Last night I was flicking through the TV channels and found the university challenge episode of The Young Ones and it is still as funny as ever. I started thinking about whether any sitcom had seen such a plethora of comedic talent in one episode and I struggled to think of one. The next thing I wondered about was whether this was the best sitcom episode I had ever seen and I really think that it just might be.
I’ll start with the obvious University Challenge scene which might be one of the most remembered scenes of that era of sitcoms and the most remembered of the show full stop. The whole having one university above one another is how I thought it really was on the University Challenge set for many years and when I found out that it wasn’t I was quite shocked. Vyvyan getting bored and kicking through the floor to knock Ben Elton’s character out still makes me laugh out loud and I know it’s coming but every single time it gets me. Neil’s desperate need for the toilet and the fact it was seeping out is gold and you know Vyvyan would really be pissed off at Mike for answering the questions from The Daily Mirror Book of Facts.
However despite this scene being all sorts of awesome it doesn’t save the episode as it just enhances it. The scene with Smith & Jones as they enter the TV studios is wonderful as Vyvyan tries to trick Jones that his pet is actually a ferret called Bacon Sandwich. The way they mistake Smith’s character for Bambi from the Disney movies is clever and well played and the message that Neil left for them saying they would be late. Wonderful writing and acting.
The train journey scenes with Neil cramming and Rick saying he knew everything about crop rotation despite knowing nothing and Vyvyan tearing a fiver in half and giving the other half to Mike are clever and witty and we haven’t even got to Vyvyan decapitating himself by sticking his head out of a moving train along with Rick’s joke directly to the camera/viewers about British Rail. All of it good but I loved the race to the station scene even more with Motorhead playing Ace of Spades as our four heroes run to get the train. The camera following Rick as he tries to steal a newspaper and Rick seeing the cameras and slying going back and paying for it. Vyvyan walking up to a kiosk and stuffing a whole cake it his mouth as the British Rail clerk tries not to laugh. Rick checking the time on his watch whilst holding a glass of wine in the same hand only to pour it down himself and Neil getting photos at a photo-me booth. All terrific.
Of course the episode starts off with the boys deciding to go to the launderette to do cleaning for the first time in three years and they manage to trick a washing machine into opening believing they are also washing Felicity Kendal’s underwear. Very clever writing and the acting was first rate throughout the whole thing. Even the students of Footlights College in their car to the filming was clever and witty.
I really do think this was in my opinion the zen of sitcom episodes. The Young Ones was one of the great shows and really spoke to a generation (clearly I am not of that generation) but it is one of the few sitcoms that really has stood the test of time. It makes it all the more upsetting that Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall weren’t able to complete their proposed Hooligan’s Island project. That could have been something pretty special.
If you have never seen ‘Bambi’ of The Young Ones then please enjoy the following…
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