Thursday, August 14, 2003

”The People’s Poet”

Right, kids?
The Young Ones, the Young Ones. I remember when Rik Mayall and Ben Elton were funny. It was a bloody long time ago, mind. But the Young Ones was a pinnacle in British comedy that will rarely be eclipsed, and like that other unbeatable classic, it ran for only two short series and a total of twelve shows.

I can recount most of Elton’s inspired scripts from memory - with plenty of space for the cast’s own contributions and ad-libs - mostly to the annoyance of those around me, but where else can you get such classics as:

PRISONER #1: [rather eloquently] Transported for life to the colonies, and for what? Scum I was to that beak, nothing but scum. 'Tis for my accent and my situation that I am condemned. 'Tis for the want of better graces and the influence they bring that I am to board this prison hulk.

PRISONER #2: And all those murders you done.

...which had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the episode? And where else would you find the work of the People’s Poet, right kids?

All around
Sometimes up
And sometimes down
But always around.
Pollution, are you coming to my town?
Or am I coming to yours?
We're on different buses, pollution
But we're both using petrol.

It was the archetypal comedy of opposites - the hippy, the anarchist, the metallist and the cool person all in the same student house, in which you’d also find stray nuclear weapons; a couple of desert island castaways; the Damned doing a gig in the living room; and Alexei Sayle playing the entire Balowski family (“Coca-Cola! Symbol of free west!”) and a South African Vampire (“I’m not a vampire! I am a driving instructor from the Transvaal!”).

Like all classics, they quit at the top, just as Cleese refused to revive Fawlty Towers after 1979. However, the Young Ones cast were more-or-less reunited in the not-as-funny Filthy, Rich and Catflap, and latterly Bottom; and despite the latter’s anarchy, it wasn’t the same. The genius that burned short and bright has now gone.

Ben Elton cemented his writing genius by saving Blackadder from certain obscurity after its less-than-inspiring first series, and turning it into a part of the British zeitgeist. Unfortunately being the purveyor of two true classics has its price - the spangly suit lost its sparkle, and it was downhill all the way via brown-nosing with Lloyd-Webber and laughable stage musicals. Ben Elton is now officially a wanker.

Alas, I shall never be a student perve again. Just a grown-up one.

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