Tuesday 10 June 2014

Goodbye to the People's Poet and the Free Bird.

On the face of it Rik Mayall and Maya Angelou have very little in common.

One was an English actor, writer and comedian, who introduced me to subversive humour and really did give a good kick up the backside to all the safe and boring TV that we were all watching. 

One was an African-American author born in 1928 in St Louis, Missouri. Friend of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, and the person who taught me what racism and segregation and 'having a hard life' really meant.

They both had a place in my life at a very important stage. They were both there when I was a teenager. They wrote things that made me think and cry and laugh. They both left a mark and were people I respected very highly.

I was exactly the right age to be desperate to watch The Young Ones, but it was just after my bedtime. I was 11, anxious to fit in and be at least a tiny bit cool. I missed the first series, but when it came back 18 months later I was there - I already knew all the characters and storylines by then, it was the stuff of legends. The show was the best thing on the TV for any 12 year old in their first year at High School.

Rik Mayall stayed on my TV screen for years. The Comic Strip and Kick Up The Eighties cast were the alternative stars who made it mainstream. They changed TV, they changed TV comedy, they brought politics and anarchy to early evening viewing. They took risks and for the most part it worked.

In 1991 I went on my one and only weekend away in London. We stayed in a Hotel and went to see a show. In fact we went to see Waiting For Godot - with Rik Mayall, Ade Edmonson and Christopher Ryan. It was completely different to anything I'd seem them in before, and it was brilliant.

Maya Angelou I read as part of my English Language A Level. I thought I was politically aware and as I was living pretty much independently already, I felt I was more mature and had experienced more than most of my peers who lived with their parents and didn't have to go to work before and after College.

Maya proved that anyone can do anything. My life had never been so bad, I had advantages she'd never had.  She really did show why the caged bird sings. Her books made me cry and laugh and I got to know a woman I'd never meet, a woman who had never given in.

Maya lived a life far longer than could have been forseen when she was a child. Despite the hard knocks she was an impressive 86 when she went, and I think she had probably ticked off that job as done.

Rik never recovered fully from driving his quad bike into a tree in 1998. Brain injuries are invisible for the most part, and when the initial recovery is done, everyone thinks you're all better. They don't see the tiredness, the depression and the frustration. Rik's long term memory and his temperament were affected and I guess only his widow will know just exactly how much was lost or broken. He was only 56 and ready or not, both are unfavourable.

In the same week as Maya Angelou said her goodbye I lost a friend. Someone I first met around 10 years ago. A huge man with a great big voice and I never saw him do anything other than smile. He was brilliant at Karaoke and could make the whole room silent when he sang. He loved to laugh and every minute was for enjoying. He was barely 40, he wasn't finished.

As I get older I am painfully aware of the increasing speed at which my friends and heroes are leaving. The movie stars and performers who used to grace my walls are beginning to slip away. Several people who were with me at school have now died, 3 in the last year. What I'm also realising is that these people may not be here standing with us any more, but they're never gone.
“I feel sorry for you, you zeros, you nobodies. What’s going to live on after you die? Nothing, that’s what! This house will become a shrine! And punks and skins and Rastas will all gather round and all hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader! And all the grown-ups will say, ‘But why are the kids crying?’ And the kids will say, ‘Haven’t you heard? Rick is dead! The People’s Poet is dead!’ ... And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, ‘Why kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?’”Rik Mayall as Rick in The Young Ones episode Bambi.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”Maya Angelou.

Coincidentally while I was taking a break from typing this I noticed I wasn't the only one to have the very same thoughts....Boo, Roo and Tigger Too.


  1. How very strange that we both posted about this today

    1. It is. I had 3/4 finished and checked my emails while I was looking for a photo and saw a notification about yours. Great minds eh, or something :P

  2. Rik Mayall was a huge part of my teenage years and beyond. I have to be totally honest, I'd not heard of Maya Angelou, she certainly wasn't on the syllabus when I did my English A Levels, but it looks as if I should look her work up.

    1. I am really surprised you didn't read her for A level, she was on the syllabus a long while - and still is I think :)

  3. I have to admit it was a huge shock to hear the news yesterday

    1. I was surprised, but then I really do feel that so many people are starting to die in my real life that I felt more that it was some sort of confirmation that we are really getting old!


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