Next week, I am organising – if that is the word – Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe – five events over five days to celebrate the memory of the late great godfather of British alternative comedy. Things seem to becoming together fairly well.
Yesterday morning, Paul Provenza agreed to take part in the first Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd on the proposition that “Comedians are Psychopathic Masochists with a Death Wish”. I will be chairing the debate which will, in theory, be serious but, with luck, include lots of laughs.
Paul will be flying in from Los Angeles this Thursday in time for next Monday’s debate. He is perhaps most famous on this side of the pond for directing The Aristocrats movie. Also on the panel for the Malcolm Hardee Debate will be “the godmother of Scottish comedy” Janey Godley and Show Me the Funny judge and doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick. There will also be a forth, hopefully jaw-dropping panelist who cannot be confirmed nor named until later this week.
I think it’s quite an interesting line-up, especially if I get that fourth surprise and surprising guest. It starts Malcolm Hardee Week on an interesting level and the week ends with the likes of Puppetry of the Penis, Frank Sanazi and Charlie Chuck in the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on Friday 26th.
Which I why I went to have tea and two fried eggs with Charlie Chuck yesterday lunchtime.
He is living in a flat in Dalry House near Haymarket in Edinburgh. In the late 1600s, a rich bloke called John Chiesley owned the house. In 1688, he divorced his wife who wanted a lot of his money in settlement and the local magistrate Sir George Lockhart told John Chiesley he should pay it. He didn’t take this news well. He shot the magistrate dead the next year. They arrested him, chopped off the arm he shot the gun with and hung him. The ghost of ‘Johnny One Arm’ was said to haunt Dalry House until 1965 when a body was found in the garden - a 300-year-old one-armed corpse. The hauntings stopped.
“I suppose,” Charlie Chuck suggested, “after he were dug up, he figured I can’t be bothered any more.”
But Charlie Chuck had other problems when he moved into the house for the Fringe.
He told me: “The woman upstairs seen me going in and out of the building with long hair and a bicycle I’d borrowed and a balaclava hat on me head because of the rain and she called the police. They came and talked to me and they went upstairs and they told the woman:
“It’s Charlie Chuck. He got a four star review in The Scotsman.
“The woman felt awkward about this, so she comes down knocking on my door with a pink cake she’s baked to say sorry. She had looked on my website and seen all about Cakey Pig and One-Eyed Dog and she’d made me a big pink cake shaped like a pig’s head and she said it were Cakey Pig.
“I were a bit apprehensive at first and thought Oh, I hope she’s not put nowt dodgy in it, but she’s a lovely lass and she’s from Texas. I said to her At least it’s not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I got on great with her and she might be coming to see the show tonight.”
Charlie Chuck – or, rather, Dave Kear – the man who is Chuck – covers an extraordinary range of British showbiz history in music and comedy, from meeting Bill Haley and the Comets through playing as a drummer in a soul and a hippie band to performing at US air bases in Germany for US troops going off to Vietnam, many of whom never returned… to being part of a highly successful German Oompah band and performing on the mainstream British holiday camp circuit before turning to alternative comedy, Malcolm Hardee, fame on the James Whale TV shows and The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.
Charlie Chuck’s career mirrors enormous social changes in Britain over the last 50 years.
At one time in the mid 1960s – well before his TV fame in the early 1990s – he owned six houses and became a horse race tipster – he was banned from three betting offices for being too successful. He had inside information: he knew someone who was married to a multi-millionaire who sold meat to Morrison’s supermarkets:
“She knew by looking at a horse if it were fit,” he told me.
“My dad were a coal miner for thirty year. I had a rough upbringing in Leeds. I remember one old woman was found half-eaten by a rat. What changed me life were sitting down and having dinner with the team from the Carry On films.
“I used to be a dustbin man but I strained myself and they put me on road sweeping – picking dead dogs up. I had two dustbins, a flask on one side and a radio on the other. I was also playing part-time as a drummer in a band called Mama’s Little Children. We had an agent called Eddie who also managed The Troggs, but they weren’t famous then.
“Round about 1961 or 1962, Eddie got us booked into Battersea Park in London. It were a three-day event for the News of the World. Roger Moore was there because, at the time, he were famous as The Saint on TV and Sean Connery because he were James Bond and there were Cheyenne off the TV and the cast of Bonanza – Dan Blocker and all that lot – and James Mason. Then there were lots of bands who were famous at the time: The Fourmost, The Merseybeats, The Swinging Blue Jeans.
“So, on Friday night I were a road sweeper… then Saturday I’m in Battersea Park at this mega-event held in three compounds… When I went out of the compound, I were mobbed. People were mobbing me thinking I were maybe one of the Swinging Blue Jeans cos I had long hair. There were that many celebs and bands they didn’t know who I were, really, but they thought I might be famous. And I thought Well, this is fantastic!
“When I went back in the compound, away from the public, of course, I were a nobody. Mama’s Little Children and The Troggs were doing the gig for free – cos we weren’t famous. But I met all these people and we sat down for dinner – big long table – and I were sat next to The Pretty Things and Charles Hawtrey from the Carry On films.
“On Sunday night, I came back home from this exhilarating experience and I were picking me dustbins up on Monday morning in Seacroft in Leeds. I thought Bloody hell! I don’t want this!
“That was in the August. In November, me and two of the lads who worked at Burtons the tailor and another who were a taxi driver – we all turned professional and all went to Germany. We were out there playing gigs until January. My wages as a dustbin man were £11 a week; but in Germany, I got £53 a week and we toured with Tony Sheridan who the Beatles had played with.
“It were great. That were how it all started.”