This blog is mostly just an excuse to run an extract from the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Malcolm drowned in London in 2005.
But, on August 23rd, in the Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, the squatters who were evicted from Malcolm’s boat The Wibbley Wobbley earlier this year, are staging a one-night-only show titled Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink.
And, on August 25th, I am organising (that may be too strong a word) The Last Ever Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.
As is the annual tradition, it starts at 2300 on the last Friday of the Fringe – this year, Friday 25th August – and runs through to 0100 the next morning.
This year, though, so far unannounced, there will be an additional event following the show.
At the end of the main show, the room will be cleared and then, after a short pause, there will be this additional open-ended event. What will happen in it is not going to be announced until the evening itself.
Anyway, here is the extract from Malcolm’s autobiography. This bit is about his time in prison – well, one of the times he was in prison – and meeting MP John Stonehouse.
The Governor at Exeter was ex-Army. He’d had half his face blown off in the War and he had a massive scar but he wasn’t too bad.
I got ‘put on report’ to him once. I’d bought some loose tea from a bloke in the kitchens and got caught with it in my cell. You weren’t supposed to have loose tea. You’re not meant to have anything in your cell – particularly loose tea which could only have come from the kitchen. So I was ‘put on report’. I was taken to see the Governor with two Screws – one on each side. You have to give your name and your number.
“What’s your name?” they asked.
“Hardee. Number 594711,” I said. “711 to my friends.”
“Call the Governor SIR!” they said.
“I didn’t realise he’d been knighted,” I said.
Then he gave me a big lecture on taking this tea.
“Well,” he said, “If everybody did the same thing no-one in the prison would have any tea.”
“On the contrary,” I said, “If everyone did the same thing, then we’d all have some tea”.
I lost a fortnight for being offensive.
A little later, I saw a notice outside the Shop saying:
GLEE CLUB THIS TUESDAY
and when I went there was me and about three others.
This camp bloke, Mr Dwyer the Church organist, was running the Glee Club and it transpired that he gave you cigarettes half way through. So one minute we’re singing Gilbert & Sullivan numbers and four-part harmonies to Bread of Heaven and then he starts handing the fags out. Word quickly got round about this and at future Glee Clubs there were about 40 or 50 blokes – the maximum you could get in a class. They went for the cigarettes and none of them could sing. So there were all these West Country criminals trying to sing Gilbert and Sullivan in croaky voices and smoking free fags.
One week there were about 40 cons at the Glee Club and it was the break. They were all smoking and the Governor came round on one of his rare visits with the Educational Officer who was also as camp as a row of tents. The only place you’re supposed to smoke is in your cell at certain times. So there were these 40 cons all with fags hidden under their coats when the Governor and this man came in and the Educational Officer said:
“Oh hello Mr Dwyer. How’s the Glee Club going?”
“Oh, very well,” said Mr Dwyer.
“And what,” asked the Educational Officer, “Are you doing now?”.
“We’re doing Gilbert and Sullivan,” cooed Mr Dwyer.
“The Governor really likes Gilbert and Sullivan,” squeaked the Educational Officer.
“Well, if he likes ‘em,” said one of the surlier cons from the back, in a broad West Country accent: “He’d better fuck off now, then, hadn’t he?”.
Eventually, I ended up in a prison called Grendon Underwood in Buckinghamshire. They wouldn’t take any people at Grendon who were on patches, so the Governor at Exeter had taken me off patches about two months before. Just coming off ‘solitary’ and going into the main Exeter prison itself had been like being released. Then going to Grendon was like freedom.
You were more or less allowed to walk around anywhere you liked at Grendon even though it was a maximum security prison. I don’t think there had been any escapes from there. In those days they called it a ‘Modern’ prison. It was ‘liberal’ and you called the Screws by their first name.
At Grendon, the Screws ‘had’ to treat you right because it was this ‘liberal’ place. It was a psychiatric prison, though not in the sense of being a Prison Hospital like Rampton or Broadmoor. Grendon had two parts: the Psychiatric bit and the Education bit. I was in the Education bit.
There was also a normal Hospital bit which took people’s tattoos off. A lot of prisoners, in order to have a cushy Nick, used to apply to have their tattoos taken off saying, if they kept them, they wouldn’t be able to get a job in a bank when they got out.
I joined every club I could find. I was in the drama society. I was in ‘The Toastmasters’, doing harmony singing. I was into everything.
I was in the bridge club.
It was odd playing bridge in these surroundings, as bridge is a card game normally associated with old ladies and retired colonel types. It was as surreal as watching the murderers singing four-part madrigals.
I played bridge with John Stonehouse as my partner. He was a Conservative MP who had faked his own death. He pretended he drowned in Miami to get an enormous amount of life insurance, but he was also having an affair with his secretary Sheila Buckley, who now coincidentally lives in Thamesmead, not far away from me. John Stonehouse himself is now dead for real. Perhaps.