If Monty Python were The Beatles of British comedy, then The Young Ones were surely The Sex Pistols. The anarchic foursome of Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike burst onto our screens back in 1982, and with the writing talents of the young Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer and a 23-year-old Ben Elton behind it, the series propelled British comedy into a new era.
Ripping up the rulebook, The Young Ones re-defined what a sitcom could be. Pitching itself squarely to a fresh, new audience, the series featured real bands playing the latest chart hits, exploding televisions, bizarre cutaways to puppetry portraying vermin living in the rotting house, and of course, that rant about The Good Life.
This was the anti-establishment sitcom that had almost everything. It was appointment to view television; but, when The Young Ones (after two series and just twelve episodes) drove their bus over that famous cliff and joined the great flat share in the sky, what next for its stars, who were by now all household names? Isn't this the bit where Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson go off to make their other iconic slapstick-filled retro-sitcom, Bottom? Well, not exactly, because there was another important Rik and Ade-fronted show, featuring Nigel Planer and written by Ben Elton, which often slips through the cracks between these two Britcom titans.
Little over a year had passed before Ben, Rik, Ade, Nigel Planer and The Young Ones' former producer, Paul Jackson, were all back in the studio to make a new series. Although Ben had reunited with Edmondson to make the 1985 sitcom serial Happy Families (starring Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders and featuring a glittering array of stars, including a cameo from Rik) this was the first sitcom that once again put three of The Young Ones' core cast front and centre. Written by Elton (with Mayall contributing additional material), Filthy Rich & Catflap is the spiritual successor to The Young Ones in almost every possible way.
Running for a single series of six episodes, it told the story of Rik Mayall's Richie Rich, a protagonist almost indistinguishable from his Bottom counterpart of the same name. The key difference is that he's an out of work actor with a superiority complex, assured only by his own ego that he's on the cusp of his next big break. He is assisted by Eddie Catflap, played by, who else but Adrian Edmondson? When Richie calls, 'Eddie, Eddie!' the dynamic between the two is almost fully formed, but the character of Eddie Catflap himself has slightly more in common with The Young Ones' Vyvvan than the laid back, more resigned attitude of Bottom's Eddie Hitler.
Despite Filthy's name turning up first in the title, Nigel Planer's brilliantly observed, scuzzy old relic of a showbiz agent shows up very rarely, and as with all great agents in sitcoms (such as Stephen Merchant's Darren Lamb in Extras, or Sid James in the TV version of Hancock's Half Hour) Ralph Filthy does very little to further his client Richie's dreams of becoming a famous actor.
This impasse is the key driving force behind the series, although in the spirit of The Young Ones the show constantly gets side-tracked as Richie and Eddie repeatedly break the fourth wall, with the former often declaring that he's got to keep the plot moving. He even talks to the audience at times in full Frankie Howerd style, with quips and sideways gags galore; including the pair randomly congratulating themselves on their own jokes: 'Where were we?' Richie asks. 'We were both here, we haven't moved!' Eddie answers. They look down the camera: 'Nice gag!' both declare brightly.
It's deeply surreal, particularly as ten seconds later Eddie might do something as random as drive an axe into Richie's crotch with no obvious ramifications to be seen. And don't think there isn't any toilet humour in this series either, because there's plenty, as the duo regularly attempt to childishly humiliate each other: 'Oh, the man with no brain's been thinking!' Richie gloats to Eddie at one point; 'Everybody go to the lavatory in amazement!'.
Moving at a joyful, frenetic pace, Filthy Rich & Catflap features a myriad of pop culture references that can occasionally take a bit of decoding. The show is a mid-eighties time capsule: a running gag about someone called 'Forsyth' running a supermarket is in fact a nod to Bruce Forsyth's supermarket sitcom, Slinger's Day (a format he inherited after previous star, Leonard Rossiter, died). One can't help but recall The Young Ones' famous Good Life feud and suspect this was intended to be Filthy Rich & Catflap's version. Meanwhile, Jimmy Tarbuck is constantly mentioned as 'Tarby', Richie's showbiz pal (although we never see him). In the finale we're treated to a fantastic take-down of Rupert Murdoch when Richie and Eddie turn "journos" in order to get their old pal Filthy out of a hole, with jokes that manage to feel as fresh and satirical as if the series were broadcast today.
Yet Filthy Rich & Catflap doesn't ever strive to take itself too seriously with its scepticism for the world of light entertainment and celebrity culture. In much the same way as Extras did in the wake of The Office's popularity in the mid-2000s, this sitcom pulls on the star power of The Young Ones to bring in some impressive guest appearances. In one episode Richie ends up being blackmailed by The Nolan Sisters and throughout the series stars such as Barbara Windsor, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Harry Enfield, Mel Smith, Midge Ure and Anne Diamond appear. The list just goes on, with a who's who of comic talent popping up in practically every scene.
The second episode begins with Richie actually getting a gig on TV panel game Ooer! Sounds A Bit Rude!. In a brutal take down of the ever-popular Blankety Blank we see Chris Barrie guest star as a particularly shouty director, surveying the recording of his show as it descends into utter chaos, all whilst barking directions to the camera men and runners. Attempting to show us, the audience, how television is actually made - giving a derisive take on what may go on behind the magic - was still a relatively novel thing when the series first aired in 1987. It would be a few years before Drop The Dead Donkey took us behind the scenes at GlobeLink News and almost two decades before the likes of Extras and Rob Brydon's Annually Retentive picked up the idea of being deeply cynical about television production and really ran with it.
However, all this seems a long way from where Rik and Ade eventually took their on-screen personas. Bottom fans will delight in the fact that there are plenty of similarities to their later work too, including echoes of one of the undisputed greatest episodes of that series, The Gasman. In the very first episode, Eddie and Richie accidently kill a milkman (played by Arthur Smith) and although plenty more milkmen murders do occur throughout the episode, as the series beds in, amidst the chaos, the three establish themselves as a trio with obvious chemistry. In the excellent Episode 5, where Richie and Eddie spend almost the entire time trapped together, taking up a rule of sobriety with only a game of Trivial Pursuit to entertain them, the magic really starts to happen. There was great potential for another series.
Famously, after the broadcast of the sixth episode, the BBC continuity announcer declared that a second series was indeed on its way, and this had been hinted at by almost the entire cast during the programme itself. However, it never came to fruition and the premature end of Filthy Rich & Catflap has remained something of a mystery... until now, as Ben Elton himself has offered British Comedy Guide an exclusive insight into the making of the series.
He explains: "[Series 2] was announced although not in consultation with us. The truth is that writing Filthy Rich & Catflap was hard.
"Rik was originally going to co-write. Nigel added the Polari speak for Ralph Filthy, which took things in another direction again. We got there in the end, but it was a bit of a mess really and the focus on 70s showbiz tropes was probably too specific a target."
He added: "We had some fun and a lot of people liked it, but even if the [o]BBC[/i] had pursued us (and they certainly didn't!) I think we would have said no. Or at least I definitely would have. My own career as a stand-up took off that year with the first series of Saturday Night Live and I'd also just met my future wife while touring Australia, so I was moving into a post-The Young Ones phase of my life and for the time being my creative partnership with Rik had run its course."
Of course, whilst Filthy Rich & Catflap was being made, Elton already had his hands full at the BBC with another sitcom that demanded his full attention. In January 1986 Blackadder II debuted on BBC 1, running for two further series to 1989. Co-written by Ben and Richard Curtis, it was another sitcom that would change the British comedy landscape forever (and naturally it had to feature Rik).
Rik and Ade eventually returned to the Beeb with Bottom in 1991. The show was very similar to Filthy Rich & Catflap, but with the all-star cameos and extra characters stripped away. They were back with a linear narrative, focused on just the two of them. Keen to give the sitcom a retro aesthetic and inspired by a mutual love of classic comedy, the duo cited the unofficial double act of Tony Hancock and Sid James as their core inspiration for this approach to their new sitcom - or at least that was how they pitched it to an at-the-time-sceptical BBC.
In the end it was Bottom that cemented Rik and Ade as one of the all-time great comedy partnerships, spanning numerous series, tours, and even a movie for the duo. But Filthy Rich & Catflap never the less deserves to be remembered as a daring, ambitious and genuinely funny stepping stone between two iconic British sitcoms. Would Bottom's Eddie and Richie exist at all without it?
Where to start?
Amazingly, Ralph Filthy has actually managed to get Richie a proper TV gig. There's just one catch: he's got to be up at 4:30am to read the papers with Anne Diamond. Can Eddie and Richie remain composed and have an early night before Richie's big TV break? Or will they find a debauched way to ruin everything?
Hot on the heals of the success of the anarchic The Young Ones, Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson joined forces under the penmanship of Ben Elton for the suitably outrageous Filthy, Rich & Catflap. With their winning brand of politically incorrect, brutally slapstick humour, the team shocked and offended in equal measure.
Mayall stars as the thoroughly self-centred, z-list TV presenter Richie Rich, assisted by his loyal entourage of one Eddie Catflap (Edmondson) and represented by the dour agent and occasional pornographer Ralph Filthy (Planer). Their exploits include appearing on TV-am, engaging with a morally lax Australian press magnate, devising new game show formats, leaving a trail of dead milkmen in their wake and being arrested for shoplifting which all turn out to be the least of their problems.
With a stellar list of guest stars including Barbara Windsor, The Nolan Sisters, Anne Diamond and Midge Ure, the show celebrates the no-holds-barred talent of a comic writing and performance team at the top of their game.
Special features include cast filmographies and a picture gallery.
First released: Sunday 2nd September 2012
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