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My night with Becky Fury a few feet from where Malcolm Hardee drowned

beckyfury_grainyThere is a famous quote from Steve Jobs of Apple. He said: “Good artists copy, Great artists steal.”

Ironically, he probably actually stole this quote from T.S.Eliot, who wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Although apparently Steve Jobs thought he stole the quote from Pablo Picasso.

All this is to add intellectual credibility a.k.a. bullshit disguise to what follows.

Last Saturday night, I went to see an unadvertised comedy/music gig at the Wibbley Wobbley, a (still just about) floating former Rhine cruiser now moored at Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.

Regular readers of this blog will realise this was where comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in January 2005 and that the Wibbley Wobbley was his floating pub/club.

I was vaguely thinking I should write a brief blog about my Saturday night visit but then, yesterday, up-standing comic Becky Fury wrote one. 

Becky won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So I think it is only fitting I should simply steal her words. 

And here they are:

beckyfury_wibbleywobbley_nov2016

John Fleming and I went to the Wibbley Wobbley on Saturday night.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s old boat and has been squatted by an art collective. John said Malcolm only nicked cars and they’ve nicked a whole boat and that Malcolm would have approved.

The squatters had hung protest banners outside, so we took our own banner which said KNOB OUT! (one of Malcolm’s catchphrases) and hung it with the others.

The tribute banner’s initial position...

The tribute banner’s initial position aloft…

Which is the equivalent of putting flowers on your mate’s grave.

I had spray painted KNOB OUT! earlier in the day on an old bed sheet on my own boat and hung it to dry by the busy tow path in Camden.

A lot of people ushered their children past very quickly.

Those that didn’t spoke approvingly about it as a protest against Donald Trump.

Context is everything.

Back on the Wibbley Wobbley, John presented me with a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

The angelic Malcolm’s autobiography

It has a picture of Malcolm as a cherub or angel on the cover.

Greenland Dock is where Malcolm died. He fell in the dock and drowned – as the story goes – weighed down by pound coins ‘stolen’ from his own fruit machine and, when his body was dredged from the dock, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

So the mythos goes.

Given this back story, I thought it was a very poetic and appropriate place to be handed a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography. Especially as the front cover has a Malcolm as an angel.

John gave the squatters a copy of the book too.

I tried to stop him but he was insistent.

Becky Fury performs an adequate turn

Becky performs an adequate turn inside the Wibbley Wobbley

I performed an adequate turn. Quantities of pirate juice 1 and 2 – a dubious home brew distinguishable only by colour – were consumed and a band played some music. Me and John recorded a Grouchy Club podcast.

But the most interesting part of the night was spent. So we left to catch the last tube.

On the way to the station I needed a piss, so I popped in a nearby Weatherspoons pub.

Weatherspoons likes to commemorate local characters.

There was a picture of Malcolm with the birthday cake story underneath.

Local boy Malcolm Hardee stole Freddie Mercury’s £40,000 birthday cake. When the police raided, there was no evidence of the cake because it had been donated to a local old people’s home. 

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ Malcolm Hardee award

Becky Fury with a photo of Malcolm Hardee and a pirate flag

I told John: “There’s a picture of Malcolm Hardee on the wall. With the story about stealing Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

“In the women’s toilet? he asked. “That’s appropriate.”

I spoke to my friend the street artist Stik and told him about my evening and that Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake was stolen by Malcolm Hardee.

“Can you get me a copy of the autobiography?” he asked. “And I’ll send it to Brian May. I’m sure he’d love to finally know what happened to his mate’s cake.”


I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – the picaresque autobiography of Malcolm Hardee – is out of print but available from Amazon whose online description has, for several years, been of a completely different book. It currently continues to describe I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake thus: 

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers.”

I have never attempted to correct this mis-description because, in its full, irrelevant, surreal glory, I think Malcolm would have approved.

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Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography: “An essential read for all trainee teachers”

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

In the interests of surrealism, I print below three current customer reviews on amazon.co.uk of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

It is, tragically now out of print.

The customer reviews are followed by Amazon’s current ‘product description’ of the book.

I think Amazon may have some computer issues.

I am doing nothing about it, because I think Malcolm would have approved


Public reviews

Public reviews on the amazon.co.uk site

MOST HELPFUL CUSTOMER REVIEWS

FIVE STARS
By SilentSinger

I’ve read loads of comedy books which reference the life and career of Malcolm Hardee so I wanted to read his story in the first person (well, first person and ghostwriter anyway… so although it’s now sadly out of print I purchased this from one of Amazon’s excellent sellers. Hardee pulls no punches, he fully admits that he’s a bad ‘un and hailing from roughly the same area in South London suburbs (as did fellow comic Simon Day, someone with whom he shares a lot of common ground with) I can picture many of the scenes he describes. I also saw Hardee MCing at his ‘Up The Creek’ club in the 90s, arriving on stage to the strains of ‘Mr Big Stuff’ by Jean Knight.

But I digress, the book is a rollocking read and tells how he swapped the horrors of borstal and prison for a life of comedy and performance. I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of how he became a stand-up performer within the ‘greatest show on legs’ troupe, his touring, drinking, womanising, electioneering and generally being a bit of a dodgy promotor/agent to other acts. There’s also fond memories expressed of other acts such as Jo Brand (a former lover), Jerry Sadowicz, Arthur Smith and countless others. Some of the anecdotes, including the titular theft of Mr Mercury’s Birthday Cake were pithy and well told.

In conclusion: a great book written a decade before Hardee’s sad demise in his beloved Thames – he drowned whilst intoxicated on his ‘Wibbly Wobbly Pub’ barge, allegedly still holding on tight to the beer bottle. A tragic end for such a local character.

FIVE STARS
By Sam

My father (a bit of a comedy buff) throughly enjoyed this book! A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s incredible life and journey. Shame that since it is out of print that I was second hand, but well worth it regardless.

FIVE STARS
By Mitzi

An enjoyable read. Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!

The amazon.co.uk product description

amazon.co.uk product description – some mishtake shurely?


PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

Review

‘I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it’

– Chris Kilby, PGCE student

‘An essential read for all trainee teachers… covers the literature and puts a strong emphasis on the how’

– Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University

‘This book guides you through a process of looking at your own teaching and properly building in some of the many new techniques it outlines. This book does not provide a magic wand, it instead provides a mirror onto one’s own practice and allows you to make real, lasting improvements in the classroom’

– JoTTER

‘This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager. It works well because it is broken down into quick ideas that can easily be built on to existing plans’

The Teacher

‘This book’s authors are both experienced classroom teachers with impressive CVs, immediately instilling faith that they will know what they are talking about and that they are giving advice and ideas about things they have actually done’

– Debbie Redshaw

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How comedian Malcolm Hardee lost his virginity & then got stabbed in the back

Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

Blessed Malcolm Hardee (left) in his early life

Yesterday’s blog was about the stage show which celebrated the death – ten years ago – of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

Well, ‘celebrated’ might not be the right word. But you know what I mean.

In debonair comedy critic Bruce Dessau’s review of the show, he called me Malcolm Hardee’s “enigmatic biographer”.

I enjoyed this description so much I may use it in publicity for something-or-other. Though I have no idea what. I may bung it on my increasingly prestigious website. Self-publicity was something Malcolm Hardee specialised in.

Anyway, I was not Malcolm’s biographer. It was his autobiography I wrote – in his own words and with his own title – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

The amazon.co.uk description of the book still erroneously and surreally reads: “For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.” 

This may explain why the book is out of print now. But I might re-publish it at some point. Perhaps I may crowdfund it. To quote one of Malcolm’s occasional questions: “Anyone want to lend me a tenner? Only for half an hour. I’ll give it back.”

Sometimes the unwary would give him a tenner.

In this extract from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm tells the tale of when he lost his virginity. He was always losing things. He lost a music tape of mine once. I glowered at him. He was a sensitive man who got unsettled whenever people glowered at him. Which was not infrequent. At these points, he used to blink a lot.

Here is Malcolm in his own words:


I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

Patron sinner of alternative comedy

My first proper girlfriend was Pamela Crew. I lost my virginity on my sixteenth birthday. So did she, though it wasn’t her sixteenth birthday. Then we got engaged but it was a very up and down relationship. I bought a ring and then we had a row on a 94 bus about something. I didn’t used to have rows, but she did. She threw the ring back at me and I later lost it. She never believed me – she thought I sold it – but I didn’t.

I was engaged from 16 right through to about 20 and I was completely faithful to her. We were almost exactly the same age. She was a nice girl. She went to Prendergast, which was the sister school to Colfes.

After we had been together about six months or a year, we learnt to exploit her father’s regular habits. He was a builder. He was the nearest South East London could get to Alf Garnett, a very disappointed man because he wanted a boy and Pamela was one of four daughters. His routine was that he’d do his day’s building, then, at 8.00pm, go round to the Summerfield Arms pub at the end of their street and every night he’d come home at 11.15pm and go to bed. So I used to go and visit Pamela Crew when he was out and sometimes we’d have sex in the front room when her mother and all her younger sisters had gone to bed.

This one night, her father came back at 10.50pm and looked in. I was lying on top of Pam on the floor in front of the fire, banging away. He shut the door behind him and she went out and talked to him. She was in tears and he said to me:

“You’ve made your own bed, now you can lie on it!”

I didn’t like to point out that we didn’t actually use a bed.

Her mother always had a bit of a soft spot for me, but her father just thought I was completely mad and alien. I went round there once on a white horse which I got from Mottingham Riding Stables. I thought This will impress Pamela and her dad answered the door.

“Hello,” I said. “Is Pam in?”

He said: “Bugger off, you silly fucker.”

And that was that.

For some reason, I took the horse up to Blackheath and just left it tethered to a tree. There was a  piece in The South East London Mercury later that week, headed THE MYSTERY OF THE WHITE HORSE.

I once got Pam on the front cover of the local paper as ‘Miss June’. It was in the days before feminism, so she was sitting in the swimming baths with her tits half-hanging out. That impressed her. The fact that I’d contacted the press.

When I left school, after taking my ‘O’ Levels in 1966, my first job was at a thriving advertising agency called Saward Baker at 79 New Cavendish Street in the West End. I started working as a messenger, as people did in those days, thinking you were going to progress up the line and become Mr Big at the top. I definitely wanted to be in advertising. It was a ‘glamorous’ profession. We all wanted to be copywriters or advertising executives. I was the bee’s knees, working in the West End: Malc the Mod, earning my living. My first weekly wage packet held £7-6s-8d (£7.33p in today’s money).

I worked at the ad agency with a bloke called Rod Stewart – but not Rod Stewart the singer. Like me, he was a messenger and a Mod and he had his own motor scooter. We once got stopped by the police going back to where he lived in Pratts Bottom, near Orpington in Kent. The policeman asked him his name.

“Rod Stewart,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” said the copper. “Where do you live?”

“Pratts Bottom.”

We almost got arrested on the spot.

One hot summer day, we went over to Regents Park for the lunch hour. I had a platonic friend called Diane Ainsley who was going out with a bloke called Ray Mitchell. So he came over to the park as well. We were just lying on the grass, I turned over on my front to get a bit of suntan and he threw a knife in my back. It probably went about half an inch into me and stuck there.

I was a bit shocked. He just did it with no emotion or anything. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask why he’d done it because it was known he was a bit mad. He must have taken the knife back and he went away. It didn’t hurt. When I got back to work, they all asked what had happened, because there was lots of blood coming out. My shirt was covered in blood. The first aid kit was out and someone stuck a plaster on it.

Another time, I was travelling with Ray Mitchell on a tube train. I was just sitting there, he got up and, for no reason at all, tried to deliver a karate kick right into the middle of my face. It narrowly missed and he sat down again. Never said anything. He just went like that occasionally. He lived in Blackheath and he was probably the first violent psychopath I had met.

He wasn’t a friend of mine. Just someone who was about.

About to stab me. About to kick me.


There is much more of that sort of stuff in Malcolm’s autobiography. He did not lead a dull life.

This year, as normal, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented in his honour at the Edinburgh Fringe, during a two-hour variety show on Friday 28th August.

Currently on YouTube, there is a ten-minute tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue:

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Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s first ever appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe

A6MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

I woke up at 5.20am this morning to a text message from comedian Janey Godley at the Edinburgh Fringe. It read:

“I got a loan of a bike. It was too big and I banged my fanny on it – In Edinburgh 10 minutes and I cracked my vag.”

Fringe fever has started early this year.

The joys of modern life near Stafford

Joys of modern life at motorway service station near Stafford

I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today, so I am writing this blog at the Costa cafe in Stafford service station on the M6 motorway.

This year’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held on Friday 22nd August. The three awards are in memory of ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

Below is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, published in 1996. Amazon.co.uk’s current listing retains their own humorous and extensive balls-up in which it describes the book as an aid to classroom teaching.

In this edited extract from the book itself, Malcolm talks about the first time he appeared with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Fringe.


Malcolm Hardee's autobiography

Not a standard aid to class teaching

We did our first Edinburgh Fringe in August 1982, before it became so commercial.

That year, we were playing in a venue called The Hole in The Ground which literally was just that: a hole in the ground.  An ‘organisation’ called Circuit had erected a 700-seat marquee on this piece of derelict wasteland.

Also performing in The Hole in The Ground was The Egg Man, who was Icelandic years before Björk. His show consisted of a two-hour monologue performed, completely in Icelandic, to an audience of one in cave which was one of the ‘natural features’ of The Hole in The Ground. He used to auction the ticket for each show and a reviewer from the Scotsman actually had to pay over £50 to watch a performance of this two-hour Icelandic monologue. He couldn’t understand a word but, in a way, it was Art.

Today, this just wouldn’t happen as the big Agencies use Edinburgh to hype-up future short-lived TV ‘stars’.

That first year, the Circuit tent in Edinburgh held about 700 people.

I had stupidly agreed we’d do it for a ‘wage’ of £500 a week. In the meantime, we’d been on (the TV show) OTT, we were popular and we were selling the tickets out at about £5 a ticket. So they were making about £3,500 a night and we were getting £500 per week between the three of us. So I felt bitter again.

There was another lot performing at The Hole in The Ground: a group of feminists. They were called Monstrous Regiment. They were doing a play about prisoners. About how it’s not the prisoners’ fault they’re in prison. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all of our faults. All of that nonsense.

We were really poor that first year. We were performing in The Tent in The Hole in The Ground and we were living in tents next to The Tent. Edinburgh is always cold and it was even colder that year: it snowed.

Also that year, a German opera show had a pig in it and I had my tent next to the place where they kept the pig.

So, I was feeling bitter and feeling bitter cold.

At, the end of the week, Circuit decided to have a Press Conference and they put another tent up. They loved a tent. A big marquee. Commissionaire outside. Posh. We turned up and they wouldn’t let us in even though we’d been there a week and sold out our shows and everything. Well, we were naked, which might have had something to do with it. And not entirely wholesome. So we went and got dressed and eventually they let us in. But I was still bitter.

We went to this restaurant in the marquee and it was a bit of a posh do. Wine and all that stuff going on. Monstrous Regiment were there but their feminist dungarees were off and their public school cocktail dresses were on.

Then one of the Monstrous Regiment women – one I particularly didn’t like – got her handbag nicked. And she went berserk.

“Catch him!” she yelled. “Get the police! I want that man put in prison!”

So I said to her:

“It’s not his fault. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all our faults”.

At the end of all this, they asked one person from each show to get up on the bar and give a speech to the assembled Press.

By now, the Monstrous Regiment woman had calmed down. She got up on the bar and said:

“We’re doing a play. It’s about prisoners. It’s all Society’s fault and it’s a scathing indictment of Society”.

Then she jumped off the bar and the German with the pig got up.

“We’re doing an opera with a pig,” he said.

So we were next and I stood up on the bar, having told Martin to tug my trousers at the appropriate moment.

“Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Press,” I started saying: “We’re The Greatest Show on Legs and we have a bit of a comedy show in that tent over there, but this is no night for comedy because I’ve just read in the paper that the great Glenda Jackson has passed away and, in the spirit of the Fringe,” – I had a real tear came out of my eye at this point – “I’d like to ask for one minute’s silence for a great actress.”

And they did.

Silence.

A whole minute.

I looked at my watch and the whole minute went by.

A long time.

Then Martin tugged my trousers and handed up my newspaper to me. I looked at it:

“Oh!” I said. “Not Glenda Jackson. Wendy Jackson. A pensioner from Sydenham….. Doesn’t matter then, does it?”

The tent fell even more silent than during the Minute’s Silence.

After a pause, a thespian in the front just looked up at me and theatrically projected the words:

“Bad taste!”

The ironic thing was that he was wearing a pink and green shirt at the time.

This was the beginning – 1982 – of a beautiful, long-running relationship between the Edinburgh Fringe and me.

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