Tag Archives: balloon dance

Why the Greatest Show on Legs started their infamous Naked Balloon Dance

This afternoon, I am driving to Totnes in Devon with comedian Matt Roper, who has started to describe himself as a homeless vagabond, though I prefer to think of him as an itinerant purveyor of comedic entertainment.

Being a ‘vagabond’ might imply dubious liaisons with women and goats… Of which more later.

Matt Roper claims I will like Totnes, because it is full of interesting creative people.

Martin and Vivienne Soan at home last night

Martin & Vivienne at home  last night

Coincidentally, last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner at Vivienne & Martin Soan’s home in South East London. Martin created comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs, famed for their naked balloon dance which included late godfather of UK alternative comedy Malcolm Hardee.

“Totnes is where we created the balloon dance,” Martin told me over dinner.

“I’ve never been there,” I said.

“It’s like a little model village,” explained Martin. “Perfect in every way. But full scale. Divorced rock ‘n’ roll wives in the 1970s decided that it was a good place to live.

“Malcolm had a liaison with one of these ex wives – I think she was an ex-wife of one of The Small Faces – and all these rock chicks had moved down there and just three miles up the road was Dartington College, which was the very first ‘free’ school which was very liberal and encouraged dramatic arts.

Totnes - like a model village but real... or maybe it is surreal

Totnes – like a model village but real… or is it maybe surreal?

“Totnes is like The Village in The Prisoner. It is perfect in every way. Not too many people. You have your drunks and you have your council house people. But, basically, all the locals have had four generations of acid-taking liberalism. Even the council-house crack-addict coke-head element has been gentrified and you get amazing sights.

“There used to be this one guy with a great big Afghan hound, an Edwardian suit and a waxed moustache who walked up and down like some latter-day rake.

“In the church, where Malcolm got off with a girl called Lucy The Goat Lady… That sounds very demeaning, but nicknames are easier to remember than real names… Her name was Lucy…

Aleister Crowley - "the wickedest man in the world"

Crowley “the wickedest man in the world”

“She said we could stay at her place, a big rambling farmhouse which belonged to Dick Heckstall-Smith, the English jazz saxophonist and in the grounds was this de-consecrated church. It had been de-consecrated because the occultist Aleister Crowley had bought the house years before and done secret ceremonies late at night. When the locals found out, they had the church de-consecrated.

“And, in the kitchen of the house,” Martin continued, “the Greatest Show on Legs reacted to the local extreme, over-the-top feminists who were living in this land of privilege and having weekly meetings about how they could wipe out Chinese foot-binding in Devon. Shit. They were all living in a bubble, really. It was our reaction to that. We thought up the balloon dance in the kitchen and we went to the Dartmouth Inn that night and premiered it.”

My eternally-un-named friend was a bit surprised.

“It was a reaction to feminists wanting to ban foot-binding in Devon?” she asked.

“The Greatest Show on Legs were feminists,” said Martin. “We weren’t sexist in any way.”

“That’s what I thought – sort of,” said my eternally-un-named friend, who knew Malcolm and Martin before I did.

“Though,” said Martin’s wife Vivienne, “they antagonised feminists all over the place.”

“Yes,” said Martin, “but they were feminists who weren’t really thinking. In actual fact, we were rather gallant as a group of performers.”

“You just went round fucking everybody in sight,” said Vivienne.

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

(From left) Malcolm Hardee, Paul Wiseman, Martin Soan possibly/probably in the 1980s (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

“I was trying,” said Martin, “to think of a rather more poetic or lyrical way of putting it… We were young men and we enjoyed ourselves, but we did it in a rather gallant way.”

After you, Malcolm…,” suggested Vivienne. “No, after you, Martin… Oops, sorry Malcolm… After you…

“But, getting back to the balloon dance,” said my eternally-un-named friend. “What year was that?”

“I can’t remember,” said Martin.

“It would have been the 1970s, early 1980s,” suggested Vivienne.

“It’s like writing Malcolm’s autobiography,” I said. “He never knew which decade things happened in either.”

“Anyway,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in this kitchen, you suddenly thought Ooh! Let’s do a strip with balloons!

“Because,” explained Vivienne, “they were reacting against the ultra-feminists who were trying to create a storm about Chinese foot-binding.”

“I don’t quite see the connection,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“We arrived there,” said Martin, “and just thought This is sick. They’re living in their own world. Everything’s perfect. What right have they got to complain? They’ve got nothing to complain about. To start being over-the-top feminists in such a rarified atmosphere… It just antagonised us….

“So we thought: I know! We’ll fucking take our kit off! And we were laughing. We were not thinking about it as creating a routine. It was as much a joke for ourselves. A stunt. Let’s take our kit off! But it went down such a storm that night, Malcolm and I thought Right. Let’s keep it in the show.

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

Martin Soan enters his living room last night in SE London

“So,” said Vivienne, “Totnes is now full of creative people who are probably all the children of these feminists.”

“And this goat woman…” asked my eternally-un-named friend. “She would be about 60 now?”

“Probably,” mused Martin. “Older. She was older than us.”

“She had a goat?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“She did have a goat,” replied Martin.

“Is that why she was called Goat Woman?”

“Goat Lady,” corrected Martin. “Not Goat Woman.”

“The Greatest Show on Legs were always very gallant,” I said. “What was the goat called?”

“John,” said Martin reprovingly, “I don’t know what the fucking goat was called. It didn’t have a name. I would have loved it if the goat had been introduced to me, but it was just there as the goat.”

“But goats have names, too,” I protested. “Bob Slayer went round Australia with Gary The Goat.”

“That’s slightly different,” said Martin.

“You’re the one who calls women ‘ladies’,” I argued. “Goats deserve respect too.”

“Eat your pudding,” said Vivienne.

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Filed under 1980s, Comedy, Travel

News of Edinburgh Fringe sexual organ props & the World Fart Championships

Martin Soan, an older man, but stylish in his Nigel Hall socks

Martin Soan (right) chats on Lewis Schaffer’s radio show

“I thought I was going to get away without building a sexual organ prop this year,” Martin Soan told me yesterday. “But the first order for a cock has come in today. It’s for a comedian going up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Your FIRST order?” I asked. “How many do you normally get?”

“I usually get about two a year,” Martin told me.

As attentive readers of this blog will know, Martin was asked in May to perform the part of a vagina in a play. He is famed for The Naked Balloon Dance he created for the Greatest Show on Legs.

“What happened to your vagina part in the play?” I asked him this morning.

“The woman sent me the script, I read it and I politely told her I was not an actor.”

Martin was once asked to build a prop for a comedian which, he said, was an “all-singing-and-dancing talking vagina. I used silk. It had hair and eyes. It was really scary.”

He may not be an actor in the traditional sense, but he walks an ever-moving dividing line between being a comedian and a performance artist, a prop maker and a creator of stage fantasies.

mrmethanebends

Mr Methane flying off to fart in Finland

And, talking of unlikely career paths and fantasies, we have the case of my chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing farter who is attending the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. They are being held this Saturday.

He flies off at noon today, but may arrive in Finland earlier than scheduled if there is a following wind.

“I’m surprised they’re having championships,” I said to him yesterday. “Surely it’s a talent rather than a sport?”

“I would say it could be both,” he told me. “It’s a sport in terms of my kind of farting – petomania – because performing a full show like mine is quite strenuous and it requires one to be farting fit. I think the talent is being able to control one’s emission.”

“That is always a bonus when in polite society,” I suggested.

“Sometimes,” said Mr Methane, “when I am introduced as a professional farter, the ladies do not fully take into consideration the fact that a pro can control his emissions. That is a positive over your average male, surely?”

“I certainly consider it thus,” I said. “But do foreigners really understand the joke? Indeed, is it a joke?”

“I am the man,” said Mr Methane, “who apparently blew the doors of censorship wide open for Swedish TV after my 1991 appearance on Robert Aschberg’s TV3 show.”

Mr Methane performed in front of guests including the country’s Foreign Minister.

“Things were apparently never the same again,” Mr Methane told me yesterday. “Or so I found out when I was invited as a guest on a Swedish style This Is Your Life TV show for Robert. The show’s producer wrote to Barrie, my manager:

When Mr. Methane visited Robert’s show Ikväll in the early 1990s he stunned a whole country. Some was amused and some were appalled by Mr. Methane’s talent however – it was television history. None in Sweden had before seen this kind of a show. Robert’s show was a predecessor and Mr Methane was the one guest that made it happen.

“When Martin Soan and Malcolm Hardee and the Greatest Show on Legs took The Naked Balloon Dance to Sweden in the early 1980s,” I said. “it was very popular there, but Malcolm told me he didn’t think the Swedes actually understood why it was funny.”

“I think Malcolm is partially correct but not entirely,” said Mr Methane. “If you watch the clip of Robert Aschberg crying with laughter and tears running down his face as I perform, it’s hard to believe that Swedes have no sense of humour. I think they tend to conduct themselves in a reserved fashion and this gives off that impression.

“Robert’s mate Gert Fylking, who held the microphone, could give the Greatest Show On Legs a run for their money. He was mental and did some really crazy things. But, then, he did attend a boarding school in Uttoxeter… His parents felt that an English education would be good for him and it obviously paid dividends.”

“Crazy things?” I asked.

“He had an enema-shitting contest,” said Mr Methane, “but his real party piece is jumping up and down on one leg, naked, until his cock spins round like a propeller. Both were performed on TV3 after they’d tested the limits with my act. He is a Christian Democrat politician now.”

Little House on The Prairie was a fine TV show

Little House on The Prairie was a fine TV show

“I used to work for TV3 in the UK,” I said. “It is a fine TV company. I think they screened Little House on The Prairie undubbed. Do you think any one nation more attuned to the true appreciation of your farts?”

“I guess my show is best received in Australia,” mused Mr Methane, “though some Australians are touchy about it because they feel that the world sees them as crude and rude when they are, in fact, a highly cultured nation.

“My 1997 appearance on the Channel 9 Footy Show apparently holds the record for the most complaints about an Australian TV show. People were calling in to complain from remote places out in the bush that weren’t even meant to get Channel 9’s signal. The switchboard apparently melted. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

The Footy Show panel turned to rubble, the studio audience was a mix of Animal House delight and gob smacked incredulity and the phones ran hotter than a Kate Fischer calendar.

“So what are you doing at the World Fart Championship in Finland?” I asked.

“At 47,” said Mr Methane, I’m past my competitive age, so I’m there as a The Godfather of Flatulence – an inspiration to those who follow in my footsteps – or wherever – A bit like you get the retired footballers on Match of the Day.

Johann Strauss was a fine Austrian composer

Johann Strauss II was a fine composer

“I will be doing a fully-blown show there, but I will be pacing myself. I will be going at my own speed, not sprinting to a finishing line in the shortest time and I will be accompanied by the Utajärvi Brass Band in a special rendition of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. I see my show as a mature wine that should be savoured and not rushed so one can experience the true aroma.”

“How can they judge farts at the Championships?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” admitted Mr Methane. “You could have The Longest, The Shortest, The Fattest, The Thinest… Hang on, this is beginning to sound like the theme tune to Record Breakers.”

“Whither farting contests?” I asked.

“I think it is an event that could run and run,” said Mr Methane.

“Any helpful advice for actual contestants?”

“Relax… But not too much.”

“And after your visit to Finland?”

Bob’s Bookshop (left) is a fine venue

Bob’s Bookshop (left) is a fine venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

“As you know,” said Mr Methane, “ I am appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe, with My Life In Farting at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue at 3.30 every afternoon,  13th – 17th August… Ring-side seats are still available.”

“And you are staying in my Edinburgh flat for that week?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mr Methane.

“Oh dear,” I said.

As I was about to post this blog, I got a mobile phone text from Mr Methane. It read:

“I’m hearing reports of a fart on The Archers. Not sure if true but, if so, you’d think they would have brought me in to do it. We both missed some publicity there.”

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Filed under Comedy, Finland, Humor, Humour, Sweden, Theatre, UK

The end of the UK’s Greatest Show On Legs and the naked balloon dance?

Martin Soan’s Thriller at The Hob last night

Martin Soan rubbers-up for Thriller at The Hob last night

Last night I went to see Martin Soan perform as part of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe he created years ago. They were performing at the always interesting Hob venue in Forest Hill, South London.

In the interval, a large group of men in the audience cornered Martin in the bar.

“They asked me Have you finished painting yet?” Martin told me this morning. “They’d read your blog. They were out on a stag do. It’s the strangest stag do I’ve ever heard of: coming along to see naked men. But, there you go, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They follow your blog and they know me from my various… eh… performances.”

“It’s the irresistible attraction of The Greatest Show of Legs and the naked Balloon Dance,” I said. ”But you told me you’re not always going to be in The Greatest Show On Legs from now on.”

“No,” said Martin. “I keep trying to pass it on to other people, but they keep saying they can’t do it without me.”

“Well, they can’t,” I agreed.

“It’s perfectly feasible,” said Martin. “If I got them Paul Merton to go out as part of the Greatest Show On Legs, are you telling me people wouldn’t go see that and enjoy it?”

“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said.

“Well, not the same exactly,” agreed Martin.

“Paul Merton – nice man, but he hasn’t got your grace,” I said. “And he wouldn’t do the nude bit.”

“I just think it’s time to make The Legs more sophisticated,” said Martin.

“Sophisticated!!” I spluttered.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Sophisticated.”

“That’d be like Fast & Furious without the cars,” I said, having just watched the trailer. “So there’s Steve Bowditch and now Dickie Ryszynski, but that’s only two people. There has to be three people… Chris Lynam was in the audience last night.”

The Balloon Dance performed at The Hob last night

The Balloon Dance was performed at The Hob last night

“He would be a good contender,” agreed Martin. “The first issue is there are three gigs coming  up in Switzerland.”

“You gotta go to Switzerland,” I said.

“I’d go to Switzerland,” said Martin, “but not by plane.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m not going to fly again,” explained Martin. “I’ve done all my flying. There’s a lot of comedians like me.”

“You think your luck might run out the next time you fly?” I asked.

“No. I just really do not want to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and hang around in airports and sit in a little metal tube and go up to 33,000 feet. I’ve done all that. And I don’t want to go by coach. I want to go by train or car. But the others don’t want to, because it’s more expensive.”

“Why not by coach?” I asked.

“I’ve lost people to coaches,” explained Martin. “Three people. And I was in an accident myself as a kid. Coming home after Christmas, the coach went off the road and into a ditch. No-one was killed, but it scared the living bejesus out of me as a child… and as an adult.”

The Red Sparrows strait to fly last night

The Red Sparrows took a more sophisticated turn last night

“The other issue is I said I only want to do The Legs with new material. You saw a bit of new material last night and getting the old material and doing it properly would be… Last night, for the first time with the Red Sparrows routine, we got proper vapour trails. I think that’s up to speed now.”

“And,” I said, “you now have a routine that can actually follow the naked Balloon Dance, which I would have thought was impossible… You say you don’t want to do old material, but you have to do the Balloon Dance.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right there,” agreed Martin. “I just want to do new material. I’m not saying I want to be taken seriously as an actor.

“Oh, go on, say it,” I said.

“I want to be taken seriously as an actor,” said Martin.

“As a vagina?” I asked.

“No, but if we follow the simple rule…”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Well,” said Martin, “The Number One rule is that in certain situations – not all situations – the prop is more important than you.”

“Even when you’re naked?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin, “Not when you’re naked.”

“Good,” I said.

“Rule Number Two,” said Martin. “Come in hard. Exit hard.”

“Is that just in performance or in other things?” I asked.

“Everything,” said Martin. “So it’s not as if I’m a stick-in-the-mud. It’s just that there are rules. Observe the rules and you’ll do fine.”

Audience participation Greatest Show On Legs style last night

Audience participation Greatest Show On Legs style last night

“What’s the third rule?” I asked.

“Why should there be a third rule?” asked Martin.

“The Rule of Three,” I said.

“OK,” said Martin. “Rule Three – There is no Rule of Three.”

“But,” I said, “Just to check. The three of you are coming up to perform at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 23rd August.”

“I’ll be coming up especially for that,” confirmed Martin. “By train.”

“You could sail up to Edinburgh,” I suggested. “You’re near the River Thames. Get a boat; take it up to Edinburgh. Although I suppose Malcolm Hardee’s not a good example of surviving on water.” (He drowned in 2005)

Despite the gloss, Martin continues painting

Despite the gloss, Martin paints this morning

“We once got a gig in Rotterdam,” said Martin. “Malcolm said Let’s go by boat. I said Yes. Steve Bowditch said No. Not in any way whatsoever.

“Then I looked it up and the English Channel into the port of Rotterdam is the biggest navigable waterway in the world. Absolutely frightening. Even Malcolm chickened out of that one. I think we would have died… Though what a brilliant death…

“You could have blogged and blogged about that one, John. Two of us dead in one go and it could then have been the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee/Martin Soan Awards. And it would have been a lot bleedin’ easier for me. I wouldn’t be here painting your woodwork with old-fashioned gloss paint.”

“Is there a new-fashioned gloss?” I asked.

“Yes there is,” said Martin.

“I like the old gloss,” I said.

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Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

Partial Tiswas reunion in Birmingham yesterday

Partial Tiswas singing reunion in Birmingham yesterday

I went to a Tiswas reunion in Birmingham yesterday, organised by the Tiswas Online website (who are currently offline, in a suitably anarchic way)

I was told four completely unpublishable TV sex stories (none involving Tiswas but three involving BBC Television Centre).

Buy me a tea and a muffin and I’ll tell you.

The most interesting anecdote, though, was told to me by one of the Tiswas Online stalwarts, Peter Thomas.

He told me why Chris Tarrant’s attempt at a late-night ‘adult’ version of TiswasOTT – was taken off-air.

Tiswas was originally produced by ATV but then ATV lost its broadcast franchise partially because it was seen as a London-based TV company not a Midlands company (it had the ITV Midland franchise) but also largely, it was said, because the regulatory body was embarrassed by the low standard of its Crossroads soap opera, which had become the butt of comedians’ jokes.

The company which took over – Central Independent Television – was, in effect, the same as ATV – it had much the same staff, premises and programmes (even Crossroads). But it had new shareholders.

One of these was Boots, the chemist company.

Peter Thomas told me: “The wife of a director at Boots was appalled when she saw The Greatest Show of Legs perform the naked balloon dance at the end of the first OTT show.”

The Greatest Show on Legs, at that time, were Martin Soan, Malcolm Hardee and ‘Sir Ralph’.

“She found the whole thing to be immoral and perverse,” Peter told me. “So pressure was put on the Central board to tone down the show.”

The writing was on the wall, despite the fact the Greatest Show on Legs were invited back again.

“Chris Tarrant & co had expected a second series,” said Peter, “but Central would not let them do it live – It would all have to be pre-recorded so Central could vet everything… and Central would not give them a studio. So OTT became Saturday Stayback, an alternative comedy sketch show filmed in a pub.”

This terrible dog’s dinner of an idea, of course, did not succeed.

Peter tells me this story of the decease of OTT was recounted by Wendy Nelson, former newsreader for ATV Today and Central News in the documentary ATVLand In Colour, in which he and other Tiswas Online people were involved.

The Greatest Show on Legs’ OTT appearance is on YouTube:

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Television

Comedy in an economic recession: how the Greatest Show on Legs survived

(This was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Chortle comedy industry website)

There is a report in The Scotsman today which starts: “Theatres across Scotland have had their best winter for years as families flock back to the panto to raise morale and spread Christmas cheer during a time of economic crisis.”

Who knows whether a Recession is good or bad for showbiz in general and comedy in particular? Hollywood movies and Busby Berkeley escapism prospered in the 1930s.

I was chatting to performer Martin Soan recently.

With his wife Vivienne, he currently runs the Pull The Other One comedy clubs whose format is, basically, to book several bizarre variety acts and one token Big Name stand-up comic. It is an unusual formula and always interestingly different.

But Martin is also renowned for his Greatest Show on Legs comedy troupe, which included British comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee. Their main claim to fame was the naked Balloon Dance which they performed on Chris Tarrant’s OTT TV show in 1982. Once seen, never forgotten.

The Greatest Show on Legs’ surreal and anarchic comedy survived the last big Recession and also the rise of straight-faced political comedy in the 1980s. I asked Martin how The Greatest Show on Legs prospered and survived changing comedy tastes until Malcolm Hardee’s death in 2005.

This is what he told me:

_______

What happened in the 1980s with Thatcher was that just everybody jumped on the political bandwagon. Even with The Greatest Show on Legs, we used Margaret Thatcher posters instead of balloons at one point. If you ripped the mouth out, you could just stick your knob though it and get a big laugh. It was hardly political satire: it was a visual knob gag.

In the 1980s, a lot of comics were derisory – to say the least – about The Greatest Show on Legs. But the good guys found us funny. The bad guys said things like: “Your style of comedy is dead. It’s now all about stand-up gags and politics. You look so silly. Stupid. Why are you doing this?”

It was depressing for a bit because people coming up to you and saying those things can knock your confidence a little bit. But we had no capability or talent to change in any way whatsoever, so we stuck to our guns. We had no choice.

How did it turn round? Well, I don’t think you can keep stuff down, so we did start getting a little more complex in our ideas. We did start experimenting a bit more.

We had a Hands piece where we used Johann Strauss’s Radetzky March 

We had a very ordinary, black proscenium arch with eight holes in it and black curtains so you couldn’t see the holes and then we choreographed a routine with white gloves. So, at the beginning of the show, the music starts and eight gloved hands appear and open and close and create this pattern. Doesn’t sound much but, for us, it felt like Oh God! We’re really going out on a comedy limb here.

Malcolm pushed it forward in terms of business and I was forever trying to push it forward in terms of the creative side. But, of course, Malcolm was a genius. He’d just say one phrase and then I would go away, envisage it all and choreograph it all.

The classic example of that was the Red Sparrows routine. He said:

“Oy Oy. Instead of the Red Arrows, we do the Red Sparrows.”

Just from that one phrase – the Red Sparrows – I go away, make all the sparrows on sticks, choreograph it, get the music, turn up and try to do a bit of rehearsal.

“I ain’t fucking doing a rehearsal,” Malcolm says.

“Oh, come on, look Malcolm,” I say, “I’ve made all this fucking gear. At least put five minutes in before we go on stage.”

“Well,” he says, “I wasn’t expecting this. Having to rehearse!”

With some other ideas I suggested to Malcolm, he said: “Nah. It’s too artistic.”

Once, I said: “I’ve got a great one about voodoo, Malcolm. You come on and you talk about voodoo and you say I’ve got a voodoo doll here this evening and you hold this doll up and it’s got a very specific costume and, as soon as you bring it up in front of the microphone, I pop out from downstage in this same very specific costume that’s on this voodoo doll. You lift the arm up; I do exactly the same. I just mirror whatever you do with this doll. And then you say Voodoo? It’s a load of old bollocks! throw the doll over your shoulder and I do a back flip.

“That,” he said, “is much too poncey and artistic.”

I suppose a combination of Malcolm and the Balloon Dance created a whole image that we were just a load of old Joe Soaps going around.

I was always a little disappointed, because I wanted to work harder. Malcolm was always content with being a bit of a minor celebrity, owning a club and going around doing our Balloon Dance and Michael Jackson’s Thriller routines. I wanted to push it forward. But we got the reputation of just being a load of drinking men getting up and taking our clothes off.

There was an element of that, of course.

But, if you ‘do’ surreal and anarchic, you have to be disciplined if you want to reproduce that on stage time-and-time-and-time again. You have to think things through, work out how ridiculous props can be fitted-into small spaces and all the rest of it. It’s discipline.

If you get more than one person doing the same thing at the same time to a bit of music, it’s always impressive.

I would say I am a performance artist with a sense of humour.

It’s well-on-the-cards now that we are probably going from Recession into Depression. Even the optimistic forecast says it’s going to be five years before we get proper growth again.

So I reckon the way through for people like me is to do the cabaret/German type surreal comedy of the inter-War years where you are reflecting how people feel.

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The near-sinking of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday party on 5th January 2002

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee was born on 5th January 1950. He used to put on a birthday comedy show.  This is an extract from my 2002 diary. Malcolm had recently bought the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe… He drowned a few feet away from the Wibbley Wobbley in 2005.

SATURDAY 5th JANUARY 2002

Charlie Chuck, advertising man Paul (whom Chuck knows) and I went to the first of two birthday parties which Malcolm Hardee is holding this weekend. It was on his new floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley.

When we arrived, Malcolm was dressed in naval captain’s uniform with Russian Convoy medals on his chest. I went to the bow area to say hello to him.

“Go back up to the bar end,” he whispered, “We’re sinking – I’m not kidding – We’re going down.”

And, as we walked back up towards the bar, sure enough, I realised we were indeed walking slightly uphill.

We were all eventually evacuated – maybe thirty of us – and someone suggested the problem seemed to be that they were trying to pump the water out underwater via the pump where water enters.

A fire engine turned up. Then two policemen. Then another two policemen. Then another fire engine. Then another two policemen. And another two. It was a good night for criminals in Rotherhithe. The police were unsmiling and uninterested except when they had chats amongst themselves. The firemen were surprisingly fat. How do they get up ladders?

On the quayside, one theory for the slow sinking of the Wibbley Wobbley was that ice in the recent bitterly cold weather had blocked the pump and a build-up of shit in the septic tank was weighing down the vessel at one end.

The Wibbley Wobbley is not yet insured. No surprise there: neither is Malcolm’s car; and he has two driving licences under different names.

After about twenty minutes, Malcolm told me: “The Coast Guard have arrived. Straight up, a bloke from the Coast Guard has just just turned up because he heard about it. He seems to be in the mood for a party.” We turned and looked at the eight policemen already here. They did not talk to the Coast Guard man.

A well-known comedian was standing next to us with staring eyes, accompanied by a tall dark man who also had brightly staring eyes. Both looked startled at what was happening.

This is no time to be on coke, I thought.

We were eventually allowed back on the ship by the firemen.

Then we were evacuated again and told no-one would be allowed back on again that night.

Then we were let back on board again.

In all, the non-sinking took about 90 minutes.

The eventual explanation was that, indeed, a pipe had got blocked and shit really had built up on board to such an extent that it almost sank the boat and everyone in it.

A simile for many a comedy career, perhaps.

***

POSTSCRIPTS

Malcolm’s friend Deke has continued the tradition of Malcolm’s annual birthday party (well it would be annual, wouldn’t it?)  on the Sunday nearest to 5th January. This year it is this coming Sunday (9th January 2011) from 7.00pm at the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek in Greenwich. The event will include performances by Steve Bowditch (ex-Greatest Show on Legs) and a screening of The Tunnel the award-nominated short film about Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel Palladium. Deke’s e-mail is dekedecore@hotmail.com … You can see The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Steve Bowditch and Malcolm Hardee – perform their Naked Balloon Dance here.

This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy will be presented during a special two-hour tribute show at the Edinburgh Fringe – starting at 10.00pm on the evening of Friday 26th August 2011.

There is a Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

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The origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine

One ‘Digger Dave’ tells me on my Facebook page that the legendary banger-up-the-bum routine made infamous by comic Chris Lynam and The Greatest Show on Legs originated when some aggrieved criminal in jail with Malcolm Hardee threatened to shove a stick of dynamite up Malcolm’s arse for selling him a jamjar full of wheat seeds in exchange for three packets of tobacco and telling him that the wheat seeds would turn into whisky.

As a result, Malcolm was transferred to Exeter prison farm for his own protection and later, on his release, turned the explosive threat into a spectacular entertainment.

Digger Dave also reckons a dodgy bloke in a Catford pub once threatened to shoot all the members of The Greatest Show on Legs after seeing their “Scotsman striptease” (I’m not quite sure which routine that is, but I’m open to enlightenment.)

For what it’s worth, Malcolm told me that the banger-up-the-bum routine originated when The Greatest Show on Legs were trying to come up with some even more spectacular act to follow their naked balloon dance routine and someone said: “Well, you’re wasting your time. You can’t follow the naked balloon dance. You might as well stick a firework up your arse!”

Malcolm either took this as a sensible suggestion or as a challenge and he was the first person to try out the banger-up-the-bum routine which involves holding a large firework – preferably a three-stage Roman Candle – between your clenched buttocks and lighting it to the musical accompaniment of Ethel Merman singing There’s No Business Like Show Business (other tunes are far less effective though the copyright holders of the Ethel Merman version won’t legally let it be used with the routine). Tragically, Malcolm told me, he lacked the necessary buttock control and, as a result, the lit firework drooped and set fire to his pubic (or should that be derriere) hair. According to Malcolm, fellow Greatest Show on Legs member Chris Lynam had tighter buttock control, successfully did the act as part of their show and has become the living legend he is today.

Which of these two stories – if either – is the true origin of the banger-up-the-bum routine I know not. Personally, I prefer the prison threat story… When in doubt, particularly where Malcolm is concerned, print the legend.

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