HAIRCUT 100: Day 98, No. 98. I’m bringing it all back home now, as we move inextricably to the end of this epic project. So, in a bit of a change of pace from my previous run of sci-fi icons, I give you Adrian Charles ‘Ade’ Edmondson, National Treasure: comedian, actor, writer, director, musician, Yorkshireman and winner of Celebrity MasterChef 2013; AKA Sir Adrian Dangerous, Eddie Monsoon, Vyvyan Basterd, Edward Catflap, Vim Fuego, and Edward Elizabeth Hitler. This man is very close to my heart, and has been making life a bit less horrible since the post-punk alternative comedy boom of the early-80s, which was a rotten time to be young in the UK otherwise.
Edmondson studied drama at the University of Manchester, where he met best friend and long-time collaborator Rik Mayall. As ‘20th Century Coyote’ they became stars at The Comedy Store in Soho, later moving to Peter Richardson’s Comic Strip club with other Comedy Store regulars ‘The Outer Limits’ (Richardson and Nigel Planer), MC Alexei Sayle, and French and Saunders. The popular club caught the eye of programmers at the newly formed Channel 4, and the troupe was commissioned to produce six self-contained half-hour films entitled The Comic Strip Presents… the first of which, ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset,’ was broadcast on the opening night of Channel 4 on November 2, 1982. (I remember it well. I was eighteen, with mates, and way out of my head. But I digress.) Other memorable Comic Strip shows being ‘Slags,’ a parody of Bladerunner and West Side Story, and the ‘Bad News’ saga, following an awful Heavy Metal band that are slaughtered by an angry mob after a (real) performance at the Castle Donnington ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival. (Look up ‘Warriors of Genghis Khan.’) Pretty much concurrently, the BBC signed Edmondson, Mayall, Richardson, Planer and Sayle to star in The Young Ones, an anarchic sitcom about four students in a house-share written by Ben Elton, Lise Mayer, Mayall and Sayle (Richardson later dropped out and was replaced by Christopher Ryan). Along with The Comic Strip Presents… this show represented a paradigmatic shift in television comedy, and its influence can still be felt to this day. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Edmondson and Mayall continued to work together up until Mayall’s untimely death in 2014 aged 56. Their creative zenith was probably Bottom, which married the violent slapstick of ‘alternative comedy’ with a much older tradition of the comedy double act, reminding us that Samuel Beckett was inspired to write Waiting for Godot by Laurel and Hardy. (Mayall and Edmondson in fact played Vladimir and Estragon in a West End production of Waiting for Godot at the Queen’s Theatre in 1991.) Bottom ran for three series on the BBC from 1991 to 1995, moving from screen to stage in a series of tours culminating in ‘Weapons Grade Y-Fronts’ in 2003; and back again with the surreal movie Guesthouse Paradiso (1999) – which includes an early performance by Simon Pegg – and perhaps the wisest words you will ever hear: ‘Well you see, Richie, it’s like this: You’re born, you keep your head down, and then you die. If you’re lucky.’
Edmonson was one of Mayall’s pallbearers, offering a moving tribute that encapsulated their wonderful and incredibly productive friendship: ‘There were times when Rik and I were writing together when we almost died laughing. They were some of the most carefree stupid days I ever had, and I feel privileged to have shared them with him. And now he’s died for real. Without me. Selfish bastard.’
Edmonson’s acting credits are too long to list, and he remains a familiar face on British television, nowadays often presenting, in affectionate travel documentaries like The Dales, Ade in Britain and Ade at Sea for ITV. For the last ten years, he’s focused more on music with his band The Bad Shepherds, also contributing to Pour l’Amour Des Chiens (2007), the first new studio album from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in 35 years with the surviving original line-up and other ‘New Millennium Bonzos’ Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus. He has been married to fellow Comic Strip comedienne Jennifer Saunders since 1985 and the couple have three daughters and three grandkids. Saunders’ character Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous takes her name from Ade’s alter-ego, Eddie Monsoon, a foul-mouthed, alcoholic and self-destructive South African comic, whose unpublished autobiography concluded ‘Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Oh god. Give me a drink, you bastards.’ What a guy.
NB: This post is dedicated to my bestest buds Matt and Ray at Geekshelf: ‘Rightey dokey matey bloke flap old salty seadog amigo skip-jack jockstrap piano tuner, let’s see you balls this one up!’