Tag Archives: Brian Mulligan

One of comic Malcolm Hardee’s famous stunts. The legend… And the real truth

Malcolm Hardee: a shadow of his former self

In a blog in January this year, I mentioned that Darryl, one of the squatters on the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley boat, was thinking of producing a one-night-only Edinburgh Fringe play about Malcolm.

This now seems to be happening at The Hive venue on Wednesday 23rd August under the title Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink – two days before the last ever annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Malcolm was famous for his stunts at the Fringe. One of the most famous was writing a review of his own show which he conned The Scotsman newspaper into publishing in 1989.

In his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he described this jolly prank:


One year, we were playing at The Pleasance venue and, as normal, when you open the first week, there’s no-one there. All the other shows at The Pleasance had been reviewed by The Scotsman newspaper. Again, we were ‘wrong side of the tracks’. They hadn’t come to review our show. I was feeling bitter. So I thought I’d write my own review for them. 

Malcolm’s stunt-laden autobiography

I got a copy of The Scotsman and picked out a reviewer’s name at random – William Cook. I talked to someone I knew who used to write reviews for The Scotsman and found out how to do it. All you do is type it out in double-spacing. That’s the trick. 

Then, with Arthur Smith, I wrote a review of my own show, put William Cook’s name at the bottom, folded it up, put it in an envelope and went to the Scotsman’s offices at about 9.00pm when all the staff had gone home and gave it to the porter. Sure enough, next day, they printed it. After that, the show was full up. 

Then The Scotsman went mad because someone told them I’d done it and William Cook didn’t speak to me for years. I don’t know why. I presume he got paid for it.


This week, I asked William Cook what he remembered of all this.

“Since it was all so long ago – I make it 28 years – tempus fugit! – I’m not sure there’s much (if anything) I can add. I’d been writing reviews for The Scotsman for a grand total of about a fortnight and I had never even heard of Arthur Smith or Malcolm Hardee – although I naturally saw them perform and interviewed them quite a bit thereafter.”

Arthur Smith this week remembered the glamour of it all

Earlier this week, I asked comic Arthur Smith what he remembered.

“The story as it is usually told,” I began, “is that Malcolm wrote his own review. Did he write it? Or was it both of you?”

Arthur laughed. “I wrote every word. My memory is that his show had been going a week or so and it wasn’t getting big houses. So he shambled into the bar one day and said to me: Oy! Oy! Do you wanna write a review of my show?… So I said: If you like… And he told me: I’ve found a way of getting it into The Scotsman. I guess he must have been buttering-up some critic and –  typical Malcolm – he had a bit of deviousness in mind.”

“Surely not,” I said.

“It only,” Arthur told me, “took me half an hour or something like that. Obviously, Malcolm wanted me to write it very favourably, but not so they would read it and say: Fuck off! That’s not a real review! It was a fairly straightforward kind of review in a way.”

This is what Arthur Smith wrote and what The Scotsman printed:


Malcolm Hardee shambles on-stage in an ill-fitting suit looking like a debauched Eric Morecambe and initiates the funniest show I have seen in Edinburgh this year.

The infamous fake Edinburgh Fringe review

Hardee delivers some gross but hilarious one-liners before giving way to John Moloney, “angry young accordionist”; his sharp and aggressive observations had the audience hooting with laughter.

Then Hardee, who looks like he lives in a bus station, introduced the open spot. On the night I went a 13-year-old called Alex Langdon did a standup routine which put many of his professional elders to shame.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Terri Rodgers, who walked on looking the epitome of a sweet old lady but then introduced her puppet friend Shorty Harris, who proceeded to tell a string of jokes that made Gerry Sadowitz’s material sound like Jimmy Cricket’s. This is alternative ventriloquising of the highest order.


Note: Terri Rogers is mis-spelled as Rodgers. Jerry Sadowitz, at that time, would occasionally and, I think, fairly randomly sometimes spell his forename as Gerry.

Brian Mulligan, who was, at that time, half of comic duo Skint Video, said last week: “It wasn’t completely gushing which I thought was very amusing.”

“That’s right,” Arthur told me. “Maybe, in a way, I should have gone: This is the greatest show ever. But maybe I thought that would alert the sub-editor or something. It was quite a good review. They didn’t have stars then but I would have given him 5-stars.

“I’d written reviews before for people. I had a column in the Guardian where I could write anything I liked provided it was vaguely arts-based and I reviewed a friend’s show – I don’t think I’d even seen it – and I just gave it 5-stars as a favour.

The former Scotsman building – now The Scotsman Hotel

“Anyway, I wrote the Scotsman review for Malcolm and, maybe two days later, there it was. I recall it really caused quite a kerfuffle. They got very upset about it.”

This week, writer/performer John Dowie told me: “I recall the editor of The Scotsman releasing one of the greatest ever closing-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted remarks: We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again.

Arthur Smith’s opinion today is: “I thought they took it a bit more seriously than they really needed to. They went on about the freedom of the press. It was just a great stunt, really, though I suppose it made them look a bit like cunts… but not really.”

“Did Malcolm tweak the review at all?” I asked.

“No,” Arthur told me. “It was printed exactly as I wrote it. I would have written it by hand back in those days and he must have typed it up and handed it in.”

In fact, exactly how it was delivered to The Scotsman has got hazy in the mists of time.

Last night I talked via Skype to Woodstock Taylor in Edinburgh. She was the then-journalist who actually told Malcolm how to submit the fake review.

“How did you know Malcolm?” I asked.

Woodstock Taylor, taken  sometime back in the mid-1990s

“We had a dalliance,” she told me. “I had been dallying with (another now high-profile comedian). He dumped me, then Malcolm seized the opportunity and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We dallied for a while, then stayed friends after we stopped dallying.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“Basically,” she told me, “I used to review for The Scotsman. I was the comedy critic for several years, before William Cook got there. He took over my patch.”

“William Cook said,” I told her, “that he had only been in the job about two weeks when this fake review came out.”

“That’s right,” said Woodstock, “because I had been going to do it and then I didn’t.”

“So that,” I said, “was how Malcolm knew how to submit a review to The Scotsman. But do we now own up to the fact you told him how to con The Scotsman?”

“I think so,” said Woodstock. “It’s been 28 years. I’m not likely to write for them again. They’re not very likely to come and review my Fringe show this year. And, in any case, I have a different name now.”

Founded in 1817 – survived Hardee in 1989

“So how,” I asked, “did the fake review come about?”

“Malcolm kept coming up to me and pestering me to do a review of his show and I was trying to explain to him that I didn’t have any control over what was reviewed. I would have done him a review if it had been allowed and possible.”

“This was after you dallied?” I asked.

“Ooh, ten years after. He kept saying – about a review – Oh, come on. You can make it happen. And eventually, he got this idea and I told him how it was done.”

“He just,” I said, “put it in a tray one night, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Woodstock, “in those days, all you had to do was phone up the paper, reverse charges, and ask for the Copy Desk and then just read them the review.”

“So,” I asked, “he just phoned up and said: Ello! This is William Cook!?”

“Yeah. That’s exactly how it was done.”

“Poor old William Cook,” I said.

William Cook: now a successful author on the comedy industry

“I think it probably made him,” suggested Woodstock. “Nobody knew who he was before and everybody did afterwards.”

This made me wonder, when the editor of The Scotsman said We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again, what those steps actually were.

John Dowie told me: “When I mentioned it to Malcolm, he said: It’s a code number which you have to attach to the copy. But I know what it is. I gave a journalist ten quid and he told me. I could use it. But it’s somebody else’s turn now.

The last ever Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards take place at the Edinburgh Fringe next month, billed as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s the Last Ever Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – and It’s Free!

One of the three awards is the Cunning Stunt Award for the best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe performer or show. There is a piece on how to win a Cunning Stunt Award HERE.

As for William Cook, he did not bear a grudge. When Malcolm drowned in London in 2005, he wrote a generous obituary for the Guardian which was headed:

MALCOLM HARDEE

PATRON SINNER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY,
HE WAS RENOWNED FOR HIS OUTRAGEOUS STUNTS

It concluded:

On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged on the Wibbley Wobbley to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the river where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

(Video produced by Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon venue in Edinburgh)

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Random anarchy, incompetence and brilliance at the Edinburgh Fringe

After reading my blog yesterday about the Edinburgh Fringe, former Skint Video performer Brian Mulligan left a post on my Facebook page saying :

“This reminds me of watching a left wing revolutionary comic flicking past the front pages of hard political news (Apartheid, Contras other 80s stuff) in search of the past night’s reviews. Truly a bubble…”

He is absolutely right, of course. The whole of London could burn down and all anyone in Edinburgh would care about is whether Kate Copstick gave them a 3 or a 4 star review in The Scotsman.

The Edinburgh Fringe is the ultimate inward-looking bubble outside which nothing exists. It also seems as if the English riots are taking place in a totally different country which, indeed, they are.

Yesterday evening, I was having tea with comedian Laura Lexx in the City Cafe, talking about Ink, the straight play she has written/produced at the Kiwi Bar about the 7/7 terrorist bombings, while music played on the audio system and the TV monitor showed footage of hoodie youths turning their Grand Theft Auto games into 3D reality on the BBC News channel – with subtitles. The ranks of police in Darth Vader helmets running along the streets were keeping impeccable time to the rhythm of the music. It was an instant accidental music video. Respect, bro.

Laura was more interested than most in the riots because, in London, she lives in the middle of what was/is one of the main riot areas, round the corner from a large Tesco store, now looted. Clearly teenagers in her area have low aspirations. She was telling me about how the 5,000 flyers she ordered for her Ink show in Edinburgh had not yet arrived and she had had to pay for another 500 from another printer to tide her over.

Edinburgh at Fringe time becomes spectacularly incompetent with the venues, shops, bars, newspapers, magazines et al dragging in hundreds of inexperienced and largely uninterested students, unemployed and general ne’er-do-wells. All they want is drink, drugs and, if they strike lucky, to make the beast with two backs. There are unlikely to be riots in Edinburgh because all the potential rioters are working long hours in temporary jobs. But the effect of this transient annual workforce is that nobody remembers anything that happened at the Fringe beyond two years ago. There is no continuity. Almost everybody is equally a newcomer.

So far, the City Cafe wins the highly-contended-for prize for utter incompetence. The Blair Street Sauna, only slightly lower down the slope of the same road, almost certainly has better service and probably has better things to eat. (I have never been there.)

At the City Cafe, it took 27 minutes to get a wildly overpriced (as everything is in Edinburgh at Fringe time) and very bland Mississippi Mud Pie out of them when the place was only a quarter full. This saga went through getting the other half of the food ordered, getting the drinks, but them forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie, being reminded, bringing a totally different dessert, forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie, being reminded, forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie again; and only getting it when I stood at the bar looking at them with an unblinking and slightly psychotic stare.

I don’t actually mind people ballsing things up through general inbuilt incompetence – it’s their employer’s fault not theirs. But this was don’t give a shit incompetence – par for the course in many an establishment during the Fringe.

Things on the show front were going well, though.

The Forum at the Underbelly is a touching little play about an online internet forum with a slight twist at the end which could elicit tears from the unwary. This ain’t going to become a Hollywood movie because you come out into the night unsettled and melancholic. But it is beautifully acted and scripted.

Sneasons of Liz at the New Town Theatre is the opposite – you come out into the night beaming.

It is a musical narrative about a woman with multiple allergies who sneezes her way around the world and is not remotely anything like what I expected.

It is an odd production because most Edinburgh Fringe shows – even the best ones – are ‘alternative’, which means perhaps a bit rough-and-ready and… well… Fringe-like. The one thing they never are is smooth, mainstream Broadway or London West End quality.

But Sneasons of Liz is just that.

It is only a singer on a stool or wandering the stage plus a piano accompanist and some good lighting design. So it is stark. It has no scenery. But it is of London West End or Broadway standard and almost from another era.

This is largely because its star Liz Merendino is a Grade A humdinger of a performer.

She is a classically-trained singer from New York, based in Hong Kong who has been a music teacher for the last nine years. She was wasting her time doing that; she should have been on the West End or Broadway stage. She is that good. The show combines musical standards with specially-commissioned new songs from Fascinating Aida’s Adele Anderson and it is a wonderfully entertaining showbiz blast. Very American but, in this case, none the worse for that. In fact, it’s a positive advantage here.

We are talking Liza Minnelli blast-em-out songs, though much more varied than that implies and Liz Merendino has a voice to die for – let’s hope she doesn’t – one which can cope with some very difficult singing subtleties.

Great songs. Great energy. Great piano accompanist (strangely uncredited). Great, great singer.

It is probably incomparable at the Fringe but, in its own world, it is a 5-star show which does not put a foot wrong.

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The scams of Malcolm Hardee

Brian Mulligan, of late lamented comedy/music duo Skint Video, read my blog yesterday about the always financially creative Malcolm Hardee, who used to be their agent. He tells me it brought back fond memories of Malcolm “telling venues when they paid us cash that they needed to give us the VAT at 15% – he would say he had forgotten the invoice but would write one out there and then.”

As he was not actually registered for VAT and not entitled to collect it, he used to write down a friend’s telephone number as the VAT number, thus getting an extra 15% on top of the fee, which he then pocketed as well as his agent’s fee.

This was one of the many fine pieces of lateral thinking that Malcolm became known for.

When, on one occasion, he had to send his driving licence to the DVLA in Swansea (one of many, many occasions) they sent him back a new licence in the name of “Malcolm Hardy”. He pointed out the spelling mistake to them and they sent him another licence with the correct spelling “Malcolm Hardee”. But he never returned the first licence. This meant he had two driving licences so, if he was banned from driving and his licence suspended for some dubious motoring offence or offences, he still had what he reckoned was a ‘valid’ licence he could show to police if stopped again – the ‘other’ licence.

When Malcolm’s brother Alex was sorting out paperwork after his untimely death, Malcolm’s phone rang: it was the Inland Revenue rather optimistically asking when Malcolm was going to settle his tax bill. Alex told the taxman that, sadly, Malcolm had died. Their response was:

“You told us that last year, Mr Hardee…”

You can hear Malcolm’s son Frank telling similar stories at Malcolm’s legendary 2005 funeral HERE. If you listen to this, remember that it takes place in a church at a funeral not, as it may sound, at a stand-up comedy club…

(In August this year, the Edinburgh Fringe will include a week of events celebrating the spirit of Malcolm Hardee.)

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For the third and last time – pity the poor comedian with a bad memory or an impish audience member

I am the ideal comedy audience because I have a shit memory.

I can watch a stand-up performance and love it and adore every gut-wrenchingly funny punchline and walk out at the end of the gig and ten minutes later… I cannot remember any of the jokes.

In that sense, I am the stand-up comic’s dream: that he/she could perform the same gags every day to the same Alzheimer’s audience and they wouldn’t realise it.

Alas for the poor comedian, audiences do remember if you have told them a gag, especially if you just told them that same gag ten minutes ago.

The last couple of days, I have blogged about stand-up comedians who have – either intentionally or unintentionally – repeated all of part of their routines within the same gig to increasingly bemused audiences.

After reading the blogs, Mark Hurst aka Mark Miwurdz contacted me on Facebook:

“Yikes! I did that at the Edinburgh Fringe once, must have been festival fatigue. Finished a routine and began it agin, as if on a loop. I pretended it was deliberate but I don’t think anyone believed me.”

There is also a problem, of course, if comics don’t watch the comedians who precede them at a club gig. Mark Hurst says:

“I saw two comics very recently, back to back, who both did routines on knife crime and using a spoon instead. The audience suddenly went quiet on the second one, much to his confusion.”

“Ah the topical comic’s nightmare,” Brian Mulligan of Skint Video told me yesterday: “We once had a joke about Frank Bough caught sniffing coke to which the punchline was Next we’ll find out Lord Denning is a rent boy! And Felix, who was on before us, had done the same gag.”

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the occasion recalled by Ronnie Golden and Michael Redmond in which Lee Cornes intentionally re-told his jokes to confuse an audience at the Comedy Store in London. And Steve Bennett of the Chortle comedy website told me of an occasion which was the reverse of this:

“There’s a related story,” he told me yesterday, “that a comedian – I think it was Phill Jupitus – was once heckled by a voice from the front row which quietly told him: You’ve already said that… He hadn’t, but he had performed at four other gigs that night and couldn’t be sure what he’d done, so he was thrown completely.”

Comedians trying to confuse audiences… audience members trying to confuse comedians.

Pity the poor comedian.

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At the risk of repeating a good story… something funny happened one night at the Comedy Store in London…

After my blog yesterday about a famous comedian who accidentally told exactly the same jokes twice in one routine, comes a story of someone who did the same thing intentionally.

Tony De Meur aka Ronnie Golden Facebooked me:

“A good few years back, I was watching Lee Cornes compering the Saturday late show at the Comedy Store. He was bored, so said he’d open the second half with a straight repeat of a routine he’d performed earlier. The bemused crowd watched in total silence as he animatedly trawled through familiar material while all the comics at the back shrieked with helpless laughter!”

To which Michael Redmond responded:

“I remember that, too. He did his ‘tramps’ routine twice… bloody hilarious.”

And Brian Mulligan of the late lamented Skint Video was there that night, too. He says Lee Cornes was “a true comic displaying bravery and invention”.

In an interview in The Times last year, Sean Lock said of Lee Cornes: “He’s not very well known but he is my main influence… He’s the comedians’ comedian. He used to be very unpredictable, which is a great skill in a comedian, not knowing where to go next.”

Alas, like many other good comedians, Lee no longer performs as a stand-up.

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