Category Archives: Prison

Comedian and legendary stunt-puller Malcolm Hardee and John Stonehouse

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

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.

John Stonehouse made headlines in 1974

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.


Malcolm was a man known for stunts

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.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Picking up girls and boys + a court case on werewolf erotica

Adam Taffler at the Grouchy Club

Adam Taffler at the Grouchy Club

Yesterday in the Grouchy Club show at the Edinburgh Fringe, showman Adam Taffler picked up a girl. Literally. He does it all the time.

And a boy.

One on each shoulder.

Afterwards, he took me outside where two girls wearing snorkels and flippers were in a restaurant opposite, eating noodles from boxes.

“I’ve lost my wedding dress,” one of them told me.

“How?” I asked.

This scuba girl has lost her wedding dress

This scuba girl has lost her wedding dress

“I was walking along and it fell off my back pack in London,” she told me.

“I’ve got the bridesmaid dress,” said the other scuba girl. “So we’re going to have a bridesmaid and no bride.”

“And no husband,” added the first scuba girl.

“Is this a real wedding?” I asked.

“I’m looking for a husband,” said the first scuba girl. We will find him.”

“It was going to be Garry,” said the second scuba girl, “but he ran away.”

“Does this link up to scuba diving in any way?” I asked.

“We are giving training in how to swim,” said the second scuba girl.

Second Scuba Girl of the Scoober Doober duo

Second Scuba Girl of the Scoober Doober duo

“And how to be a bride?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said the second scuba girl.

“You’ve got to be really ladylike,” said the first scuba girl.

“Yeah. Really feminine,” said the second scuba girl. “We’re good at cleaning as well.”

“We found haggis today,” said the first scuba girl, “in a tin. We didn’t eat it.”

“I’ve just had an idea,” said Adam Taffler.

“Oh dear,” I said.

“Two naked people standing on the Royal Mile completely covered in flyers,” said Adam. “The more people come and take flyers, the more naked they get.”

I am physically harassed yesterday

I was physically harassed against an Edinburgh wall (Photograph by Adam Taffler)

Then he took me outside and photographed me against a wall with the two scuba girls.

As the girls flip-flopped their way across the road in their flippers, someone asked: “Are you promoting a show?”

“We call ourselves the Scoober Doobers,” they told her.

“But are you promoting a show?”

“No,” they said.

“Are you in any show up here?”

“No.”

At the Grouchy Club itself, Mathilda Gregory had told us about writing werewolf erotica.

Mathilda Gregory

Mathilda Gregory – funny girl turned mistress of wolf  erotica

Mathilda was the Komedia New Act of The Year in 2000, a BBC Writers’ Room/Laughing Stock winner in 2011 and a Funny Women ‘One To Watch’ in 2013.

“Why did you stop performing comedy?” I asked.

“It was a lot of hard work,” explained Mathilda. “You had to physically go to a place. You thought: Oh God! I’ve got to go to Birmingham!”

“It was specifically Birmingham that put you off?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mathilda. “Or maybe it was the person I was sharing a car with.”

“So you took up writing instead…” I said.

“I’ve written six novels,” Mathilda replied. “Three of them are about werewolves.”

“What are the other three about?” I asked.

“One of them is about a woman who likes to spy on gay men having sex. One is about a woman who gets obsessed with a male prostitute. And one is about a woman who has a disability fetish. I won Writer of the Year at the Erotic Awards in 2007 and I have a wonderful trophy from that.”

A highly coveted Erotic Award - the Golden Flying Penis

A highly coveted Erotic Award – the Golden Flying Penis

“Ah!” said Grouchy Club co-presenter Kate Copstick. “The penis with wings.”

“Yes,” said Mathilda. “But my wings have fallen off.”

“How did you get into this?” I asked.

“My publisher,” explained Mathilda, “told me: We’re starting a line in paranormal erotica. There’s a huge market. In America, this is going to do really well.

“Is it sex between consenting werewolves?” asked Copstick.

“There are three books,” said Mathilda. “We get into all kinds of things.”

“Apparently,” said Copstick, “wolves are much, much better at sex than men are.”

“I can believe that,” said Mathilda. “I’ve obviously done the research now. Vampires are not really very virile.”

Mathilda Gregory and werewolf

Mathilda Gregory and one of her close friends

“I think everybody’s fucked a vampire by now,” said Copstick.

“You have a show about your werewolf books at the Fringe this year,” I prompted. “Werewolf Erotica She Wrote.”

“Well,” she said, “one of my books had been the subject of a court case. In 2013 a male prisoner in California, who was imprisoned for the attempted murder of a member of the Mexican Mafia, took his prison to court because they wouldn’t allow him to have one of my werewolf novels in prison. There was a two-year long court case where they read my book and tried to assess whether I had enough literary merit to be allowed in prison.

“They compared it to Shakespeare. They compared it to Dostoyevsky. The court report is the most amazing gift I’ve ever been given – 30 pages, just banging on about my book. It’s like an author’s dream.”

“Were they objecting to the sex?” I asked. “Or to the werewolves?”

Mathilda Gregory at the Grouchy Club

Mathilda at the Grouchy Club

“They said it was inter-laced with pornography and that it incited violence. But the court found against them. So legally I have literary merit. There’s a lovely quote from an author called Peter Orner who they called as an expert witness. It says something like Pelican Bay is one of the most violent prisons in California. It has a lot of serious problems. An inmate reading books about werewolves having sex is really not a concern.

“So, legally, I have a judgment that my book has literary merit and is ‘perhaps’ less than Shakespearean. I like the fact they used the word ‘perhaps’ – so there is some legal doubt as to whether or not I am better than Shakespeare.”

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A rare case of British justice

Fifteen years ago today – in 1999 – I had to write a statement for a court about someone I knew who was standing trial for the second time over the same incident. He had been found guilty about a year before over something he had done, but had been given a very short sentence – something the police clearly considered too lenient. Now, over a year later, they had prosecuted him again on a more serious charge related to the same incident. This is the statement I wrote. I have changed his name to Harry Hardwicke (nothing like his real name) and have blanked-out some identifying details:

__________

I have known Harry Hardwicke for about 20 years. We worked together briefly at ***** in ***** then later at ***** in *****, ***** in ***** and ***** in *****. I have also known him personally over those years, when he had three separate long-term loving relationships, including his marriage. He has stayed friends with these ex-girlfriends. He has always been an outgoing person – ‘life and soul of the party’ is a phrase that could have been coined for Harry. I have seen him regularly but not often over the years – perhaps every three or four months so I can, perhaps more than most, see the changes in him.

When I visited ***** Open Prison where he was incarcerated for two months over the same incident he has now been charged with again, I was rather taken aback by the change I saw in Harry: he was extremely quiet and noticeably withdrawn. In my ignorance, I thought life in an open prison would be rather ‘cushy’. That was certainly not the case for him. The imprisonment and separation from his three children, on whom he dotes, had taken such a visible toll that I was shocked by the effect on him. He was also upset and concerned by his inability to be available should his mentally ‘delicate’ sister suffer one of her not-too-uncommon relapses. (Although no danger to anyone else, she has been in-and-out of mental institutions over the 20 years I have known Harry and he is, in effect, her only family member.)

As both Harry and I are British males born in the 1950s, confiding innermost thoughts to each other is not a normal thing except in extremis. But, in the months after his release from prison, he did frequently tell me in person and on the telephone how he had despaired in prison and the shame he felt as a result of having been imprisoned. He despaired to the extent of not wanting to see or be seen by anybody. I believe at one time he was almost suicidal with despair.

He seemed to be coming out of this depression in the last few months of 1998 – before this case reared its head again. He had only just started to pick up the threads of his life and his career which would certainly be broken again should he be imprisoned once more.

Two very visible effects the ***** Open Prison sentence had on his personality was to damage his normally reliable work – his concentration on release was affected by depression – and to devastatingly damage his relationship with his long-term girlfriend. His severe depression and abnormal introversion caused a very painful breakup in the relationship though they have since slowly and successfully patched things up.

Harry is petrified of going to prison again, petrified by shame and embarrassment at the effect his actions have had on his children and on the relationship in which he puts so much hope. I believe he has already suffered disproportionately for his admitted crime – certainly way beyond the intention of his original sentence.

Should his character be broken again by imprisonment, I have no doubt that these additional strains could be nothing but devastatingly harmful to his long-term relationship, enormously destabilising for his children, abnormally destructive to his career and totally destabilising for his mental condition.

__________

Harry received a conditional discharge. A rare case of justice in the UK.

* * *

A couple of weeks after I wrote the above, I found out it was factually incorrect. For the real outcome, see HERE.

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