(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)
Time Life Books called John Ward “possibly the best English eccentric inventor living today”. Yesterday I went up to Lincolnshire to see him at his home (an enormous, rambling bungalow within someone else’s farmyard). I was up there to take delivery of his latest creations – the newly-designed Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and the new-this-year Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award. They join his Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality trophies. All will continue to be awarded annually until 2017.
John’s other creations include his surprisingly overlooked invention the electric bra warmer, as well as the one-man personal barbeque, the mobile church font and my personal favourite – a small rubber nautical mine which you leave in your cup of tea so no-one else will steal it.
He still fondly remembers a curry which the late lamented Malcolm Hardee cooked for him in my kitchen. It was, I think, the only occasion known to me when Malcolm did not drop curry down the front of his shirt, something I am eternally grateful for. Malcolm once had a meal with comedian Charlie Chuck at the end of which, instead of asking for a doggie bag, he spooned the uneaten parts of his curry into the top pocket of his white suit.
His famed Edinburgh Fringe exploits included writing a glowing review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic… and riding a tractor (naked) through the middle of American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show.
Malcolm, oft-called the “godfather of British alternative comedy” talent-spotted, encouraged and advised Keith Allen, Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Paul Merton, Al Murray, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Jim Tavare, Johnny Vegas and many other comedians early in their career.
He drowned in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, in 2005. At the Coroner’s Court, Police Constable Martin Spirito said that, when they pulled Malcolm from the water, he “had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand”. Even in death, he had a sense of his priorities.
Five years gone but not forgotten by the comedians he helped.
The Malcolm Hardee Awards this year are going to be presented on Friday 27th August during Nik Coppin‘s nightly show Shaggers, part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Three Sisters in Cowgate. I feel Malcolm would have approved of the title of the show. Judges include Tim Arthur of Time Out and Dominic Maxwell of The Times plus The Scotsman‘s Kate Copstick and Jay Richardson.