23 April – 6 May 1986
“I’ve got myself a crying, sleeping, walking, talking , living… bottom.” That was the opening line from one of the songs performed by The Young Ones at three live comedy shows recently staged in London by Comic Relief (the people who brought you Cliff and The Young Ones’ “Living Doll” single). The shows were all recorded and are soon to appear as an LP, a book and a TV special to be screened this Friday. Among the stars who took part were Bob Geldof, Midge Ure, Kate Bush, Lenny Henry, Rowan Atkinson, Howard Jones, and Paul Young. And among the people snooping about backstage was Chris Heath…
Half an hour to go before the show and backstage it’s complete chaos. On the landing Bob Geldof and comedian Ben Elton are having a raging “discussion” about Apartheid in South Africa (they both hate it but they’re in some disagreement as to what should be done about it); next door Paula Yates is talking about compost and saying she wants a plant for her birthday, Kate Bush is getting herself a horrid cup of tea (“no sugar please”), Midge Ure is wondering round in a dodgy blue sweater and two people in the corner are having a frantic conversation.
“Neil Kinnock is in row double A, you know?”
“So is he doing something?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“No, isn’t he being cut in half?”
“Nah, That’s Eric Clapton.”
Very strange. And here’s Vyvian from The Young Ones striding confidently up the stairs… “Aaaaaaarrrgggghhhhhh!!!”. Um… well, tripping confidently up the stairs.
Rowan Atkinson starts the show off. The audience begin tittering the moment he appears in front of the curtain and he only has to wiggle his face around and almost everyone is bent double. He’s followed by a “stand-up routine” from Lenny Henry, a million times better “in the flesh” than he’s ever been on radio or TV. After he’s finished, ancient songstress Joan Armatrading totters onto the stage to considerable applause, a guitar strung round her neck, but simply introduces Kate Bush and disappears. Most mysterious…
Meanwhile Kate launches into one of her old “classics”, “Breathing”, just her, and a piano. “It was difficult to know what to do,” she says afterwards. “I felt I had to do something straight so I thought the only thing I could do was to go right to the other end of the spectrum and find something that was appropriate. And although this event is about people starving, ‘Breathing’, about nuclear war, has a parallel sympathy in that it’s also about people trying to stay alive.”
Weather or not the audience quite took in all that, they certainly liked her. Kate disappears, but after a couple more sketches she’s back, this time side by side with Rowan Atkinson (who’s wearing glasses and a gold lame jacket like a rather disgusting, glitzy old country & western singer) performing a funny duet. It’s called something like “Do Bears Sha-la-la-la- In The Woods?”, is full of complete pathetic chat-up lines and Kate – gasp! – uses lots of naughty language.
During the show Neil Kinnock and his family sit laughing merrily along but they suddenly get assaulted by Pamela Stephenson (pretending to be Janet “I live with Tony James of Sigue ‘Sigue’ Sputnik” Street Porter) who looks like she’s doing her best to humiliate him. Apparently it had been arranged beforehand: “I spoke to him on the phone,” she explains later. “And he said he’d be happy to be apart of it. I was quite worried – it’s a fine line between being too nice to him and embarrassing him too much. I thought he took it rather well.”
Then comes the bit it seems everybody’s really been waiting for. Introduced as “the sexiest man in the history of the universe”, on bounds Rik Mayall with a rubber chicken sticking out of his “pocket”. He starts out with a rather endearing little song in which he inquires “do you love me – would you like to see my pants?” and very thoughtfully shows them to us, followed by his nipples and assorted other “naughty bits”.
“I broke a teacup in the dressing room – we’re maaaaaaaad!” says Rik, explaining how “nutty” he is. “Of course I reported it to the police.” He tells the audience to look behind them and then sticks two fingers up at them, he talks a lot about “farts” and “wee-wees”, calls Cliff Richard “Jesus” then spots Vyvian offstage and accuses him of “trying to have a snog with Kate Bush”.
Eventually Vyvian abandons Kate (or whatever he was doing), strolls onstage with a horrible loud guitar and strums through an atrocious new “version” of “Living Doll”, re-titled “Living Bottom”, before being joined by the rest of the Young Ones… and CLIFF!! Oh, it’s not Cliff, it’s Bob Geldof wearing a very rock ‘n’ roll jacket and a huge cross he’s just borrowed backstage off Gary Glitter. And, on guitar instead of Hank Marvin, there’s Midge Ure wearing a rather silly pair of specs. (“They’re my wife Annabel’s glasses,” he admits later. “I couldn’t see a thing because they’re really thick and everything is a massive blur.”) They all run through a completely chaotic version of “Living Doll” and disappear. Hoots and whistle, enormous cheers, then… the interval.
Not surprisingly, after The Young Ones, the second half is a little bit of an anticlimax. For one thing, quite a few of the special guests of previous nights – Billy Connolly, Paul Young (pretending to be comedian Tommy Cooper) and Howard Jones (singing “No-one Is To Blame” at the piano and an acapella version of “Life In One Day” with backing trio Afrodiziak) – haven’t managed to make it tonight for one reason or another. Doddery old guitar “hero” Eric Clapton is here though. He’s summoned onstage by Pamela Stephenson, lain down in a crate and , once Gary Glitter has presented Pamela with a revved-up chainsaw, is sawn in half with much spilling of blood.
Then it’s the turn of comedian Ben Elton (co-writer of The Young Ones scripts) who delivers one of his non-stop Saturday Live-type routines.
Bob and Midge are back on next, acting out an old Monty Python sketch which involves them sending up Band Aid (“I think we’re the only possible people who could do that,” says Midge later) by asking a stuffy businessman (comedian Stephen Fry) for some money for charity while mumbling things to each other like “I prefer the idea of a Christmas record and a global jukebox”.
They’re followed by comedy group The HeeBeeGeeBees doing a brilliant but incredibly dated parody of the Bee Gees, and then Lenny Henry bounds back on stage, this time pretending to be a disgustingly sexist American soul singer. Then there’s a mock race between atheletes Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, and a brilliantly ludicrous piece in which Lenny Henry and boxing champion Frank Bruno (wearing a dress)act out a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Bob and Midge again. “We’re sort of the Doom Brothers,” announces Bob. “Whenever we appear you know it’s the end of something” and Midge starts strumming the opening chords of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” on an acoustic guitar. Finally the whole cast streams back on and everybody, including the audience, join in on the “Feed The World” part of the song. And that’s it. The stars whizz off to the last-night party, the audience goes home, The Young Ones explain that they may never ever be the Young Ones again and Eric Clapton, who was savagely “cut up”, hasn’t been seen since…
Highlights from the three Comic Relief shows will be broadcast this Friday, April 25, on BBC1 as an hour-and-a-half long Omnibus special. And any day now an LP, “Comic Relief – Completely And Utterly Live” (WEA records) will also be released including a selection of the music and sketches from the shows.
What is Comic Relief?
The idea for Comic Relief really started last Autumn when Jane Tewson (director of Charity Projests, whose job is to come up with lots of ideas to raise money) and Richard Curtis (comedy person who co-wrote Blackadder II) went out to Africa “because Bob Geldof told us all to go”. Jane went to Sudan where she saw “everything I dreaded seeing; a child with rabies, children dying in my arms”. Richard went to Ethiopia – “I had a very difficult time out there because I’m a flippant and frivolous person and I had to pretend to be extreamely serious the whole time and ask a lot of questions about bore holes”.
“I went feeling very sceptical about the aid agencies,” explains Jane, “and I came back just totally full of admiration.” Which is why they set up Comic Relief, deciding to give the money to two aid agencies in particular; Oxfam and Save The Children.
“Comic Relief is like a production company,” explains Rik Mayall. “It produces products for people to buy rather than being like a normal charity which simply asks you to give them money. We make things to sell.” Things like The Young Ones’ “Living Doll” single, an LP, the three live shows, and later in the year, The Comic Relief Christmas Book (which promises to have contributions from Spitting Image, a new Adrian Mole story and “a load of gratuitous filth from The Young Ones.”). Jane and Richard hope that in total Comic Relief will raise about £1 million.
Lenny Henry: “I was told about the whole idea – and album, a film, a book – and it all seemed really positive. And where else could you get Paul Young pretending to be Tommy Cooper, Seb Coe and Steve Ovett running round the building, Frank Bruno in a dress and Kate Bush being funny?!
Bob Geldof: “When I heard about this I thought it was a brilliant idea and I said I’d do whatever they wanted me to. I did Cliff’s part in “Living Doll” on Friday and tonight – last night Cliff was here himself doing all his break-dancing stuff. Nobody told him he’s perfected it six years too late!”
Ben Elton: “I’m ambivalent to charity because I think in the long run you need a change in the system, not just to give people things. On the other hand you can’t fiddle with Rome burns, so I’ve mucked in and helped. The most important this is that we’re raising money to help other people, but the only reason they need help is that we live under systems that are run entirely for the gain of a small group of people. As Geldof’s brilliant experiment , his fabulous work last year, proved, it helped but it changed nothing. People will starve until we believe we are a community on earth and not out for our own private gain.”
Rik Mayall: “It was quite a relief to be a Young One again – it’s very easy to slip back into the stereotype. At the moment me and Ade (Edmondson) have just done a new Comic Strip episode called ‘Mr Jolly Lives Next Door’ and we’re doing three more over the summer. The BBC have offered to give us some money to write a third series of The Young Ones but we’re going to write something else instead. We’re not sure what, but it’ll be quite… different.”
Pamela Stephenson: “I shouldn’t use explosives in the show because I’m extremely pregnant (by her boyfriend Billy Connolly) but I love the effects. Spraying blood everywhere. It’s great! There’s nothing better.”
Gary Glitter: “Pamela Stephenson phoned me on Thursday and asked me if I’d ever worked a chainsaw. i said no, but she taught me how to do it. It was excellent. Since I lost my driving licence it’s about the nearest I can get to revving anything up.”
Midge Ure: “I saw Rik Mayall on Wogan giving Comic Relief a plug and the next day I tried to find out how I could buy some tickets to see the show. The same afternoon I got a letter from Rowan Atkinson asking me if I could come along and help, and he was talking about famine relief – a bit like sending coals to Newcastle!”
Christopher Ryan (Mike): “It’s funny being a Young One again because, until the record, we hadn’t done it for two years. We don’t want to do another series because we all feel we can’t go anywhere else with it. To be honest, I’ve been signing on the dole for a few months now because I can’t find the right thing to do next.”
Nigel Planer (Neil): “The first I heard about Comic Relief was when I got this letter saying ‘you know the recording date we told you about last November?’ – I didn’t – well, the date’s been changed and could you make a new date?’ I could.”
Adrian Edmondson (Vyv): “I’m a bit bored with doing the Young Ones. I think Vyvian – in fact all the characters, are dead. i don’t think you’ll ever see The Young Ones again. The best thing about tonight was meeting Eric Clapton – he’s my guitar hero.”
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