Dr Ahdaf Soueif, right, with Professor Rick Rylance and Associate Professor Ashley Tauchert JOHN FFOULKES
HE'S known for being a hilariously rebellious actor, writer and comedian, and Rik Mayall didn't disappoint hundreds of students and their parents when he became an honorary graduate of Exeter University.
The Young Ones star and Devon resident thrilled the audience with an energetic speech — even joking that his award was a “terrible mistake”.
Rik joins his friend, fellow Young Ones star Adrian Edmondson and his wife Jennifer Saunders, in becoming a doctor of letters.
Rik, 50, seemed moved by yesterday's ceremony, presided over by university's chancellor Floella Benjamin, the TV presenter and children's campaigner. Rik embraced her enthusiastically, saying he thought his honorary doctorate was “extraordinary”.
“It's incredible,” he said. “I have one 11-plus, O-levels and a doctorate.
“I've always done everything available to me, but I never thought something like this could happen to me. I'm not a clever person but I've got away with this for such a long time.”
Exeter University is far removed from Scumbag College — the fictional educational establishment attended by Rik and his Young Ones colleagues — with an annual income of £175m and a 42 per cent rise in places on courses being taken up this year.
Rik was nominated for the award by another Exeter honorary graduate, Paul Jackson, now a TV producer.
The pair met when Rik, who is also a novelist, was performing political poetry above a strip club in London.
Paul then received Rik's scripts for the Young Ones.
“Being on TV was big in those days, there were only three channels and you became famous overnight so I said 'yes',” said Rik.
“On my first day I met a beautiful woman in the make-up department and we are now married with three children so I want to thank Peter for my life.”
Paul paid tribute to Rik's “massive physical charm and charisma”.
“He has been bestowed with the gift of comedy,” he said. “When I got the script for the Young Ones it had only been 10 years or so since I had left Exeter University.
“The series was met with complete disbelief when the BBC first saw it, but thanks to the beginning of Channel 4 they decided to air it.
“Rik ignited this period of British comedy, making it the new rock and roll and he is the father of the alternative movement.”
Also receiving honorary degrees yesterday were novelist Ahdaf Soueif and Sir Martin Harris, director of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.