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Motorhead and the song that helped changed the face of British television

Lemmy onstage
(Image credit: Pete Still / Getty Images)

Like many great British TV shows - think Fawlty Towers, or the original version of The OfficeThe Young Ones only ran for 12 episodes and two seasons, but its longterm cultural impact far outweighed its brevity. 

Written by Rik Mayall, Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, the anarchic sitcom ran in 1982 and 1984 on BBC2 – again, like Fawlty Towers and The Office – the broadcaster's home for comedies it doesn't feel confident enough in to present to a mainstream audience. 

It wasn't a surprising choice: The Young Ones was surreal, and noisy, and chaotic, and starred a cast of characters who were anything but sympathetic. Four annoying students, a filthy house, and a pet hamster named after the Metropolitan Police's controversial Special Patrol Group.   

Where The Young Ones differed from the other comedies was in its use of music. Of the dozen episodes, 11 featured musical guests. They'd show up in the middle of an episode and mime – and they weren't relevant to the plot – but by adding music the producers could claim a bigger budget from the BBC. 

Blues band Nine Below Zero showed up in episode one, playing Eleven Plus Eleven in the living room. Ska icons Madness performed twice. The Damned raced through Nasty as a vampire, played by comedian Alexis Sayle, asked for directions to the toilet. But no band matched the show's anarchic atmosphere quite like Motorhead

It's the opening episode of series two, titled Bambi. The members of the household realise that no one has done the laundry in four years, and a fetid sock comes to life and tries to escape. One of the housemates, Neil the hippie, remembers that the four students – including Rik the “people’s poet”, Mike the cool guy and Vyvyan the punk – have been chosen to appear on the TV quiz show University Challenge, representing Scumbag Collage against the aristocrats of Footlights College.

The four run off to catch a train, and Lemmy and co (the short-lived line-up featuring drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor alongside new guitarists Phil Campbell and Wurzel) suddenly appear in the house, blasting through Ace Of Spades in a way that's way cooler, possibly louder and definitely more uncompromising than any mimed performance before or since. 

The show was a success, and the performance passed into legend. 36 years later, when Slipknot mainman Corey Taylor – who would have been a nine-year-old in Des Moines when The Young Ones was first broadcast – covered Ace Of Spades for the WWE (opens in new tab), he opened up by mimicking Neil's lines.

As for Lemmy, his band's performance was the start of a long relationship with The Young Ones stars. During the filming of The Comic Strip Presents... More Bad News in 1986 – which starred The Young Ones' Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall and Nigel Planar as hapless hard rockers Bad News – Lemmy made a cameo performance during a sequence shot at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington.

The following year Motorhead wrote and recorded the title theme for another Comic Strip feature, Eat The Rich, and Lemmy had a small part in the show. In 1990 he appeared as Rico in The Comic Strip's Falklands War satire South Atlantic Raiders. And in 2010, Ade Edmondson released a surprisingly sombre version of Ace of Spades (opens in new tab) with his folk band The Bad Shepherds. Lemmy must have built a real rapport with the comedians, right? 

"No, they were really boring." Lemmy told the Salt Lake City Weekly in 2002 (opens in new tab). "Believe me. They were really fucking boring. Left-wing college bores." 

Nevertheless, the Bambi episode of The Young Ones, and Motorhead's performance within it, heralded a new dawn for heavy music, and a new age of punk-inspired alternative comedy. Neither would be the same again.

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 36 years in music industry, online for 23. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.  

With contributions from