Comics on TV: The Young Ones

In season one, episode six of the classic British sitcom The Young Ones, medical student Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson) is seen reading “Warrior” — a DC Thomson-style comic that bears a strong resemblance to Warlord

It’s not a real comic, though… Let’s zoom in and take a closer look:

Yep, that’s definitely a fake, but it’s rather well executed (except, of course, that it doesn’t seem to feature a price, issue-number or cover-date). My guess is that the cover has been glued to an existing comic: sadly, there are no clear shots of the comic’s interior, certainly nothing clear enough for me to identify what comic it might be, but judging by the pages’ height and width ratio, I’m fairly sure it’s a DC Thomson title.

In conversation with his housemate Rick, Vyvyan refers to the strip he’s reading as “S.S. Death-Camp Criminal Battalion go to Monte Casino for the Massacre.” Not a title that readily trips off the tongue, but also not that far removed in tone from some of the war comics of the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the conversation disintegrates from there — if you’ve ever seen The Young Ones, you’ll be able to guess why — with the result that Vyvyan tears the comic in two, after which we get one more close-up of the top half…

Because of the old video technology on which the show was recorded, this is about as clear as the cover gets.

Still, Dan Dare, the Mekon, Batman and the Joker all get a mention in Rick and Vyvyan’s conversation, the first two in particular giving young Rusty a bit of a “Yes!” moment because back then such comic characters were hardly part of the common vocabulary. (Dare and the Mekon were at the time appearing in the revived Eagle, though I’m pretty sure I’d stopped buying it by that stage.)

The episode — subtitled “Flood” — was first broadcast on 14 December 1982, and as many fans of British comics are sure to know, there actually was a comic called Warrior, a rather important and influential one, that was launched in April of that year, created by editor and noted comics historian Dez Skinn. Issue #8 of Warrior was published around the time the episode aired…

(Addendum: Dez Skinn had earlier used the title Warrior for a short-lived reprint publication. I considered mentioning that here but it didn’t seem necessary. My mistake: I forgot the #1 rule of posting stuff on comic blogs, which is that many readers love to show off their knowledge of comics trivia as much as I do, and won’t be shy about reminding me!)

Digging deeper, there was also Warrior Comics published in the USA by H. C. Blackerby back in 1945, but that one only lasted for a single issue.

As a non-commercial institution, the BBC usually went to great lengths to avoid featuring commercial products outside of a related news item: even on kids’ programs like Blue Peter where they showed how to chop up a cereal box in order to make a fort for your “soldier doll” they would have the cereal’s name covered up. So I guess it makes sense that they decided to mock-up a comic instead of using a real one, especially since the comic is brutally mutilated by Vyvyan.

But with that in mind, why didn’t they fake the other covers we see in the show? Plus it strikes me as strange that they used a real ad on the back cover of their fake Warrior comic:

For a series that contains a lot of over-the-top cartoon violence, one might expect it would be reasonable to expect more connections with comics, but that’s really all we get from The Young Ones‘ twelve episodes.

Going beyond the series, four of The Young Ones‘ five main cast members (Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer and Alexei Sayle) were also members of The Comic Strip comedy team and featured in (or worked on) the Comic Strip Presents movies and TV series.

Unfortunately for our needs, aside from the title The Comic Strip had nothing to do with comic books, and is instead a play on “comic” as a synonym for “comedic” or “comedian” — which is of course where comic books got the word from in the first place. (One of the other mainstays of The Comic Strip, Peter Richardson, was initially going to play Mike the Cool Person on The Young Ones but bowed out due to conflicts with the series’ producer. Mike was ultimately played by Christopher Ryan, a great actor who was very underused in the series!)

In 1987, Alexei Sayle (who played various members of the Bolovski family in the series) wrote the graphic novel Geoffrey the Tube Train and the Fat Comedian, illustrated by Oscar Zarate:

But I digress. Apart from the fake Warrior comic, no other comics appear in The Young Ones, as far as I can tell, but there is other reading material. A couple of the newspapers featured have made-up headlines, but all the magazines are real. In the very first episode, “Demolition,” Mike is reading the TV Times (issue dated 9-15 Jan 1982). In “Nasty” (series two, episode four) Rick has an issue of Cosmopolitan, but sadly I’ve been unable to track down the actual issue. I didn’t try very hard, to be honest.

In the same episode, Mike’s reading a copy of the classic horror-movie magazine Fangoria

Fangoria #20, July 1982

OK, so that’s not a comic either, but that issue does feature the George Romero / Stephen King movie Creepshow which was heavily inspired by the old E.C. horror comics, plus there’s an ad for Fangoria‘s sibling magazine Comics Scene (no relation to the current British comics mag Comic Scene).

And in the last ever episode of The Young Ones, “Summer Holiday” (series two, episode six), Mike is seen reading the Club 18-30 brochure, summer 1984 issue. Not a comic, you argue? Ah, but it features both words and pictures, and couldn’t really work without either, so arguably it is a comic!*

The series’ title comes from the song made famous by Cliff Richard (who’s occasionally referenced throughout the series) and The Shadows: it was the title track for the 1961 movie of the same name, also starring Cliff Richard, and — like many hit songs of the era — “The Young Ones” was given a comic-strip adaptation in the romance comic Valentine

Valentine, 2 June 1962

(Sadly, there doesn’t appear to have been a comic-book adaptation of the movie itself, but as a consolation it was directed by Sidney J. Furie, who later went on to direct the famous-for-the-wrong-reasons comic-book tie-in movie Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.)

The Young Ones was also the title of an issue of Judy Picture Story Library for Girls

Judy PSLfG #125, 1973

… and in April 2003, Top Cow Comics released the one-shot title Blood Legacy: The Young Ones

… but now we’re heading into the land of very tenuous links, so let’s wrap up… with something even tenuouser than that.

In The Young Ones‘ episode “Sick” (series two, episode five, first broadcast on 12 June 1984) the awesome Ska band Madness perform their classic song “Our House.” (It’s the band’s second appearance on the show — no other musical act was given that honour.) A couple of minutes later, Vyvyan screams the line “My brain’s exploding!” In early 1985, about seven months after the episode was broadcast, two of Madness’s members (Suggs and Chas Smash, temporarily rebranded as The Fink Brothers) released the Judge Dredd tie-in single “Mutants in Mega-City One,” in which one of the lines is “My brain’s exploding!” (The line is much harder to hear on the extended version of the song that appears on the 12″ single than it is on the 7″ version, but it is there, I assure you!)


* And even more arguably: no, it isn’t a comic.


Addendum!

Well, that’s just typical! I post the post and then someone points out that I completely (and bafflingly) missed a very obvious comic-book connection!

In the final episode, “Summer Holiday,” Neil becomes very angry with the other housemates and imagines himself turning into The Incredible Hulk and attacking the others…

Oddly, the Hulk version of Neil is quite a bit shorter than the human version.

Thanks to Malcolm Kirk for reminding me of this!

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