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Category Archives: London History

Love is the Answer: A Tribute to Rik Mayall

Four years ago this June, the world lost Richard Michael Mayall- better known by his stage name, Rik Mayall. 

Rik Mayall (image: ITV)

Rik was born in Harlow, Essex in March 1958 and moved with his family to the West Midlands when he three years old. Both of Rik’s parents were drama teachers so it’s no surprise he caught the acting bug early on. 

Whilst at the University of Manchester in the late 1970s Rik met fellow student, Ade Edmondson and the two formed a life-long comedic partnership. 

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson in their ‘Young Ones’ personas, early 1980s

Before long Rik and Ade were performing as a duo- dubbed ‘20th Century Coyote’- at the Comedy Store; a pioneering venue for the new-wave of alternative comedy acts burgeoning at the time.

Opened in 1979, The Comedy Store was situated above a seedy strip-joint on Soho’s Dean Street but can now be found on Oxendon Street near Leicester Square). 

The Comedy Store today (image: Wikipedia)

As well as stand-up, Rik had a cameo in the 1981 cult classic, An American Werewolf in London where he can be spotted as one the creepy locals in the sinister Slaughtered Lamb pub, indulging in a game of chess alongside the equally wonderful and much missed Brian Glover.

Please click below to view.

In the same year, Rik also had a far more serious- not to mention very underrated- role in Wolcott a crime drama which was revolutionary for the time in that it centred on a black detective (played by George William Harris) tasked with bringing order to London’s East End. 

In the series, Rik played a racist police officer; a far cry from the comedic roles for which he would become better known and a performance that demonstrated the true depth of his acting ability.

A brief clip depicting Rik in this unexpected role can be seen below: 

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In November 1982 The Young Ones burst onto screens. 

Set in a grotty student house, this surreal and gloriously anarchic comedy stared Rik as the deluded, self-confessed ‘People’s Poet’ alongside the alarmingly destructive Vivian (Ade Edmonson), Neil the Hippy (Nigel Planer) and Mike the Cool Person (Christopher Ryan). 

The Young Ones (image: Mayall Online)

The digs in which the gang lived were located in an unspecified London suburb.

However, although the pilot episode- ‘Demolition’- was indeed filmed in north London, the following 11 episodes were shot in the Bishopston area of Bristol. 

The Young Ones made Rik Mayall a household name and he went on to star in a host of other shows including Blackadder, The New Statesmen and Bottom. 

Rik Mayall in ‘Blackadder’ as the outrageous Lord Flashheart.

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Rik died of a heart attack at his home in Barnes, south-west London on June 9th 2014. 

He was 56 years old. 

Following his sudden passing, 7,000 fans petitioned to have a bench and plaque in his honour placed on Hammersmith Broadway; the location where, in the early 1990s, Rik and Ade filmed the opening credits for Bottom which can be viewed below:

The words honouring Rik are bombastically tongue in cheek; a style with which he would’ve whole-heartedly approved. 

Rik Mayall’s bench and plaque, Hammersmith Broadway

The final line however, “Love Is The Answer” is a reference to a funny, yet moving speech which Rik delivered to the University of Exeter in 2008 upon receiving an honorary doctorate.

In the speech, which can be viewed in full below, Rik imparted his ‘five mantras’- his personal rules for living a happy and fulfilling life- as a gift to the the large audience of young graduates. 

Rik’s speech is well worth a listen (it’s even introduced by the legendary Floella Benjamin!) and is bound to put a smile on your face- although please be advised some of the language is a little blue! 

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Rest in peace, Rik. 

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Lord Camelford: Gentleman Thug (Part One)

They say “Money doesn’t buy class.

This was certainly true of Thomas Pit, the 2nd Baron of Camelford; an obnoxious figure from the late 18th century who by all accounts was a thug, a bully and, as those at the time described him, a “desperate bruiser. 

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford

Pitt was born in Cornwall in 1775. His father, also called Thomas, owned property on Hanover Square and was a career politician who eventually gained a peerage to the House of Lords. 

The young Pitt was educated at Charterhouse School (which was then located close to Smithfield Market but has since moved to Surrey) but he soon grew bored of education and, against his father’s wishes, decided instead to pursue a career in the Royal Navy.

Aged just 16, Pitt signed up to join the crew of the HMS Discovery which had been tasked with exploring America’s Pacific coast. 

HMS Victory by Mark Mysers (from Blue World Web Museum)

During the long voyage Pitt proved to be quite a handful.

As well as smashing a delicate navigational device he also slept on duty, dabbled in illicit trade and pursued amorous liaisons with native islanders; activities which were strictly forbidden. 

For these misdemeanours the ship’s Captain, George Vancouver (after who the Canadian city is named), had Pitt flogged and was eventually forced to have him placed in irons.

Although harsh, such punishments were not unusual at the time and what appeared to infuriate Pitt most was the fact he was made to sit shackled alongside his more ‘common’ shipmates. 

A portrait by an unknown artist of a figure believed to be Captain George Vancouver (image: Wikipedia)

Unable to cope with such ruthless authority, Pitt was discharged whilst docked in Hawaii and had no other choice but to find his own way home.

Whilst away, his father died meaning the peerage was passed on; an inheritance which ensured the young tearaway was officially a Lord by the time he finally made it back to London. 

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In 1795 Captain Vancouver also returned to London. His expedition had been utterly gruelling- out of 153 men, only 6 had made it back.

Vancouver settled in Petersham, south-west London where he hoped to enjoy the view from Richmond Hill and pursue the quiet life: a simple desire which was soon blighted when Thomas Pitt discovered his old commander was back in town. 

The view from Richmond Hill (Google Street View)

Hellbent on revenge, the newly made Lord sent a letter to his former tormentor which was packed with insults and challenged him to a duel; a bout which he hoped would “Give him satisfaction for his injuries.

When Vancouver refused, Pitt vowed to track him down in person, finally succeeding in September 1796 when he cornered his nemesis on Conduit Street (which branches off of Regent Street )and administered a ferocious beating with a cane.

The attack, which became popular gossip in London after being satirised in a cartoon, left an already weakened Vancouver in very poor health and he passed away soon after.

Pitt however faced no repercussions, largely due to his privileged connections. 

‘The Caning on Conduit Street’: A satirical view of Lord Camelford’s attack on Captain Vancouver.

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Following this encounter, Pitt continued to exude a violent nature which struck fear in many Londoners.

He was especially fond of roaming the streets in search of potential crooks and troublemakers to rough up; a pastime known as ‘Boxing the Watch’.

In one incident he battered a tollgate keeper black and blue after claiming to have been given counterfeit pennies in change- a trifling sum for a man of such wealth. 

Pitt’s fearsome reputation was further bolstered by his dog, ‘Trusty’; a bull-terrier brutalised into becoming a champion fighting dog.

During his career, Trusty endured 104 bouts and remained unbeaten. Pitt later gifted his prized pet to ‘Fighting Jim Belcher’; the celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, explaining that “The only unconquered man was the only fit master for the only unconquered dog.”

Fortunately, it appears Trusty received kinder treatment from Jim and was able to live out his days in the Jolly Brewers, a former Wardour Street pub taken over by the boxer in his retirement. 

Portrait of Jim Belcher (by Benjamin Marshall), the boxer to who Lord Camelford gifted his dog ‘Trusty’- who can be seen in the background (image: Tate Gallery)

For Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford however there would be a great deal more violence, controversy and murder to follow…

To be continued…

Greenacre’s Gruesome Jigsaw

The latest post on my second website, The Crime Compendium, relates a grisly true story from the London of 1836: the tale of James Greenacre, a murderer who scattered his victim’s remains across the city…

Accused of murder… James Greenacre and Sarah Gale

To read the full piece please click here (please be aware, reader discretion is advised).

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