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When The Young Ones invaded BBC2 back in the early 1980’s, the viewing public were thrown off-guard by the heady mixture of vulgarity, satire, music and graphic violence. People who “got” the show loved it dearly, but those who hated it were forced to grudgingly admit that that was - at the very least -  innovative.  It wouldn’t be overstating things to say that this was the start of a comedy revolution not only for the BBC, and the waves of these changes from the smug, middle-class sit-coms are still being felt today.

You wouldn't get away with so many allusions to pederasty in one character these days...

A crucial part of the The Young Ones‘[ freshness came from it being the product of three very diverse writers: Ben Elton, Rik Mayall and Lise Mayer (or four, if you count Alexi Sayle writing most of his own material). The way this multiple-way writing effort succeeded was in the way that interlocking nature of Lise Mayer’s writing took the edge off some of the more testosterone-driven moments, those which occasionally threatened to let the whole thing degenerate into an anarchic mess. But when the idea for a continuation of The Young Ones was mooted, it was going to proceed without the all-important participation of Lise Mayer, meaning that there was no feminine aspect to balance up the frenetic male-driven writing. But it wasn’t just that Meyer was missing, Elton seized the project and all but shut out Mayall from the writing, who took his name off the credits for the little of his work that remained. The result was a very different kettle of fish.

Taking its title from the surnames of the main characters, Filthy, Rich and Catflap chronicles the pathetic existence of life on the bottom rung of the showbiz ladder, encompassing those the egos on stage and the scumbags off it. Richie Rich (Rik Mayall) is a washed-up has-been (or never-was) who still thinks that he is a star – to the point that he employs a violent, drunken minder, Eddie Catflap (Ade Edmondson) to look after him from the heaving crowds he deludes himself will harass him. Most of the action takes place in their squalid flat, where the pair are at each other’s throats whilst Richie waits around for his agent, Ralph Filthy (Nigel Planer) to call with  news of impending work – either by phone or coming around personally to scrounge fags and plunder his clients’ alcohol. The following line perfectly illustrates the charming qualities of Mr Filthy, as he talks to one of his “stars” on the phone:


“Now look, Squeaky, I’ve told you before. Balloon-bending is no longer a saleable commodity. The public want sex.  
Squeaky, two round balloons and one long one thin one
does not constitute sex…”





We remember Ben Elton once mentioning that he was very depressed whilst writing Filthy, Rich and Catflap – we even recall that he said he wrote some of it whilst on the lavatory, a claim that he went on to very publicly deny on The South Bank Show. The sense of rage and frustration levelled at the BBC and showbiz in general is very much in evidence, even going so far as to have Ritchie rescuing his copy of the complete works of Shakespeare from the toilet when up for one of the Bard’s finest, relieved that the play in question had not yet met with a messy fate. The Daily Mirror lead the charge as it railed against the crudity and (their words) juvenile nature of the humour, with the TV review column becoming exponentially bitchy each week, with one of the earlier barbs reading: “If they edited out all of the swearing, the violence and the lavatorial humour, it would be a perfect (if short) show for young children”.

Anne Diamond displays her thespian abilities - despite being ill with Dutch Elm Disease...

The surreal elements that made The Young Ones so very different from anything else that was around at the time was replaced with vicious rants and satirical swipes at admittedly easy targets. A good example comes with Elton shocking the establishment by directly addressing kids watching to tell them that Santa Claus isn’t real.  The shock-value of statement might have been more potent if Gremlins hadn’t have done it two years earlier, armed with much more spite and panache. Naturally, Thatcher still got the bashings she richly deserved, where a glowing tribute describing her as: “…A wonder-woman workaholic who needs no sleep and works a 36 hour day“ is countered with the retort of: “She needs 36 hours a day to screw things up the way she does!”  Speaking of which, one of our favourites has got to be:


“Honestly, just because I own a chain of discount brothels,
every seems to think I am a dirty old man…my leisure
establishments are totally allowable.  I get the kids
off youth training schemes. The Iron Lady looks
after small businessmen like me…”







With all the showbiz satire which has followed in the wake of this particular show, it’s doubtful that any will even shine the shoes of Filthy, Rich and Catflap for pure venom, and all utilising and insiders knowledge of the BBC to really put the boot in. Some footage from an episode was used as documentary footage in the recent Inside Television Centre show on BBC4, such was the access granted to Elton and co when making it. If you remember the Young Ones’ “Sick” where a rant about The Good Life was followed by a lengthy spoof of everything it holds dear, then this gives you good idea of the entire run of the follow-up series.  We were in possession of the video releases for a while (somewhere in our vast video archive, we even have an episode or two recorded during the original (and only) terrestrial broadcast. Casting a critical eye over the series, it is easy to see why the Beeb were less than keen on repeated the exploits of Richie, Eddie and Filthy Ralph, as Elton was obviously not a happy bunny during the writing process, and committed his feelings to paper. This unflattering look up Auntie’s skirt would only be rivalled a few years later when Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh sat down and wrote Meet the Feebles to vent their spleen about being burned in “the biz”. The kind of no-holds-(or holes)-barred assault on showbiz seen in Filthy, Rich and Catflap is calculated and almost seems like Elton is the TV equivalent of Penn and Teller by gleefully giving away many secrets and taking away a vast chunks of showbiz magic in order to get some laughs.


“’Allo, Nasty John’s cock and dog fights? I understand you are putting a bunch
of myxomatosed rabbits up against a three-legged cat? A fiver on the moggy.
No, wait: a fiver on each goolie. Have you got any children fighting today…?”





Mel Smith giving a fairly accurate representation as to how he would look 25 years later - only with more hair...

Let’s take a look at the episodes:

EPISODE ONE: Richie accidentally murders the milkman and has to use all of his thespian know-how in order to impersonate the late dairy-deliverer – after deciding to give his milkman character a limp and a northern accent, he proceeds to nonchalantly enter the dairy, dragging one of his legs like it was caught in a bear-trap and uttering “Eeeh, bah gum, ecky thump…”

EPISODE TWO: The Nolans! Probably the most consistently funny episode sees our hapless thesp roped into appearing on innuendo-laden show Ooer Sounds A Bit Rude, only to destroy the light-entertainment show by literalising the crudity it desperately cloaks. Angry and annoyed, he ventures into The Nolan Sisters’ dressing room and dresses in their clothes to get his kicks. Unfortunately, his cross-dressing is captured on film by the singing quintet and Richie is soon the victim blackmail, as they threaten to sell the pics to the papers. Eddie makes a splash in the trendy art-scene, championed by none other than the great P’farty and N’bent.

EPISODE THREE: Ritchie plans a dinner party for the golfing mafia (Tarby, Brucie, Lynchy), but how will the boys get the vital ingredients to host such a lavish banquet? The smell of shoplifting is in the air, and before the dinner party goes ahead, Ritchie has to fulfil a contractual obligation by appearing as a compare at peepshow between strippers.

EPISODE FOUR: Ritchie’s father is dying, leaving him not only with one less direct relative, but with a brilliant idea to get him back in the public eye: he will be the face of Bloody Flora, the UK’s biggest flower company. Trouble is, Dad is getting better and the deal is going down the toilet. What can he do? Arrange to have his father killed, of course. When he screws up trying to hire a contract-killer, he decides to do the job himself…

EPISODE FIVE: A boring game of Trivial Pursuit marks time before the break Richie has been waiting for: reading the papers on TV-AM! But can the boys resist the temptation of the dreaded “Lager-Frenzy” as they kill time en route to Anne Diamond at the studio?

EPISODE SIX: Banned from showbusiness, and with Filthy under sentence of death, Richie becomes a journo to maintain gainful employment. His plan is simple: libel everyone in the light entertainment industry so he will be the only one left with an untarnished reputation to front TV.

Some of the soft targets satirised include then-household names in light entertainment, including John Inman, Molly Sugden and Rod Hull and Emu. Although they are not mentioned by name, the caricatures presented on the show are so thinly veiled that they almost transparent. Elton seems to take sadistic pleasure in ripping them apart and publicly deflating their mystique - a prime example is when the “John Inman” character sticks his head right in front of a TV camera and shrieks “I’m a homosexual, isn’t it hilarious?” - pricking the carefully crafted bubble that had been formed over more than a decade of Are You Being Served?

Ripping down the translucent veil of vulgar innuendo employed in Are You Being Served?

At the time, the list of guest stars might have seemed none-too-prestigious, but looking back, the mixture of up-and-coming & established stars is quite impressive - Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, David Baddiel, Mel Smith, Hale and Pace, Harry Enfield, Chris Barry, Linda Bellingham and Anne Diamond. The final episode features two British comedy legends - John Wells as an aged High Court judge and John Bird as Dingo Wukka, an unsubtle caricature of Rupert Murdoch, giving Elton the material for a well-honed rant about that way the unions were dismantled during the eighties - for all of the satiric dialogue in Bird’s scenes, the funniest line has to be when he earnestly (and lecherously) asks Richie and Eddie “how do you spell tits?”  The caricature of Murdoch is so on the money that he probably shares the same convenient memory lapses when asked about wrongdoing at his newspapers.  Speaking of casting, the other main cast member of The Young Ones, Christopher Ryan, did not appear in the show; considering the furore which surrounded, he probably thought that he was better off out of it – but that same year, fate stepped in and Ryan had the misfortune to star in the unspeakably awful A Small Problem, which was never repeated, even on satellite TV and never released on video.


“If you won’t take the rap, Filthy, I’ll tell the world
about your so-called stage-school…”





There is a term used in film and television – breaking the fourth wall. This comes from the fact that a set is usually constructed from three walls, with the camera standing in as the fourth, allowing the viewer to feel as though they were actually present in a room, watching the action. Breaking the fourth wall occurs when something is done to deliberately shatter the illusion of realism, usually when talking directly to the camera/audience. Matthew Broderick did this in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Michael Caine also did the same thing in Alfie. With Filthy, Rich and Catflap, it was as though the pretence of the fourth wall had been scrapped entirely – characters talk directly to the camera, at times even directly to the audience, usually mugging shamefully as they do so. Though this had been done in The Young Ones, it could not compare to the frequency with it took place in Filthy, Rich and Catflap, to the point of even questioning the intelligence of the audience – when Richie and Eddie are playing Trivial Pursuits, it is debated whether the audience would appreciate jokes about the game, Eddie bluntly remarks that in order to play the game “you have to be able to read, which counts most of our lot out from the start” – such remarks did not exactly endear themselves to many viewers.


“Now look, Immoral Timothy, I don’t deal in drugs.  
Well that’s why I sold you two ounces of
scouring-powder.  Well, look on the bright
side: you’ll have the cleanest nose in Clapham…”






The second episode shows Filthy, Rich and Catflap at its best, and we’d go so far as to call it perfection. It is thirty minutes of unadulterated laughs, combining potshots at all of Ben Elton’s favourite targets, as Richie is blackmailed with cross-dressing photographs by the Nolans, all after a disastrous appearance on a gameshow which mercilessly destroys Blankey Blank. Everything in this one works perfectly, to the  point where if you played it to someone today, they would assume that it was part of a series deemed a comedy classic, and helps to counter the first episode, which plays like a pilot and contains all the pitfalls of such an exploratory venture.  The first few scenes of the initial episode are a non-stop barrage of put-downs and one-liners, as though Ben Elton had a load of them written for something else and chose to deploy them all to get them out of the way, possibly figuring that such an exhaustive volley would be enough to ensnare the Young Ones audience he often underestimated. In any case, the first episode at least contains an almost young-looking Arthur Smith,  reminding us all just how good he was as a deadpan comedy actor rather than the miserable malcontent he has been for almost a couple of decades. Anyway, we defy anyone not to see the Nolans one and not declare it a work of genius - it all ends with the girls singing “I’m In the Mood For Dancing”, for the love of God!

The Nolans practice their ball-busting skills....

One cannot review the series without praising the design of the main set - the living room of Richie’s flat just screams mid-eighties, right down to the heavy use of red plastic for fixtures and fittings. There are numerous theatrical props, such as stage signs above doors and various posters for plays that have been crudely altered to make Richie seem like a high-profile celebrity, instead of the talentless has-been he actually is. There are several framed pictures of his favourite celebs, such as Jimmy Tarbuck, but the most amusing one has to be a picture of Bernard Manning with Richie’s head frantically looming behind the sizeable Manning in a desperate attempt to appear in the same photo as an established celebrity.

Elton’s desire to shatter televisual illusions like a sledgehammer-wielding manic-depressive in a hall of mirrors is brought to it’s logical conclusion during the rolling of the final episode’s end credits - this sees Eddie literally smashing the living room set as the Richie sits transfixed at the TV and Filthy Ralph books a flight to Rio. The final shot sees the screen of Richies’ television being smashed - a symbolic end to a series written for the purpose of destroying much of the magic of television. You could wax all pretentious and draw to attention to the fact that The Young Ones’ first episode was entitled Demolition, which saw the cast destroying the set of their house, and that having Filthy, Rich and Catflap bookend it by finishing with the destruction its own house set was closing the book on Elton’s involvement with anything related to his previous show. Maybe that’s navel-gazing a bit too much…

Filthy, Rich and Catflap was originally dumped onto DVD with all of the prestige and presentation of a fry up at a greasy spoon café, seeming rather obvious that the BBC washed their hands of the show completely and allowed Playback, a subsidiary of Universal (we shouldn’t slag them off, we’ve worked for them!) to finally release it on a single shiny disc. Now the rights have passed to Acorn MediaUK and they have affixed a 25th anniversary edition moniker to it. With this in mind, we’ll turn our attention to the big question: OK, so how do they look?

"How do you spell Leveson?"

Video


Well, considering that they were filmed 18 years ago, this is probably as good as they will look, short of letting the Doctor Who Restoration Team get their hands on them. Most of it was shot on videotape and has a tendency to look better than most filmed stuff for BBC TV shows during the seventies and eighties. The image is solid and there is little in the way of drop-outs on the videotaped sections - there is a little chroma noise over the image, but this was probably down to the original recording.  When the US released a box set of The Young Ones (loathsomely subtitled Every Stoopid Episode), the bonus disc in the set contained the first episode of Filthy, Rich and Catflap - we are pleased to report that image quality of the UK set cleans the floor with this episode: the picture is considerably sharper and brighter & the colours are significantly stronger. That the show looks so good is probably because they have only been screened once and (badly) duped for video and a single UK Gold airing.

Audio


The mono audio is fine; the aforementioned rendition of The Nolans’ I’m In The Mood For Dancing is full-bodied enough to have you tapping your toe in spite your best instincts to maintain the illusion of coolness.  There are no gremlins to be found here, and all levels are faithfully kept to how it originally went out.

As per the original release, on the back of the box should have been the dreaded legend “for contractual reasons, certain edits have been made.”  Once again, several lines of dialogue containing lyrics to songs have been removed because of copyright problems, these instances being where they either couldn’t get permission to use on DVD or were not prepared to pay the amount that the owners of the publishing rights were asking.  One of the most obvious omissions comes when Ritchie decides to try his luck at pick-pocketing, breaking into a certain song from Oliver!

Extras


After the best part of two decades, this could have been the perfect opportunity for the creative forces behind Filthy, Rich and Catflap to have their say about the intention of the show - although coaxing the shy and reserved Ben Elton to talk about something at length would have been a little hard to do.  It’s a damn shame to say they there really is very little to justify the pop and ceremony of calling it a “25th Anniversary Edition”, coming with only a few basic, text-based extras. We’re sure that certain parts of interviews could have been licensed for inclusion, but it wasn’t to be. Let’s focus on what we do get:

Cast Profiles: The main three cast-members have completely up-to-date listings of all their screen work, and there were a few we’d completely forgotten about, and sure that they had hoped would remain in the shadows themselves.

Picture Gallery Given the lack of enthusiasm or expectation which the show was  met with, it is unsurprising that there were very few photographs taken during the production, and that half of these were utilised for the packaging drives home the point. All eight are here for your delectation, and it’s nice to see them all together in the one place.

The packaging is better than the Playback edition, and it’s certainly not as dire as the BBC VHS releases, where they eventually gave the three main cast cartoon-like bodies seen on the kiddies’ TV favourite Bod - when the series was quietly released on video in the nineties, about the best that the copywriters could muster for a slogan to sell the show was “Arrgh! The Young Ones have grown up! It’s horrible!” Sure, it would have been nice for them to include a booklet chronicling the history of the show, but sadly there is nothing, but given the public humiliation the show generated for Auntie Beeb, it is amazing that they have even seen the light of day again, let alone with such frills.

"And Filthy, Rich & Catflap will be back for a new series in the autumn..."

Overall


If Rik Mayall had been allowed to contribute more material to the script, and if the show had employed a director who was able to reign in the more over-the-top mugging of Mayall and Edmondson, then Filthy, Rich and Catflap may have been eligible for the kind of reverence that The Young Ones attained - in recent years, even Bottom has become regarded as a classic sitcom - but in the end, Filthy, Rich and Catflap was a missed opportunity, whilst an entertaining and interesting one, still something of a disappointment. There are still a lot o’ laughs to be found, and the accurate destruction of the Light Entertainment industry is utterly breathtaking, probably even more so when viewed today, begging the question - “How the hell did they let them get away with that?“  There is enough bile and spite directed towards both middle and working-class entertainment to remind the those brought up on Frankie Boyle and Russell Howard that the combination of bile and shouting existed long before they ever took to a stage.  

For those of you that thought Bottom was the heir apparent to The Young Ones, the BBC eventually released the imprisoned prince from his tower to take his rightful place in the palace of British comedy, and although this 25th Anniversary Edition comes with damned few extras, it is best looked upon as a way of owning a tremendously entertaining romp without having to fork out a fortune for it on Ebay. Filthy, Rich and Catflap is the black sheep of BBC comedy, but its butchering by the critics only proved that it can make a tasty kebab that can really hit the spot.  We heartily recommend picking this one up without delay!

It is worth pointing out that after the last episode aired on BBC2 back in early 1987, a title card appeared on screen and a voiceover announced that “And there’ll be another series of Filthy, Rich & Catflap in the autumn”. It’s twenty-five years later, and it is pretty safe to assume that there isn’t going to be another one…


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