Jacki Cook and Jon Hale run the Emporium, a vintage clothing shop in Greenwich which also supplies costumes to the movie industry – they supplied jackets for Tom Cruise in his first two Mission Impossible films.
They were also friends of the ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee and supplied his clothing when he got married to Jane in 1994. I was there that day and – like his funeral in 2005 – it is not an experience anyone present is ever likely to forget. But I did not know the full story until I had a day trip to Whitstable with Jacki and Jonathan yesterday.
The way Malcolm told it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:
On the morning I was married, Julia was rushing around making sure the wedding suit I got from Jonathan Ross was alright and Annie The German gave me this bottle of German rum. It was about ten times the proof of normal British rum. I only had a couple and then I staggered off to the wedding at 11 o’clock.
After the Registry Office, I went back home and had four hours to recover before the Church Blessing at 5.00pm – or so I thought. But Annie The German gave me another rum and spiked it with some sort of hallucinogenic drug. It’s some liquid stuff they have over in Germany – a mixture of amphetamine, hallucinogenic and some other stuff.
I suppose she thought she was doing me a favour.
Emporium kitted me out with tails and a top hat and all that game, though I didn’t wear the top hat. Didn’t look right on me.
Someone had painted HELP! on the soles of my shoes – which I didn’t know about – so that when I knelt down in church everyone in the congregation could read it. I felt a bit faint halfway through, so I had to go to sit down on one side.
“It was Jon who wrote HELP,” Jacki told me yesterday.
“We supplied him with his outfit for the wedding,” explained Jon. “He came to our house to get the clothes to get dressed for the wedding. But Malcolm had seen a bag of dope at a friend’s house…”
“…and he had smoked it,” said Jacki, “and, what with everything else, that was it. He was finished.”
“I’d done his shoes the night before the wedding,” explained Jon, “with the letters HE written on the sole of his left shoe and LP on the sole of his right shoe. Obviously, I didn’t tell him.”
“He looked nice in his suit,” said Jacki.
“When did he find out about HELP being on the soles of his shoes?” I asked Jon. “Did he ask afterwards why people laughed when he knelt down?”
“Malcolm was totally wiped-out,” Jon explained. “Remember halfway through the ceremony he had to sit down and the vicar had to…”
“Oh!” said Jacki, remembering. “Malcolm keeled over, didn’t he!”
“He had to go to the bench…” Jon continued.
“Didn’t someone else almost get married to Jane?” I said, dimly remembering what I saw. When Malcolm had had to go and sit down, his best man – comedian Martin Soan – stood-in for him at the altar while the vicar warbled on until Malcolm was able to stand again. It had looked, for a time, as if Malcolm was not going to be able to stand again in time for the vows.
“It was close,” agreed Jon. “Malcolm could only just get through the ceremony.”
“He said I do,” Jacki reminded us. “And then he lost it.”
“Malcolm disappeared into one of the Confession booths,” said Jon. “And everybody…”
“He was being sick in there…” said Jacki.
“… everybody was waiting for him to come out and he was being ill in there, wasn’t he…” added Jon.
“…and that mad German woman was there,” Jacki reminded us. “Annie The German. Clare’s (Malcolm’s sister’s) pen friend. But Malcolm used to write her filthy letters, didn’t he, when they were kids. And she was mad for Malcolm. She wanted to marry Malcolm. He said it was such a shock when he saw her.”
“I think I met her at the wedding,” I said.
“She’s crazy,” said Jacki.
“She was a chemist,” said Jon. “She made this stuff and was going round giving us all these little drops from this pipette thing. A thing she’d engineered herself.”
“She was pretty crazy,” said Jacki. “Two hundred Rothmans cigarettes and a bottle of whisky in the handbag. A big 200 pack of Rothmans… ‘kin hell, Malcolm was scared of her, but it was because he’d sent her all these filthy letters. She was Claire’s pen friend… The German!” Jacki laughed. “Annie The German!…”