Standard Issue writers are revisiting a film/book/TV series to see if it’s stood the test of time. For Julia Raeside, Drop Dead Fred is as infectious as ever.
What and why: From the opening titles featuring violent children’s drawings to little Lizzie Cronin’s “what a pile of shit” when her mum reads her a fairy story, I knew this tale of a grown woman reconnecting with her imaginary childhood friend was going to be just as much fun as the first time. And the first time for me was in 1991.
I was 16, a total comedy geek and already hopelessly hormonal about Rik Mayall. Nothing has changed.
In my memory it was a knock-about farce full of Mayall’s physical clowning. Watching it now it’s a blackly comic depiction of a young woman’s descent into depression but with added bogie-wiping, mud pies and an extremely poignant ending.
I got so much more out of it as an adult I can’t even begin to tell you.
When we meet Lizzie she has been ditched by a cheating husband, has her car stolen and gets the sack all in one morning. The brilliant Phoebe Cates plays her as the nicest, meekest girl, regularly shat upon by all and sundry thanks to years of oppression by an overbearing mother. And then, on this terrible day, she starts to remember Drop Dead Fred, an orange-haired hellraiser who represented all the selfish, mischievous, empowered bits of her personality and who only she could see.
It was a 12 certificate when it came out, but this is a film for people who want to relive their childhoods rather than those who are still in them. Fred calls Lizzie’s mum a bitch, looks up women’s skirts and says shit! He can do literally anything and it’s in the film’s childhood flashbacks that Mayall really notches things up. His sheer energy when acting opposite the young Lizzie is totally infectious as he’s clearly loving every second.
It’s the same relish he brought to George’s Marvellous Medicine when he read it on Jackanory – another favourite – and to every part he played. Watching the end, when Lizzie finally says goodbye with a reluctant, “Drop dead, Fred,” I cried like a broken hydrant. His stupidly early death this year being a major factor, obviously. The lack of all that life, that energy, is really hard to accept when I can switch on the TV any day of the week and find him there, roaring, gurning and bulging with vigour.
I want Rik Mayall to be my imaginary friend, please. But, most of all, I wish he’d come back.
Rik Mayall reads George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory
Clip from Drop Dead Fred – Fred is being unspeakable to Lizzie’s mum but she can’t see him
Youtube tribute to Rik Mayall
Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.