The Edinburgh Fringe does not start until August but has to be thought about from now.
Yesterday, I paid the fee for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show to be listed in the Edinburgh Fringe programme.
The extract below from Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake proved to be slightly relevant yesterday. Malcolm died in 2005. The incident took place in the early 1990s and actually did happen – I talked to other comedians who were in the hotel at the time and they confirmed Malcolm got his balconies confused. They told me the policemen looked “stunned”.
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Julia remained a flatmate but wasn’t into mating or at least not with me. We did share many things, naturally; we even co-owned a long leather coat that she had bought but which I decided looked much finer on me. And we often mooched around together. When I was asked to screen test for a part in the video recording of a live show in Newcastle of Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out. Julia was keen to come along on the jaunt.
The day before we were to head North I had gone into Ladbroke’s bookmakers at Charing Cross with twenty pounds and, in a miraculous series of drink-inspired bets, had won £5,200 by the end of the afternoon. Ladbroke’s didn’t have enough cash in the office to pay me so I agreed to pick up my winnings the following day. For some reason Julia and I convinced ourselves that the most appropriate place for this vast booty was a hat box she intended to take to Newcastle. So we turned up at King’s Cross for the train, Julia manically clinging to her hat box and me feeling like the cock of the walk as I swaggered along in my favourite leather coat – though I probably looked more like a raddled Gestapo torturer.
At Newcastle we were booked into the five-star Copthorne Hotel where Vic Reeves, Simon Day, Jimmy Nail and assorted others connected with Vic’s Big Night Out were staying. Julia and I scanned our room for a hiding place for the five grand and the only thing even vaguely suitable was a tall vase on top of the television. I picked the vase up, shook it and tipped out a pack of very pornographic playing cards. There were pictures of people – mainly – doing things even I wouldn’t do. I pocketed the cards. In case the owner came back in search of them we decided not to put the cash in the vase and so it ended up divided between the pockets of the leather coat.
I failed to make it on to Vic’s video but the live show was jolly. We trooped back from it on Vic’s tour bus – a sort of mobile hotel with bedrooms and lounge area – and spent a liquid evening in the Copthorne bar. I was one of the last to leave and when I was approaching my room I realised that Simon Day, who had been chosen in preference to me for the video, was on the same landing. He had been given the presidential suite – a very grand affair with a balcony that ran along the front of the hotel. I suspected that Simon had retired early to his room because he had lured some unsuspecting female there and, all things considered, it seemed right that I should bid him a congratulatory goodnight.
Wearing only the leather coat and a pair of socks I crawled along the balcony of my room and clambered across to Simon’s. I hammered on his window intending to flash open the coat when he pulled back the curtains. Not a sound. Disappointed I eventually returned to my room to find Julia in her bed, cowering under the sheets, and two men with guns pointed at me. They were Special Branch. Anti-terrorism. And I vaguely recalled some notices pinned in the hotel about a senior politician – Michael Heseltine, I think – who was staying there and ‘would guests behave accordingly’ as the Special Branch boys handcuffed me and marched me down to a Portakabin in the car park that was both their headquarters and their prison cell.
I was asked to turn out my pockets: £5,200 in cash and a very pornographic pack of playing cards. I was asked for my address, which I gave as 1 Mell Street, Greenwich, which they ran through their computer. This told them a fact that I had known but not been unduly bothered by before: that Mell Street had been the home of Gerard Tuite, the convicted IRA bomber who had been arrested there some years before.
Things did not look good. I was facing a charge that could have resulted in life imprisonment had a jury been convinced that I intended to murder Mr Heseltine with a pack of dirty playing cards. I spent an uncomfortable few hours – what a waste of a night in a five-star hotel – until Vic Reeves’ tour manager could be found to confirm that I was there to not star in his video.
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That anecdote became relevant yesterday because I asked comedian Bob Slayer if anything interesting had happened when he performed in Leicester on Friday.
“Yes I nearly died,” he told me. “Well, almost. I was given a Health & Safety lecture after the gig because, during the show, I ran along the balcony wall (naked of course) 40 feet up.”
The moral to this story is simple.
The attraction of British balconies to naked comedians remains constant.