One of our favourite shows is Bottom, which we first watched in the early 1990s and has, like a belligerent, profanity-laden wine, aged rather magnificently. The show appealed to a wide range of ages – for kids, the swearing and cartoon violence was an immediate draw, but the intelligent scripts laden with high-cultural references and social commentary propelled it above crass immaturity.
Written by, and starring, comedic duo Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall, the show ran from 1991 through to 1995. It seems surprising the posh gits at the BBC commissioned it at all, but the duo was already famous after the breakout success of the Young Ones in 1982. In our opinion, Bottom is the superior show, with better writing and performances, but lacking in the revolutionary kick which made the Young Ones stand out. Regardless, we’re celebrating Bottom today as the almighty slice of bizarre loveliness it is. It’s also almost three years to the day since Rik Mayall sadly died, so what a time to celebrate his immense talent.
Inspired after performing in a West End production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Mayall and Edmondson adapted a concept of centring TV episodes around two individuals – a difficult task, but by wrapping social satire and lunacy around the premise the talented duo could work its magic. The result was Bottom, which is intended to refer to working class life, although doubles up as a handy double entendre (which the show is utterly laden with).
The two characters are Richard (Richie) Richard and Edmund (Eddie) Elizabeth Hitler, two hopeless, unemployable losers who live in Hammersmith, London. Throughout episodes, they crunch their way through a miserable existence by dreaming of bagging some attractive lady, getting involved in absurd incidents or mishaps (often brought on by their behaviour), and generally being utterly disastrous at everything they try to do.
Richie is… bizarre; it’s never quite revealed what is up with him. His borderline madness is, arguably, due to his impossibly dismal working class situation, but there are all manner of strangely twisted delusions and pretensions which contort him into a bubbling mass of perverted enthusiasm.
His relentless, maddening optimism and jabbering often gives way to self-loathing, suicidal tendencies, rage, and depression, suggesting there’s genuinely a lot wrong with the man, but his situation is such he’s doomed to a life of poverty. This burning resentment manifests itself with a hatred of flatmate Eddie, who he often gets into physical fights with.
Eddie is a cheerfully violent alcoholic who has accepted his lot as a pointless entity in society and is drinking himself towards the grave. It’s unclear how these two, who despise each other, have come to share a flat in Hammersmith, but Eddie, who views Richie as his wife (of sorts), relies on Richie to add some order to his otherwise entirely capricious existence.
Due to his highly chaotic nature, Eddie is incapable of fitting into society and needs Richie to apply a modicum (no matter how ineffective) of order to his life – the classic odd couple, Eddie’s drunken madness and high jinks often lead to furious cartoon violence fights. Despite this, it’s hinted he’s somewhat cultured, with his knowledge of chess, classical music, and social hierarchy interspersed with bouts of drunken stupidity.
Themes & Funny Bits
The two live in a, seemingly, hideous alternate universe where everybody they meet is horrible, psychotically violent, or insane. It is, in other words, an exaggerated version of working class life, where those stuck in its loop pass their time by being unbelievably dreadful. This is to such an extent Richie and Eddie are the most well-adjusted members of society we come across in Bottom. This all, naturally, makes for some laughs and giggles.
Swearing & Violence
One of the reasons the show was disregarded by some at the time is due to the large amounts of profanity and extreme cartoon violence. Naturally, this didn’t sit well with many critics and viewers, who dismissed the show as immature or crude. That it most certainly is, but the creative way in which Mayall and Edmonson batter each other senseless provides a visceral, and highly amusing, portrayal of a relationship gone severely wrong.
One bit which went over our heads when we were kids is the double entendre. The show is crammed with it, although it’s done in such a way it’s genuinely very endearing and strangely cute. Comments such as “I’ll go and scrub my sprouts” lead to responses such as “I thought you were going to do some cooking?”. The reason it’s cute, we believe, is it further emphasises this bizarre little world Richie and Eddie have created for themselves.
There’s far more social commentary in here than folks realise. The cartoon violence alone can be seen as lampooning the notion working class people are grumpy and violent. However, Richie and Eddie are also occasionally left to ruminate on their place in society, misguidedly believing wealth is the answer to all of their problems, rather than challenging the colossal range of psychological issues they’re often oblivious of.
Oh, gosh, like, here are some of our favourite episodes! Series 2 and 3 are the peak of the show, with 1 offering a lot of promise, with the subsequent series developing on the endearingly weird world the two performers created.
This is a real tour de force from Edmondson and Mayall; two guys stuck in a flat for a 30 minute episode. With nothing to do, Richie and Eddie play crossword puzzles, sellotape a sausage to the fridge, and finally play chess. Richie becomes insanely excited about this prospect, but his ignorance ends with, arguably, the greatest fight scene in the series’ history.
One of the best episodes from Season 1, you really do get a good sense of the old cartoon violence in this one.
The police are often represented as corrupted psychopaths in Bottom, largely due to the post-Thatcher era UK where anachronistic right wing force had led to all manner of unpleasant incidents.
The Christmas special, events spiral out of control as Richie childishly pursues his concept of a traditional Christmas, leading to bizarre accidents and, eventually after a surprising turn of events, the belief he is the mother of God.
Despite Mayall and Edmondson writing an entire fourth season for the hit show, and the BBC initially clearing it, something then happened which blocked this. From all our research, we can’t gather information for why this was the case, but another series was sadly squandered as a result.
Irritated by the limitations of TV, the pair took the show on the road for five successful stage shows, the best of the bunch being the unbelievably scathing Bottom 2, which laid into the Royal family in a way we don’t think we’ve seen since. It’s seditious stuff!
The brilliant Rik Mayall died suddenly of heart failure aged 56 on June 9th 2014, a sudden end for such a beloved comedian who inspired two generations during his career. He and Edmondson had planned another series, which was to be set in an old folks home. Sadly, this won’t be going ahead.