“gruesome, rude, uncomfortably painful, puerile, obscene and outrageous – which is exactly why we loved it”
Bottom review by Brian Slade
In The Young Ones, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Christopher Ryan had produced the perfect antidote to Thatcher’s Britain for rebellious teenagers who were less than enamoured with the Mrs T era. Rik, Vivien, Neil and Mike brought anarchy to our screens for two series in the early 1980s (except when anybody had anything bad to say about Felicity ‘Treacle’ Kendal!). But what if you took most of the political rebellion element away from the gang? What would you be left with? We found out when in 1991 Mayall and Edmondson delivered Bottom, a comedy with violent slapstick at its core that the BBC described as being about ‘two bachelors at the bottom of life’s heap.’
Richard Richard (Mayall) and Edward Elizabeth Hitler (Edmondson) are a pair of middle-aged losers. What they have achieved in life can be documented on a postage stamp. They are devoid of material possessions, sharing a flat that is missing even the most basic of amenities like carpets and curtains. There’s nothing wrong with a non-materialistic approach to life, but Eddie and Richie don’t have any experiences in life to balance out their lack of physical possessions. Women, work and money have been as hard to come by as a part of their flat that isn’t covered with grime.
With all this failure in their past, the boys’ approach to life is now a simple one – how can they get their hands on sex, cash and alcohol? They have next to nothing to help them on their way. Richie has savings of £11.80, deemed sufficient by the authorities to get him through three months and therefore exclude him from eligibility for dole money. Sex sprays and faking being a member of the aristocracy are Richie’s most blatant attempts at losing his virginity. Indeed, when Lady Natasha (Helen Lederer) hopes to marry Richie to take his fortune (a non-existent one!), she offers herself to Richie, but at the crucial moment he collapses and is taken to hospital leaving Eddie to fulfil Lady Natasha’s carnal desires.
During the three series there are a number of guest stars despite the majority of the episodes taking place exclusively in the dilapidated flat’s open plan setting. Christopher Ryan, Mike in The Young Ones, makes a number of appearances as Dave Hedgehog, a friend of Eddie’s who has a dislike for Richie. Far from the Mike character in The Young Ones, Dave lacks any level of confident misplaced coolness, appearing scruffy and unpleasant in each appearance. Alongside him is Spudgun (Stephen O’Donnell), another unkempt, unemployed drinking chum of Eddie’s who gets stick from Richie for his size.
Although overshadowed by the slapstick element of the show, Mayall and Edmonson’s writing for Bottom was bitingly funny. The relentless comedy violence between Eddie and Richie necessitated good writing to give it context, lest it descend into non-sensical Three Stooges routines. The characters themselves are given just enough depth to elicit sympathy and recognition. Virgin Richie, much like Rik in The Young Ones, has a misguided level of self-importance, full of failed logic and inaccurate education. Eddie is rather more concerned about alcohol consumption than female companionship, both of which he is more successful at than his flatmate.
However, it is the slapstick element that earned the show its place in the public’s affection. People could already identify with men who have failed to achieve anything as they approach their middle age, but the aging The Young Ones viewership marvelled at the sight gags and stunts that littered each episode of Bottom, with over-the-top sound effects and excruciatingly painful elements as Riche and Eddie turned on one another relentlessly. They offer the kind of slapstick violence that is most often found in cartoons, falling into a hybrid of Tom and Jerry violence with a Ren and Stimpy level of gratuitousness.
Bottom was a runaway success with viewers. Although it ran for only three series, it spawned a succession of stage tours, along with the movie Guest House Paradiso in which Richie and Eddie poison their guests by feeding them fish contaminated from radiation at a nearby powerplant. It was gruesome, rude, uncomfortably painful, puerile, obscene and outrageous – which is exactly why we loved it. Subsequent rumours of new material and new adventures for Richie and Eddie came and went before Rik Mayall’s tragically early passing in 2014 settled any lingering prospect of more manic misadventures. So, we are left with three series of Bottom’s nonsensical violence that was hugely popular and continues to have a strong following to this day – just don’t sit too close to mousetraps in your underpants.
Published on September 18th, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.