Malcolm Hardee has oft been said to be the father of British alternative comedy, but he was little known by the public except as one of the nude members of the Greatest Show on Legs, who performed their naked balloon dance on television’s O.T.T. in 1982.
Even quite a time after that TV appearance, Malcolm (who, in effect, managed the comedy troupe) used to get phoned up by promoters and foreign TV companies to perform the dance. Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs, told me last night that they “used to get a fair amount of money to go off and perform it on these very bad Euro television shows. When they phoned up Malcolm to negotiate a fee, he would ask them: How much per bollock?
“In each town we went to,” Martin told me, “Malcolm would seek out the red light district.”
In his autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm wrote:
The most bizarre live sex show I ever saw was in Hamburg. The Greatest Show on Legs were performing at the same place The Beatles used to play: it had been converted into a TV studio.
One night, we decided to go on a sex tour and we saw the sign:
PEEP SHOW – 2 MARKS
It was semi-circular outside and there was a series of doors. So Steve Bowditch, myself and Martin Soan all put our 2DM in the slots and went in. Inside, we found ourselves standing next to each other. It had looked like you went in and there would be little individual cubicles. That’s the whole point of a Peep Show. But not this place. We were just standing there in the open together, watching this woman on a bed that moved round in a circle and she could see us standing there right next to the bed.
She somehow took a shine to Steve but he always says the wrong thing. As she was lying there with her legs open on the rotating bed, she struck up a conversation with him. She said:
“You nice English boy”.
She said she’d see him afterwards if he went to the man at the door and gave him money. She was Brazilian. She said she was from America and Steve said:
She didn’t laugh.
Martin Soan remembers the incident differently:
It was in Barcelona, probably in the late-1980s.
Malcolm didn’t like anything too seedy, but the El Raval, along Las Ramblas used to be fantastic for the sex industry and had a theatrical bent, a bit of class. One corner had a funfair of sex and we went into this peep show.
In the centre was this girl on a velveteen bed doing all the sexy stuff.
As soon as we went in, the one other man who was in there left immediately and, after he’d left, the girl asked us three: “Are you from London?”
“Yeah,” we said.
“Oh, what part of London?”
And, in the end, she was just sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to us about Greenwich, Deptford and all the rest, when one door opens, a bloke comes in and she says, “Sorry, fellahs, I’ve gotta get back to work again,” and spread her legs and carried on doing what she’d been doing before.
Anyway, Malcolm found this other club called Le Kasbah near Las Ramblas. It cost a bit of money because it was a bit more up-market with raked seating for about 60 people. Malcolm was very excited and told me: “It’s only a couple of years ago they got rid of the stables out the back! They used to have donkeys in the show! Donkeys in the show!”
The audience was strange. There were couples. It was respectable in some bizarre way. There was a stage and, on it, a circular bed and four televsion sets above the stage which the audience could see. You were sitting there and the live action was 3 metres away. So why on earth would you want to look at a small television up in the corner? I think it was just for ‘dressing’ – to make the place look posh.
The show was quite good. They had acts. There was a midget involved and they put a theatrical bent on it. There was a vampire act. He opened up his cloak, but he didn’t have an erection, which was a bit of a surprise. There was an interval. We went up to the bar.
Malcolm mumbled: “ Oy Oy, Oy Oy, good show, good show.”
We sit down again for the second half and these two Brazilian dancers come on. They are fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous. Dancing away. Fantastic! Really, really sexy. Really, really gorgeous.
One of them holds her hand out to me and I go very politely, in a very English way, “Oh, no thanks, no thanks.” So she goes to Steve Bowditch. He says, “No no no thanks.” Then she goes to Malcolm, who says, “Oh… alright then.”
He jumps up. They put him on this bed and it starts revolving. One of them takes his trousers down and starts putting a condom on his very limp penis and the other one, for some reason, takes off his glasses and puts them down by the bed, then starts gyrating over the top of him. The other one is trying unsuccessfully to give him some sort of oral sex which, of course, she’s never going to accomplish on stage.
But he fumbles around, picks up his glasses – the bed was revolving, remember – and all he is interested in is trying to see where the television screens are. He was more interested in seeing himself on TV with two erotic dancers than he was in actually having sex with two erotic dancers. She keeps taking his glasses off and he keeps fumbling around for them – his arm reaching off the bed – the bed is revolving – trying to see the TV screens above him.
I start laughing and laughing and laughing and eventually I see my knees above me because I am laughing so much – I am on the floor. I am roaring with laughter and this very polite bouncer comes up to me and says: “Excuse me, sir, you are going to have to retire out to the foyer because you’re disturbing the show.”
I get to the foyer, still laughing, and there’s this other bloke in there in exactly the same state as me, pissing himself laughing. It turned out he was the barman. He had been working there for five years and never seen anything like it.
Afterwards, outside in the street – I always regret saying this as soon as I’ve said it but – I got down on my knees in front of Malcolm… and said: “Malcolm, you are the fucking funniest man in the fucking universe!”