I’ve posted before on this blog about how with every year that passes, I find myself growing more sentimental. I find myself reminiscing about the past, and about those things that had an impact on me in my formative years.
One of those early influences that has jumped to the fore in recent weeks has been the wonderful British sitcom from the ’80s – The Young Ones.
I remember well the first time I ever watched an episode of The Young Ones. It was my first year out of school and I’d been out on a Saturday night. We’d gone back to a friend’s place and, that friend says, “You’ve got to took a look at this.” For some reason, they’d been clued in enough to videotape (yes, we’re talking about the days of VHS) the very first episode.
I remember watching, spellbound. What was this show? I’d never seen anything like it. It seemed that all the rules of television were being subverted, all at the same time. Characters regularly breaking the fourth wall. A plot that seemingly developed at random – with frequent asides that had nothing to with the actual story. Not to mention a high level of comic violence – characters smashing through walls and regular explosions.
Over the weeks that followed, I became a regular devotee of that madcap household with its four student housemates:
– Rick, the horribly narcissistic anarchist-poet
– Vyvyan, the crazily violent punk (and medical student)
– Mike, the (rather underwritten) mister smooth operator, and
– Neil, the permanently depressed hippy (and definitely my favourite of the four)
I watched and rewatched those episodes so many times, I practically had them memorised. Without a doubt, The Young Ones was one of my formative influences as a writer. I learnt so much from reviewing these episodes. The biggest lesson I think I took was a certain disregard for conventions and rules. The Young Ones took the conventions of the domestic sitcom and threw them in a blender, to the point where they were barely recognisable. And yet, beyond the inspired lunacy and crazy slapstick, the writing was amazingly strong – another good lesson to learn about the primacy of writing, in humour and otherwise.
I recently decided, for purely nostalgic reasons, to watch the old episodes again. And I have to say that almost forty years on (could that possibly be true?), they held up amazingly well. The characters are as crazy as ever and the writing still zinged. There’s very little in the intervening years that comes close to this standard.
My writing isn’t really much like The Young Ones. I don’t reach the same degree of anarchy, I’m not super comfortable with violence, and I don’t pepper my dialogue with potty talk. And yet, I like to think I’ve taken something from its spirit. Something about finding a new voice, and doing things my own way. I’ve even taken direct inspiration in some of my recent writing – I discovered that one of my current characters bears a surprising resemblance to poor downtrodden Neil. Heavy!
Who knows. Maybe in another forty years, someone somewhere will reminisce about my stories too.
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