The art and psychology of heckling comics and throwing objects at them

Malcolm Hardee – known for running notorious comedy clubs

Exactly 14 years ago tonight, comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock in the Rotherhithe peninsula, London.

He maintained his principles, even in death.

When his body was raised from the dock several days later, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

Malcolm was famed for spotting and helping talented comedians at the start of their careers. He was also known for running and hosting the Tunnel Palladium club night – a Sunday evening show with good professional acts but also an ‘open spot’ section so dangerous for new acts to perform in that aspiring comics would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to see if they could survive an audience known and feared for its razor-sharp heckling.

After the club was raided and closed by the police for drugs offences (NOT on one of Malcolm’s nights – he only did Sundays) he opened Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich where, initially, the hecklers continued their trade.

Here, I chat to one of the Tunnel’s most effective hecklers – Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin.


Gordon Breslin – a taste for heckling

JOHN: You got a taste for heckling at the Tunnel club…

BRES: Well, before that, me and a friend used to go to Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday afternoon and absorb some of the heckling of speakers that was going on. I remember heckling the Reverend Donald Soper on occasion, when he was preaching there. That’s where we cut out teeth.

JOHN: Did Lord Soper take it well?

BRES: He did indeed. He was a very nice gentleman. After that, though, we discovered the Tunnel club.

JOHN: You were regulars.

BRES: Yes. And the heckling was quite good fun. To start with, it was limited to the open mic spots.

JOHN: But all heckling is surely cruel and nasty.

BRES: Sometimes it is cruel and nasty but sometimes an act just needs to go if they’re not very good.

JOHN: But these poor, sensitive people have spent months refining their act…

BRES: Well, being heckled is how they know it needs more refining. If an act is really bad, something should be done apart from walking out. I think audiences have become too tolerant of bad acts these days. Back in the Tunnel days, it could be quite rude – “Get off! You’re shit!” This was 1984 to 1989.

But word got out about the heckling there and it got progressively more ermmm… ‘aggressive’ I guess is the word.

JOHN: Well, I guess throwing beer glasses at the acts is aggressive.

BRES: Yes, but people like Simon Munnery were cutting their teeth there and he didn’t mind a bit of heckling. There used to be a very good heckler at The Tunnel called The Pirate…

JOHN: I think Malcolm told me The Pirate was a stockbroker who retired early to Spain with lots of money.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

BRES: His great one was… A comic would make his best joke of the night and The Pirate’s voice would be heard saying “Oh larf… Oh larf… Oh larf,” which would just floor the comedian. Some of the heckling was very very funny.

JOHN: And the best heckles are…?

BRES: I think the art of the heckle is… A heckler wants to make a funny gag and make the audience laugh and perhaps even get the biggest laugh of the night and – not necessarily make the comic feel small, but – make the comic appreciate the heckler’s one one-liner as well.

JOHN: Surely it is just solely to make the comic feel small.

BRES: Well, in a way. But the comic has the right of reply, so he can make the heckler feel even smaller. A lot of people don’t want to sit in the front rows because they don’t want to be picked-on by the comic. Let’s get it into perspective. For me comedians, if they are any good, will always pick on the front row. So they have more than ample opportunity to get their retaliation in first.

JOHN: So heckling is the audience picking on the comedian, not the comedian picking on the audience.

BRES: Exactly. That’s the one. As long as it’s fair and just. At The Tunnel, some of the comedians would come on looking nervous and, before they’d even said a word, the first thing shouted out was: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then someone else would take up the cry: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then the whole audience would end up shouting “Maaallcolm!!!” and, before the comedian had even said a word, it was not unknown for the act to walk off without even doing a joke.

JOHN: And the audience would sometimes call out for a taxi…

BRES: Yes. “Cab for (the comedian’s name)!” Those were the regular heckles. But then it got a bit overtaken by… Well, a bit violent, I should say – Throwing things and it… it got… erm… too bad. There was an incident where Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton)… I think it was a beer crate or something like that was thrown at them – something quite chunky…

JOHN: Malcolm told me he wasn’t the compere that night. I think he was maybe at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Malcolm made a mistake in giving a copy of this letter to each member of the Tunnel club audience

BRES: I think she sustained a cut – Joy Pickles. So, the following week, there was a letter to the audience from Tunnel Arts – which was Malcolm – asking all members of the audience to “refrain from throwing anything at the stage… The Tunnel Club is noted for its witty heckling and appreciation of a good act. Let’s not spoil it by behaving as animals. It is coming to a point where a lot of good acts are thinking twice about performing here (quite rightly so) and this means that your enjoyment will be impaired.”

A copy of this letter was put on every seat in the Tunnel club and, of course, when Malcolm came on stage, he got bombarded by people throwing screwed-up letters and paper aeroplanes at him. So the letter became a surreal heckle.

JOHN: My memory is that, sometimes, they didn’t just throw beer glasses at the acts; they sometimes threw half-full glasses so there was beer all over the place too.

BRES: Well, it was probably quite watered-down beer. 

JOHN: The heckling-off of acts was quite effective.

BRES: Yes. Sometimes self-defeating. Sometimes you might have seven or eight acts and the show would be over in half an hour because everyone had been heckled off – sometimes even the good ones.

Jools Holland (left) with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel club in 1985 (Photo by Bill Alford)

JOHN: Malcolm told me that, after the trouble with Clarence & Joy Pickles, he had to make it a members-only club and he then discovered lots of the audience were not local. They were coming through the Blackwall Tunnel from north of the Thames and a lot were very highly-paid, highly-educated City workers, which was why the heckling was of such a high standard. I think someone was once heckled off in Latin and looked a bit surprised.

BRES: Yeah.

JOHN: What was your job at that point?

BRES: (LAUGHS) I was a Lloyds underwriter, working in the City.

JOHN: So basically it was up-market scum causing the problems.

BRES: Exactly. (LAUGHS) But I am from humble beginnings. I guess the Tunnel club had a timely demise and we were then a bit bereft of anywhere to go. We tried out Jongleurs club in Clapham, but the comedy was never great there and we weren’t allowed to heckle. We were physically told-off by bouncers. Luckily, Malcolm then set-up Up The Creek in Greenwich, which didn’t have the same notoriety as the Tunnel.

JOHN: I think the brothers who co-owned it with Malcolm told him after a few weeks that he couldn’t allow heckling and throwing things. Though I do remember some open spot act who got up on stage and started reading poetry. He was a bald man and you could see the blood trickling down his forehead after something was thrown and hit him.

BRES: I was there when Eddie Shit was performing. He came on dressed as Freddie Mercury and was singing songs by Queen with all the lyrics changed to refer to shit. I was sitting down the front and we were getting things passed to us from the back – including glass ashtrays – to throw at him. Which, obviously, we never did.

There was one occasion when an act which really was shit had been using a real frozen chicken and they ended up throwing this frozen chicken at the audience. The audience kept it then, slowly but surely, it made its way down the front. It came to me and I remember getting up on stage and offering it to Malcolm and I think I started up the chant “Shag the chicken! Shag the chicken!” which the whole audience took up.

So Malcolm got his knob out and duly obliged. 

That was quite amusing.

JOHN: Did you make friends with the other hecklers?

BRES: Yes. And some of the acts as well. It wasn’t all animosity. Simon Munnery, Martin Soan, Boothby Graffoe, Rich Hall. We would leave the good acts alone and they would leave us alone.

JOHN: Mostly, I thought the hecklers at Malcolm’s clubs were firm but fair.

BRES: I would like to think that.

JOHN: Part of the training process for new comedians. You don’t get much heckling nowadays.

BRES: The demise of heckling is down to the extra tolerance we have nowadays, even for bad acts. There are hidden boundaries these days. There’s too much respect for comics these days. Performers don’t know how to give a riposte and, as a heckler, you don’t want to show them up. It would just stump them.

JOHN: Isn’t that the point?

BRES: Not always. The next generation should learn what “Maaallcolm!!!” means.

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Striking Kamp – How the Wolverine of British art creates his layered emotions

Vince: The Wolverine of the British art scene

British painter Vincent Kamp was named Artist of The Year 2017 by Talented Art Fair.

In yesterday’s blog, he talked about his upcoming short movie about a heist at the Ritz Club in London. It is based on a series of paintings he created.

He has also been collaborating with singer Sam Smith on a series of paintings.

But an earlier success was another series of linked-narrative paintings.


JOHN: Barber shops. You went round barber shops and created a series of paintings… Why?

VINCE: I was at a motor bike show and there was a barber shop there. I was there to research the bike guys, but I saw this barber shop where there were three or four guys with a fantastic look – tattoos and all the rest – and they had this 1920s feel about them. So, even though I was there to photograph motor bike guys, I asked if I could photograph the barbers too and then I started painting them and the paintings went down really well on Instagram – people were really excited by them – so then I went to see those guys in their shop in East London and asked: “Are there more guys like you?”

“…There must be other things going on…”

And they said: “Yeah.”

This is a massive community of really creative, interesting people.

So I started to think more about and visit these barber shops. And these guys are doing quite well, have a fair bit of money but, I thought: They can’t be making this money from just cutting hair! So I started thinking: There must be other things going on. And I came up with ideas of crime behind the scenes.

Guys just cutting hair is not necessarily THAT interesting but, once you imagine these guys are doing something else… When you get your hair cut, you end up telling the barber everything, so maybe they are hearing about all sorts of stuff…?

JOHN: And this barber shop series was a turning point for you?

VINCE: Yes. I had been selling art for a long time, but…

JOHN: Selling it where?

VINCE: Just around. There are lots of art fairs around London. Manchester and places. You hire a space, a little booth. I had a booth. You put your paintings up and people walk past turning their noses up, because people love abstract art and pretty colours. They see Renaissance Art type stuff and they think: Oh! Old-fashioned rubbish!

I thought I would never get anywhere but, when I started painting the barbers, that’s when it started resonating with people and I started to get a lot more interest. That was about two-and-a-half years ago.

“It started resonating with people and I got a lot more interest”

That was when I could quit working at my full-time other job. So I have been a full-time artist for about two years.

But, really, I think another major turning point was just before I did the barbers stuff, when I studied in Rome for a couple of weeks with one of my art mentors, an American artist called Sean Cheetham, and he gave me the feeling I could do something. That gave me self-belief, but I just kept chipping away. That is the thing; you have to keep chipping away.

JOHN: You’re not interested in abstract art – random triangles, Picasso and all that?

VINCE: No, I’m not. I appreciate that people like abstraction, but…

JOHN: The Renaissance is seriously complicated, detailed stuff.

VINCE: Well, I’m a realistic painter, a representational artist.

JOHN: That’s more difficult than painting triangles.

“It is the ‘idea’ people buy. That is where the art really exists.”

VINCE: Yes but, at the end of the day, that is just ‘craft’. The ‘art’ is the ‘idea’. There are tons of people who can paint way better than me and representational ‘craft’ will get you so far, but only so far. It is actually the ‘idea’ that people buy and that is where the art really exists.

Even the old masters would maybe paint face and hands and have students filling in everything else… but they had come up with the original ideas, the composition.

Love him or hate him, Damien Hirst comes up with the ideas, the marketing, the brand and he has other people do the work. But why should he do the work? Someone else can repeat what he tells them – the spacing of his dots, the colours that are used, any number of different things. People say: Oh, my 5-year-old could do that… Yeah, but your 5-year-old DIDN’T do it. And YOU didn’t do it. HE did it and HE was successful.

There is so much more to it than just producing a piece of art that’s impressive. There are so many people who are brilliant at painting dogs or children or whatever else. But it’s only the people who own the dog or own the child who want to buy their painting. Because there is no real story; the idea is not interesting enough; it’s just a piece of craft work.

JOHN: Painting is dead, isn’t it? You do reference photographs and you can do creative changes with Photoshop and you can sell prints of your work successfully – which you do. Why bother actually painting at all?

“…Prints are just not the same… They flatten everything out…”

VINCE: Prints of paintings are just not the same. They flatten everything out; there’s only a certain dynamic range you can do with a printer, so a lot of subtleties in the darks and the blacks and the shadows will just get turned to black by a printer. You won’t see all those different subtleties.

Oil paintings are painted in layers and, because light goes through all these different layers of paint and reflects back colours, it has a very different feel when you see an oil painting in real life compared to a print of that oil painting.

One of the big things about my art is it’s expensive. The people buying it like the art, but also they know that there is only one of these. When you buy a Lamborghini, ten people down the road could have the same car as you. You have spent £250,000 on a car and you don’t have the only one. Whereas, when you buy an original oil painting which has had many hours of thought and work go into it, it’s a completely different investment.

“…People really get quite emotional about my paintings…”

People are emotionally attached to it. People really get quite emotional about my paintings, which is the greatest thing ever for me; it’s the biggest rush; I get goosebumps when I think about it. When they tell me how much the painting I have created means to them… well, a print of the painting will never mean the same thing.

JOHN: So I can’t appreciate your paintings as prints?

VINCE: You can still appreciate them, of course, because the story is still there in each print, but you know the artist’s hand hasn’t been involved. There’s a different emotive, visceral thing that comes with an original that has been created by a human being. A print is a photograph of an original that has been reproduced. It’s not quite the same thing.

TV and film spoon-feeds you everything – the characters, the plot, the story, the whole thing.

“What happened leading up to the instant captured by that?”

But a painting is one instant and you decide what went before and after and what the back story is…

What happened after that moment?

What happened leading up to the instant captured by that paining?

And that is what people do. They write to me to tell me what they think is going on. Everyone sees something slightly different.

JOHN: Do you take commissions?

VINCE: No. I haven’t got time and I don’t want to paint someone just because they want to be painted. I’m very busy and I paint what I want to paint.

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Vincent Kamp – The representational Renaissance artist of UK underworlds

Painter Vincent Kamp is unusual in that he sometimes creates not just one painting but perhaps six or eight separate scenes from an single imagined narrative story.

His PR man told me that Vince is “fascinated by the dark, gritty, underground world of urban subculture. His paintings delve beneath the surface of social class, creating intense portraits of charismatic people in a fused background of atmospheric lighting, sexuality and impending violence.”

“Fuck me!” I thought.

So I went and had a chat with him.

Vincent Kamp: “For me, it’s all about stories… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character.”


JOHN: Someone must have said Hogarth when describing your paintings?

VINCE: I think Hogarth is much tighter than me. I think I’m much looser. If you see my paintings up close, there’s much more evidence of brushstrokes and paint.

JOHN: Hogarth did lowlifes and scum-of-the-earths. That’s what he did. That’s what you’re interested in.

VINCE:  A little bit. Yeah. Absolutely.

JOHN: But your background is ordinary middle class life?

VINCE: Pretty much. I worked at my parents’ company for a long time. My father is a designer of scientific instruments. And I’ve got my own family – two kids – So I painted in the evenings and at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was struggling away like that for many, many years.

JOHN: Any artistic influence from your parents?

VINCE: My parents are both from Holland. I have never lived in Holland, but there is a very strong connection to North Holland – that Flemish style. We were always taken to museums and art galleries. My parents have quite a few oil paintings. So I grew up with that. It has always been my sort of sensibilities: that sort of Renaissance style painting.

JOHN: So why the attraction to down-market East End of London type people?

VINCE: For me, it’s all about stories. Whether it is a glamorous story or whether it is just some scum-of-the-earth guy stealing and robbing… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character. That’s what I’m interested in more than anything.

“…a story with a whole cast of characters”

The first thing I do is write a back story with a whole cast of characters. Then I use a casting director to find the people I need. Actors. Then I find the location. So, essentially, it is like I am making a film and I paint a storyboard, essentially, for the narrative I have already written down.

JOHN: You use actors for faces? Not real Faces? Have you encountered genuine naughty men?

VINCE: Let’s just say I’ve brushed with that world a little bit.

JOHN: Very appropriate. Brushed. But why not use genuine dodgy men? 

VINCE: I am trying to create a narrative scene and, if you’re not an actor and I am trying to tell you the narrative, you may just look a bit wooden… If you could catch them in the middle of a deal or whatever else, then maybe that would be interesting, but actually a gangster being photographed when he’s not ‘gangstering’ is just going to be a guy sat there looking nervous because you are pointing a camera at him.

JOHN: You take photographs?

VINCE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I explain the background of the scene to the actors. I’m talking to them, directing them and snapping away with my camera.

JOHN: You paint from photographs?

VINCE: Yes. For me, if you ask a person to hold a pose for a painting, that is never reality. But, when you snatch that moment in time in a photograph and then paint from that – That is much more real than asking someone to pose for a certain amount of time while I paint for however many hours.

JOHN: And you may alter what is in the photograph to change the person’s emotional look.

VINCE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. I take hundreds of photographs. I might borrow the hands from one; the face from another. I do charcoal studies and then think: You know, what I’m gonna do is tweak this guy to look a little more gnarly or more apprehensive or whatever. So I change subtle details here and there… and create my own lighting.

JOHN: Between the photograph and the painting, there might be Photoshopping?

VINCE: Loads of Photoshopping… Tons… 

JOHN: Why don’t you, in your head, do what the Photoshop will do? Wouldn’t that be quicker?

VINCE: Oh my God, no! Your reference is the most important part: getting that absolutely right. The painting, then, becomes more mechanical. Painting is very, very time-consuming. To hold an idea in your head for that length of time to get it exactly right is REALLY difficult. I have done it. But it is much better to use the tools that are available.

JOHN: With all this photographing of narrative stories, can a feature film be far off?

VINCE: I am directing a 15 minute short which we hope to start filming in mid-February. But it is at the early stages yet. It’s a screenplay I have written based on a show I did at the Ritz last month.

JOHN: That was a series of paintings…

“Being a director must have been in the back of your mind…”

VINCE: Yes. Called Diamond Roulette – six paintings… A heist thriller. The story is about a couple who are stealing from the high-end gamblers at the Ritz Club. People can lose £2 million or £3 million in a night – they have £10,000 chips there… In fact, they have £50,000 and £500,000 chips there… And these girls are often in the casinos and subtly take chips from the guys and someone spots this and sees an opportunity and that’s where the story starts.

JOHN: Being a director must have always been in the back of your mind.

VINCE: Of course I’m a massive film fan. I’ve always been fascinated about telling stories, always been writing stories.

JOHN: So, if you do shoot in mid-February, the short film will be ready for screening by…

VINCE: …by May at the latest, I hope.

JOHN: You are linked to a gallery near The Ritz.

VINCE: Yes. Clarendon Fine Art in Dover Street, Mayfair. They represent me. I’m exclusive. DeMontfort Fine Art, who own Clarendon, has 55 galleries around the country who sell my prints as well.

JOHN: You have made money out of art. You have supported a wife and two children – aged 12 and 9 – not cheap. Yet you have no art school training at all. How did you build a career?

VINCE: Well, you sell a load of work first of all. Then you start getting people talking about you. And, pretty soon, the art galleries come knocking.

JOHN: How did DeMontfort know you existed?

VINCE: On Instagram.

JOHN: Was there a turning point when you started being really successful?

VINCE: Well…

… CONCLUDED HERE

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Comedy performer Becky Fury in Berlin with the man who had had too much fun

Becky Fury… And this is the way the conversation went…

My last blog, a week ago,  was about What happened when award-winning performer Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week to create art but she only stayed for a day. 

It was not exactly clear why her stay was so short. And several readers of this blog have asked me (yes indeed they really have) why.

The only explanation in the previous blog was: “the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid… didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.”

So, obviously, a couple of days ago, I sat down and had a cup of tea with Becky (we are, after all, British) and asked her to be more specific. 

And this is the way the conversation went…


BECKY: The guy read your blog, contacted me and said he had been wondering what happened to me.

JOHN: He didn’t realise you had left Berlin?

BECKY: No. I hadn’t told him.

JOHN: You left over a week ago.

BECKY: Well, there were a few things he didn’t notice and the fact that I had left Berlin was one of those things. 

JOHN: He had done too much…

BECKY: He had done too much… of something. He had had… erm… He had had way too much ‘fun’. That’s a nice way of explaining it.

JOHN: But he never noticed you had gone? Did you leave a stuffed dummy of a human body under your bedclothes?

BECKY: This was the thing. I didn’t have a bed to sleep in. That was mainly the reason I left. Because I was given a couch in a freezing cold warehouse in East Berlin in January. 

JOHN: We couldn’t afford couches in my day…

BECKY: Maybe I should have considered myself lucky… And I had a dirty sleeping bag to sleep under.

JOHN: Sounds ideal. This is the stuff of award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows.

BECKY: I know… I… err… I don’t want to get distracted by what you’re saying.

JOHN: Few people do.

BECKY: Basically, I went to Berlin to do some art. We had had this really, really interesting conversation, this guy and me. I had met him when I first started to do squatting and alternative politics in 2002. It was a really interesting thing to catch up with him and have a conversation about all the things that had happened since 2002. And he told me we could do a film in his ‘green screen room’ in Berlin. I knew that, over the previous 17 years, he had been taking a lot of… having a lot of ‘fun’.

“I can’t work in this space and I can’t work with you.”

When I got to Berlin, he took me up to see the green screen room and it was the size of… well, basically, you couldn’t stand up in it. Which is a bit of a problem for a green screen room. And he had a tent in the green screen room and he was sleeping in there.

I looked at him and he looked at me and he said: “Oh, no, no, well, we could do it like a rocket. We could film it like we were in a rocket ship in here.” 

And I was thinking: No, we couldn’t. We could only film it in here like we were two tramps living in a tent in a green screen room. There’s nothing else you can do in this space. You ARE actually like a tramp living in this tent in a room that you have green screened and this is fucking insane. I can’t work in this space and I clearly can’t work with you.

And he kinda knew there was something wrong, but this is the thing about people having too much… who have had too much ‘fun’. It is like you’re tripping all the time.

I wasn’t angry with him at all. He was in his dream and he wasn’t really seeing why there was a problem. In his dream, it was fine. We would absolutely make an amazing film with us in a tent flying through space.

He told me this guy from (a well-known cabaret music group) was coming down. And he did. But the date he had given the guy was totally wrong: it was like four days afterwards. I mean, you really can’t get people to fucking come from other countries to meet up and the two people who are meant to be doing the project together arrive four days apart!

He had not done the logistics and I was meant to stay on this freezing cold couch under a dirty sleeping bag for four days. He told me that is what everyone in Berlin does.

So I wandered off. 

There was also inter-personal politics with people in the house.

Basically, they had set up an art space in an enormous warehouse space.

There was the original Tacheles squat after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the squatters got evicted and it was turned into luxury flats. And these were the same (squatter) people who had moved and set up a new Tacheles.

That’s what he told me and it is, but there were two sets of agendas going on.

He has sort-of ‘arted’ all over the warehouse – like he has pissed all over the place, but with art. Art everywhere. So the people upstairs have to deal with him: this guy who is ‘arting’ all over their place.

JOHN: Is this not good? Whatever happened to the joy of anarchy?

“Like I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave. and run away very fast.”

BECKY: Well, the thing about anarchy is it needs some level of organisation for it to function, otherwise it’s just chaos and a big mess. Which is fun. And it was interesting to go and visit it. But I think that might be why, in the picture you put in the last blog, I look like I’d seen a ghost: that I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave and run away very fast.

JOHN: So, basically, you just left because you were a bit cold…

BECKY: (LAUGHING) Basically, that’s it! I could have waited to find out if the guy turned up from the (well-known cabaret music group) – which he did.

JOHN: So, at what point did this bloke who enticed you over to do art discover you had left Berlin? Only when he read my blog?

BECKY: No. When the other guy turned up four days later and I wasn’t there.

JOHN: How had you left?

BECKY: I said: “I’m going to go for a walk.”

JOHN: To the guy who had had too much fun?

BECKY: No. To the other guys upstairs. They said to me: “We don’t really know what you’re doing here.”

And I was thinking: I don’t really know what I’m doing here either.

I could have won them over with my natural wit and charm and – obviously – the opportunity to be mentioned in your blog. But I thought: I don’t really want to be here and I’ve got other shit to be getting on with. So I said I was going for a walk and was thinking I’d get an AirBnB or something but, by the time I had left and got a bit of food and was near the station – I hadn’t eaten since I got there because the guy didn’t have any food…

JOHN: You had only been there for like half a day! That’s hardly hardship…

BECKY: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: So you said you were going off for a walk like Captain Oates?

BECKY: Yeah. “I might be some time” and they never saw me again. I did my Captain Oates bit and bowed out disgracefully.

JOHN: Though, unlike Captain Oates, you went to a warmer place.

BECKY: Though we don’t know what happened to Captain Oates, do we?

JOHN: No we don’t. But you left because…

BECKY: I had thought it was going to be a really functional space with loads of people. Not just three cold and very irritable hippies and a man who had taken too much fun.

Although, to be honest, that is a better audience than I’ve sometimes had at the Edinburgh Fringe…

So I came back to London and learnt the script for Political, my show at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February.

JOHN: Well promoted.

BECKY: I try.

JOHN: And you’ve succeeded.

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What happened when award-winning Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week

Becky possibly possessed by a dead actress.

When Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Becky Fury told me she was going to Berlin for a week and offered to share her insights with me, I leapt at the chance and said Yes.

Though it is always a risky strategy saying Yes to anyone who has won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

I have just received this missive from Becky which is more a thesis on support of the arts but is worth reading for the unexpected (at least by me) twist in it…


I woke up in Berlin yesterday. 

I meant to. It was not some happy, drunken accident.

I woke up in an arts space which calls itself the new Kunsthaus Tacheles (Art House Tacheles) and I put my coat on – the wrong way round, I was informed. But the coat served its function that way for a few more hours, so maybe it was not the coat that was the wrong way round but the perspective of how the coat should be on that was inside out.

Facade of Kunsthaus Tacheles at Oranienburger Straße, Berlin

‘Tacheles’ is a word – רעדן ניט בולשיט – meaning ‘speak no bullshit’ in Yiddish. So I had broken the only rule of the space before breakfast.

The old Tacheles grew out of the rubble of the Second World War, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in a space in East Berlin.

It was named in Yiddish as a memorial to its pre-War Jewish inhabitants who had never returned.

The new space is beginning to be like the old one but the artists there are having to deal with just making the space habitable rather than being able to create art. Putting into place the basic blocks of the artistic ecosystem which develops in a space which, like a rainforest or peak bog, has taken years to evolve. In the same way that you can’t just make a rainforest from scratch, you can’t do that with a creative space.

These spaces should be protected as important habitats to protect cultural biodiversity.

PROTECT THE PUNK is unlikely to be taken up as a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund. But something needs to happen. The eviction of the Freespace ADM in Amsterdam (Becky blogged about it here last year) was halted by the UN, who said that the space was a protected reservation.

If the World Wildlife Fund can’t do it, maybe one of the charities that allows you to indirectly adopt a child could run an adoption campaign for alternative artists. You could get updates on how well your alternative artist is doing, if it has been successfully released into the wild and how global re-population is doing. 

The British government used to run a similar scheme. It was called the dole.

If you have an issue with people claiming the dole, then throw away most of your favourite music because those artists were funded and had the space to do what they were doing because they were at some point in their career scamming the dole.

A staircase inside the Kunsthaus Tacheles building in Berlin (Photograph by Shaun7777777 on Wikipedia)

However, really, the most important fundraising needs to go into  protecting spaces where this art is created. Pop stars would do well to think less about the Rainforest or Africa and more about cultural reservations in the developed world, because it is in these places that the sounds and styles that go into the creation of commercially manufactured music are poached.

The commercial stylists and producers and ‘creative team’ are essentially poachers that go into these wild raw spaces and poach ideas. They return with skins and trophies that go into creating the latest look for whoever is being pushed to the top of what is left of the singles chart. Without these spaces, they wouldn’t have a career. They would do well to encourage people to save them.

Really, the important issue is the space. The individuals there can support themselves in lieu of the government doing it. The government never does anything that shows foresight beyond preserving their next term. It needs a charity which deals with protecting habitats like the RSPB.

 We need a  Royal Society for the Protection of Artistic Birds. 

Birds and Blokes.

I am using birds as the collective noun.

These artistic birds are endangered and they need to have their habitat protected otherwise the diversity will decrease and all the beautiful, wild, exotic, interesting species will die off and we will just be left with the equivalent of pigeons and seagulls – less sensitive, aggressive species that can survive in the barren cultural climate and environment that we have manufactured. 

I am not suggesting that Rentokil should be called in to deal with infestations of pop stars. 

I would just like to see pop stars on the list alongside rats and wasps on the side of the Rentokil van. 

If Rentokil could turn up at a Justin Beiber concert and trap him in a big net, I would pay for an overpriced stadium ticket to see that gig.


When I received that missive from Becky, I asked her if she had any photos she had taken of herself at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. She replied:


A Becky selfie on a train in Berlin

I didn’t take any there. I do have one of me on a tube train.

And one (above) that makes me look like maybe I was possessed by one of the former inhabitants of the Tacheles – a minor Hammer horror actress that died there… on stage in a dance interpretation of the Communist Manifesto.

I left some photos with the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid and didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.

I told you when I left for Berlin that I would see where it might lead me… Back to Berlin Airport, apparently, and then back to London.

Anyway. Now I can learn lines for my next show or just fanny about on Facebook in London. So that’s what I’m doing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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“I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake” by Malcolm Hardee – an extract

Following on from the last five days of blogs, which quoted what people’s reactions were when legendary comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, here is an extract from his out-of-print 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

All you need to know as background is that, before he entered the show business, Malcolm was not the comedy Messiah.

He was a very naughty boy…


I came out of Exeter three days after Jubilee Day 1977. Unless you’re young enough to be a footballer, 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. I did both. 

Alan Curry, who later joined The Greatest Show on Legs, had been looking for a flat and had just gone knocking on doors. He’d found a massive Victorian house in Micheldever Road in Lee Green, half a mile from Lewisham. A woman called Sally Niblett lived there. Her husband was disabled and was quite a famous doctor and he’d taken himself, his wheelchair and their five boys off to Papua New Guinea. She was left in this massive house on her own. So Alan Curry moved in. 

Alan told Wizo about the house, Wizo told me and I moved in. At this point, Wizo was a lifeguard at a local swimming pool despite the fact he couldn’t swim. Not what you would call swimming in the traditional sense. 

After that, my mate Martin Potter moved in and, over the years, Sally had maybe 70-odd different tenants in that house. My sister lived there for a time. Nearly everyone I know has lived there.

The house next door was owned by a man called Michael, who was clinically mad. He used to come along in the morning, cut the hedge and then stick the leaves back on with glue and Sellotape.

There were the maddest goings-on in the world at Sally Niblett’s house. There was a bloke called Vic, who thought he was practical but he wasn’t. He constantly had a car engine in his bedroom that he was repairing but it never worked. Once I was in bed with a girlfriend and he tried to come into the room, but there was a wooden beam across the door and he hit his head on it. He went running downstairs, got a chainsaw out, ran back up and started sawing through the wood.

Another bloke who lived there was Dave. He bought an old taxi, took the body off it and decided to make a car completely out of wood, because he was a bit of a chippie. Eventually, after about two years making this car, he decided to take it for a test run. He came out of the drive where he’d been making it, turned left and, after about 100 yards, got stopped by the police. They said: 

“You can’t have this. It’s illegal. You’ve got no M.O.T. certificate”. 

So he put it back in the drive and it stayed there for fifteen years until it rotted away.

Sally Niblett used to be a nurse and she had a series of affairs and eventually ended up moving into the basement because there were so many people in this house. Everyone paid her £5 per week. Didn’t matter which room: £5 per week. It was just the maddest house you could ever imagine. It made the house in BBC TV’s The Young Ones look like a palace. 

Once, I wanted to have a chicken-run in the garden, so I came back with two chickens and didn’t have anywhere to put them, so I put them in the oven while I built the chicken-run. Sally Niblett came home and switched the oven on. She never noticed.

Another time, we moved a sofa from a house round the corner. We didn’t have any van to put it in, but I had an old Austin Cambridge car. So I towed it behind the car, with Vic sitting on the sofa as we towed it round the streets. I came round a corner, the rope snapped and he just carried on sitting on the sofa as it hurtled straight into the Manor Lane Cafe. 

It was at this house in Micheldever Road that I became a minicab-driver when I met this bloke called ‘Alec The Greek’, who wasn’t a Greek. He lent me £65 to buy a car and I bought the cheapest possible four-door car I could: a Renault 4 saloon.

At the same time, I saw a notice in the local paper saying: 

WANTED FOR THEATRE GROUP

ACTORS

I thought I’ll have a go at that! 

This was the 1970s so, basically, being in a Theatre Group meant somebody gave you a Grant and you went round and scared kids for about an hour. 

I went to this audition and they were all standing in a circle going: 

“Taaaaall as a tree!……Smaaaall as a mouse!” 

Then they went: 

“Ooooooooh!……Eeeeeeeh!” 

And I thought What the fuck’s going on here? 

But I thought I’d have a go at it. 

I had a boxer dog I was looking after at the time and as I tried doing Taaaall as a tree! the boxer dog was trying to shag my leg. They were all taking it seriously but, over the other side of the room, was a bloke called Martin Soan and he looked at me and he looked at the boxer dog and I looked at him and we knew, from that moment, we were going to get on. And we did.

I was also minicabbing with the boxer dog in the car. There was a girl in this Theatre Group who was very big. Well, let’s be honest, she was fat. 

She fancied me. I don’t know why, but she did.

I went to the minicab office one night at 1.00am and this girl was there, waiting for me. She said: 

“Can you take me home to Peckham, Malcolm?” 

“Alright,” I said. 

Just as she was getting in the car, the minicab boss shouted out: 

“Oy! I’ve got another fare for Peckham, round the corner! Can you take him?” 

“Yes,” I said. “No problem.”

So I drove round the corner to the address and the fare was on the 14th floor of a tower block. 

I went in. The lift didn’t work. I ran up the stairs. Knocked on the door. Shouted out: 

“Anyone cab for Peckham?” 

This bloke came to the door a bit drunk and said: 

“Can you take five?” 

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I can take five. I’ve got a dog in the car”. I didn’t mention the fat girl. 

So this bloke called out: 

“Mavis! Oi, Mavis! We like dogs, don’t we?” 

“Yeah,” she called back: “We love dogs!”  

So I capitulated because he said he’d pay double.

 “Alright,” I said, “I’ll take five”. 

I ran all the way down the stairs and shouted to the fat girl: 

“Get in the boot!” 

Full credit to her, she did. 

The boot in my Renault was at the front. So she got into the boot and the family came down. They were luckily quite small people. I put three of them in the back with the dog over their laps and the bloke and his wife in the front. I started the engine up and the fat girl must have panicked because the boot lid came slowly up and her face rose in front of the windscreen. The bloke asked the not unreasonable question: 

“Who’s that?” 

“Dunno,” I said.

The lid of the boot went down and we drove off to Peckham. The bloke never mentioned it again. Nor did I. 

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Final stories of dead Malcolm Hardee

The invitation to and running order for Malcolm Hardee’s extraordinary funeral

Over the last four days, I have re-posted anecdotes told about legendary British comedian Malcolm Hardee by other comics in the days following his drowning in 2005.

Here, to round off, are some more memories re-posted from 2005 – from four more comics, plus Malcolm’s lifelong friend Wizo and Malcolm’s partner of 13 years, Pip – interspersed with some video tributes to him over the years (some require you to watch them online at YouTube).


WIZO, lifelong friend – 25th February 2005

We were both sent to Borstal in 1970.

After 3 months, Malcolm said to me: “Wizo, I fancy a sausage sandwich at Blackheath tea stall.”

So we escaped.

We broke into a church, I donned some gardener’s clothes and Malcolm put on the vicar’s robes. We split up and I found my way home and got over to Holland. Malcolm was arrested at 2am waiting at a bus stop outside Huntingdon by two coppers that pulled up and thought That’s funny: a shifty looking vicar with spectacles mended with Sellotape and nicked him again. His great escape lasted two hours. Love his old bollocks…….


KEITH ALLEN, comedian…


JOJO SMITH, comedian – March 9th 2005

Gosh, so many memories. My seventh ever gig was a Sunday night open spot at Up the Creek and, of course, Channel 4 News were filming it cos that week comedy was “the new rock’n’roll”.

I knew sod all about actually doing comedy but, as I died royally on that stage, I began to learn.

Lesson number one was to give up comedy for 6 months! Bad enough dying on my hole without hearing Malcolm say I looked like Pat Butcher!

16 months later I went back. I knew a bit more by this time, tho’ was questioning my own sanity as I sat in the audience watching the other comics, waiting to go on. Thank God the DLR wasn’t built then or I might have bolted back to Notting Hill, but the thought of 2 tubes and 3 buses for nowt made me stay.

I went on and stormed it and felt like the Queen of the World. Afterwards, I told Malcolm I’d given up for 6 months and he said: “Did you a favour then, didn’t I?”

You did, Malcolm, you did me loads of favours: gigs in South Africa, Glastonbury, that mad Uni gig in Scotland with the male and female strippers, Dublin (where I managed to get myself banned for having breasts and talking dirty), interviewing you in the Tartan Taxi for Funny Business, too many drunken, Peruvian nights in Greenwich, so many memories. I am blessed to have known you.


BRENDON BURNS, comedian…


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet – 12th March 2005

Song for Malcolm

The first time ever I saw you
was in a marquee, circa 1980,
you were shaking up some William Shakespeare stuff.
I remember thinking, who’s this man?
I cannot remember, if you wore a ruff.
Certainly not just a ruff.

Funny man from London, south.
Ringmaster and river mouth,
and no trousers, sometimes.

Going down your tunnel,
where the heckling could halt
the process of performance,
your shrug suggested a pinch of salt
is what it should be taken with,
though generally you were more fresh-water.

Funny man and river man,
Oy oy was your shout.
Oy oy’s yo yo backwards,
and you swung it all about.

You didn’t tend
to follow the trend
and you were light
at the tunnel’s end.


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet…


SIMON DAY, comedian/poet – 9th May 2005

i had just stepped off the stage at up the creek, malcom was sitting at the back in that strange bit near the cloakroom. he offered to be my agent then sat down again twitching, his head moving left to right in that strange bird like manner twirling his fag. i of course i said yes.

there followed a terrible, wonderful, extraordinary voyage of discovery underpinned by a lack of new jokes.

no matter what he did people adored him, at the end of the day if you didn’t know him then you missed out if you did know him then inside you there is a little grubby bird which will never stop singing.


HARRY ENFIELD, comedian…


SIMON DAY, comedian – 10th May 2005

i was supporting vic reeves in newcastle, we were staying at the copthorne hotel, a brand new flagship megaplinth, part of the quayside revitalisation which is now in full swing. we were in the bar after the show, malcolm arrived having missed it (he did not care much for jim and bob, thought they were overrated).

earlier in the day malcom had won 8 grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. he was half cut and mistakenly assumed i had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier, he decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl. who didn’t exist!

wearing just a dressing gown he climbed out of the window. the icy waters of the tyne swirling 100 foot below, he struggled along for ages finally reaching my room. no doubt he shouted oy! oy! and pressed his balls to the glass. i don’t know.

it was the wrong room. i was fast asleep on the floor above.

on returning to his junior suite he was hurled to the ground by 2 special branch (there was a tory party conference on!)

they wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge naked except for a dressing gown. they searched his room and found five thousand seven hundred and sixty quid in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards

he was taken to a portokabin nearby where he gave his address as fingal street in greenwich.

all sorts of alarms went off.

it was the former home of a leading member of the i.r.a.

after intensive questioning they decided that he was not a threat to national security – only social security – and off he tottered.

i miss him.


STEWART LEE, comedian…


PIP HAZELTON, Malcolm’s partner of 13 years – 8th November 2005

Giving birth to our first child.

Labour was long and Malcolm needed a fag. On returning he entered the delivery suite to find a group of worried medical staff clustered round the bed. A doctor noticed him hovering by the door and made space for him down at the business end of the bed. Just then the baby appeared to cries of encouragement from the midwife: “Well done, Julie! It’s a lovely little girl!”

Only then did Malcolm realise he had returned to the wrong delivery suite and I was still in labour next door!

I spent the rest of my stay in Greenwich Hospital avoiding chat about our respective deliveries with the girl, Julie, in the bed next to me on the ward.

When our daughter Poppy arrived three years later, I wasn’t well at all and Malcolm astonished everyone – except me of course – by how dedicated a father he was both with young Frank and our new baby.

When we split up after 13 years together, it broke my heart and, with his death, my heart was broken all over again. I never stopped loving him just couldn’t put up with his lifestyle any longer.

I have the best legacy of all – Frank and Poppy.

You loved them so much, Malcolm, and you meant the world to them too.

All my love,

Pip xxx


PHIL NICHOL, comedian…


WIZO, lifelong friend – 15th November

It was a hot summers Saturday in June 1968. Malcolm came around my house and said: “Let’s go to the seaside today.”

We had a stolen Mk 2 Jaguar stashed away in Lewisham.

“Let’s go to Margate,” we said.

So off we went, siphoning petrol from a Post Office depot and reeking of petrol.

Later on we found ourselves in The Dreamland amusement park, a most unedifying place full of mods and rockers eying one another off for a punch up. Soon a fight started and the stallholder on the hot dog stall was distracted by the sight of 60 guys bashing one another.

Ever the opportunist, Malcolm jumped over the counter, opened the till and pinched all the money and we shot off to the car that had been parked in an overflow grass car park.

Just as we were leaving in the car, Malcolm set fire to a large box of matches and threw it under another car. The grass was tinder dry and, within a couple of minutes, the whole of the car park was alight. We sat up on the Esplanade watching all this mayhem going on with petrol tanks exploding and fire engines racing to the scene.

We abandoned the car and stole a motor launch from Margate harbour and made our way home up the River, until we broke down at Gravesend – ironically with no fuel.

It’s all a bit quiet without him.

Just as well really. I can only run for 10 metres now.


JOOLS HOLLAND, musician and friend…


FRANK SANAZI, comedian – 25th April 2006

I suggested to Malcolm one evening at his Wibbley Wobbley comedy nights that he should get the worst comedian of the evening and make him/her ‘walk the plank’ off the side of his boat .

“Fucking brilliant,” said Malcolm. “Let’s do it.”

At the end of the night he was a bit too drunk to remember this show finale… Who knows? He may have been worried about having to do it himself..

Ironically, he ended up doing something similar that final day.

I will always remember Malcolm as a genuine top guy and a man who was to comedy what John Peel was to music – discovering new comedians and encouraging them no matter how weird or wacky.

Malcolm also was the conduit (Sorry! I always wanted to be an electrician) between these new comedians and established ones.

One thing’s for certain: we are missing him and his unique style of fun.

He has probably already stolen a couple of halos and re-sold them by now!!



WIZO, lifelong friend – 27th April

It was 1970. I was 19 and had just moved in with a new girlfriend.

Malcolm phoned me up: “Oy! Oy! Fancy a trip to Cornwall, Wizo? Bit of surfing, knob out with posh crumpet and general jigging about?”

“Yes,” I naively said.

Three years later, I came back to London after a whirlwind of stolen cars, bouncing cheques, Dutch drug dealers, Lord Elliot, syphoning petrol, Amanda’s and Felicity’s dose of crabs, cabinet minister’s porn collection, Exeter prison, Borstal, escapes to the continent dressed as a scout, more prison and an English degree. Finally, to round the trip off, a £10 note and a rail warrant home courtesy of H.M. Prisons.

I must say you did get good value when you went on one of Malcolm’s safaris.

He should have started an Alternative Thomas Cook‘s for South East London rascals,. He would have made a fortune rather than giving it all to the bookies. Bless his old cotton socks. He is up there in the eternal Terminus café eating something unhealthy, fiddling with a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes, a betting slip and a sure-fire scheme to make money.

How can we possibly forget you?

Shag a few Angels for us, Malc.


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