(This was also published in the Huffington Post)
I will be spending a quiet time at home on Christmas Day.
I asked ‘Digger Dave’, a friend of the late ‘godfather of British comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, if he had any memories of spending Christmas with Malcolm.
Perhaps this was a mistake.
“Most of the stories are still far too embarrassing to the living for me to tell,” Digger Dave replied. “And we won’t mention shows where the box office take got lost!!!
“Malcolm once lured me to some country house for a Boxing Day sexual extravaganza with some game show hostess and then asked me to reglaze the broken glass in the patio doors. He also ensured that another member of The Greatest Show on Legs crashed in the same room – well flaked-out across my legs, making movement or undressing impossible. It’s quite an impediment to romance – having a Greatest Leg unconscious on your own legs. No leg-over is possible.
“You can ask someone else about their memories of the Great Christmas Can Can Tour of London’s East End pubs. It was his sister Clare’s idea to do the dancing and I did the promo and posterwork (which I had to pay for myself, as the ‘free’ service at Goldsmiths College couldn’t).
“Some of the pubs had secret handles that couldn’t be opened by unwelcome persons. Most of the audiences would have looked good in a movie like your Killer Bitch, but the cast usually outnumbered them. Sometimes it wasn’t possible to get across the room. It’s quite difficult doing dance-centred performance when the play area is only two feet wide.
“It was the normal Greatest Show on Legs routine – the Scotsman striptease, the dustbin lid clog dance, the beer mat dance and spinning the dirty old men plus Malcolm doing his impression of French President General de Gaulle using nothing but his genitals and a pair of spectacles… with a Can Can dance added at the end.
“I once had to relieve myself in a pint glass and hide it behind the music player. I never saw Malcolm wash his harmonica in anyone’s beer for quite a while after that night.
“There is one Christmas story that I never actually checked out with Malcolm. But two anarchists who knew him maintained that he had a hand in planning it.
“It happened in Exeter Prison, on the Friday before Christmas, when Malcolm was doing time there. As it was a Friday, there was supposed to be fish for dinner – in this case, mackerel, which had been caught off Cornwall, shipped to a very dodgy fishmonger in Truro in an un-refrigerated van and then delivered to the prison gates in another un-refrigerated van during the Thursday night. But that’s where the fish stayed – outside the prison gates – as the staff were on a Christmas rota and there was no-one to take them in. So the fish were well and truly past any relevant sell-by date by the time they arrived.
“Devon and Cornwall are not being famous for snowy Christmases, so the Friday before Christmas was nice and hot and sunny and the fish sat there until someone eventually took them in.
“The inmates always used to eat in their cells. So they were unlocked and marched one wing at a time to collect their meals on a tray from a central servery. It took an age because of the Christmas staff cuts.
“No-one wanted inedible rotting fish in their cell for the next 23 hours and there were no warders to notice what was being done, so the stinking fish contents of the trays were tipped over the landings. The falling fish hit the anti-suicide netting between the floors and stayed there.
“Rotting mackerel has a strange clingy consistency… but only for a time. After that, the warming oils make it quite fluid.
“So, after a while, the fish fluid dripped down – slowly at first – and then a really big flush hit the ground floor where the just-arrived Salvation Army band were playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!”
I do not know if Malcolm was involved in this merry incident, but it does sound in character and the sort of festive fun he would have enjoyed. He liked to entertain.
It is also a typical Malcolm Hardee story – it sounds improbable or impossible but then turns out not only to be true but to actually be understated.