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Malcolm Hardee: the originator of free-entry shows at the Edinburgh Fringe

Today would have been the 62nd birthday of Malcolm Hardee, the father or godfather (depending on which journalist you read) of British alternative comedy. He was born on 5th January 1950 and drowned on 31st January 2005.

The (currently three) annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given in his memory at the Edinburgh Fringe every August. This year, the winners will be announced during a bizarre two-hour late-night variety show Miss Behave Presents The Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 24th August. The show will be part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. Entry will be free. Any money donated on the way out will go 100% to comedy critic Kate Copstick‘s Mama Biashara children’s charity.

I have written a couple of blogs recently about reviewers attending Laughing Horse Free Festival and PBH Free Fringe shows in Edinburgh.

Malcolm Hardee was an early proponent of getting free entry to Fringe shows and giving awards in his name, as he explained in this section of his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

* * *

Most people pay to get into shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. I don’t encourage this. The thing to do is to get plastic sheaths from a stationers, get a bit of card, get a bit of Letraset and write PRESS on the card in big letters, then REVIEWER in smaller letters, then your name at the bottom. You put the card inside the plastic sheath and then get access to a laminating machine if you can – if not, a domestic iron does just the same thing. You press down on the card inside the plastic, it’s laminated, you’ve got a Press Card and you just go in anywhere with it.

I did a similar thing with The Snakebite Award.

The Perrier Award has been awarded at the Edinburgh Fringe for about ten years. It is given to the best comedy/cabaret performance and it’s run by a woman with the unfortunate name of Nica Burns. Unfortunate, because ‘Nica’ is pronounced ‘Knicker’.

Well, it can be if you feel like it.

My Snakebite Award was the opposite of The Perrier Award. It was an award for the worst cabaret. I laminated up a few cards, gave them to a few of my pals and we just went in any show we wanted for nothing. I went to see a Japanese opera at the Playhouse Theatre. I didn’t understand a word. But I didn’t have to pay to see it.

The Snakebite Award had a £500, and later a £1,000, First Prize which was a bit of a problem. So it almost always had to be awarded to someone I knew well or someone who I knew wouldn’t ask for the £1,000. I won it a couple of times; Chris Luby from The Mad Show has won it; and the London Hospital Medical School won it the first two years running, once with a show called Jean De Toilette, which is the worst show I have ever seen.

They did a musical number called Flush Gordon to the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen. At this point in the plot, the hero, Jean, was sitting on a toilet cleaning his teeth with a lavatory brush, surrounded by a bevy of nurses in stockings and suspenders. Someone else sang a song about lentils while members of the cast went into the audience scattering lentils. I watched it with a bloke called Tristram Davies from the Independent who said it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. We couldn’t stop laughing, but we were laughing at rather than with. We almost had to be carried out. The venue was the lecture theatre of a mental hospital in Morningside, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and it was packed. It was a Monday and there were about 300 people there. My show was right in the middle of town and I was performing to about 30 people each night. Proves something, though exactly what I don’t know.

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