Tag Archives: Soho

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: 


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.


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! 


Rest in peace, Rik. 

Glimpse of the past… John Lennon on Broadwick Street, 1966

John Lennon, Broadwick Street, November 1966

John Lennon, Broadwick Street, November 1966

36 years ago today, on the 8th December 1980, John Lennon was shot dead in New York. He was  just 40 years old. The image above was taken on the 27th November 1966 outside a public lavatory on Soho’s Broadwick Street, and shows John playing London’s swankiest toilet attendant in a sketch for the BBC comedy show, ‘Not Only But Also‘.

The man who made Soho glow

For much of the 20th century the streets of Soho were awash with dazzling neon displays advertising the many clubs, adult shops and saucy cinemas which characterised the area in its seedy heyday.

Soho as seen in Softcell's 1981 video, 'Bedsitter'

Soho as seen in Softcell’s 1981 video, ‘Bedsitter’

One of the greatest neon sign makers was Chris Bracey, a born and bred Walthamstow lad who sadly died of cancer in November 2014 aged just 59.

Chris Bracey

Chris Bracey

Chris was born into the neon business on Christmas day 1954. Two years earlier, his father, Dick (a former Welsh coal miner) had established the company Electro Signs, which specialised in creating displays for fairgrounds, circuses and arcades.

At first, Chris was reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps, preferring instead to concentrate on a career in graphic design. His mind quickly changed however in 1969 after being inspired by an exhibition of the American artist, Bruce Nauman.

Neon sign by Bruce Nauman, 1970 (image: Guggenheim Collection)

Neon sign by Bruce Nauman, 1970 (image: Guggenheim Collection)

Chris’s first commission was from none other than the ‘King of Soho’ himself, Paul Raymond for whom he created a ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ sign advertising the infamous Raymond Revue Bar.

The Raymond Revue Bar (image: The Telegraph)

The Raymond Revue Bar (image: The Telegraph)

By the 1970s, Chris was responsible for making just about every sign in Soho. Despite the sleazy nature of his clients’ businesses, he viewed his work as a truly creative art-form and was greatly motivated by the city in which he worked. “London is and always will be the greatest inspiration to me,” he once said. “It gives me everything, love, hate, hell and heaven.”

A neon shrine featured in Chris Bracey's collection

A neon shrine featured in Chris Bracey’s collection

Nicknamed both the ‘Neon Man’ and the ‘Master of Glow’, Chris’s skills were soon spotted by the film industry and from the 1980s onwards he was tasked with creating displays for a host of movies, one of the earliest being Blade Runner (please click below for a clip). 

Chris’s work can also be seen in Mona Lisa, Superman III, Eyes Wide Shut, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and a number of films in the Batman and James Bond franchises.

Screenshot from 'Mona Lisa' (1986)

Screenshot from ‘Mona Lisa’ (1986)

Renowned fashion designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and the late Alexander McQueen also approached Chris for his expertise, and one of his more unusual designs was a large Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt, commissioned for 2013’s David Bowie exhibition at the V&A.

Chris Bracey's 'Ziggy Stardust' bolt at the V&A (image: The Mirror)

Chris Bracey’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ bolt at the V&A (image: The Mirror)

As Chris once said, “Neon is in my blood, it is my life force. I live and breath neon”. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that he was a keen collector of these ‘liquid fire’ signs and eventually amassed the largest selection outside the USA.

Panorama of 'God's own Junk Yard' (please click to enlarge)

Panorama of ‘God’s own Junk Yard’ (please click to enlarge)

Known as God’s Own Junkyard and based in Chris’s old Walthamstow studio, this dazzling collection is open to the public and is a true treat for the eyes. The gallery is also home a beer garden and the punningly named Rolling Scones Cafe.

Please scroll down to view items from the collection:

God’s Own Junkyard is run by Chris’s wife and co-worker, Linda and is open on Friday and Saturday from 11am to 9pm and on Sundays from 11am to 6pm.

God's Own Junkyard. Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, London. E17 9HQ

God’s Own Junkyard. Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, London. E17 9HQ

A page in Chris’s memory for donations to Prostate Cancer UK can be found here.

Gods own junk yard