The Young Ones

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The Young Ones was an anarchic British sitcom which ran for two series in 1982 and 1984. Although set in North London many of the external scenes at least were filmed in Bristol.

It revolves around the lives of four students sharing a house at the fictional "Scumbag College": violent punk rocker/metal head Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson); friendless anarchist Rick (Rik Mayall); long-suffering hippie Neil (Nigel Planer); and the undersized cool person Mike (Christopher Ryan). Alexei Sayle also starred in the first series as members of the Balowski family, mostly as the students' Russian landlord, Jerzei, and as various other characters in the second series. It was noted for combining a traditional sitcom style, where four differing personalities interact with one another in accordance with the post-punk rock ethos of the time - slapstick violence, non sequitur plot-turns - and surrealism.

The series was written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, and Lise Mayer, with additional contributions by Alexei Sayle (mostly his own performances). It was directed by Geoff Posner and produced by Paul Jackson for the BBC between 1982 and 1984. The show developed a cult following throughout the English-speaking world.


The series has its origins in the comedy club circuit in London during the late-1970s—early 1980s. Most of the cast gained popularity performing at The Comedy Store in London. Sayle was the most prominent act, drawing attention to the club as the manic, aggressive compere. University friends Edmondson and Mayall worked together as a part of the double act "20th Century Coyote" (which would often display slapstick violence later inherent in The Young Ones and other work). Planer was in a double act with Peter Richardson, ("The Outer Limits") where Planer would sometimes play a hippie-like character.

As The Comedy Store grew in popularity, Sayle, "20th Century Coyote" and "The Outer Limits"—along with French and Saunders and Arnold Brown—broke away to set up their own comedy club called The Comic Strip in a nearby Soho strip club, the Raymond Revue Bar. The Comic Strip fast became one of the most popular venues in London, and came to the attention of Jeremy Isaacs, Channel 4. Peter Richardson negotiated a deal with the channel for six self-contained half-hour films, using the group as comedy actors rather than standup performers.

The series The Comic Strip Presents... first aired on the opening night of Channel 4, 2 November 1982. At the same time the BBC, seeing potential in the group, started negotiations with Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star a sitcom in the same anarchic style as the Comic Strip. Paul Jackson was installed as producer. The series was written by Mayall with then-girlfriend Lise Mayer; however, the BBC felt these were unfocused and drafted another popular alternative comedian, Ben Elton (who had attended Manchester University with Mayall and Edmondson), to co-write the scripts. Peter Richardson was originally set to play the part of "Mike" was but dropped out of the project either due to clashes between himself and Paul Jackson or because he did not hold an equity card (both reasons were cited). He was replaced by Christopher Ryan, the only member of the group not a comedian.



The show revolved around the shared house where the students lived during their time at Scumbag College. It can be classified as a comedy of manners. Despite its originality and difference in tone from most sitcoms of the day, it has been noted that it still retained many of the essential dynamics of domestic sitcom.

It gained attention when it was first broadcast for its violent slapstick. Though new to mainstream audiences, Mayall and Edmondson had been using it their stand up double act "20th Century Coyote", for some time. There was also a large amount of surrealism, with each episode including scenes with puppets playing the part of talking animals or objects.

Episodes in the second series originally included "flash frames" lasting only a fraction of a second (3 frames, equivalent to 1/8 of a second, to be precise), but these were edited out of most repeats. These were included as a mockery of the paranoia that was rife at the time of subliminal messages in television, music and music played backwards. Unlike the 'original' flash frames which lasted only for one frame - too short for the human conscious to notice - these were long enough to be noticeable without being identifiable as to what they were exactly, and caused much curiosity and debate amongst fans of the show (as was probably intended). They in fact contained harmless bits of film of herons, frogs etc, which would only become apparent to those who had access to video copies of the episodes. Other images included the end caption of Carry On Cowboy, a rusty dripping tap, and somebody's hand in a small bowl of water.

The equivalent 'in-joke' in the first series was the presence of a girl, or arguably a fellow hippie like Neil, with hair combed over his or her face sitting in the background of many shots, for no good reason. He or she can be hard to spot for the first time, but can be seen quite clearly in 'Oil' to the left of Vyvyan during the scenes when he is shown in close up talking to the television.

The series originally ran to 35 minutes per episode, and many episodes were cut for timing when repeated on the BBC or satellite channels.


The theme tune to the series was the cast singing the Cliff Richard song The Young Ones. Throughout the series there were many references to Richard. Rick idolised him, despite his supposedly anarchic leanings. This and his praise for Mrs Thatcher in one episode revealed a slight hypocrisy in his politics.

In 1984, after the second series, Nigel Planer got to No. 2 in the UK charts with a version of Traffic's Hole In My Shoe. In 1986, two years after the show's run, the housemates sang Living Doll with Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin for Comic Relief. The song, a reworking of his 1959 number one hit again reached the top position in the UK Charts.

Most episodes had a musical guest for no apparent thematic reason, performing in the house or the street. By including the groups, the show qualified as light entertainment and therefore got a higher budget than a mere sitcom - useful, considering the damage done to all the sets on a weekly basis.

Some of these performances were omitted from DVD release for copyright reasons, although the DVDs currently available in the UK have almost all musical performances included. The missing musical act is Ken Bishop's Nice Twelve, who appeared in "Cash".

Madness appeared in two different episodes as they were under consideration for a Monkees-style show at the time.




Played by Nigel Planer, Neil Pye - a hippie - is a clinically depressed pacifist, insomniac and vegetarian working towards a peace studies degree. He is victimised by the other housemates and is made to do most of the housework, shopping and cooking. He is extremely pessimistic and believes everyone and everything hates him. He dislikes technology, and speaks out for "Vegetable Rights and Peace".

"neil" - usually written entirely in lowercase - is also referred to as Watkins-Weedon-Pye in the Young Ones book (in series two his parents are revealed to be upper-class and extremely wealthy). The validity of his vegetarianism is under some question given his fetching of a dead pigeon out of the rubbish during "Bambi", one can only presume for a future meal, as the lads were often in a state of starvation as evidenced by the episode "Cash". In the episode "Summer Holiday" it is revealed that Neil wears a wig.

In Interesting Neil reveals that he has a friend outside of his flatmates - also called Neil - a fellow hippie who is neurotically morose, and is mercilessly shoved into the refrigerator by Rick.


Played by Rik Mayall, Rick is a self-described anarchist and "people's poet", studying sociology and/or domestic sciences. Rick is a hypocritical, tantrum-throwing attention seeker who loves Cliff Richard. Rick tries desperately to impress the other housemates with his (non-existent) wit, talent and humour to no avail. He verbally insults Neil at every opportunity and bickers endlessly with Vyvyan but is often found attempting to impress Mike.

Rick is portrayed as intensely unlikeable, and so self-absorbed that he believes that he is the "most popular member of the flat" or the "spokesperson of a generation" despite the fact that the rest of the housemates openly despise him.

In reality, Rick exaggerates or lies about his political activism and class background. However, in the final episode "Summer Holiday" Rick is exposed as a sham when it is suggested he comes from an upper class, Conservative background.

Vyvyan (The Young Ones)

Played by Adrian Edmondson, Vyvyan Basterd (more commonly known as Vyv) is an orange haired punk, medical student, studying to be a doctor. Curiously, despite the fact that he is a punk, he wears a T-Shirt bearing the legend of the heavy metal band Saxon. Punks are usually antipathic towards heavy metal. He is extremely violent and regularly attacks Neil and Rick using slapstick violence, but he never harms Mike. He despises Rick.

Vyv owns a yellow Ford Anglia with red flames painted along the sides, and a small hamster called Special Patrol Group (SPG for short) which he is very fond of, though SPG is also the subject of Vyv's violence. His mother is a barmaid and former shoplifter who before "Boring" had not seen Vyvyan in ten years.

Vyvyan sometimes displays feats of inhuman strength on occasion (moving entire walls with his bare hands, throwing full-sized television sets out of the window, lifting Neil above his head in a fight with Rick), and eats just about anything (televisions, cornflakes or caviar with tomato sauce, dead rats and pigeons, etc.).

Despite being a homicidal maniac, Vyvyan seems quite sociable and creative; he has developed his own potions to transform a person into a homicidal axe-wielding maniac, something he intends to market as a cure (for a person not being a homicidal axe-wielding maniac). He frequently causes havoc or damage such as wiring the doorbell to a bomb and adding a 289 CID Ford V-8 engine to the vacuum cleaner which proceeded to suck up the carpet, the floorboards, and a hippie. Vyvyan's favourite party game for two or more is one he made up called "Dissection". He also engages in the occasional solitaire game of "Murder in the Dark" with an axe.


Played by Christopher Ryan, Mike "The Cool Person" was unintentionally the odd one out of the four. He acts as something of a leader, despite his diminutive size and does not involve himself in the battles between the other three. He often makes extremely bad puns and acts rather strangely at times, baffling the others.

Mike is supposedly a cool, unflappable ladies' man who had wrangled grants and a university place without having to study because he had compromising photographs of the Dean (this is unusual in a UK University, where the Vice-Chancellor would be the equivalent) with his tutor. He refers to his faculty as being "the school of life."

Mike has a high opinion of his skill with women, although he is eventually forced to admit his virginity to the others in "Nasty", although this is sometimes portrayed inconsistently.

A con artist, he always has some kind of plan to make quick money such as renting out Rick's room as a roller disco and soliciting bids from all of the local ethnic restaurants for the unexploded atom bomb that fell on the house.

The many roles of Alexei Sayle

In various roles through the run of the series, Alexei Sayle would routinely interject his own material into the programme in a short set devised to emulate the "stand up" for which Sayle was well known at the time. His main role was that of the flat's landlord Jerzie Balowski, which was the only character he reprised, appearing in "Demolition"; "Flood" and "Summer Holiday". He also played Jerzie for a few seconds in Time(where his main part is Jester Balowski), in which, in the middle of an scene, it cuts to him entering a shop, evidently parodying Monty Python's Cheese Shop Sketch. It ends after a few seconds after the manger informs him that this is not a cheese shop, returning to the scene it interrupted.

The rest of the time Sayle was billed as playing "The Balowski Family". This included his nephew, Alexei Balowski, a protest singer; his son, Reggie Balowski, an international arms dealer; his brother, Billy Balowski, a lunatic; and cousin, Tommy Balowski, a drunk.

In the second series, Sayles' characters included a train driver, a Mussolini lookalike, "Harry the Bastard" (a Bastard), escaped convict Brian Damage Balowski, a medieval jester "Jester Balowski" (with Helen Lederer as his sidekick).


There was also a regular puppet character, Vyvyan's Glaswegian pet hamster, SPG (Special Patrol Group: named after the controversial British police unit). SPG is basically a hamster version of Vyvyan (with similar hair) with a Glaswegian accent, who likes curries and is a fan of the Jaws movies. In Demolition, Vyvyan mentions that he starves SPG often because he does not want to spoil him, and tells the flatmates not to feed him; in the first episode Vyvyan threatens to change SPG's name to 'Cliff Richard' to annoy Rick (who had been making fun of the name "Special Patrol Group"), and uses Rick's roll-on deodorant on SPG because he seems to be "a bit whiffy" - eliciting protest from SPG, who does not think much of smelling like a student's armpit. SPG also uses carrots, though not as food - Vyv claims he prefers to "stick them down his trousers to impress the girls". SPG has often ended up as the target of Vyvyan's violence, and has even been snogged by Vyvyan once. SPG died, much to Vyvyan's despair, during the crash in the last episode whilst on the radiator of Vyvyan's yellow Ford Anglia, and was then seen as a puppet angel ascending to Heaven.


WARNING: Spoiler warning!
This article contains plot, storyline, character, etc., details.

The four students are rendered homeless during the summer holiday period, and decide to rob a bank. They make their escape in a red London double-decker bus, only for them to crash through a giant Cliff Richard billboard and over a cliff, exploding into flames at the bottom of a quarry. This was atypical of many sitcom endings, as it ended the show's popularity on a high, without a loss of good ideas, storylines, or jokes, and was intended to allow the cast and writers to move on to new projects before they became too typecast.

After the series

The end of the series was not the last appearance of "The Young Ones". For the British charity television appeal Comic Relief, the four recorded a song and video for Cliff Richard's Living Doll, accompanied by Richard himself and Shadows guitarist Hank B. Marvin.

At the 1986 live Comic Relief television performance they gave a live performance, but with Bob Geldof accompanying instead of Cliff. This version with Geldof was released on LP and on video.

Mayall, Planer and Edmondson reunited in 1986 for the Elton-written Filthy Rich & Catflap. The series had many of the same characteristics as The Young Ones as did Mayall and Edmondson's next sitcom Bottom.

DVD releases have been somewhat basic: only the U.S. edition featured documentaries and none of the extra footage known to exist was included, such as the music video, raw footage, and TV announcements. Moreover musical references proved difficult to clear so "The Sound of Silence" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" were simply excised. The music video however was featured in the Bottom: Mindless Violence DVD.

Links to other series

  • In Bambi, the housemates appeared on University Challenge, where they played against Footlights College, Oxbridge, a reference to Footlights drama club at Cambridge University. The Footlights College team was played by show writer Ben Elton and three actors who were once members of the real Cambridge Footlights: Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, and Stephen Fry, the last of whom had actually appeared on the quiz show while at Cambridge. The episode title is a reference to the show's presenter, Bamber Gascoigne, impersonated in this episode by Griff Rhys-Jones. A contestant on a real-life edition of University Challenge, who did not know the answer to a question that had been asked, answered "Toxteth O'Grady, USA", as it had been the answer to two questions used in The Young Ones' version.
  • Mayall and Edmondson elaborated on some of the series' concepts later in their sitcoms Filthy Rich & Catflap (written by Elton) and Bottom (written by Mayall and Edmonson).
  • Most of the regular cast (and several of the guests) also appeared in Channel 4 and BBC2's comedy films, The Comic Strip Presents. All four main actors have gained reputations as dramatic, as well as comic, actors.


Guest appearances

  • Keith Allen - as Pestilence in Interesting
  • Mark Arden - as policeman #1 in Boring; as cornflakes box dad in Bomb; as gatecrasher #1 in Interesting; as gravedigger #1 and police victim #1 in Flood; as headless ghost #1 in Cash; as spy #1 in Nasty; as manure deliverer #1 in Sick
  • Roger Ashton-Griffiths - as Orgo the devil in Boring
  • Helen Atkinson-Wood - as the woman in the painkiller advert in Nasty
  • Nicholas Ball - as Rick's lecturer in Interesting
  • Gary Beadle - as the DJ's servant in Time
  • Chris Barrie - as the ship captain in the wall-poster in Nasty
  • Paul Bradley - as the pilot in Demolition; as Warlock in Interesting and Cash
  • Arnold Brown - as the criminal waiting to be cast in the pit in Flood; the chess player in "Nasty"
  • Robbie Coltrane - as the doorman in Oil; as Dr Carlisle in Bambi; as the one-eyed pirate DJ in Time
  • Ron Cook - as a convict on the wall-poster in Nasty
  • Andy de la Tour - as the co-pilot in Demolition; as the road safety announcer in Cash
  • Ben Elton - as the TV presenter in Demolition; as the blind DJ in Flood; as Mr Kendall Mintcake in Bambi; as the campaigning schoolboy in Sick; as the drinker in the lager advert in Summer Holiday
  • Alan Freeman - as God in Cash and Summer Holiday
  • Dawn French - as the religious visitor in Interesting; as the devil in the painkiller advert in Nasty; as the Easter bunny in Time
  • Stephen Frost - as policeman #2 in Boring; as gatecrasher #2 in Interesting; as gravedigger #2 and police victim #2 in Flood; as headless ghost #2 in Cash; as spy #2 in Nasty; as manure deliverer #2 in Sick; as the bank manager in Summer Holiday
  • Stephen Fry - as Lord Snot in Bambi
  • Gareth Hale - as medieval guard #1 in Flood; as gravedigger #1 in Nasty; as yokel #1 in Time
  • Lenny Henry - as the postman in Summer Holiday
  • Jools Holland - as the punk in the bank in Summer Holiday
  • Terry Jones - as the vicar in Nasty
  • Hugh Laurie - as Lord Monty in Bambi
  • Helen Lederer - as Gwendolyn the jester's assistant in Time; as the repetitive bank teller in Summer Holiday
  • Norman Lovett - as the penny arcade owner in Summer Holiday
  • Paul Merton (under his real name of Paul Martin) - as yokel #3 in Time
  • Norman Pace - as medieval guard #2 in Flood; as gravedigger #2 in Nasty; as yokel #2 in Time
  • Daniel Peacock - as the stabbed man in Nasty
  • David Rappaport - as Futumch the devil in Boring; as Shirley in Flood
  • Tony Robinson - as Dr Not The Nine O'Clock News in Bambi
  • Griff Rhys-Jones - as Bambi in Bambi
  • Jennifer Saunders - as Sue the party guest in Interesting; as Helen Mucus the murderess in Time
  • Mel Smith - as the commissionaire in Bambi
  • Emma Thompson - as Miss Money-Sterling in Bambi

Musical guests

No musical act appeared on the episode Flood; instead, a lion tamer performed an act in Mike's bedroom to fit the criteria for a light entertainment budget. Vyvyan refers to him at the end as 'Bobby' but the character did not receive a credit.

Episode list

Series 1 (Originally broadcast 9 November-14 December 1982 on BBC2, Tuesday 9pm)

  • Demolition - The boys get a letter from the council telling them their squalid house will be demolished
  • Oil - Upon moving into a new house, Vyvyan announces that he has struck oil in the cellar. He turns out to be lying.
  • Boring - The boys attempt to fight off boredom whilst several very exciting things go unnoticed around them
  • Bomb - An unexploded atomic bomb falls through the boys' roof and blocks the refrigerator, but worse, the TV License man calls.
  • Interesting - The flat hosts a party that gets out of hand
  • Flood - During heavy rains, London floods and the boys are trapped in the house with a homicidal, axe-wielding Mr. Balowski

Series 2 (Originally broadcast 8 May-19 June 1984 on BBC2; Tuesday 9pm)


  • Bambi - The boys go to the laundrette and compete against Footlights College, Oxbridge in University Challenge
  • Cash - cash-strapped, Neil is forced (by his flatmates) to join the police force
  • Nasty - a strange package from South Africa interferes with plans to watch a video nasty on a rented VCR
  • Time - For a first, Rick wakes up in bed next to a beautiful girl, and Neil is forced to change a light bulb while subsequently becoming a human vacuum cleaner
  • Sick - While ill, the boys must deal with an escaped criminal and Neil's parents
  • Summer Holiday - When the summer break comes, things only get worse, especially for Rick who ends up being stumps in a game of cricket.


Attention niels epting WARNING: You may add parodies. But, do NOT delete any. Complete parodies list


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