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Heartfelt radio tribute remembers anarchic comic icon


Brunel’s Max Kinnings marks 10 years without Rik Mayall

Writer Dr Max Kinnings marks 10 years since the death of untamed comic genius Rik Mayall in a touching tribute documentary on BBC Sounds.

Novelist and screenwriter Max talks through a treasure trove of previously unheard recordings he made while co-writing Mayall’s fictional 2005 autobiography, Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ.

Celebrated for his slapstick style, violent stunts and outrageous comedy, Mayall’s career spanned series such as The Young Ones and Bottom, making a lasting impression on British comedy.

Max was starstruck when, in 2004, his comedy hero asked him to help with the memoir he’d been commissioned to write by publisher Harper Collins. There was only one problem: Mayall didn’t want to write a tell-all autobiography. Instead they crafted a fittingly exaggerated outlandish spoof memoir – a yarn that wove real-life events with Mayall’s absurd comic alter-egos. Not quite what the publisher originally had in mind. 

“We had worked on a sitcom idea together called The Murderers,” Max explained. “Rik was offered a deal to write his autobiography and because we were working together anyway, he said to me: 'You write books, why don't you write it with me?' It was a wonderful experience. I'd always been a big fan of Rik's, and as a writer, to work with someone of his stature was quite something.” 

The Brunel reader in creative writing found himself in Mayall’s front room wrapped up in hours of improvisation, capturing Mayall’s scattergun brilliance on tape. Rik’s way of writing involved ‘jamming’, improvising around often surreal ideas, hoping inspiration would strike. “We recorded our conversations as we tried to make each other laugh and as we created the character of ‘The Rik’ who would ultimately write the book,” said Max. “As you can hear in the show, he was a fascinating person who, despite his fame, didn't want to be a celebrity, so played a game with the entire concept of it."

Bigger_than_Hitler_cover copy

For the documentary, Max edited down more than 100 hours of these recordings, and along with his producer, comedy writer Gareth Gwynn, created a one-hour BBC Radio 4 programme, Rik Mayall, Panglobal Phenomenon, first broadcast on 1 June.

“The recordings weren't in a great state as they were made nearly 20 years ago, and Gareth had to use AI technology to enhance the audio quality,” said Max.

“Working with Rik on the book and then making this documentary have both been enormously labour-intensive, but if you love doing something – as I did with both these projects – it really isn't work. It was the book that he wanted to write. So he was very pleased.” 

The documentary tells the story of Rik’s quad bike accident in 1998, which left him in a coma for days, and his sudden death when he suffered a heart attack, aged 56, in 2014. Rik’s children – Rosie, Sid and Bonnie – share their own thoughts on why their dad was so loved by the British public.

“Rik's influence is everywhere in modern comedy," said Max. "His unique bravery and energy as a live performer have been emulated by many, but rarely equalled.”