The unexpected news that British comedian Rik Mayall had past away at the age of 56 hit me harder then I’d ever expected a celebrity death to do. I’m not a hardcore fanatic and I haven’t followed his career with a microscope but when I think back over my teen years to all of my favourite TV shows, mostly on the BBC (Satellite was a luxury back then not a requirement) one name seems to pop up in the credits more than any other, Rik Mayall.
“She’s got a tongue like an electric eel, and she likes the taste of a man’s tonsils.” – Lord Flashheart, Elizabethan swashbuckler
Many will look back at Mayall’s career and be drawn to the many big, lead characters he played, whether that be in Bottom, The Young Ones, Drop Dead Fred or The New Statesman but for me his greatest role was as a cameo character who only appeared on a couple of rare occasions yet left such an impact he is one of the most quotable characters on a TV show filled to the brim with quotable characters. The show is Blackadder and I am of course talking about Lord Flashheart.
With confidence bordering on narcissism, Lord Flashheart is a truly unforgettable character and it’s a testament to Rik Mayall that despite only appearing in two episodes (three if you count his very Flash’esque Robin Hood) the character is so engraved in British comedic history and will live on long after yesterdays sad news has past from living memory.
As the real-life best man of Blackadder collaborator Ben Elton, he was brought in to play the part of the title characters old childhood friend and yet the original script was said to have had a very different personality in mind for the swaggering, lusty Flashheart we know so well, Mayall alone was given the credit for that creation.
“I’ll do it as long as I get more laughs than Rowan.” – Rik Mayall on accepting the role
Sadly though, Flashheart’s first appearance was a little short, lasting only a matter of minutes as he woo’s (and insults) the entire cast before running off with Edmund’s fiance on their wedding day.
Despite such a brief encounter the character very quickly became a fan favourite that we would have to wait another two series to see again, this time as Squadron Commander the Lord Flashheart.
Flashheart’s 20th Century reincarnation in Blackadder goes Forth took the character to a new level. Though still having an ego the size of Europe, the character was more evolved, the over the top slapstick was reduced and the wit now only matched by Captain Blackadder himself. It was an intelligent move that made the character something even more likeable, again Mayall alone was given the credit for this evolution.
But what is the true appeal of this character? How does such a character become so popular?
I can only answer these questions from my own experience and opinions but I’m sure there are people, especially men, that will agree with me. I was a very shy teen, I lacked self confidence and like many people I’m sure, I saw Mayall’s Flashheart and the first thing that came to mind, “I wish I had the balls to do that”. The confidence and bravado to say and do what we think rather than what we should is alluring at times and Lord Flashheart is the personification of that, maybe to the comic extreme but there’s something.
“If word gets out I’m missing, five hundred girls will kill themselves. And I wouldn’t want them on my conscience, not when they ought to be on my face!” – Squadron Commander the Lord Flashheart
When once asked about his interaction with his audience Mayall said it was “very sexual – you mass them together and sense what they want and give it to them just before they ask for it”. He certainly showed us that as Lord Flashheart, creating a character that you equally want to hate but also want to be, it’s something very special.
I will always look back fondly at my childhood for a number of reasons, but one that will always stick with me is Blackadder and more specifically Lord Flashheart. Thank you Rik for bringing such an amazing, over the top character to life and giving the world an endless array of witty one liners that will keep me laughing for years to come.