Radio preview: Rik Mayall season, Radio 4 Extra
BBC radio marks Mayall's 57th birthday with series of broadcasts
Rik Mayall was such a physical presence and scene-stealing whirlwind that radio might not seem to be an adequate avenue for his talents. Yet it did allow his comedic voice to come through loud and clear, possibly heightened in quality when it’s divorced from the leering, eyebrow-raising and wonderfully juvenile gurning.
As part of a series of broadcasts in the week which would have heralded his 57th birthday, Rik Mayall’s Bedside Tales (Radio 4 Extra, Mon 9—Fri 13 Mar, 9pm) comprises five stories co-written by the man himself, all held together by a wanton surrealism, devilish charm and (no surprise) the odd bodily dysfunction. First broadcast in 2009, the run was received generally rather poorly (‘a mess' moaned The Telegraph, while The Guardian opined that while Bedside Tales didn’t look great on paper ‘it was so much worse read out loud’) and it would only really be appreciated now by those so upset by Rik’s early passing that they (OK, ‘we’) would lap up pretty much anything bearing his name.
But, let’s face it, the critics of the time weren’t that wrong, as these stories perhaps proved that Mayall was ultimately better at shaping other people’s words and breathing vibrant, chaotic life into their characters (B’Stard, Flashheart, Greg Davies's dad for three) than he was at concocting them himself.
Still, he does have a chance to prove us all wrong with The Last Hurrah, released on CD in 2012 and given its first airing now (Radio 4 Extra, Sat 7 & 14 Mar, 11.30pm). As if ‘the last hurrah’ isn’t a poignant enough title, he plays Elton the Snowman (perhaps a reference to Ben, the spangly-suited stand-up motormouth who was with Rik almost from the very beginning), a devious sod who hangs out at a club so debauched that ‘the Marquis de Sade was thrown out for being too boring’.
The season is completed by A Higher Education (Radio 4 Extra, Tue 10 Mar, 11.15am), a play from 2000 set in a university drama department and co-starring Philip Glenister and Helen Lederer. None of this may ultimately come close to being up there with his finest work, but Rik Mayall did more than enough to have some critical slack cut for him. Maybe more fitting treasures will be unearthed as time goes by.
Rik Mayall season on Radio 4 Extra, Sat 7–Sat 14 Mar.