Once in every lifetime, comes a show like this. The anarchic sitcom The Young Ones crashed on to our screens in November 1982, followed by a second series in 1984. And for its 40th anniversary they’ve brought out a special Blu-ray edition of both series, which is the first time it’s been released in that format, so I eagerly snapped it up.
The episodes are uncut, and there’s a ton of bonus material that’s been unearthed and produced by Richard Latto, with lots of brand-new extras in addition to those carried over from the previous DVD. Some of the new material also gives credit to TV playout director John Hoare, who writes extensively researched articles about The Young Ones and other comedy shows on his Dirty Feed blog, which are genuinely fascinating to read.
So this lengthy post contains my reviews of the episodes and the bonus material in the set (which in short is awesome). And it isn’t sponsored or gifted, I’ve got no connection with anybody involved with the show, I’m just a big fan. I hope you enjoy!
The Young Ones has a little bit in common with Fawlty Towers, in the sense that it only had 12 episodes, yet it still had a massive impact and is remembered as one of the all-time classics. But that’s where any similarities end. It’s safe to say it was completely unlike anything that had been on TV before, propelling its stars and the genre of alternative comedy into the mainstream. Sure, there had been some crazy comedy shows prior to it, which no doubt had some degree of influence upon its creators, but this really pushed the boundaries and took things to another level.
The show is basically about four students who share a house together and live a squalid existence. Every episode is full of wonderful surrealism, slapstick and cartoon-style violence, as the characters try to get on with their lazy lives while being distracted and hampered by bizarre situations, their own disdain for one another, and their own sheer incompetence. And that’s just scratching the surface of what the show entails.
The students are a despicable but hilarious quartet. Rick (Rik Mayall) is desperate for attention, wants to start a revolution and is a fan of Cliff Richard. Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson) doesn’t give a damn about anything and enjoys being mindlessly destructive. Neil (Nigel Planer) is a depressed vegetarian hippy who does all the chores and gets no respect from the others. And Mike (Christopher Ryan) thinks he’s cool and attractive, likes to come up with money-making schemes, and is the relatively sensible straight man in the group that the others look up to. The chemistry and interplay between them all works perfectly, and Rik & Ade are of course very much in their element whenever they bicker and fight. There are also several characters played by Alexei Sayle across all the episodes, mainly members of the Balowski family, of whom Jerzei is the landlord of the students’ house. And there is a fifth housemate hidden in the background in some episodes, but they never do anything or get mentioned.
The menu on each disc reveals all 4 of the students, plus Alexei’s Mussolini character and Vyvyan’s hamster SPG (Special Patrol Group), zooming in on each in turn, all in front of a Union Jack while the theme tune plays. Likewise, the Blu-ray packaging contains images of each of the characters, 3 of them being revealed when you take out the discs. And the discs themselves contain the same image of the show’s title and the characters in front of the flag.
But as well as the students and the central storyline in each episode, there are lots of other random elements thrown in as well, as the show stuck two fingers up to the normal conventions of TV sitcoms without a care in the world. Every episode is extremely busy and packed full of stuff.
There are a myriad of other characters that pop up for a start, played by an impressive roster of guest stars, many of whom were also from the comedy circuit as well as some other great actors, including:
- Ben Elton, who co-wrote the series with Rik Mayall & Lise Mayer.
- Comedy double acts Dawn French & Jennifer Saunders, Gareth Hale & Norman Pace, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, Mel Smith & Griff Rhys Jones and Stephen Frost & Mark Arden.
- Other performers including Terry Jones, Chris Barrie, Norman Lovett, Lenny Henry, Robbie Coltrane, Tony Robinson, Emma Thompson, Helen Lederer, Jools Holland, Anthony Sharp, David Rappaport and Andy De La Tour.
In addition, almost every episode includes a musical performance by a guest artist and/or Alexei Sayle, with just one episode featuring a lion tamer instead. Some are better than others, naturally, but none are awful. They’re loosely shoehorned into the plot in some way, and were included so that the show could be classified as a variety series instead of a standard sitcom. This gave them a higher budget and allowed them to spend two days filming in the studio instead of one, so they could get a lot more done.
Extracts of songs by various other artists, from a surprising variety of genres and time periods, can also be heard during the series, and they’re always good choices. And Peter Brewis deserves a lot of credit for the opening theme (a great reworking of Cliff Richard’s hit performed by the cast), the closing theme and other incidental music he composed for the show. You can hear clean copies of some of his music in the extra features.
Some of the music had to be cut on early VHS & DVD releases, but thankfully they were all restored for the 2007 DVD, and are all present on this new Blu-ray as well. I’ll mention the key tracks during my episode reviews below, but John Hoare over at Dirty Feed has written wonderfully comprehensive lists of the music for Series 1 & Series 2, and I’ve included several tracks from the show in a Youtube playlist I’ve put together of clips, music, interviews and other rarities relating to the series.
Furthermore, and sometimes involving the guest stars above, there are regular cutaways to other people, or puppets of animals, food, furniture and other objects, that talk or perform in some way. And in Series 2 there are random flash frames inserted as well, in response to the fear of subliminal messaging at the time, and to give people with VCRs a reward if they could pause to see them. These additions often have little or no connection to the main plot or characters, but are still integrated in a clever way. I won’t mention most of them in the reviews below, as there are far too many, but they’re always worth looking out for. There are just a couple of minor anomalies that I mention in my reviews below, relating to a flash frame in Time (which they couldn’t include) and a couple of amorous bears in Nasty (which are in the extras instead), but ultimately all the episodes are uncut, just as they were when originally broadcast.
The show is also notorious for breaking the fourth wall to great effect on a regular basis, with characters turning away from the action to make jokes or remarks directly to the viewer. Alexei Sayle in particular usually drops the accent of the character he’s playing to do some kind of humorous, ranting monologue. There are also occasions where characters react to or acknowledge the scene transition effects, the physical presence of the cameras or the general fact that they’re in a TV studio set. They weren’t the first comedy show to mess around with the fourth wall of course, and many have done it since, but the way they went about it was particularly fun, and I’ve yet to see anyone do it better.
Finally, it’s worth noting and celebrating the fact that the series appears to be completely uncensored on this Blu-ray, evidenced in particular by the inclusion of the racist policeman scene in the Boring episode, which is usually edited out of TV repeats and was cut from early commercial releases. There are also a few other terms of abuse uttered during the series that would never be used on TV today.
But that’s how things were back then, and it’s important for the series to represent the political, social and cultural landscape of its day, otherwise it wouldn’t work so well or make sense. The back of the Blu-ray does carry a message that “The content was originally broadcast in 1982 & 1984 and reflects the language and attitudes of the time”, which is becoming quite common on releases of old shows nowadays, and I think the overwhelming majority of people who watch this set already understand that. We know that attitudes have changed considerably in the past 4 decades. And while some references may seem dated or unfamiliar to audiences now, that doesn’t stop the show being riotously funny, as the underlying joke is always clear within the context that it’s presented.
So altogether there’s a huge amount to see and enjoy in the series, and when you rewatch episodes there can often be little details you spot that you missed before, as they crammed so much in. The episodes aren’t in crisp high definition with every little thing visible in sharp detail of course, and we shouldn’t expect that given their age and the video tapes on which they were recorded (with occasional use of film instead). But they have been remastered and upscaled, and do seem to look as good as it’s possible for them to be, and the sound quality is great as well. There will be others out there who can analyse the picture and sound properly of course, but I’m very happy with the quality personally, and I love the fact that there are lots of extras as well. So let’s get on and dig through it all.
Disc 1 contains the entire first series of 6 episodes, which ran weekly from 9 November to 14 December 1982. A detailed list of music used in the series can be found on the Dirty Feed website.
The production team got rare permission from the BBC to have episodes up to 35 minutes in duration at the time, hence they’re all longer than the traditional half hour:
- Demolition (33:23)
- Oil (32:37)
- Boring (35:08)
- Bomb (35:11)
- Interesting (31:54)
- Flood (30:28)
Total Runtime = 3:18:41
Running Time = 33:23
This opening episode, where the guys discover their house is about to be demolished, was originally filmed as a pilot, but was kept as the first episode of the main series. It’s a solid start with great introductions to the characters, especially with Vyvyan crashing through the wall on to the dinner table, which is a fantastic entrance, and is part of his plan to decimate the house from within. Neil, meanwhile, tries to find a way to kill himself, Rick writes protest poems, Mike tries to keep everyone calm, their landlord Jerzei turns up demanding rent, and we meet Vyvyan’s hamster SPG (Special Patrol Group). Plus, among other random things, there’s a very hot lentil casserole, talking rats, a lot of rubbish in Mike’s magazine, and a new programme for young adults called Nozin’ Around’ (a parody of the Oxford Road Show, with Ben Elton playing the host Baz).
The music performance is 11+11 by Nine Below Zero, which isn’t an amazing song, but has the right energy for the show. We also hear a bit of Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets when Neil tries to hang himself, and a version of Morning Has Broken by John Gregory when demolition day dawns, though a plane crash does the job for the council anyway.
Running Time = 32:37
This is a brilliant and very busy episode where the lads settle into their new home. Rick & Vyv fight over a bedroom to begin with, before setting fire to it and giving it to Neil. But Mike gets quite a surprise in his room, with Buddy Holly hanging upside down from the ceiling, having parachuted out from the plane that crashed many years earlier – a tasteless gag perhaps, but a brilliant one nonetheless. He plays part of a song he’s composed about the diet of insects he’s survived on called Coo, Coo, Daddy Longlegs, which has since been covered by a few artists including The Cheats, One Ton Drunk and an extended version by A Couple Of Squirts. Buddy was played in the show by Ronnie Golden (born Tony De Meur), and he’s since spoken about playing the role during an online interview.
The episode’s title, meanwhile, refers to Vyvyan’s claim that he’s discovered oil in the cellar, which leads him and Mike to force Rick and Neil to help dig for it, only for Vyvyan to end up with an axe through his head. Rick then organises a benefit gig in the drawing room for the ‘oppressed workers’ – i.e. just him and Neil -as Alexei Balowski does a silly song about Dr. Martens boots. Alexei Sayle released a recording of the song on his album Cak!, and performed it live on various occasions, including on music show The Tube.
And apart from all that, we also see Rick thrown back by a huge cooker explosion (which wakes up 2 people hallucinating they’re at sea in the cellar), Neil causes another explosion by sneezing in the broom cupboard, and the guys watch the dot on the TV after programmes have finished for the night.
Other music in the episode includes Travellin’ Light by Cliff Richard (when they arrive at the house), Skin Tight by Paul Keogh (during a roller disco that’s been set up in Rick’s bedroom) and I’m Busting My Rocks by Roy C (while the guys dig for oil in the cellar). The Cliff Richard and Roy C tracks had been edited out of some older releases, to the point where the cast had to re-record dialogue for their initial arrival scene, but the songs and original dialogue are thankfully preserved here.
Running Time = 35:08
In this episode, which is anything but dull for the viewer, the guys are bored to death and are trying to find ways to fill the time. Vyvyan seems to make the most effort, as he enters a competition to win a car, modifies the rules to Monopoly and does an ill-judged magic trick involving his fingers. Mad Billy Balowski also turns up with a message and drinks from the goldfish bowl to everyone’s bewilderment.
But such is the tedium of the day that the students are oblivious to a lot of things. When Neil is digging a grave for himself, he has no idea that beneath the ground is a world full of so much variety that the King of that land is bored with how incredibly interesting it is. The guys also fail to notice an armed siege taking place behind them while watching the news about it on TV, a devil called Ftumch who is trying to kill them after being accidentally summoned from Hell, and a UFO floating over their house at the end.
They are also completely unaware that Vyvyan has actually won the car competition, as the man who comes to the door is killed by Ftumch – but only after the guy is verbally abused by a policeman who mistakes him for a black man because he’s looking at him through dark sunglasses. The scene is included in its entirety here on the Blu-ray with all the slurs intact, unlike some of the older releases or TV repeats, which I think is perfectly fine as the scene is taking aim at the racist attitudes of the police at the time.
In terms of music, the legendary Madness perform House Of Fun at the start of a great scene in the Kebab & Calculator pub, where the students discover Vyvyan’s mother (Pauline Melville) working behind the bar. We also hear Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles (as we see what goes on in the house before the students get up), Fire by The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown & Bermuda Triangle by Barry Manilow (during the scene in Hell), and Teddy Bears’ Picnic by Henry Hall & His Orchestra (when Goldilocks and The Three Bears are in the house). There are even a couple of classical pieces used briefly as well, with The Skater’s Waltz by Émile Waldteufel (when the carrot and chip are dancing together) and Infernal Galop by Jacques Offenbach (in the land of very interesting things). So there’s quite a variety of decent music in this particular episode.
Running Time = 35:11
It’s another boring day for the lads, as Neil’s collapsing alarm clock finally gets them up in the early afternoon, he spends some time comforting the kettle when it explodes, and Vyv tries to help him retrieve some lentils from behind a teetering mound of crockery. Meanwhile Rick writes a poem about pollution, the characters on a Cornflakes packet argue with each other, the lads discover that all the TV shows have been replaced by the test card, Vyv has to eat the TV when the license detector man comes knocking, and we see a fly on the wall documentary being made with actual flies.
Oh, and there’s a large atom bomb in front of the fridge all this time. And when they eventually notice it they all react very differently. Vyv tries to make it go off by smashing things against it and swinging through the wall on a wrecking ball, Mike tries to call Colonel Gaddafi, Rick tries to send a telegram to the Prime Minister, Neil takes some rather useless advice from the Protect & Survive manual, and Reggie Balowski pops round to see if he can deal with it. But when it does finally tick down to its big moment, it’s revealed to be a large bomb-shaped egg, that cracks open to reveal a tiny drone that flies away.
The musical centrepiece is provided by Dexys Midnight Runners performing Jackie Wilson Said (a cover of the Van Morrison song) in the bathroom. We also hear I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers as Rick strides down the street and flicks the V sign at a policeman, before discovering some old ladies vandalising a phone box. Plus Rik Mayall & Nigel Planer sing a song as Dicky & Dino in a cutaway Rat Pack sketch.
Running Time = 31:54
Another superb episode where the guys are preparing for a party, though of course it doesn’t go well. For a start, Vyvyan tears up the floorboards and sucks up a friend of Neil’s (also called Neil) with his souped-up hoover, with the second Neil being shoved into the fridge afterwards (accompanied by an on-screen warning that it’s a bloody stupid thing to do!). The damage to the floor is covered up, however, by a giant sandwich that is dropped onto the house by one of The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, which squashes a persistent preacher (played by Dawn French). It’s a brilliant moment made all the more hilarious by Rick’s reaction – “well, that’s just typical!”
Once the guests arrive, including Jennifer Saunders, things continue to be chaotic. The police smash up the stereo as soon as it starts playing, Neil flies off into space when he tries an exotic drug, Vyv tries to impress the girls with push-ups, Mike takes Cinderella back to his room where she turns into a pumpkin, Tommy Balowski turns up very drunk, and a couple of wannabe gatecrashers discover a chimney sweep and Santa when they try to sneak in via the roof. But the funniest moment for me is when Rick finds a tampon in a girl’s bag, not realising what it is until he reads the box it came from!
Rip Rig + Panic perform You’re My Kind Of Climate at the party, with vocals by Andi Oliver, instead of Neneh Cherry as on the single version (of which there’s also a Party Mix). It’s not one of the best songs in the series, but it’s catchy suitable for the occasion. There’s lots of other music heard in the episode too, including a song performed by Audrienne Ferguson as a tomato (just before Neil’s friend is bundled into the fridge), The Things That Dreams Are Made Of by The Human League (when the police smash up the stereo) and Cinderella Rockefella by Alan Moorhouse & His Bond Street Brigade (as the horse and carriage pulls up). And when a lot more people turn up for the party, in the background they play Ain’t Nothin’ But A House Party by Paper Dolls, It’s My Party by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen at Parties by Jona Lewie and Mama Told Me Not to Come by Three Dog Night. There’s also a quote from Space Oddity by David Bowie while Neil’s up in space. It’s a pretty good selection altogether.
Running Time = 30:28
This episode opens with a medieval prisoner about to be executed in a graveyard, before Neil walks past, smacks himself in the face with a frying pan, and enters the house. And here again the lads are trying to pass the time, as they stay indoors away from the rain. Rick & Vyv argue over a comic and items they have stored in the fridge, while Neil has to be persuaded to go out to the shops to get some food. They also play a game of hide and seek, where Vyvyan discovers Narnia in the wardrobe.
Rick also discovers a lion tamer in his room, performing to a recording of The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Tight Fit, and this sequence is used instead of a musical guest for the episode. We also hear a soundalike version of The Everly Brothers hit All I Have To Do Is Dream (when Rick imagines himself in a comic strip as The People’s Poet), and The Day The Rains Came by Helen Shapiro (when Neil ventures out into the rain).
Things get even crazier when landlord Jerzei comes in though, and unwittingly drinks Vyv’s new potion that turns him into an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. He’s eventually lured into the room with the lions, but by this point the guys are now trapped by a flood that has engulfed the house, which gives them more reason to panic. The floodwaters begin to recede at the end of the episode though, as we see Vyv’s hamster SPG – who had been thrown out into the flood after a fight – floating on a drink can with an olive branch in his mouth, while a completely different closing theme plays that isn’t used in any other episode.
Disc 2 contains the entire second series of 6 episodes, originally broadcast weekly from 8 May to 19 June 1984. A detailed list of music used in the series can be found on the Dirty Feed website.
This series includes occasional random flash frames in every episode, in response to people’s concerns at the time about subliminal messaging, and to give audience members with VCRs an extra treat that they could pause to see (and it’s now easier than ever to freeze them on Blu-ray of course). They include the ending caption from the film Carry On Cowboy, a flying white tern (not a dove as many think), a leaping frog, a dripping tap and a skier.
They ended up causing controversy at the time though, thanks to Spitting Image over on ITV responding with a flash frame of their own that got them into trouble, and subsequently meant The Young Ones were ordered not to include the flash frames in Summer Holiday that they wanted to. It’s a very complicated state of affairs that are brilliantly explained in an article over on Dirty Feed that’s well worth a read.
Again they were able to have episodes that were longer than usual compared to other sitcoms, so these are all close to 35 minutes in length:
Total Runtime = 3:27:31
Running Time = 34:50
This is arguably the best episode of The Young Ones, where the guys are invited to go on University Challenge, representing Scumbag College, against the posh students of Footlights College Oxbridge played by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton & Emma Thompson. The host of the show is a parody of Bamber Gascoigne played by Griff Rhys Jones, here called Bambi because he was previously the deer in the Disney film and had gone on to do an X-rated sequel. And Mel Smith stars as a receptionist at the TV studio, who has to deal with the pig that Vyvyan has brought along as a mascot. The quiz scene is a lot of fun to watch, as the posh team cheat their way to victory, in response to which the Scumbag team violently eliminate their opponents before being squashed by a giant chocolate eclair.
Prior to all that, however, before they even learn about the show, it becomes apparent that they need to visit the launderette, having not done any washing for ages. They have to catch one of Vyvyan’s socks that tries to escape, and then there’s a fun moment where they switch characters when coming downstairs, so it’s fun to see them adopting each other’s costumes and mannerisms. They return to normal when they arrive at the launderette of course, but the washing machines refuse to take their disgusting apparel until Vyv tricks one of them into it, and the guys then realise they have no money for the machines away.
When they get home and Neil finally announces their TV appearance, they have to make a mad dash to the railway station, while the mighty Motörhead perform Ace Of Spades in their living room (the only major piece of music in the episode, apart from a cover of the University Challenge theme).
They then set about revising and testing each other on the train, only for Vyvyan to stick his head out of a window and be decapitated, in another highly amusing and cleverly filmed scene. He then kicks his head down the tracks in annoyance, while the train driver (Alexei Sayle) is held up by a Mexican bandit, before the guys have to walk the rest of the way to the TV studio.
Running Time = 33:58
It’s freezing with snow outside in this episode, so Vyv is burning everything in the house to keep everyone warm. Unaware of this at first, Neil tries to nail plates to the table, believing that a phantom is taking them, and when Mike tries to help he nails his own legs to the table as well. We then see 2 beheaded ghosts arguing with each other as Mike is tended to by his friends.
In an attempt to get some money, therefore, they all help Neil to write a letter to his bank manager. But as that gets thrown on the fire as fuel, they have to look for a job instead. Vyv rules himself out by announcing he’s pregnant, so Neil tries to join the Army. But when he’s refused a job for being a pacifist, he goes to the police station instead, where he’s recruited by Alexei’s character, who is rather like Mussolini.
Neil is then sent to arrest people at a party where lots of drugs are involved, before discovering that his friends back at home have become rich thanks to a lorry carrying everything they need crashing into the front room. But they can’t enjoy their new-found wealth for long, as Vyvyan’s ‘pregnancy’ turns out to be an extreme case of trapped wind, and a spark from a lighter causes the entire house to explode!
In terms of music, a great version of Subterranean Homesick Blues is performed by Ken Bishop’s Nice Twelve (including Jools Holland) on the street as Neil is taken to the army recruitment office. Thankfully that song (a cover of the Bob Dylan track) is included on the Blu-ray, as it was sometimes cut in old releases. There are also snippets from Move It by Cliff Richard (which Rick is listening to on his record player), At The Sign Of The Swinging Cymbal by Brass Incorporated (the Pick Of The Pops theme that’s played during Alan Freeman’s fleeting cutaway as God), and Electrick Gypsies by Steve Hillage (which Neil brings to an abrupt halt during his drugs bust – “Oh no, Steve Hillage!”). And Alexei’s character performs a song for Eurovision about stupid noises – which, let’s be honest, is no more weird than some of the songs we get in that contest!
Running Time = 34:55
This is a thrilling horror-themed episode, complete with its own unique title music as well. The plot centres around a new VCR that Vyvyan and Mike have got hold of, in order to watch some video nasties, and Vyv becomes exasperated at the constant excitement of whoever finds out (“Yes, we’ve got a video!!!”). But they can’t get it to work, until Neil points out that it isn’t plugged in. The lead won’t reach the socket, but Vyv gets around that by going outside and pushing the front wall inwards, so that the socket is closer. Vyv doesn’t just think outside the box, but outside the house, quite literally. He’s quite clever and inventive in many ways really, considering what he comes up with.
They don’t get to watch much of the tape though, apart from a period pain advert at the start. Because they also receive a delivery through their exploding front door from an overacting postman (who ends his cameo by making reference to an advert Ade Edmondson did for national Westminster Bank). The package contains a vampire (played by Alexei) who chases them around the house – pausing at one point in the bathroom to do a monologue and promote a Pot Noodle snack – before he’s killed by the sunlight and put into a coffin. He then wakes up in the graveyard where the students are about to bury him, and reveals himself to be the guy from the video store.
There are lots of other things to enjoy along the way too of course. In the cemetery, Terry Jones from Monty Python plays a drunk vicar, while Hale & Pace are gravediggers who get excited when they spot the TV cameras. Meanwhile back at home, Neil has a bath in some very dirty water, in which he discovers a bike before falling out of the window, and then has to wear a dress he finds in Rick’s room as he can’t get into his own.
Rick is also nearly cut in half by an electric saw that Vyv has put in his bed as a prank. But we don’t see the shagging bears just before that, and their exclusion from certain home releases has confused or irritated some fans. But my understanding is that they haven’t been cut, because they were never broadcast on TV in the first place. They first appeared on the VHS release, which used a different edit of the episode for some unknown reason, and that version was replicated on the 2002 DVD. But when the 25th anniversary DVD set was released in 2007, the original broadcast version of the episode was restored to its full uncut glory, and so the bears disappeared again. And it’s those broadcast versions we have on this Blu-ray too. However, the bears have been included amongst the extras on this new release, along with other deleted material.
Music-wise, the one major song in the episode is Nasty by The Damned, when the guys are being chased by the vampire. And not only is it a great track, it’s also significant for being the only song that was written by a group specifically for an episode of the series. The band issued it as the B-side to Thanks For The Night, and it later appeared on compilations they released as well. Apart from that, Rick sings a bit of Ashes To Ashes by David Bowie during the funeral scene, while in the bath Neil sings the opening line from The Sound Of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel (which had sometimes been cut on earlier releases).
Running Time = 34:07
This episode opens with an great parody of Dallas, including a special title sequence, which turns out to be a dream of Neil’s. That segment was shot on film instead of videotape to give it the right look, so the picture quality is particularly good there.
When Neil wakes up, we discover that it’s the day after a party, with Vyv bashing his head repeatedly to try and get rid of his hangover. Rick wakes up with a girl (played by Jennifer Saunders), completely unaware of how she got there, but attempts to persuade the others that he slept with her.
When she comes downstairs though, revealing that her name is Helen Mucus and that Rick is lying about what happened, Vyv sets about chasing him all over the house until he admits he’s still a virgin. It’s arguably Rik & Ade’s best ever fight sequence given its length and variety, and includes the big stunt where they crash through the ceiling into the kitchen while on Rick’s bed! Helen then turns out to be an escaped murderer, who tries to kill them – but is squashed by a horse who knocks down the front door, as the guys discover their house has been transported back to the Middle Ages for reasons that are never explained.
Amongst all of this, Dawn French appears as the Easter bunny who’s got the date wrong, there’s a fleeting nod to the Monty Python cheese shop sketch, we see a one-eyed pirate (Robbie Coltrane) who takes offence at any reference to his singular vision, there’s a torture game show on a medieval TV station presented by Jester Balowski (a parody of the discussion programme Did You See…?), and Paul Merton makes his first ever TV appearance by playing one of the three yokels (credited under his real name of Paul Martin, as this was before he had to pick a different name when joining Equity).
The only major musical number comes courtesy of Amazulu performing Moonlight Romance, as Helen attacks Mike while Vyv and Rick try to get Neil to change a light bulb. But Greensleeves is also heard during one of the medieval scenes.
This episode contains the only trim in the set – which is an incredibly minor one with no impact on the episode whatsoever – as producer Richard Latto has confirmed that the flash frame of a gurning lady is absent. In response John Hoare from Dirty Feed has promised to tell the complicated story about it in an article early next year, so that should be interesting!
Running Time = 34:38
This episode is certainly ‘sick’ in modern youth speak, in terms of being brilliant. The gang are all laid up with bad colds in their bedrooms to begin with, accompanied by the sound of Twist & Shout by Brian Poole & The Tremeloes. But Vyvyan gets so fed up of Rick and Neil shouting at each other that he lobs a petrol bomb across the hall. That only causes more arguments of course, including outrage at the suggestion that they clean the toilet!
The messier immediate problem, however, is Neil sneezing uncontrollably and firing snot in every direction – including out of the window, where it starts a street riot that escalates throughout the episode. In a bid to stop Neil sneezing, Vyvyan attempts acupuncture with large nails, while Mike pops down to the chemist. Madness play Our House on the pavement during this segment of the show, before getting tangled up in the rioting as well. Madness were the only band who appeared on the show twice.
Neil’s sneezes are finally cured, however, by the arrival of Brian Damage Balowski, who has escaped from a police van during the riot and forced his way into their home. But he’s not the only unexpected arrival, as Vyvyan’s mother (Pauline Melville) turns up briefly to give her son a prank gift, before Neil suddenly remembers that his parents are coming over for tea (played by Brian Oulton & Peggy Thorpe-Bates, who were married in real life). So the students all try to tidy up a bit, while Brian Damage polishes his shotgun.
Things get delightfully meta from this point, as Neil’s parents express their shame and disapproval at his involvement in the TV show, his mother complains about the state of the furniture while smashing a stunt chair, and there’s a very amusing parody of school drama Grange Hill with Ben Elton and Perry Benson. Vyvyan then angrily rips apart the title sequence of sitcom The Good Life when it starts playing, and launches into a huge rant about how sickeningly nice it is, while Rick, Neil and Neil’s father defend its star Felicity Kendal, who was indeed very attractive in her role. And it was also a great sitcom as well.
Anyway, the guys end up working in the back garden, where Rick gets annoyed by Neil’s repetitive explanation of sowing seeds and knocks him out. He wrongly believes he’s killed him, feeling deep remorse as a result, and has Neil buried under some fertiliser that Mike had ordered. But it’s such powerful stuff that it grows 2 clones of Neil, so Rick is horrified when all 3 Neils come after him. The set then suddenly pulls apart to reveal Brian Damage with Neil’s parents waving goodbye in front of some glittery showbiz curtains, while a modified version of the end theme plays over the credits.
6. Summer Holiday
Running Time = 35:01
It’s the end of term as we reach the end of the series. Mike is relaxing and reading in a deckchair, Vyv is bored out of his skull, Rick is excited for the summer and Neil is depressed about his final exam. Neil also gets angry when the guys abuse him and imagines turning into the Incredible Hulk, but has to skulk away in embarrassment when he comes back to reality and finds himself half naked. Rick tries to get Vyv & Mike to play some games to pass the time, but when they can’t get the hang of Botticelli, where you have to guess a famous person’s name, they decide to play cricket with Rick as the stumps instead.
Neil tries 3 times to draw attention to the fact that he’s got a cake – on the second occasion getting smacked in the face by the cricket bat – and reveals that it’s his birthday. The other guys don’t really care about that, and nor does one of the production team who draws all over the picture. Upon being told to wipe it off, they inadvertently scrub the whole image, leaving the space clear for Elephant Head to come on and sing a cover of Stop In The Name Of Love by Diana Ross & The Supremes.
Neil’s party is very dull and uneventful, which soon results in more arguing, before they discover that there’s nothing on TV, Rick’s parents are dead, 3D glasses are great for seeing pop-up monsters, and they’re being evicted by landlord Jerzei. So they end up on the streets, listening to John Otway performing Body Talk, before a postman (Lenny Henry) delivers their exam results. Jools Holland and Norman Lovett cameo as bank customers. Stephen Frost also makes an appearance, playing the bank manager. DJ Alan Freeman plays God while sitting at a radio mixing desk, for the second time in the series.
In a last desperate attempt for money, the guys attempt to rob the Fascist Pig Bank (including Jools Holland and Norman Lovett playing a couple of customers), and by chance they end up with a sack of money filled by another robber who was there before them. Vyvyan crashes his car as they attempt to get away though, killing his hamster SPG, so Rick steals a double-decker bus instead. They’re very chuffed with themselves as they drive away, singing Summer Holiday by Cliff Richard as they consider what to do with all the cash, but they fail to notice a cliff and plummet to an explosive death in a quarry. It feels like a very apt and strangely moving way to end the series. The closing credits, with a special one-off theme tune, then list everyone involved in the show in alphabetical order, instead of splitting them up by cast and production roles.
Audio commentaries are provided for every episode in this set. The previous DVD release only had commentaries on the very first and last episodes, and they’re included here, while the commentaries on the other 10 episodes are brand new recordings exclusive to this set.
Director & Producer Commentaries
- Geoff Posner & Paul Jackson (from the previous DVD):
- Series 1 Episode 1 (Demolition)
- Series 2 Episode 6 (Summer Holiday)
- Paul Jackson & Ed Bye:
- Series 1 Episodes 2, 4 & 6 (Oil, Bomb & Flood)
- Series 2 Episode 4 (Time)
These are fascinating and very entertaining, as the guys are clearly enjoying the episodes, and they fill the time really well with a lot of neat insights and funny stories about the making of the show. They talk about the cast & characters, guest stars, music acts, set design (including various details I’d never picked up on before), studio vs location filming, camerawork, visual effects, fights & stunts, puppets & cutaway scenes, editing, the language they couldn’t use today, how the show was commissioned and allowed to run longer than 30 minutes, why they only did 2 series, dealing with concerns from BBC executives, the controversial flash frames, the disastrous American pilot, and so on. A few anecdotes from the two older commentaries are inevitably repeated in the newer recordings, as they won’t have remembered what was said before, but that’s fine, it doesn’t happen often.
Writer & Actor Commentaries
- Lise Mayer (co-writer), Nigel Planer (Neil) & Alexei Sayle (various characters):
- Series 1 Episode 5 (Interesting)
- Series 2 Episodes 1, 2 & 3 (Bambi, Cash & Nasty)
These are lovely to have, but they don’t flow as well or contain as much detail as the director commentaries, because the three of them tend to get absorbed in watching the episodes and making little observations. However, they’re well worth sticking with for some of the anecdotes and recollections they do come out with every so often, including Lise Mayer’s insights into the writing and how she responded to some of the BBC’s concerns, and the memories of Neil and Alexei about the filming, costumes, jokes, etc. So there is some amusing and interesting stuff in here, it’s just not as frequent as in the other commentaries – which is why one of these chats has an added bonus tagged on to it, as noted below.
- Series 1 Episode 3 (Boring) – This is anything but boring, as Blu-ray producer Richard Latto interviews videotape editor Ed Wooden about editing the show, outside broadcast filming, the flash frames he added to the episodes, the blooper reel he created for Series 2 (included in the extras), using Quantel software, a Christmas thank you card from the team, other shows he’s worked on (including Filthy, Rich & Catflap and Bottom), and the attitudes of the time in relation to the racist policeman scene. Paul Jackson & Ed Bye also pop in to surprise their colleague at the end, as a result of which we briefly learn about Ed Wooden’s work on the sound in the show.
- Series 2 Episode 2 (Cash) – Before we hear from Lise, Neil and Alexei midway through the episode, Blu-ray producer Richard Latto introduces 3 wonderful extracts from the BBC archives that make up for the absence of certain key people in these commentaries:
- Paul Jackson interviewing Ben Elton in October 1999, from a series called In Conversation With, about how he became involved with the show and his approach to writing.
- Lee Mack interviewing Ade Edmondson on a brilliant episode of Chain Reaction in August 2010, which is well worth listening to in full if it’s still available when you read this. He talks about the excitement of working on the show, the critics’ reaction to it, how they got things past the BBC executives, and a letter they got from Bill Oddie.
- Rik Mayall & Ade Edmondson being interviewed on Steve Wright In The Afternoon on Radio 1 in 1991, talking about the anarchic style of The Young Ones and other comedies they were influenced by. They have a good laugh throughout, it’s quite fun.
- Series 2 Episode 5 (Sick) – For the first half of this enjoyable commentary, radio presenter Geoff Lloyd has a great conversation with Suggs, the lead singer of Madness, about how he got involved with the show, filming their song on the street and taking part in the rioting, the failed sitcom pilot written for Madness by Richard Curtis & Ben Elton, and how fans around the world have reacted to his appearance on the show. Then, when Neil’s parents arrive in the episode, Geoff chats with Richard Latto about the cast members, the higher budget spent on Series 2, the prop makers and other talents who brought the show to life, alternative comedy in general, and how people had more freedom to do what they wanted on TV back then (a sentiment echoed in other commentaries too).
We really have been spoiled with the bonus material on this release. As well as the commentaries mentioned above, there’s also a third disc with nearly 6 hours of extra material! A few features are carried over from the previous DVD, but the vast majority of it has never been officially released before. Richard Latto and his colleagues have really put a lot of effort into digging out as much as they can from the BBC archives.
- Video Nasties From The Young Ones (23:38) – This is a great selection of film inserts from the series, which have been rescanned in high definition and thus look very good. They’re presented with clean audio – i.e. without audience noise, as they were pre-recorded segments to be played into the studio. The scenes include underwater footage from Flood, extended footage of the exploding house in Cash, the graveyard scenes (with deleted dialogue) and the ship cutaway from Nasty, the excellent Dallas parody from Time, street interviews for Sick that were never used, and the final bus scenes from Summer Holiday (including cut dialogue, plus additional footage as visual effects designer Graham Brown explains how the explosion didn’t go to plan).
- The Making Of The Young Ones (50:31) – A comprehensive documentary made for the 25th anniversary DVD release, where Nigel Planer, Alexei Sayle, Lise Mayer, Paul Jackson, Geoff Posner, Ed Bye, Mark Arden & Andy De La Tour talk at length about the genesis, development and production of the show. There are loads of interesting details and enjoyable recollections here, and even fleeting clips of a few of the stars from earlier in their comedy careers. So altogether it gives a brilliant overview and appreciation of how much work went into the show.
- Series 2 Blooper Reel (26:59) – This brilliant compilation was made by videotape editor Ed Wooden to show at the series wrap party, mixing series highlights with bloopers, alternate takes and unused material. It focuses primarily on the main cast of course, but also includes some outtakes of Alan Freeman and other guest stars, along with the legendary shagging bears. It’s all wonderfully edited and in really good quality, with very few visual or sound glitches, and above all it’s very funny. There is a copy on Youtube, but it’s in far better quality on the Blu-ray.
- Studio Footage: Nasty (1:03:56) & Cash (41:35) – Here we get raw footage from the first day of recording for each of these 2 episodes, as the cast and crew film scenes requiring special effects. These scenes would then be played in at appropriate moments during the live recording in front of an audience the following day. Despite being lengthy and low quality VHS copies (as the original studio tapes were sadly wiped), these are still watchable and very compelling, as we see how the effects were achieved, multiple takes of scenes including bloopers, and Paul Jackson’s occasional anger at people not being quiet! So it amply illustrates just how seriously they took their craft. The scenes from Nasty include the electric saw in Rick’s bed, Neil in the bath, the explorers, Rik boarding up Vyv’s door, Neil getting electrocuted, the period pain advert, the vampire, the shagging bears, the backstage cutaway and the hamster SPG. Meanwhile for Cash we see the headless ghosts, Vyv and the neighbour, the road safety advert, the lorry crash, the madman cutaway, Rick sliding through the spindles on the staircase and the talking dogs.
- Sick: Workprint Edit (34:49) – This is a low quality (but again very watchable) VHS copy of an early version of the episode, allowing you to see how things were rearranged and tightened up for the final cut. Some of the differences to the final version are very subtle, but others are much more noticeable. It’s particularly apparent around the performance of Our House, where the joke about it being Madness instead of The Cure is at the start (it’s a shame that gag doesn’t get the laugh it deserves), and the scene with Mike at the chemist is extended. There’s also a longer than expected pause on the upstairs landing early in the episode, the scene of the gang tidying up before Neil’s parents arrive is done in real time instead of being sped-up with music, there are some sound effects missing from the episode, and the ending with Neil’s parents in front of the glittery curtains is shown without the credits over the top.
- Fundamental Frolics (3:23) – A brief but fun clip from this 1981 charity comedy & music event, where Rik Mayall delivers a poem about theatre and Vanessa Redgrave, demonstrating where the angry poetry in his Young Ones character originated from. It’s an extract from the 20th Century Coyote segment he did with Ade Edmondson, so it’s a pity they haven’t included all of it (but they do perform together in the second Boom Boom episode below).
- Boom Boom… Out Go The Lights: Episode 1 (31:06) & Episode 2 (32:24) – Producer Paul Jackson introduces each of these cabaret-style specials, from 1980 and 1981 respectively, that gave a platform to alternative comedians on British TV for the first time. As Paul himself admits, they’re not amazing shows, but they are historically important and interesting, and they do have a few amusing moments. Of most note and relevance are the performances by Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle, with Rik reciting poems about Vanessa Redgrave and doing a Dangerous Brothers routine with Ade as part of their 20th Century Coyote partnership, Nigel attempting to play songs as his pre-Young Ones version of Neil, and typically crazy monologues by Alexei. Other stars include Peter Richardson (who was originally considered for Mike in the Young Ones), plus Keith Allen, Tony Allen, Pauline Melville, Andy De La Tour & Dexys Midnight Runners (who all went on to have guest roles in the sitcom), and a blues band who perform a few songs. There are also some outtakes included during Paul’s intro to the second episode, which is a nice addition. So they’re lovely rarities to have.
- Alternative Rebellion (13:25) & The Guest Stars (11:22) – These were recorded at the same time as the 25th anniversary Making Of documentary above, so they involve the same people and were also on the previous DVD set. They’re nice little featurettes discussing the rise of alternative comedy along with the many bands and comedy friends they invited to be part of the show.
- TV Promos (5:10) – A nice little compilation featuring a couple of trailers that were specially filmed by the cast, promo spots showing clips from the series, and continuity announcements that mention the show.
- Photo Gallery (12:24) – Two extras for the price of one here. Firstly, we get to see lots of wonderful pictures from the series, including an audience ticket, set continuity photos, special effects designs, location filming, group and individual photos of the cast members, and images from the recording of various episodes. And they’re all accompanied by clean copies of music from the series by Peter Brewis, including the original pilot version of the theme tune (which is interesting but I’m glad they changed it), a few variations of the end credits music, the Nasty theme tune, the parody themes for Dallas, University Challenge & The Good Life, the backing track for Stupid Noises, the music used for a ship cutaway, and more. It’s a great way to finish the set.
Total Extras Runtime = 5:50:42 (nearly 6 hours on one disc is remarkably good value!)
There are various other bits and pieces online that aren’t mentioned above of course. I’m not going to list absolutely everything, but here are some of the more fun and interesting items out there. They’re all included on my playlist, along with some other relevant videos too.
The one major omission from the Blu-ray set for copyright reasons is Living Doll by The Young Ones & Cliff Richard from 1986. The juxtaposition between the clean-living pop star and the despicable quartet made for a very funny new version of Cliff’s hit song, on which they were joined by legendary guitarist Hank Marvin as well. It was released as a single that got to Number 1 in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, alongside an extended 12″ version called The Disco Funk Get Up Get Down Go To The Lavatory Mix, and an equally great B-side without Cliff & Hank called All The Little Flowers Are Happy.
It was produced for the charity Comic Relief, to raise money for Sudan and Ethiopia, resulting in the group’s fantastic live appearance on the show, where Rik opened with an energetic and rude solo routine, before the gang got together to perform Living Doll with Cliff. It’s such a classic slice of TV comedy that never gets old. You can also see Rik being interviewed by Wogan about the single.
Neil’s Heavy Concept Album
Two years prior to that, in 1984, Nigel Planer had success of his own with Neil’s Heavy Concept Album, a nicely constructed and humorous record where Neil performs a mix of cover songs and comedy material, even featuring Stephen Fry and Dawn French on a couple of tracks. Neil also filmed a TV commercial to promote it.
The album includes the single Hole In My Shoe, a cover of the Traffic song, which impressively stayed at Number 2 in the UK chart for 3 weeks (sandwiched between Two Tribes and Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood at Numbers 1 & 3 respectively). Neil promoted the song and the album during his enjoyable appearances on Top Of The Pops and Saturday Superstore in the UK, and Countdown in Australia. It also won Best Comedy Record at the BRITS in 1985, with Billy Connolly making the presentation to Nigel Planer.
There was also a fun 12″ Paranoid Version of the song, including a nod to the long note at the end of Day In The Life by The Beatles, and a backwards message which, when played in reverse, says “Don’t do that, you’ll scratch the record!”. And there was a single issued for the catchy track My White Bicycle as well, that rather unfairly only charted at Number 97, with a 12″ version that included an Extended Mix and a Christmas Rip-Off Mix. So there’s quite a lot of his stuff to listen to.
- Fundamental Frolics – This is a 1½ hour charity gig from 1981 in aid of Mencap that surfaces online every so often, featuring comedy and music by Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Alexei Sayle, Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Chris Langham, Pamela Stephenson, Chas & Dave, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Neil Innes, Alan Price, Hot Gossip and other stars. It’s a mixed bag by its nature, and I did skip some of the music acts as I was looking through it, but it’s quite fun and is another interesting opportunity to see early performances by the various comedians on the bill. Rik & Ade, Smith & Jones and Rowan Atkinson are particularly good, as are Chas & Dave and Ian Dury in terms of the music. So it’s worth looking up. I’m not linking to it here as it has a tendency to get taken down due to copyright strikes.
- My Generation – A suitably chaotic live version of The Who’s classic song, at the Too Hot To Handle benefit gig in 1983, by Rick, Vyvyan and Neil as The Bastard Squad.
- Adverts for the series in Australia (featuring Rick), the video game (see the Wikipedia page for details), Natwest (featuring Vyvyan), Friends Provident (with Vyvyan & Neil), and other adverts featuring Neil for the Live Aid book, BBC Knowledge & Castrol.
- Rik Mayall interviewed about the series on Terry Wogan in 1984 (including a stand-up spot beforehand), Sounds With Donnie Sutherland in 1986 (in Australia with Ben Elton), and Laughing At The 80s in 2011 (where he and Ben Elton act out a bit of the original pilot script during their chat).
- Ade Edmondson in interviews that mention the series by ABC News in Australia in 2013 & ITV News in 2018 (with Nigel Planer).
- Nigel Planer doing interviews that mention the series by Where Are They Now? in Australia in 2007, The Sarah O’Connell Show in 2018, V&Z in 2020 & Richard Herring in 2021.
- BFI: In Conversation With… – A 40-minute Q&A from 2018 in front of a live audience, featuring actors Nigel Planer & Alexei Sayle, producer Paul Jackson and co-writer Lise Mayer.
And that’s it, we finally made it to the end, well done if you made it this far. I’m extremely impressed with how much they’ve packed into the Blu-ray set, it’s more than I’d ever expected us to get. If you watch all the episodes, all the commentaries and all the bonus features, as I’ve done, then that takes over 12½ hours (12:36:54) by my reckoning! That’s colossal, and none of the time feels wasted, with all of the hilarious comedy, fascinating insights into the making of the show, and all the other rarities. If in future they could do similar sets for follow-up programmes like Filthy, Rich & Catflap (which has long been crying out for an uncut edition) and Bottom, that would be incredible. I’m not expecting miracles, but one can hope given the effort put into this set. But in the meantime, I hope you enjoyed all of that, and thanks for reading!