The near-sinking of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday party on 5th January 2002

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee was born on 5th January 1950. He used to put on a birthday comedy show.  This is an extract from my 2002 diary. Malcolm had recently bought the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe… He drowned a few feet away from the Wibbley Wobbley in 2005.

SATURDAY 5th JANUARY 2002

Charlie Chuck, advertising man Paul (whom Chuck knows) and I went to the first of two birthday parties which Malcolm Hardee is holding this weekend. It was on his new floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley.

When we arrived, Malcolm was dressed in naval captain’s uniform with Russian Convoy medals on his chest. I went to the bow area to say hello to him.

“Go back up to the bar end,” he whispered, “We’re sinking – I’m not kidding – We’re going down.”

And, as we walked back up towards the bar, sure enough, I realised we were indeed walking slightly uphill.

We were all eventually evacuated – maybe thirty of us – and someone suggested the problem seemed to be that they were trying to pump the water out underwater via the pump where water enters.

A fire engine turned up. Then two policemen. Then another two policemen. Then another fire engine. Then another two policemen. And another two. It was a good night for criminals in Rotherhithe. The police were unsmiling and uninterested except when they had chats amongst themselves. The firemen were surprisingly fat. How do they get up ladders?

On the quayside, one theory for the slow sinking of the Wibbley Wobbley was that ice in the recent bitterly cold weather had blocked the pump and a build-up of shit in the septic tank was weighing down the vessel at one end.

The Wibbley Wobbley is not yet insured. No surprise there: neither is Malcolm’s car; and he has two driving licences under different names.

After about twenty minutes, Malcolm told me: “The Coast Guard have arrived. Straight up, a bloke from the Coast Guard has just just turned up because he heard about it. He seems to be in the mood for a party.” We turned and looked at the eight policemen already here. They did not talk to the Coast Guard man.

A well-known comedian was standing next to us with staring eyes, accompanied by a tall dark man who also had brightly staring eyes. Both looked startled at what was happening.

This is no time to be on coke, I thought.

We were eventually allowed back on the ship by the firemen.

Then we were evacuated again and told no-one would be allowed back on again that night.

Then we were let back on board again.

In all, the non-sinking took about 90 minutes.

The eventual explanation was that, indeed, a pipe had got blocked and shit really had built up on board to such an extent that it almost sank the boat and everyone in it.

A simile for many a comedy career, perhaps.

***

POSTSCRIPTS

Malcolm’s friend Deke has continued the tradition of Malcolm’s annual birthday party (well it would be annual, wouldn’t it?)  on the Sunday nearest to 5th January. This year it is this coming Sunday (9th January 2011) from 7.00pm at the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek in Greenwich. The event will include performances by Steve Bowditch (ex-Greatest Show on Legs) and a screening of The Tunnel the award-nominated short film about Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel Palladium. Deke’s e-mail is dekedecore@hotmail.com … You can see The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Steve Bowditch and Malcolm Hardee – perform their Naked Balloon Dance here.

This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy will be presented during a special two-hour tribute show at the Edinburgh Fringe – starting at 10.00pm on the evening of Friday 26th August 2011.

There is a Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

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