RETIRED actress Marsha Fitzalan says she wouldn’t have been so successful if it hadn’t been for her friend Rik Mayall, who died this week, writes Helen Patchett.
The pair starred together in The New Statesman, a political satire which was broadcast from 1987 to 1992.
She played Sarah B’Stard, the wife of Mayall’s devious and dishonest Conservative MP Alan B’Stard.
Lady Fitzalan, 61, who grew up in Hambleden and now lives in Fawley, said she was stunned by the news of 56-year-old Mayall’s death after he collapsed at his London home on Monday. It is thought he had suffered a seizure.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “What a waste — terrible.
“Rik was an absolute genius. I had wonderful years working with him and he taught me everything I know about comedy.”
The pair would fly together from Heathrow to Leeds to film The New Statesman, which was made by Yorkshire TV.
Lady Fitzalan recalled: “We discovered that flying was not much more expensive than our train allowance, and so much quicker, so we used to meet at the airport and fly up together. We had wonderful chats on the plane. We had four series of the show, which were such fun, and then we did a stage tour, which was very different but hysterical as well. Rik was so fun to be around.
“The TV series was filmed in front of a live audience. We would do the rehearsal and the audience would come in and then we would do the live recording in the evening but we would suddenly be given new things to say.
“The writers would say, ‘we can’t say that or we’ll get sued so we are going to change it’. I would freak out but Rik, you could give him a script and he would know it instantly. It was amazing how quick his brain was.”
Mayall, a father-of-three, survived a quad bike accident in 1998, which left him with a fractured skull and epilepsy.
Lady Fitzalan said: “We were great friends right up until he had the accident and then I still kept in touch and we would have lunches.
“After the live shows I suppose I had rather lost touch with him, which I really regret now.”
Lady Fitzalan has three grown-up children from her marriage to actor Patrick Ryecart and now lives with her second husband Nick George.
Her first acting role was in Upstairs, Downstairs in 1975 and she appeared on television and in films including Being Julia, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband.
But she will be forever grateful to Mayall for The New Statesman, which boosted her career.
She said: “His loyalty to me was just stunning. He said he wouldn’t do another series unless Michael Troughton (who played B’Stard’s twittish sidekick Piers Fletcher-Dervish) and I were in it so that really helped me a lot.
“The show was wonderful. I was having my three children at that time so it was amazing knowing that I had these series to come back to each year.
“It was entirely because of Rik that I became known and got work doing voice overs and things like that.”
Mayall was also known for playing Lord Flasheart in Blackadder, as one of The Young Ones and as Richie in Bottom. He also starred in films such as Drop Dead Fred and Guest House Paradiso.
In the Eighties he was part of the Comic Strip, along with his long-time collaborator and friend Adrian Edmondson, and comedians Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
Lady Fitzalan said: “He has left a legacy of comedy and fun. You never stopped laughing with Rik but also he was such a loyal, sweet, kind man.”