Adrian Edmondson reveals why he split from comedy partner Rik Mayall

The break-up of one of comedy’s greatest double acts: Adrian Edmondson reveals how fame, alcohol and a quad bike accident changed Rik Mayall and contributed to the end of their famous partnership

  • Edmondson and Mayall shot to fame with TV’s The Young Ones and Bottom 
  • But Edmondson decided to quit by the end of duo’s last stage tour in 2003

Adrian Edmondson has revealed how fame, alcohol and a quad bike accident all contributed to him splitting from his long-time comedy partner Rik Mayall.

The 66-year-old actor and comedian shot to fame thanks to his work with university friend Mayall on TV’s The Young Ones in the 1980s and Bottom in the 1990s.

But Edmondson decided by the end of the duo’s last stage tour in 2003 that he did not want to carry on, saying Mayall never understood his decision to quit.

Mayall suffered from memory loss following a serious quad bike accident in 1998 that left him in a coma for several days, which Edmondson said meant he often had to explain his decision to end the partnership every time they met up for lunch.

Edmondson also told how Mayall ‘fell in love with fame’ and was ‘not very good at drinking’ – becoming ‘belligerent, morose and then unconscious’ in the 1990s.

The double act did get back together in 2012 to write a TV adaptation of their 1997 Hooligan’s Island tour for the BBC, but Edmondson pulled out amid differences over jokes contained in the script. Mayall died of a heart attack in 2014 aged 56.

Adrian Edmondson (left) and Rik Mayall are pictured at the home of Mayall’s parents in 1979

Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall in a publicity photo for their 90s TV programme Bottom

Adrian Edmondson (left) pictured with The Young Ones co-stars including Rik Mayall (right)

Edmondson – who is married to actress Jennifer Saunders – revealed in his book Berserker! how he struggled with Mayall and why they stopped working together.

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In the book, serialised in the Daily Mail and due out this Thurdsay, he wrote: ‘In 1993, when we do the first theatrical tour of our rambunctious TV sitcom, Bottom, we drink copiously. Too copiously.

‘There’s a strict rule that we don’t drink before a show – because we need our wits about us – but afterwards, well, the end of each and every show is a cause for enormous celebration, and we drink for the sheer joy of conquering the panic. A lot of people drink to celebrate the end of their exams – we get meticulously examined every single night.

‘It turns out, in the long run, that Rik isn’t very good at drinking. As students, we couldn’t afford more than four pints of cheap lager of an evening, and four pints made Rik amiable and fun to be with.

‘But now we’re earning good money, we can drink as much as we like, of anything, even spirits, and half a bottle of Scotch makes Rik, by turns, belligerent, morose, and then unconscious. It’s no fun for either of us.’

Edmondson added that the office where they wrote overlooked the front door of a pub, and Mayall was turning up ‘increasingly late’ while they were planning the second live show of Bottom in 1995.

He wrote: ‘I often see him nip into the pub first thing before we start writing. He thinks I can’t see him, and that vodka doesn’t smell – he’s wrong on both counts.

‘I eventually challenge him. He swears he hasn’t touched a drop but, annoyingly for Rik, his lazy eye wanders further to the left the more he drinks, and right now it’s practically looking backwards.

‘We finally have a friendly, truthful and rather tearful discussion. Rik doesn’t appear for a week, and when he finally returns he says he’s come to accept that he has a problem with booze.

Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson at a charity gala at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1988

Rik Mayall (left) and Adrian Edmondson at the Warner Village Cinema in London in 1999

(From left) Christopher Ryan as Mike, Rik Mayall as Rick, Adrian Edmondson as Vyvyan and Nigel Planer as Neil in The Young Ones

Rik Mayall (left) and Adrian Edmondson destroy a television set in an episode of Bottom in 1992

‘So from the second tour onwards Rik doesn’t drink at all, and to make it easier for him, and because drinking alone is a bit sad, I stop drinking too.’

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Edmondson added that the line between Mayall and his Bottom character Richie Richard then ‘starts to blur’.

He wrote: ‘Rik is an undoubted comic genius, and he’s equally successful with the ladies. Richie Richard, the character he plays in Bottom, is definitely not a genius, and is not at all successful, especially with the ladies.

‘Trouble strikes a few weeks into every Bottom tour, when the line between Rik and the character Richie starts to blur.

‘He starts to think that the crowd are laughing not because Richie is a funny character but because Rik is a comic god. And it’s complicated, because it’s both, but he starts being more Rik than Richie. Unfortunately, Rik the comic god isn’t quite as funny as the character. The character is humble, nervous, insecure, scared and desperate. Rik isn’t.

‘It’s hard to explain the difference between a good laugh and a diminishing laugh. The audience will not be aware of it, but all comedians will occasionally come off stage saying: ‘What a s*** audience.’ But once you start thinking the audience are s*** every night, you’re in trouble.

‘There’s always a point a few weeks into every tour when he’ll say: ‘None of the stuff I have is funny, let’s cut all my lines.’ And I’ll try to point out that if he stayed in character the laughs might come back. If I had a penny for every time I said, ‘just play the character’ I’d have £5.42.

‘Nothing wrong with being a sex god – well, I wouldn’t know, but I’m imagining it must be lovely – however, the jokes are written for the exact opposite. The character is wailing that he’s destined to be a virgin his entire life, while the sex god playing him is winking at a girl in the fifth row.

Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson were a successful comedy duo. They are pictured in 1985

Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall in their last stage tour of Bottom in London in 2003

Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in their final tour at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2003

‘He cuts huge sections of carefully written jokes which only he at his manic and sexually inadequate best can perform, and the show gradually loses any complexity it might have had and becomes a race to the next fight.

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‘By the end of the last tour in 2003 I’m thinking: ‘I don’t want to do this again’.’

Edmonson said that Mayall was never able to get ‘his head around my decision to quit’.

He added: ‘For the next decade, whenever I ring him up to suggest we have lunch, just to chew the fat, just to be friends rather than colleagues, he always assumes I want to get the act back together again.

‘Rik had a serious quad bike accident in 1998, and was in a coma for several days, and since then his memory has only ever got worse. So every time we meet, I have to explain my decision all over again. It becomes our Groundhog Day. I start to dread our lunches.’

But in 2012 Edmondson said he had thought of how to ‘put the idea to bed once and for all’, telling Mayall: ‘OK. Let’s write an episode of something, give it to the BBC, and see if they want it.’

He said they quickly put together a script and was hoping ‘to get a firm refusal and get on with my life’, but the BBC accepted it and offered them a series.

Edmondson wrote: ‘So in the summer of 2012 we start writing episodes of Hooligan’s Island, with Richie and Eddie marooned on a desert island. It’s not unfunny, but it’s not our very best stuff.

‘The way we check back on material is that I read it out, playing both parts, and Rik listens to get an overview. I’m reading out a scene when I notice out of the corner of my eye that Rik is counting things off on his fingers.

‘It doesn’t make much sense – he’s using each hand to count something different. “What are you counting?” I ask. “Jokes,” he says.

,Rik Mayall as Richie and Adrian Edmondson as Eddie in TV’s Bottom in 1997

Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in ‘Bottom 2001: An A**e Oddity’ at Hammersmith Apollo

Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall, Christopher Ryan and Adrian Edmondson in The Young Ones in 1982

‘”On two different hands?” “I’m counting your jokes and my jokes,” he says. “And you’ve got more jokes than me”.

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‘If you watch any of our programmes, I defy you to come to the conclusion that either of our characters has any more “jokes” than the other. Our material is mostly framed in a twoshot, because you need to watch both of us at the same time to enjoy what’s going on. We’re a double act.

‘The next day I try to explain this to Rik. He’s very apologetic, but in that way a child apologises without knowing what they’re apologising for. He just wants to get the apology out of the way.

‘Later, as I’m reading back a scene, I can see his fingers going again. Counting. Two tallies. I don’t think he’s doing it to provoke me. In fact, he’s trying to do it without me seeing. I challenge him and we go through the script sitting side by side. He points at it and provides a judgment on each line.

‘”See, that’s your joke. That’s my joke. That’s your joke …”

‘And I realise that the double act is properly over. There’s no trust left. It was glorious when it was alive, I’m immensely proud of everything we did together, it still makes me laugh, but I’m glad we didn’t do a dodgy final series.’

Edmondson said Mayall’s death from a heart attack in 2014 was ‘a dreadful shock to the world, and to me’, adding: ‘My head fills with a kind of white noise. It’s difficult to comprehend that he’s dead.’

He wrote how Mayall would have been ‘over the moon to be on the front page of every newspaper, to make all the major news bulletins, and to be the subject of a segment on Newsnight as Jeremy Paxman questioned Caitlin Moran about his cultural importance’.

Edmondson wrote to Mayall’s mother Gillian after his death, and she replied to say she had an ‘abiding memory of standing in her kitchen listening to us as we sat in two deckchairs in her garden just laughing and laughing and laughing’.

She added that it was ‘hard to understand how anything could be so funny’.

Berserker! – An Autobiography by Adrian Edmondson (Pan Macmillan, £22) will be published this Thursday. To order a copy for £19.80 (offer valid until today; UK P&P free on orders over £25) go to or call 020 3176 2937.

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