Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs - Nine things we learned from Adrian Edmondson's Desert Island Discs
5. Shakespeare saved him from being kicked out of school
"There wasn't a drama department,” explains Adrian, talking about his boarding school, “but there was a school play and I was in every school play.”
In sixth form he was cast to play Hamlet but in the middle of rehearsals he ran away from school.
“Well, I only ran away because I was going to be expelled for the crime of throwing up in the prefects’ wastepaper bin and the headmaster got me in.”
“I was wearing two pairs of pants as usual for the usual flogging, but he didn't want to flog me this time. He said he was going to suspend me and they were thinking of expelling me.”
“So I did the only sensible thing and ran away. Eventually I ran out of money and gave myself in and I was going to be expelled. But that was when they realised that we were halfway through Hamlet and I was Hamlet.”
“And Hamlet was going to be difficult without Hamlet.”
“So they let me back in on the promise that I joined the army when I left school. I didn’t! That didn’t happen,” laughs Adrian.
6. Samuel Beckett and Brentford Nylons played key roles in his student shows
Adrian met Rik Mayall at Manchester University, and immediately found they shared many common interests: “We both thought Laurel and Hardy were the best of comedy. The other thing we shared was our love of [the Samuel Beckett play] Waiting for Godot. We were the only people who thought it was a funny play.”
Adrian and Rik began performing together, and the university drama department gave them a stage:
“We had the Stephen Joseph Studio, a little German church in the middle of the campus [named after the English stage director who pioneered theatre in the round], and we were allowed to do whatever we liked in it. Every Monday night was studio night and the rest of the department turned up [so] you'd have a guaranteed 100 in the audience and you would do your stuff.”
“I remember we bought a pair of pink duvet covers from Brentford Nylons,” says Adrian of one his and Rik’s productions, “And we were going to string them up from the studio roof and pretend to be God's testicles and talk about the world. Very sort of Waiting for Godot, really.”
7. A cigarette carton played a vital role in his relationship with Jennifer Saunders
Following university Adrian and Rik started appearing at The Comedy Store in London, as part of a growing new comedy scene.
“We were with a group of friends and it all felt very dynamic. You know, Dawn [French] and Jennifer [Saunders] came in, it was Pete [Richardson] and it was Alexei [Sayle]. It was a big family unit,” says Adrian.
The group went on to found their own comedy venue, The Comic Strip, so called because it shared premises with a strip club.
Adrian went on to marry fellow comedian Jennifer Saunders - but it took them a while after they first met to get together.
“Although I think it was love at first sight, we were both in other relationships which failed at different times so there was a kind of overlapping of relationships until we were finally separate people at the same time.”
“Eventually I remember going out to my car and there was a cigarette carton under the windscreen wiper and on it, it said, ‘I love you, love Jennifer’.”
“And that was the first time I knew.”
8. He remembers Rik Mayall with laughter and tears
After years of performing together, Adrian and Rik went their separate ways in 2003 and it wasn’t an easy split: Adrian felt they had done their best work together and, as he puts it: “I thought we'd gone over the top of the mountain. It would become increasingly sadder, and not in a funny way.” But Rik wanted to carry on and continued to put the idea of teaming up again to Adrian, who recalls:
“I hit upon the idea: ‘All right, let's write a couple of episodes of a new series, hand it in, they'll [the TV commissioners] say ‘No’, and then it's not my fault anymore.”
But then the series was commissioned - but they couldn’t complete it. Rik died in 2014 at the age of 56.
“I think of the writing room all the time,” says Adrian when he remembers Rik. “We spent more time in the writing room than anywhere else.”
“His mum... his mum wrote me a lovely letter. I wrote to her after he died and she wrote back, saying all she could remember was us - she could see us out in the garden, a couple of deck chairs just laughing and laughing and laughing - and she could never tell what was quite so funny.”
“It was funny. It was good fun,” says a tearful Adrian of his memories of Rik.
9. His final disc reminds him of family harmony
Adrian selects Wide Open Spaces by The Chicks, formerly the Dixie Chicks, because it takes him back to long car trips with his whole family.
“We spent a lot of our life down in Devon, which is where we call home, and we’ve spent a lot of our lives - because a lot of work is also in London - going up and down the A303 with three kids in the back seat, my lovely daughters.”
“Wide Open Spaces is a fantastic song. It's about kids leaving home, and the three of them would be doing three-part harmonies, belting it out, driving down the A303. It's one of the wonders of my life.”