The evil deadline is upon me of getting a press release together for August’s Edinburgh Fringe.
As well as a general press release about five days of shows celebrating the late Malcolm Hardee, I have cobbled together an A4 sheet giving background information on Malcolm. But how on earth do you describe the indescribable? Well, all I’ve done is try to Edinburgh Fringe-ise the start of his Wikipedia entry which, as it happens, I mostly wrote anyway:
Malcolm Hardee was a South London comedian, author, comedy club proprietor, compere, agent, manager and “amateur sensationalist”.
His high reputation among his peers rests on his outrageous publicity stunts – often at the Edinburgh Fringe – and on the help and advice he gave to successful British alternative comedians early in their careers as “godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s”. Fellow comic Rob Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic, living legend; a millennial Falstaff”, while Stewart Lee wrote that “Malcolm Hardee is a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution” and Arthur Smith described him as “a South London Rabelais” and claimed with some justification at Malcolm’s famous funeral that “everything about Malcolm, apart from his stand-up act, was original”.
Though an accomplished comic, Malcolm was arguably more highly regarded as a ‘character’, a compere and talent-spotting booker at his own clubs, particularly his Tunnel and Up The Creek clubs in Greenwich which gave vital, early and (in the case of the infamous Tunnel) sometimes physically-dangerous exposure to up-and-coming comedians. One journalist claimed: “To say that he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame that he has” and, in its obituary, The Times wrote that “throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences”.
Malcolm regularly appeared in his own shows and promoted others at the Edinburgh Fringe and arguably his most infamous stunt was in 1983 when, performing at The Circuit venue – a series of three adjoining tents in a construction site with a different show in each tent – he became annoyed by what he regarded as excessive noise emanating nightly from American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s neighbouring tent. Malcolm ‘borrowed’ a nearby tractor and, entirely naked, drove it across Bogosian’s stage during his performance.
Rivalling this stunt in Fringe infamy, in 1989, Malcolm and Arthur Smith wrote a rave 5-star review of Malcolm’s own Fringe show and successfully managed to get it printed in The Scotsman under the byline of that influential paper’s own comedy critic. At the Fringe in 1996, he attempted to sabotage American ventriloquist David Strassman’s Edinburgh show by kidnapping the act’s hi-tech dummy, holding it to ransom and sending it back to Strassman piece by piece in return for hard cash. The plan failed.