Malcolm Hardee, godfather of British alternative comedy – remembered

It was seven years ago today that ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. His body was found and recovered on 2nd February 2005.

When it happened, I put a page online where people could leave memories of him.

Comedian Charlie Chuck wrote:

I met Malcolm and played Up The Creek in 1990. A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. I said to Malcolm: “Whats up with him?” He said: “It’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamar, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some.

Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him. I didn’t have a clue. He put me on a TV show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at The Creek on 15th November. Meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. I didn’t listen and played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby, instead.

During the Edinburgh Festival, at half one in the morning, two men were locked out of a car. The only place open was a bread shop. They went in and borrowed some baking implements to break into the car. It was so funny, me and Malcolm howled. 

The last time I worked with Malcolm, from me picking him up, he talked about religion and Jesus Christ. I often wandered why. He had never mentioned it before.

Joke No 1, Malcolm told me, he had a terrible day, he woke up at 9am and a prawn cocktail slapped him in the face, that was just for starters.

His memory will live on.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy wrote:

Malcolm, you helped and encouraged me when I started. At the time, I think I took it for granted. I’m not sure I ever thanked you. We lost touch over the years, partly because I tried to avoid getting involved in things which would involve you owing me money. I’m sad now that I hadn’t seen you for so long. You once introduced me at the Tunnel club as your little brother and people believed you. I think you only meant it as a joke but, in retrospect, I’ll take it as a compliment if you don’t mind.

Alan Davies wrote:

My memories of Malcolm….

The Tunnel club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: “You’re not going to wear that shirt are you?”. He introduced me. “Stone him!” they shouted. “Crucify him!” Before I could do my first line someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said Directors. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off. At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground. Malcolm said: “I’ll book you”, which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way”, he said,”It’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread even though it’s a Courage pub”.

The following month, I did a full spot and, soon after, the pub was raided and it was over. Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot, but The Tunnel was special. The hardest gig. If you went well, they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in. “Mmmm”…. louder and louder…. Malcolm would hurry from the back bar…. “mmmm…MALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler – Rex Boyd – who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back. “Oh no!” said Malcolm. “I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff”. The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation.

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs,including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me. There were stories all the way there and all the way back. He was the one-off’s one-off.

Comedian Jeff Green wrote:

I remember many times backstage at Glastonbury – bringing me on to nothing! And playing trivia machines at Up The Creek. I remember you pretending to faint in the Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh – to see how many people would come to your aid. I remember spending an afternoon rowing boats on a trip to a gig in Bungay And all those times I don’t remember ever hugging you and telling you what a great bloke you are. And I regret that.

Journalist Andrew Billen wrote:

I met Malcolm a few times and interviewed him once for the Observer, but did not know him. I just think he was the funniest stand-up, possibly the funniest man, I have ever seen.

PR man Mark Borkowski wrote:

I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s. He had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. One of my last conversations with him was when David Blaine was doing his stunt in London, sitting in a glass box dangling from a crane. Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help him organise the media and a crane because he’d got one of his mates in Deptford to knock up a glass box and he was going to put his up right next to Blaine and sit in it for the same amount of time… stark naked. When I told him he’d never get away with it, he decided to settle for standing underneath Blaine throwing chips at him. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

Comedian Simon Munnery wrote:

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel club. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. Says one: “It’s been a good night.” Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out, it’s going to be a great night.”

Backstage at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh one night, a bunch of comics were sitting round and Malcolm was seemingly out for the count, slumped in a chair, so we began discussing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which had just come out. Someone said: “Do you think any of it was exaggerated at all?” and we laughed because, knowing Malcolm, that wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Then Malcolm sits bolt upright and mumbles: “Uh uh – It worked for George Orwell”, then collapsed back into a stupor and the assembled comics spent the next twenty minutes filling in the gaps… “Road to Wigan Pier – he only got as far as Watford”…. ?

Simon Day of The Fast Show wrote:

I was supporting Vic Reeves in Newcastle. We were staying at the Copthorne Hotel. Malcolm arrived having missed the show. Earlier in the day, he had won eight grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. He was half-cut and mistakenly assumed I had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier. He decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl, who didn’t exist, wearing just a dressing gown.

He climbed out of the window, the icy waters of the Tyne swirling 100 foot below. He struggled along for ages finally reaching my room; no doubt he shouted “Oy! Oy!” and pressed his balls to the glass. It was the wrong room. I was fast asleep on the floor above. On returning to his junior suite, he was hurled to the ground by two Special Branch officers. (There was a Tory Conference on.) They wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge, naked except for a dressing gown.

They searched his room and found £5,760 in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards. He was taken to a portakabin nearby where he gave his address in Fingal Street. All sorts of alarms went off. It was the former home of a leading member of the IRA. After intensive questioning, they decided that he was not a threat to national security only social security and off he tottered. I miss him.

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all, he was the king of comedy.

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