"The camera pans across, and you realise there are 60,000 people throwing bottles of piss at us. It was terrifying": Nigel Planer looks back at hapless metal heroes Bad News

Nigel Planer, Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Peter Richardson in The Comic Strip Presents... episode 'Bad News Tour', circa 1983
Bad News: L-R Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall circa 1983 (Image credit: TV Times via Getty Images)

As stars of The Young Ones and The Comic Strip Presents… Nigel Planer, Adrian Edmondson and the late Rik Mayall personified the game-changing early-80s alternative comedy movement. In 1983, a year before This Is Spinal Tap, the trio (along with Peter Richardson) won over the UK’s headbangers as Bad News, a hopeless, hapless NWOBHM-style band first showcased on The Comic Strip Presents, returning in the flesh to actually play alongside Ozzy and Def Leppard at the 1986 Monsters of Rock festival. 

Two albums (produced by Queen’s Brian May) followed, reissued late last year as Every Mistake Imaginable – The Complete Frilly Pink Years 1987-1988. Planer’s fan-favourite character, long-suffering rhythm guitarist Den Dennis, then made an unexpected return under the moniker Almost Bad News, denting the iTunes chart with Axogram, a new recording of a metal epic originally penned in the 80s.

“I never imagined Bad News would have any kind of longevity,” Planer tells Classic Rock


You wrote Axogram back in 1986. What prompted you to finally release it in 2023? 

I've been using the song to get laughs at my poetry gigs for years. I've got a new poetry book, Making Other Plans, so I went back on tour, with Henry Normal [poet and former writing partner of Steve Coogan]. I talk about the difference between song lyrics and poetry, and I use Axogram as an example, just saying the lyrics are very deadpan. So, it was always in the forefront of my mind. 

Then I met Ben Hill, a Bad News superfan, [who] runs a Facebook page for me. He’s got a band called Posse Unit, and does very good musical spoofs, so I laid down the challenge to him to record Axogram. They laid down a track, and may even have used some bootlegged material from Spider and Vim. 

Did you ask any of the surviving original Bad News band members to get involved?

I did invite Adrian to join in, but I never got a reply, which isn't surprising. He's moved on. When I sang it, I went to a studio which is a concrete shed in a field, in the middle of nowhere. It didn’t even have a toilet – real Bad News stuff. I'm quite pleased with the result. I think it sounds authentic. It was [released] around the time The Beatles were bringing out Now And Then – someone coined the joke, “Now And Den.” 

Why was the song left off the original Bad News album?

Unlike the rest of the songs, I wrote Axogram on my own, in true George Harrison style. It's much more complicated to play than most of the Bad News songs, a bit prog, as if we were aspiring to a Queen-type sound. We practised it, but it was a bit beyond our range as a band, which made them sound even more crap. We played it to Brian May, the producer. He shook his head, sadly, and said, “I don't think so, lads.”

In December, Axogram landed on the ITunes chart at number 14, one place above Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas. Are you surprised that it had such an impact forty years after the band’s first Comic Strip appearance? 

I never imagined it would have any kind of longevity. The original thing was, “We're going to do six half-hours of comedy television. One is going to be about a heavy metal band, doing a gig. We'd better practise and write some songs.” Once that film came out, we all said, “If we're going to make the second film, why don’t we actually do the gig?” 

Donington our first gig – foolhardy. In the film, you see us coming up the stairs [to the stage], you can see how shrivelled our testicles are. Then the camera pans across, and you realise there are 60,000 people throwing bottles of piss at us. It was terrifying.

On its release, This Is Spinal Tap initially divided opinion among the rock elite; some loved it, others took offence. You went further with Bad News, actually interacting in character with real-life rock stars at Donington, and supporting Iron Maiden at Hammersmith Odeon later that year.  How did they react? 

[They] thought it was great fun. We used to do a routine onstage where Adrian would turn his [guitar] volume down and do a big posing solo, which would be amazing. And then out from behind the stacks would walk Jeff Beck. Adrian would have an argument with him saying, “I gave you £10 to stay behind the stacks so I could pretend it was me.” Then we'd all play together. They were all queuing up to do that routine. We did it with Jimmy Page, we did it with Brian May. 

Several of Bad News’ 80s peers, including Ratt, LA Guns and Great White, have splintered into spinoff groups, with former members leading rival versions under variations on the original band name. Axogram was released under the moniker Almost Bad News (featuring Den Dennis). Has the same fate befallen Bad News? And is Almost Bad News Den’s shot at a comeback? 

Yeah. He’s saved up money painting and decorating, it's his dream. He's managed to record it, and then he's probably nicked the tape, while the [engineer] was having a piss. He's got a mate to do the graphics, and some exploitative wide boy put it out there. They’ve all charged him, and Den’s definitely not getting any money from this. He'd say, “I'll have to take it on tour myself. I'll bloody play it.” He’s got a band that are in their late 20s, probably his kids. He’s probably played a gig in Twickenham, still keeping the flag flying.

Colin Grigson (bass) has sadly passed away, but what form would Vim Fuego (vocals/guitar) and Spider Webb’s (drums) rival spinoff bands take?

Vim Fuego’s Bad News Experience - a shit band, because they went all prog. Spider’s Bad News On The Webb, an improvised and completely incomprehensible outfit with three overlayed drum-tracks all played by Spider. And, of course, the evangelical spiritualist group who claim to receive music from Colin, The Grigson Good News Choir.

Over the years, Den has emerged as the most quotable character among Bad News fans, with lines like “It says, ‘Sausages.’” Why do you think that is?

I'm trying to work this out myself, because I'm writing a memoir. It’s usually a combination between a performer and a writer. Adrian wrote a brilliantly funny script, and we talked about the character beforehand. Den’s just straightforward, he's the workhorse. He’s not going to be pretentious like Vim and Colin. 

A similar thing happened on The Young Ones. Although Rik was obviously the driving force, there's a level at which people take Neil and Den into their hearts. I don't know why, but now that I'm 70 years old, I find that very nice, and reassuring. 

Axogram by Almost Bad News (featuring Den Dennis) is available on digital download platforms. Bad News: Every Mistake Imaginable – The Complete Frilly Pink Years 1987-1988 is available from Cherry Red Records. Making Other Plans by Nigel Planer is available via Flapjack Press.