Malcolm Hardee, The Tunnel Club, the tap-dancing Swede and Madame Poulet

GrouchyClub11With co-host Kate Copstick’s internet links in Kenya still problematic, this week’s Grouchy Club podcast is an 8-minute audio clip of me talking in 1995 to the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

At the time, we were writing his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by recording our chats.

This one was about how he started his legendary – some might say infamous – comedy club The Tunnel. The full 8-minute audio extract is online. This is a short extract from that audio extract.


Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm
The Tunnel became known – but I don’t know why – for its hard audience. It was like the Glasgow Empire of the South. I think possibly for where it was in South East London – who don’t suffer fools gladly to say the least. It got known for its heckling. At which point I can just put down my heckling stories, which we can just mention on the tape as Jim Tavare, Noel James, Jo Brand, tropical fish…

John
Tropical fish?

Malcolm
Tropical fish. That was a good heckle.

John
What’s tropical fish?

Malcolm
This double act whose names have got lost in the mists of time. Part of their act was wearing Red Indian headdresses. They started up and put their headdresses on and were about to beat the bongos and then one of the regular hecklers in the audience shouted out: Oy, Malcolm! You’ve got a couple of tropical fish on stage!

John
There’s a quote on one of the posters at Up The Creek – HOW LONG WOULD HITLER SURVIVE THE TUNNEL? (RADIO 4) – Is that true?

Malcolm
It was. That was on some Kaleidoscope nonsense.

John
So what did they say?

Malcolm
They’d been to this famous Open Spot. It was where people were trying out material or perhaps had not been on stage before. It always amazed me how many people were keen to do this. I still get – to this day – at least ten calls a week from people. There was Madame Poulet. I’ll just say that and it’ll all link up (in the book).

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography

John
What was the best Open Spot at The Tunnel?

Malcolm
Best or worst?

John
Both.

Malcolm
The best Open Spot was Phil Cool.

John
That was his first time?

Malcolm
He must have done the clubs, but that was his first ‘alternative’ London gig and it was from there that he got discovered and got his TV series and went on to where he is today. The worst, I think was the tap-dancing Swede.

John
What was that act?

Malcolm
He was Swedish and he had the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He decided he had a tap-dancing act but, unfortunately, the stage at The Tunnel was fully carpeted; it was about the only place that was.

So he’s come on and he has the tails on and the whole thing and he’s immaculate and he’s got this backing tape and he started tap-dancing but, of course, no-one could hear him and he’s doing all the smiling things and, in the end, they just shouted out Cab for the Swede! and he went off.

And, to this day, people shout out – when another act is going down particularly badly – Bring back the Swede!


Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club

Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s… (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm expanded on his reference to the open spot Madame Poulet and Her Singing Chicken in his book I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. He says:


I booked Madame Poulet over the phone and, when she arrived, she tried to convince me she was Madame Edith and that Madame Poulet would arrive later. She left the ‘chicken’ under a cloth in my office. I lifted the cloth when Madame Edith wasn’t there and it was a fake chicken made out of chicken feathers, some of which were painted pink for no apparent reason. It was like the Barbara Cartland of the Chicken World.

When she did her act, she had a little triangular screen about waist height on stage, so she could kneel down behind it.

That night, I announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen. Will you please welcome Madame Poulet and her Singing Chicken……”

And Madame Edith walked on having disguised herself as Madame Poulet by wearing a hat with a black veil over her face. She went and knelt behind the screen, the chicken appeared over the top and Madame Poulet started singing Je Ne Regret Rien completely straight in her own voice with the chicken miming to it.

This went on for about five minutes and then about ten blokes at the back of the audience, as one, all went:

“Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck off!”

Madame Poulet got up, almost flew off the stage, left the club without saying a word, and I’ve never seen her since.

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