In yesterday’s blog, I quoted comedy scriptwriter Mark Kelly’s story about almost being a member of the Nashville Teens rock group. But he also told me a story about Malcolm Hardee, oft called the godfather of British alternative comedy. This is what Mark told me:
It was the late 1990s and we had performed at the Glastonbury Festival. It was one of the years it was particularly rainy and muddy and we were all in a real state.
I was due to come back to London on the Monday morning with Malcolm and Martin Soan in Malcolm’s taxi – at that time, he owned a second-hand taxi instead of a car.
Martin had driven all the way down there and it was Malcolm’s turn to drive back. I can’t drive. When we got up, Malcolm was still drunk from the night before and he was not able to drive.
I had, for a variety of reasons too complicated to go into, had very little sleep the previous night.
Martin Soan was not best pleased to discover he had to drive all the way back to London, but we set off with Martin driving and me and Malcolm in the back of the taxi. Martin was enclosed in the driver’s section of the cab and could not hear what we said, so Malcolm told me: “I’m not pissed at all. I just didn’t fancy driving.”
He was, indeed, completely sober. He and I did the cryptic crossword in The Times and I am fairly good at those sorts of things, but Malcolm was better. We had a very long chat all the way back and it went absolutely fine.
When we got back to London, Martin – having twigged there was actually nothing wrong with Malcolm – not unreasonably decided that the first point of call was his own place.
“I’m getting out first and going to bed,” Martin said.
So he gets out and Malcolm gets in the driver’s cab. I am still in the back. Malcolm drives me to no more than two minutes away from my flat, then leans back through the sliding window and asks: “Do you fancy going for a curry?”
I say: “No. I got no sleep last night, I’m really knackered. I’m not hungry. I just want to go to bed.”
Naturally, Malcolm’s response to this was: “Oy Oy. Off we go for the curry, then.”
He swerves off and we head towards London Bridge. He has a favourite curry house in the East End.
So, having got to almost within sight of my flat in South East London, where I desperately want to go to bed, I now find myself crossing the River to go for a curry with Malcolm.
We get there and the street is fairly full with cars, but there are a few small spaces.
Malcolm asks me: “Do you think I can get into this space?”
“No,” I say. “It looks a bit small.”
So, obviously, he decides to have a go.
He reverses straight into this very new, very flash-looking car, doing a fair bit of damage – not a huge amount, but it’s very noticeable.
Then these Asian guys come running out of the restaurant which we were about to go to. It turns out the car belongs to the manager of the restaurant. It is his pride and joy. He is not there at the moment, but his workers are and they are very loud and animated about it.
I say to Malcolm: “Just give them your details and we’ll abandon the idea of a curry and go home.”
I am really tired. I have somehow forgotten what Malcolm is like. Malcolm is indicating to the increasingly loud Asian men that producing his papers is not possible.
He says to me: “The best thing to do is to go in for a curry and I’ll think of something.”
I suggest to him that going in for a curry is probably not a good idea because these restaurant guys look very angry.
“It’ll be alright,” Malcolm mumbles. “It’ll be alright, be alright…”
“No,” I tell Malcolm. “No. They’ll probably piss in the food or something. This is not good.”
“I’ll think of something while we’re in there,” he insists.
So we go in and I think these restaurant guys are a bit taken aback that we’ve actually come in and expect to be served.
Malcolm is still resolutely refusing to produce any papers.
He tells them he’ll sort it out when the manager arrives.
“The food here’s great,” Malcolm mumbles to me. “Great. The food here’s great.”
We order. The curries arrive. I take only a small mouthful, because I have a premonition.
And it is, indeed, like trying to swallow the sun.
This curry is internally powered by nuclear energy. It’s extraordinary. They have quite clearly deliberately made it as hot as possible. I have only taken a small mouthful. Not even a mouthful. A small bit. And I can’t stop hiccupping for five minutes.
Malcolm pretends there is nothing wrong with it. I am sitting opposite Malcolm and his face is melting with the sweat. He is mumbling: “Mmm. I told you it was good, Mark, Good, innit? Good. Nice.”
I am picking out odd bits of potato, scraping the sauce off, trying to make some sort of effort, hiccupping and drinking huge amounts of water. Basically, I have given up.
Malcolm gets halfway through, then looks at me and mumbles: “Mmm! Can’t eat this!”
“So what are we gonna do?” I ask.
“I’ll sort it out,” he mumbles. “I’ll sort it out.”
“Well,” I say, “I’m going to go to the toilet now. I’ve drunk loads of water.”
So I go to the toilet, come out and Malcolm has gone. His coat has gone. He has left.
I think: “Oh Fuck! He’s done a runner!”
These unsmiling restaurant guys are standing by the door.
I think: “Fucking hell!”
I don’t even know where I am particularly. Somewhere in the East End. And I haven’t got any money particularly, because Malcolm has not yet paid me for Glastonbury.
I probably foolishly think: “I’ll just try to walk out and see what happens.”
I walk to the door – no sign of Malcolm at all.
As I get to the door, the men still don’t smile, but they open the door.
I walk out. They close the door behind me.
And then, from down the street, I hear a honking sound.
Malcolm is in the middle of the road in his taxi with the door open.
“Oy! Oy! Get in, Mark! Get in!”
I think: “He can’t have done a runner, because they wouldn’t have let me out.”
I get into the cab and – of course – it turns out Malcolm has not got any papers – he has no insurance, he is banned from driving and he has paid them in cash with all the money he got – including mine – from Glastonbury. Hundreds of pounds. He has paid them everything he has – well over the odds – to avoid them reporting him to the police.
We drive off and Malcolm asks: “Do you fancy going for a game of pool?”
“No I don’t fancy going for a game of pool!” I tell him. “I just want to go to bed.”
So I finally get home and go to bed with this incredible burning sensation in my stomach.
In a way, it encapsulates a lot of my dealings with Malcolm: curry, dodgy dealings, not getting paid and a slight edge of danger.
Afterwards, I did try to point out to Malcolm that driving without insurance or a valid licence was incredibly irresponsible though, obviously, it was utterly pointless.
But the taxi did work.
Surprisingly, Malcolm did eventually pay me the Glastonbury money and, when he died, even more surprisingly, he owed me nothing.
Though his brother did.