If you could go back in time and witness a classic piece of comedy history being made what would it be? An episode of The Young Ones maybe? That would probably feature quite highly on many people’s lists, it definitely would be on mine.
In 1984 comedian and actor Paul Putner was a teenage drama student and he got the chance to witness a classic piece of comedy history being made – an episode of The Young Ones.
Huge thanks to Paul for writing up his memories for the website so brilliantly.
Once In Every Lifetime
I first became aware of The Young Ones existence even before it had aired on television, when my uncle John told me that I would really love this new sit-com he’d been working on,
“It’s right up your street, Paul, idiots hitting each other, talking hamsters, punk rockers, pop bands, however, I will say, some of the language is a bit near the knuckle.”
My uncle was John Mason. He was one of the chiefs in the lighting department at the Beeb and was always impressing the family with tantalising tales from tellyland. His credits included: Z Cars, Dave Allen At Large, Doctor Who and he even won a BAFTA for The Box Of Delights. In the mid-seventies, he arranged it for my mum and older brother to visit him at work to see behind the scenes. That evening when they returned home, big bruv boasted about spotting a caped Jon Pertwee in the BBC canteen and how Dee Dee out of Pan’s People smiled at him in the reception. To add insult to injury, after their guided tour, he went with mum into the West End to see this new blockbuster called Jaws. I was ‘Well Jel’ as they say in Essex today. It only took another nine years but in early ‘84, it was now my turn to visit the famous doughnut in Wood Lane.
John had kindly wangled me a couple of tickets for an episode recording of The Young Ones. Bloody Hell!
14th February 1984
My mate, Stewart and I rocked up to BBC TV Centre with our tickets clutched firmly in our mitts and filed into the auditorium, grabbing seats as near to the front as possible. The fizzing anticipation in a studio chock full of young’uns was quite palpable. I suspect the stewards were probably more accustomed to catering for the blue rinse brigade at sit-com recordings than this mob. The Good Life fan base, it was not.
Our warm up comedian was Comic Strip legend, Lee Cornes, a regular face in TV comedy. During the evening, Cornes had this little running joke that he was a tad scared of me. To be fair, I did look a bit ‘thuggish’ sat there in my sinister shades, fourteen hole DM boots, cropped hair and Crombie. Give me a break, it was the early eighties and I was teenage Madness obsessive.
The episode we had come to see was called Bambi. Some comedy aficionados tell me that Bambi is such a classic piece of TV, that in rock terms, it was like I had attended the infamous Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall. Well, I wouldn’t go that far, although that night we did witness an angry, shouty bloke with orange spikey hair, for sure.
What I mostly remember about this recording was there was only one pick up they had to re-shoot again. It was the scene at the kitchen table when Rick stuffs all the laxative tablets into his mouth for an inept suicide attempt. Mayall fluffed his lines probably because his gob was full of prop pills. It was pretty much the only time the gang relaxed and all laughed. In fact, there was little or no interaction with the cast and the audience like you get with performers on other comedy show recordings. Off camera, they all looked very quiet and focused. Comedy’s a serious business… etc.
Eventually, there was a break in proceedings as producer, Paul Jackson announced that the guest band were about to take the floor. I was quietly praying to myself Madness were going to emerge ‘nutty marching’ onto the set, as I had heard a rumour they were returning to the show. True, as it turned out but unfortunately not tonight. However, we still had the immense pleasure of watching the spectacle of Motörhead miming to ‘Ace Of Spades’ four feet from our noses.
Three times in a row, no less.
After Lemmy & Co disappeared to the bar; everything had to be rearranged for the space to be dressed like a certain academic quiz show? No conferring. In the interim, displayed on the TV screens above our heads was an unedited montage and play ins of the lads making their way up north to Granada TV. The VT rolled and we witnessed Vyvyan getting decapitated after looking through a train window. This brought the house down. How will they be allowed to show a headless punk kicking his severed bonce down a railway track on the BBC and get away with it? I thought. Actually, it was probably the most effective public information safety film ever.
The next surprise was a young Robbie Coltrane wandering past me and Stew to sit in the front row. I recognised him immediately from A Kick Up The Eighties and Alfresco, two sketch shows I loved at the time. Coltrane was handed an odd chunky looking microphone and provided the stern score commentary we are all familiar with on University Challenge. Several other members of Alfresco were to arrive shortly.
When I think of the plethora of future talent that was in our presence. If the entire lighting rig (or a humongous chocolate éclair) crashed down from above killing everybody on set, British comedy would have been quite different today: Rik, Ade, Nigel, Christopher, Griff Rhys-Jones, Ben Elton, not forgetting international TV and movie stars, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, I even saw Tony Robinson hanging about. Alexei Sayle was apparently around but I didn’t see him. I only know this because he mentioned in a recent interview that he was pissed off at the time that there was so many Oxbridge performers present, believing that ‘alternative’ comedy was supposed to changing this orthodoxy. Maybe Alexei went home early with the hump?
Talking about giant chocolate éclairs falling on heads, that closing sight gag wasn’t a pre-record. They actually filmed it live on the night. I recently worked with Nigel Planer and he informed me that the éclair prop weighed a ton and nearly concussed them all. He added that the stunt caused him chronic back pain that lasted months. Heavy! Quite literally.
My only other vague memory of that night was my friend and I missing out on being filmed in the audience chanting “Rah, rah, rah, we’re going to smash the oiks” They asked the students sat right next to us to fulfil this moment. Grrrr. This might have been my debut but I understand that artistic decision now, as on reflection, Stew and I did look like a pair of Scumbag under graduates.
We were on the right team.
Paul and his mate Stewart in the passport photo booth at Victoria station, taken on the day. Paul is on the right with his dark shades!
A couple of weeks later, I espied Stephen Fry enjoying a cake in a Chichester tea room near my college. He was in a production of Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On at the Festival Theatre. Braces hanging round my arse, this scruffy herbert stomped into the genteel establishment and blurted out…
It’s Lord Snot!
Fry was confused.
“Oh. I don’t understand…The new series hasn’t even gone out yet, dear heart”
I explained we’d been at the studio recording and Mr Fry politely stood up and shook my hand as I informed in no uncertain terms…
Get ready to cringe.
“You’re gonna’ go far mate, mark my words”
Cut to twelve years later, I had gone along to support my old mucker, Matt Lucas at an early Shooting Stars recording (probably in the very same studio I’d seen The Young Ones recorded). In the Green Room afterwards I was reintroduced to Mr Fry.
I cleared my throat and on a whim decided to mention that we had met before,
“Hello Stephen, cast your mind back to Chichester Cathedral tea rooms. It was 1984. Do you recall a skinhead in bleached jeans bovver boots, and dangly braces informing you that ‘you were gonna go far, mate?”; …
Fry put his hand on my shoulder and laughed,
“Oh law, I didn’t try to shag you, did I?”
Paul sent me another great story, so look out for that in a few weeks time… or hit subscribe to get an email notification of when new posts are added.
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