What they actually said when anarchic comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Today is the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday.

He would have been 64.

He drowned in Greenland Dock, by the River Thames in London on 31st January 2005.

He was newly 55.

This is what was said about him in print immediately after he died (the videos are more recent):

Charles De Gaulle

French President General De Gaulle

CHORTLE comedy website, 2nd February 2005

The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. Hardee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club, where most of today’s biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. One year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. Jools Holland said: “It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.” Stewart Lee called him “South London’s king of comedy – a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution.” And Robert Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.”

BBC NEWS ONLINE, 2nd February 2005

Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: “There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness.”

EFESTIVALS, 2nd February 2005

He’ll probably be best remembered at Glastonbury for responding to calls to “get yer knob out”, or just getting it out anyway. If you never had the privilege to see it, it wasn’t as crude as it sounds… Oh, perhaps it was, but Malcolm was always very funny.

THE GUARDIAN, 3rd February 2005

Hardee, 55, was a legend among the comedy fraternity – a “comedian’s comedian”, says Phill Jupitus. He hosted two comedy clubs which spawned literally dozens of now household names. He never really reaped huge financial benefits himself, though, and was best known to the wider world as a member of the naked balloon dancers The Greatest Show on Legs. His trademark was getting his (impressive) testicles out and playing the harmonica.

THE STAGE, 3rd February 2005

The son of a tugboat man, he turned to comedy after numerous brushes with the law and stints in detention centres. He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers.

EVENING STANDARD, London, 3rd February 2005

A veteran comedian who launched the careers of stars including Paul Merton, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves as well as Jo Brand and Jerry Sadowitz. He went on to form his own venue, the Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel in 1984 and followed that with Up The Creek. Both venues were where thousands of comedians took their first step into the spotlight. He acted alongside Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comic Strip movies. Mr Hardee once served a term in prison for theft. In his 1996 autobiography, he wrote of playing bridge in jail with former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3rd February 2005

He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet minister’s Rolls-Royce. He had been jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody, but the title of his 1996 autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Mr Hardee alleged that he had taken the huge cake after being refused permission to perform at the ceremony and then donated it to a nearby residential home. He also wrote of playing bridge in jail with the former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

The autobiography

INDEPENDENT, 4th February 2005

He was one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy, Venerated in the business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late Seventies – bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent hecklers. Those who worked with him paid tribute yesterday.

Mark Steel said: “For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking at him. He created the Tunnel Club which, after the Comedy Store, was the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing, nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be a hard bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn’t care. Unusually for a comic, he didn’t seem to have any ego.”

THE GUARDIAN, 4th February 2005

He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour, Jools Holland. In 1987, he stood for parliament in the Greenwich by-election, as a candidate for the Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles party, polling 174 votes. On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the River Thames where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

INDEPENDENT, 5th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years. Almost every significant new comedian was agented, managed or promoted by him, or passed through one of his clubs.

His impression of President Charles de Gaulle using no props other than his own spectacles atop his semi-flaccid penis was unsettlingly realistic. But Hardee’s other claim to fame was that he had the biggest bollocks in show business. He said that, at puberty, they did not drop, they abseiled. Everything about Hardee was larger-than-life – except his bank balance, because he did not care about money; instead he took an almost schoolboy delight in pranks, wheezes and escapades.

Yet Hardee’s influence remained almost totally unknown outside the comedy and media worlds. At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: “He’s not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out.”

NEW YORK SUN, 7th February 2005

A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a “balloon dance” stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty. He was also celebrated for a bizarre juggling act performed in the dark and with nothing visible apart from his genitals, daubed with fluorescent paint. Fans would greet his arrival on stage with cries of “Get yer knob out”. He was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Glastonbury

THE TIMES, London, 7th February 2005

A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: “To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has.” Whatever Hardee did in the world of comedy — dance, compere, steal things or drive vehicles through other people’s shows — he preferred to do it naked. He brought silliness, anarchy and a lot of nudity to a business that is becoming increasingly self-referential and corporate. The world of stand-up comedy is left with a gaping, tractor-shaped hole in it. Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His crimes were orchestrated with scant regard to not getting caught or even, sometimes, making any money. His autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, implicated his fellow comic Ricky Grover in a bungled heist, the sum proceeds of which were four ham sandwiches. Similarly his comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it. A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted. There was no comedy area Hardee was unwilling to explore.

THE SCOTSMAN, 8th February 2005

Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster, Malcolm Hardee’s sad early death robs the world of comedy of a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed “the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy”.

TIME OUT, 9th February 2005

One of the great characters in the comedy business. Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue. He played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. His scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come. But, above all, he’ll be remembered as a good bloke. He’s an impossible act to follow.

THE STAGE, 10th February 2005

Widely regarded among the stand-up fraternity as one of the godfathers of alternative comedy. Although he never leapt to the front rank of fame himself, he helped launch and nurture the careers of literally thousands of stand-up comedians. But much more than that, Hardee was a larger than life character whose ribald, sometimes vulgar behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary. Hardee was taught at, and expelled from, three south east London schools before drifting into petty crime and spending time in numerous detention centres for, among other things, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to his Sunday school piano, one of which he escaped from disguised as a monk.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

Malcolm Hardee (on the left)

INDEPENDENT, 19th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt, He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

THE STAGE, 3rd March 2005

Malcolm’s death sent tremors of shock through the world of London comedians. No one was hugely surprised, given his wild and fearless ways but some of us who knew him felt a pang of regret that we hadn’t cherished him more vigorously in life. Every death is a reminder of our own mortality and Malcolm was the first of a generation of comics to get a booking at the big gig beyond the veil. Everything about Malcolm apart from his stand-up act was original. Although he was not a writer, he was a genius at dreaming up scams and schemes. He was a mythomaniac, the ultimate PR man, a world-class huckster and a man who trailed laughter and amazement in his wake. Like a shabby Oscar Wilde he put his genius not into his work but his life.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

R.I.P. Malcolm Gerrard Hardee, comedian, agent, manager and club-owner: born London 5 January 1950; married Jane Kintrea Matthews (one son, one daughter previously with Pip Hazelton); died London 31 January 2005.

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given in his memory at the Edinburgh Fringe.

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