It’s Classic Clip Friday: The Young Ones – Crop Rotation In The 14th Century

When I was at school, me and my mates could quote entire episodes of The Young Ones verbatim.

In the days before we had VCRs (they had been invented – we just didn’t have one), we used to sit holding a tape recorder next to the TV speaker (none of your fancy NICAM stereo or surround sound in those days!) and record the soundtrack on audio cassette (I still have those tapes somewhere…)

It’s difficult now to remember (or imagine, depending on how old you are) quite how revolutionary The Young Ones was when it first aired in 1982. And it’s easy to forget quite how staid, safe and formulaic most TV comedy was back in the late 70s and early 80s, sitcoms in particular.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some great traditional sitcoms from those days – there were. Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers spring immediately to mind.

But for every bona fide classic, there were countless dull, derivative, repetitive comedies endlessly swapping wafer-thin plots about suburban middle-class couples in the south of England hosting dinner parties or middle-aged middle managers trying to correct contrived and tedious misunderstandings with their bosses – the writers oblivious to (or in denial about) the fact that the punk revolution had happened, society had moved on and the class barriers were breaking down.

But just as punk rock changed the face of music in the late 1970s, alternative comedy breathed fresh life into TV comedy.

Arguably, it was Not The Nine O’Clock News that paved the way for the new era, with its anarchic, politicised approach to sketch comedy.

But it was The Young Ones (and to a lesser degree The Comic Strip Presents…, which began the same year on Channel 4) that really rewrote the rules of TV comedy and moved full-blown, no-holds barred alternative comedy out of the clubs and into the mainstream.

In the space of just two series, a mere 12 episodes, the show ushered in a new era. Its stars became TV icons, it launched the career of co-writer Ben Elton and it continues to influence writers and comedians to this day.

Here (preceded by a live performance of Ace Of Spades by Motorhead) is my all-time favourite scene from the show, from the episode Bambi, in which Rick (Rik Mayall), Vyvyan (Adrian Edmondson), Neil (Nigel Planer) and Mike (Christopher Ryan) find out at the last minute that they have been invited to represent Scumbag College in University Challenge:


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