1991, Bottom

Thirty-Something Years of Rik and Ade’s Bottom

On 17th September 1991 Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson’s brand new sitcom Bottom first aired on UK TV screens. So 2021 sees the much loved programme turn 30 years old.

In September 1991 I was a young 16 year old. I had not long left secondary school and was about to start college. I couldn’t wait for Bottom to finally be broadcast, because I had first become aware of the show back at the beginning of 1991. I had written a fan letter to Rik and a reply arrived saying he had been working on a brand new sitcom with Ade called Bottom. Because of this letter, it prompted my friend and I to write to the BBC and ask for studio audience tickets. We knew nothing about the show or if we’d actually get tickets, all we knew was that Rik and Ade were there stars, and we really wanted to see them perform live.

But in 1991 little did I realise that a pilot episode of the show, Contest, had already been made, it was recorded much earlier on the 24th June 1990. So we could actually say Bottom is really a year older. Contest is one of my favourite episodes, it really sets up the dark, squalid, sad pathetic existence the two flat mates share. A brilliant two-hander episode, just set in their flat and could easily be transferred to a stage performance.

After Contest was recorded in June 1990, Rik then went to America to film Drop Dead Fred during the August and September of that year. And I have to say the red hair dye they used on him must have been very strong because almost a year later you can still see how red and ginger looking his hair is in the remaining 5 episodes.

So, by June 1991 I had left school and had started sitting my GCSE exams. But all I could think about was the possibility of getting studio audience tickets to see Rik and Ade’s Bottom!! But unknown to me as I sat in a hot sweaty hall in silence, trying to answer my GCSE papers, and eagerly anticipating the possibility of getting those tickets. Rik and Ade had actually started filming the other 5 episodes.

Tuesday 4th June 1991 – The infamous opening title sequence was shot in Hammersmith. It was producer Ed Bye’s idea to film them behind the window of the newly started Hammersmith Shopping Centre, but it soon became apparent there wasn’t going to be enough footage. Which is why the iconic bench scenes were shot. Rik and Ade improvised for a good half hour or more. Which was when Rik surprised everyone by disappearing as the bus went by, it’s not edited, he really did run away behind that bus.

Photo credits @agnes_guano on twitter

Friday 14th June 1991 – Bottom Smells was recorded.

Friday 21st June 1991 – Bottom Apocalypse was recorded.

Wednesday 26th June 1991 – I was overjoyed, when tickets for Bottom finally came crashing through my letterbox for a recording on the 5th July, so my friend and I had just over a week to plan our trip!

Recognise the photo still from the pilot episode – Contest?

Friday 28th June 1991 – Bottom ‘s Up was recorded.

Friday 5th July 1991 – Bottom Gas was recorded.

Friday 12th July 1991 – Bottom Accident was recorded.


Bottom Gas

Friday 5th July 1991.

I was sixteen years old and this was the day I first got to see Rik perform, it was also the day Gas was filmed in studio 1 at BBC Television Centre. I was incredibly lucky to be in the audience for the filming of it. Every year since, I look back and remember that day, and each year I remember it with more and more affection. For a young teenage fan, and this being their first encounter of seeing Rik Mayall live, I definitely was truly spoilt.

Having been to an audience show before, my friend and I knew we had to get there early to get entry, but most importantly to us, get a good seat, as it’s first come first served. We arrived incredibly early, determined to get front row seats. Sure enough, we were first in the queue. It was an extremely warm July evening, so queueing for hours outside was easily bearable. Eventually we got led to the studio audience entrance, and into Studio 1, where we were told to fill up from the front. As we walked down the steps we noticed a row of reserved V.I.P seats – so I wonder who else was there that evening? There we were, sat centre front row of an audience of about 500 people and we had the set of Richie and Eddie’s squalid flat in front of us. Above us were the studio monitors, lighting and microphones for capturing the audiences laughter.

Now… try to imagine yourself knowing nothing about the sitcom Bottom, and being a 16 year old obsessed Rik Mayall fan!! That will give you some idea of how excited I was feeling on 5th July 1991

On the screens of the monitors, was a still picture of Rik and Ade sat on a bench, Rik was crying, giving us a little clue as to what the show was about. We were having a good look at the set and were amazed by how incredibly detailed they were, we couldn’t help but think how similar it was to The Young Ones. It felt like we were in for a treat. The floor manager came on, he said a few words, and told us how the evening would work, mentioning that this was the fourth episode of this new series to be filmed. Then eventually he introduced Rik and Ade, they came on in their costumes and stood directly in front of us with hand held microphones. There was a nervous excited energy about them both. I hate to think what the expression on my face was like, with them stood so close. It’s funny what sticks in your mind, because I remember noticing how dirty Rik’s fingernails were! They chatted to the audience and told some jokes. Rik’s joke was very long, but had the punch line. “How do you ask a person with no arms and legs what the time is? Have you got the time on you cock?”….

Click here to read about what happened next at the recording

Tuesday 17th September 1991 – I had a new blank video tape at the ready and made sure each Tuesday I recorded every episode. I even put together my own cover for it, cutting out pictures from the Radio Times. It was very strange seeing the Gas episode on TV, and I must say every time I see it, I can feel myself transported back and sat there all over again. It brings back such amazing memories. Since then, it has gone on to be one of the most talked about episodes and indeed the episode the BBC showed in tribute to Rik.

Something special was definitely captured there that night, a magic chemistry that Rik and Ade had in front of a live audience. I feel incredibly lucky and truly grateful to have been sat there watching the magic unfold before my very eyes that evening.

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A few of the trailers I recorded, shown to promote the show.
And here’s the original continuity announcements the night Bottom was first shown on TV.

Radio Times Article

Time Out Article


Just for Fun


Check this out, Stuart Denman has brilliantly cleaned up and given the opening titles a face lift, click here to view an HD version.

BBC Bottom titles HD from Stuart Denman on Vimeo.


Comment below or email me with your memories of watching the show. How did you discover it? Were you in the audience for any of the TV episodes?


And if you are still wanting to know more about Rik and Ade’s Bottom then take a look at what the guys from the Talking Bottom podcast are putting together.

Click her for more information and see how you can get involved.

https://unbound.com/books/bottom/

The book will feature:

* The content of previously unseen first drafts of episode scripts – lost scenes cut and not printed in the script books – providing fascinating insight into how Rik and Ade’s writing process evolved.

* Essays exploring each episode and, yes, we’ll also do the Live shows!

* Chapters on Rik and Ade’s own inspirations (such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for GodotSteptoe and Son and Hancock’s Half Hour) and why Bottom deserves a place, in its political and historical context, amongst the greatest traditional British comedies of all time.

* Material drawn from interviews with Rik and Ade, our own interview with Bottom’s director/producer Ed Bye and members of the supporting cast.

* Unseen photographs

* Original artwork



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