s repeat screenings than it did on first run. However, repeats of the programme in the 1990s, when the series was considerably older and less topical, fared less well. As Bambi was also screened during a BBC1 Comic Relief evening (not included below), it was the most-repeated episode, with six separate repeat screenings from 1985-1999. The repeat details of the series up to 2000 were as follows:
|Date||Episode||Viewers (millions)||Chart (BBC Two Top Ten)|
|5 May 1983||Demolition||N/A||Did Not Chart |
|12 May 1983||Oil||2.50||10|
|19 May 1983||Bomb||3.90||6|
|26 May 1983||Boring||N/A||Did Not Chart|
|2 June 1983||Interesting||3.60||4|
|9 June 1983||Flood||N/A||Did Not Chart |
|18 March 1985||Demolition||5.90||1 |
|25 March 1985||Oil||5.65||3 |
|1 April 1985||Bomb||5.35||5 |
|15 April 1985||Boring||5.70||7 |
|22 April 1985||Interesting||6.50||6 |
|13 May 1985||Flood||4.80||1 |
|29 April 1985||Bambi||4.30||2 |
|20 May 1985||Cash||6.05||1|
|10 June 1985||Nasty||5.90||3 |
|17 June 1985||Sick||6.0||2|
|24 June 1985||Time||N/A||N/A|
|1 July 1985||Summer Holiday||6.45||3|
|29 April 1989||Time||5.40||3.|
|29 August 1989||Bambi||N/A||N/A|
|5 September 1989||Cash||4.94||2 |
|12 September 1989||Nasty||4.94||2 |
|29 September 1989||Sick||N/A||N/A|
|26 September 1989||Summer Holiday||N/A||N/A|
|20 August 1995||Demolition||2.66||9* |
|16 September 1995||Oil|
|23 September 1995||Boring|
|30 September 1995||Bomb|
|16 November 1995||Interesting|
|23 November 1995||Flood |
|30 November 1995||Bambi|
|7 December 1995||Cash|
|14 December 1995||Nasty |
|21 December 1995||Sick|
|30 December 1995||Time|
|25 July 1997||Sick |
|4 September 1998||Bambi |
|1 January 1999||Demolition|
|29 January 1999||Oil||2.95||10 |
|15 January 1999||Boring|
|22 January 1999||Bomb|
|29 January 1999||Interesting|
|5 February 1999||Flood|
|12 February 1999||Bambi|
|19 February 1999||Cash|
|26 February 1999||Nasty|
|5 March 1999||Time|
|19 March 1999||Sick|
|26 March 1999||Summer Holiday|
Both series of The Young Ones have both been released on DVD individually and in a special edition boxset in both regions 2 and 4. Region 1 has two boxsets, one being just series 1 & 2, the other being series 1 & 2 special edition. The entire series is also available for download on iTunes,
|DVD Title||No. of Discs||Year||Episodes||DVD release|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||1||1982||6||--||5 August 2002||29 August 2002|
|Complete Series 2||1||1984||6||--||18 August 2003||1 October 2003|
|Complete Series 1 & 2||2||1982 & 1984||12||17 September 2002||--||--|
|Complete Series 1 & 2
|3||1982 & 1984||12||13 November 2007||29 October 2007||7 November 2007|
The original VHS releases were in a set of 4, each tape containing 3 episodes. The Series 1 and 2 DVDs are rated 15 and three of the VHS releases were rated PG. There were also complete series 1 and complete series 2 VHS releases.
The Young Ones is a video game based on the British comedy television series of the same name.
The game takes place in the students' home. The player can choose to play as either Mike, Neil, Vyvyan or Rick to explore the house and enter different rooms. The other characters become computer-controlled players. All characters can move around the house, pick up and drop objects, as well as break and fix things. The characters often talk, giving the player clues as to what the character is intended to do. The aim of the game is to try and move out of the house with all the character's belongings in the shortest time possible. This is not so easy, because these possessions are typically not in their preferred condition, or are hidden around the house, and players need various tools to get to them. The other characters will move around the house, behaving in-character, occasionally moving around or further damaging the possessions--making the task harder.
The game was published by Orpheus Software, based in Hatley St George in Bedfordshire. The Young Ones characters were licensed from the owners of the BBC TV series, Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and Lise Mayer.
Due to difficulty in licensing the original series music from the BBC, an alternative music sound track was commissioned to sound similar to the original theme. Over 10,000 copies of the game were sold, mainly through Boots stores, Woolworths, and independent computer stores. Due to obscure bugs in the software, it was impossible to solve the game, although few users realised this at the time. Orpheus ceased trading before the problems could be remedied.
Paul [Jackson] paid tribute [...] "The series was met with complete disbelief when the BBC first saw it, but thanks to the beginning of Channel 4 they decided to air it. [...]"