“It’s the end of the Sixties, and while the rest of the world is flailing around in an orgy of free love, self-expression and hallucinogenic drugs, I’m trapped in a small prison, learning how to repress my emotions. Turns out: I’m bloody good at it!” In this instalment of BBC Radio 3’s The Essay (from Monday 5 July, 10.45pm), the comedian Adrian Edmondson delivers a series of short sketches of his childhood and young adulthood, written with all the self-deprecation and dramatic irony that 40-odd years of hindsight brings, and performed with characteristic charm. He opens by describing himself leaning back smugly in his chair having completed his 11-plus exam, watching his fellow pupils sweat, confident in his own critical faculties (which must surely be far greater than that of his “thicko” cousin Kevin), before he realises he’s missed two pages – a third of the exam – that were stuck together. He fails.
Throughout the week, Edmondson recounts his time at a boys’ boarding school in the early Seventies (where he was teased for having a “girl’s name” and experienced his first spluttering attempts at smoking) as well as the early days of his career, sweating through his shirts on stage with The Comic Strip in early-Eighties Soho, where he and Rik Mayall were lauded as being at the “cutting edge” of “alternative” comedy. (“We’re not sure how revolutionary we really are, but we’re very happy to go along with it.”)
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In one funny yet oddly moving anecdote, Edmondson describes the “disco club” at school. At a time when “puberty is slowly wrapping around us like ivy colonising a tree”, Edmondson and his fellow male students spend their evenings gyrating at each other like Pan’s People on Top of the Pops. He vividly recalls that his first dance – to the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” – was with a boy named Martin.
“It’s as if we’re practising for some time in the future when we might do something similar to what’s written in that book in the library.” It wasn’t about sexual orientation, Edmondson adds, it was about “the whole idea of sex, of being with someone else… It was a moment of real change… and it marked the end of my childhood.”
The Essay: Adrian Edmondson – Signs of Life
BBC Radio 3