Let’s just get this line out of the way: I’m a big fan of Bottom.
Fnarr, fnarr…yes, laugh it up Finbar Saunders, and pipe down at the back of the class. That’s the only self-reference to innuendo you’re going to get here.
Bottom ‘celebrated’ – i.e. it was acknowledged – the 25th anniversary of its broadcast debut on BBC2. The slapstick, violent, down-at-heel, Very British comedy has developed quite the following over its quarter century lifespan, and with good reason.
Where people may – rightly – remember Mayall and Edmonson’s other ventures (namely The Young Ones) with a greater sense of clarity, Bottom’s place in the British comedy canon can and should not be allowed to slip away, like a fart from rosy cheeks.
To me, during its first broadcast and subsequent repeats that carried on through my childhood, Bottom represented a paragon of naughtiness. Quasi-forbidden to watch it at such a tender and formative age, the lure of Richard Richard, Edward Hitler and the supporting cast of nefarious narcissistic nihilists (unintentional, they were always too stupid to actively be that way) that made up their corner of Hammersmith was too much to resist.
It couldn’t have been more appealing to a child. The pitched battles between Richie and Eddie that were tantamount to violent farce, more jokes about willies, boobs and bums that you could shake a stick at, ludicrous plots that traversed the spectrum of respectability and a liberal splash of troubling alcoholism.
That’s why I tended to flout the parental rules placed on my head and did my best to sneak elsewhere in the house to watch it, volume low and face pressed dangerously close to the television like the kid on the Poltergeist poster.
But Bottom represented a lot more than what lay on its surface. The show’s objective and sketchy morality promoted the morbidly hilarious futility of life. The show’s title referred not to the body part, but instead to the rung in society that the pair and their associates were doomed to inhabit forever by accident of birth. Their existence – in a creaking, disgusting flat in a building with other questionable occupants – owed more to the likes of Waiting For Godot than contemporary comedies on either side of the Atlantic could have mustered.
Indeed, not long before the creation of Bottom, Mayall and Edmonson trod the boards as Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s play. Wherein we should most probably despise Richie and Eddie for their ne’er-do-well pursuits, violence, sexual desperation and all the rest, anyone watching it with half a brain (sorry, I’ve excluded a lot of people here) should feel genuine pangs of sympathy.
Richie is the perennial virgin; kryptonite to female sexuality. Virginity is not A Bad Thing, but Richie’s excessive hyper-sleaze and his histrionic attitudes to women evoke a mix of disgust and sympathy in the viewer. A great example of this can be found in ‘Dough’ (S03E04), in which Richie’s “crumpet-o-meter” flies into red needle territory. His assertion that buying a woman a drink – in this case even just a Coke – is a guaranteed precursor to sexual activity is as misguided as it is pathetically funny.
Yet the joke very much remains on Richie, and not once does he even come close to finally ‘doing it’.
Eddie is a different animal altogether. Violent, a drunkard, erratic yet somehow conveying an emotional intelligence and sense of the world that belies his outer characteristics. Certainly more social, implied as more lucky with the ladies and with at least *some* better chance of making it out of the self-prescribed hellhole his life entails, Eddie is still anchored to Richie and vice versa. The underlying theme is that despite their violence toward one another, their bare-faced (and bare-knuckled) hatred of life and the futility of… well, everything…they cling onto each other like rats flowing through a sewer.
Harsh lessons to consider as a child, perhaps…but there’s no better time to learn them. From a purely dramatic and comedic perspective, Bottom has left this viewer with some of the more memorable television moments of my lifetime: running the gas meter to zero through overuse, the cattle prod, “I’m a love albatross” and good lord, so much more.
Bottom would not be made today, certainly not on a BBC platform. A main character with the surname Hitler would ‘offend sensibilities’, Richie’s maniacal and ultimately useless lust wouldn’t be seen for the pathetic joke it really is and the OTT violence wouldn’t even crop, let alone be toned down.
…but like Richie and Eddie themselves, debating those points are as futile as their shared existence. For now, we should just appreciate the Hammersmith Hardmen for what they were, are and always will be: real fucking losers. Cheers boys, you taught me a lot about life in the process.