Tag Archives: Freddie Mercury

Stand-up comedians, death and fame – Who will be remembered and why?

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about reviving the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – I would not be involved in them. 

Of course, few people have ever heard of Malcolm Hardee.

Fame, as they say, is a fickle mistress.

In the UK, who were the biggest and most-loved comedians of the late-20th Century?

Probably Morecambe & Wise.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Haynes.

Before him? Maybe Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Lucan.

But, younger readers might ask, Who WERE these people?

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley and Arthur Lucan?

Never heard of them.

Come to that, who the fuck was Arthur Askey?

Certainly, if you are my devoted reader in Guatemala, you will never have heard of them.

But massively famous in their lifetime is what they all were. In the UK. But now forgotten by subsequent generations in the UK. And still totally unknown elsewhere. 

If you were born and brought up in China, India, Indonesia, the USA… none of those names ever meant anything even when they were at the height of their fame. Perhaps Benny Hill was more famous worldwide. There is a possibly apocryphal story that Chinese State Television interrupted their programming to announce his death. But do new generations remember him still in Shanghai or Guangzhou? I doubt it.

Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home in London, 1995

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ran at the Edinburgh Fringe 2005-2017. 

Not a lot of people know that. Certainly not in Guatemala or Guangzhou.

I mentioned during the conversation I had yesterday that I thought there was a chance – perhaps an outside chance – that Malcolm Hardee might be remembered in the UK for much longer than other comedians who were ‘famous’ during his lifetime and who are nationally known today.

Come to that, given current events, memories of Malcolm might outlive the very existence of the UK.

Malcolm was not famous when he was alive – infamous in certain areas, yes, perhaps, but never famous.

He was totally unknown by the general public unless you mentioned to people of a certain age The Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT in 1981 or 1982. Then they might remember the three-man act doing the perfomance; but not him individually. He was the one on the left.

His death in 2005 got lengthy obituaries in all the quality press but none in the popular tabloids. Because, although he was widely-known by the media and very influential in the comedy industry – Heavens! GQ even ran a fashion spread featuring Malcolm – not a man known for his sartorial elegance! – the general public didn’t know he existed.

My point yesterday was that the material and style of comedy acts date but vivid anecdotes of real people’s lives do not. 

In my opinion, Malcolm was not a good stand-up comedian. In fact, you could hardly call him a stand-up comedian at all. Though he was a superb and much-underestimated MC/compere. 

People always correctly said that Malcolm’s act was his life. He had maybe eight or ten jokes which he repeated over 20 or so years. But ask people about him and what do they remember first? Not the jokes but:

    • the fact that, naked, he drove a tractor through someone else’s act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
    • the fact that (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a good review of his own Edinburgh Fringe show and conned The Scotsman newspaper into printing it thinking it was written by their own reviewer.

If you see a stand-up comedy show from 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago, the material has dated; the style of delivery has dated; the physical look of the whole thing has dated. Even Morecambe & Wise shows, the last time I saw one, are starting to date. And, sadly, surprisingly, younger comedy fans do not find even Tommy Cooper as funny as those who saw him years ago.

Comedians’ acts and material date badly and relatively quickly.

But wildly eccentric OTT life stories and anecdotes about rebellious characters do not date.

If anyone ever fully collates the OTT anecdotes about recently-deceased comic Ian Cognito, there is another performer whose legend and personality were arguably greater than his impact on the general public.

The image which promoted the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in Edinburgh.

Successful comedians tend to be more mentally ‘together’ than the real wild card comics. People love the successful performers’ professional material, love their delivery. But they are less interesting off-stage.

When was the last time you heard a wildly eccentric anecdote about that brilliant on-stage performer Michael McIntyre doing something totally apeshit off-stage?

Malcolm Hardee could not walk from his home to the Post Office without five bizarre things happening to him – or causing bizarre things to happen.

Even the title of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (yes, he did) is OTT and the story of him stealing it will possibly still be funny decades hence, long after people have forgotten who, Freddie Mercury was.

Well, maybe that’s not true, because the off-stage Mercurial life story is a cracker too.

But my point is that anyone watching a 100% brilliant, top-notch Michael McIntyre routine… anyone watching an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, Monty Python or Fawlty Towers… anyone watching a Robin Williams routine… in 75 or 100 years time… may not find any of them funny because tastes will have changed and cultural tastes are different. Humour in the form of jokes and scripted funny routines does not necessarily transcend borders.

A joke that is funny in Indonesia may not make ‘em rock with laughter in Canada or Novosibirsk today. A joke or routine that is funny in London today may not be funny in London in 2099. But a bizarre anecdote about a man who “throughout his life maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences” (as Malcolm Hardee’s obituary in The Times said) is likely to outlive all the people who were more ‘famous’ than he was during his lifetime.

Malcolm Hardee – generally unknown during his lifetime and remembered by few since then – may yet outlive those who apparently achieved more during their lives. 

Lao Tzu is right that “the flame which burns twice as bright burns half as long”. But the flame which burns half as bright as those around it is still just as 100% hot when you stick your finger in it and yet may burn twice as long.

Of course, if you’re dead, it doesn’t do you any good so, as Malcolm himself would have said: “Fuck it!”

Or: “It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over… Round the edge… fish.”

RIP the unknown comic, Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005.

I know someone is going to mention that Charlie Chaplin is remembered fairly worldwide. But I don’t care and I never found him funny anyway. And I am already regretting the line about sticking your finger in…

5 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Fame

Christmas with young Malcolm Hardee

In this extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he explains how he used to make money as a schoolboy.


Extracted from Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography

Extracted from Malcolm’s autobiography…

When I was in the choir at St Stephen’s, I had a surplice and I used to wear it to go carol singing and earn some money at Christmas. I used to take a whole gang round with me.

We’d go round the posh houses in Blackheath carrying candles and everything. People would invite us in and put us on tape recorders to send to their relatives. They thought it was for the church, of course.

I used to make money all the year round.

From early October until November 5th it would be the ‘Penny for the Guy’ routine. Then, once November had gone, I got the carol singing going.

The rest of the year, we went round in Boy Scout uniforms and did Bob-a-Job. No-one knows when Bob-a-Job Week actually is, so you can do it any time.

We almost got caught out once because we accidentally went to a Scout Master’s house and he knew it wasn’t Bob-a-Job Week. But I explained to him I was in a different branch of the Scouts and it was our Bob-a-Job Week.

The Scouts I was in were not the Baden-Powell Scouts. This guy had set up a splinter-group called BBS (British Brotherhood of Scouts).

The Baden-Powell Scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared”. The BBS one was  “Always Ready”. So everything was almost the same but not quite. We still wore the uniforms and had the scout oath and ran flags up the pole and all that. When I saw my BBS Scoutmaster years later, it was so obvious that he was gay but at the time he was just a Scoutmaster to me. People weren’t so aware of gayness in those days.

I’ve never had any homosexual experiences and yet they must have been going on around me. That Scoutmaster didn’t fancy me, he just used to hit me with ropes every now and again. He used to like hitting people with ropes. I think he must have got chucked out of the Baden-Powell lot for some sort of sexual scandal. He also had another church he took us to called St Magnus the Martyr up by London Bridge which was another High Church. His real name was Charlie Brown, but we called him ‘Bosun’. We had three Scoutmasters: Bosun, Beaky and Kim.

I eventually got thrown out of the BBS for writing fake notes from my mother to avoid going to a Camp.

I was no angel.

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm’s out-of-print autobiography

I got thrown out of the choir.

I got thrown out of everything, really.

I got expelled from primary school apparently – I don’t remember it  –  I was too concussed. We used to have these stairs at the school and I used to dive up to hold on to a ledge and swing. I swung up and my feet touched the bottom and my hands let go and I fell on my head and ended up in Lewisham Hospital. I had to stay in three or four days. They discharged me early because I was going a bit berserk – racing about in the wheelchairs in the ward and stuff.  So I got thrown out of hospital too.


The last Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show will be staged at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 25th August 2017.

1 Comment

Filed under Humor, Humour

My night with Becky Fury a few feet from where Malcolm Hardee drowned

beckyfury_grainyThere is a famous quote from Steve Jobs of Apple. He said: “Good artists copy, Great artists steal.”

Ironically, he probably actually stole this quote from T.S.Eliot, who wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Although apparently Steve Jobs thought he stole the quote from Pablo Picasso.

All this is to add intellectual credibility a.k.a. bullshit disguise to what follows.

Last Saturday night, I went to see an unadvertised comedy/music gig at the Wibbley Wobbley, a (still just about) floating former Rhine cruiser now moored at Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.

Regular readers of this blog will realise this was where comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in January 2005 and that the Wibbley Wobbley was his floating pub/club.

I was vaguely thinking I should write a brief blog about my Saturday night visit but then, yesterday, up-standing comic Becky Fury wrote one. 

Becky won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So I think it is only fitting I should simply steal her words. 

And here they are:

beckyfury_wibbleywobbley_nov2016

John Fleming and I went to the Wibbley Wobbley on Saturday night.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s old boat and has been squatted by an art collective. John said Malcolm only nicked cars and they’ve nicked a whole boat and that Malcolm would have approved.

The squatters had hung protest banners outside, so we took our own banner which said KNOB OUT! (one of Malcolm’s catchphrases) and hung it with the others.

The tribute banner’s initial position...

The tribute banner’s initial position aloft…

Which is the equivalent of putting flowers on your mate’s grave.

I had spray painted KNOB OUT! earlier in the day on an old bed sheet on my own boat and hung it to dry by the busy tow path in Camden.

A lot of people ushered their children past very quickly.

Those that didn’t spoke approvingly about it as a protest against Donald Trump.

Context is everything.

Back on the Wibbley Wobbley, John presented me with a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

The angelic Malcolm’s autobiography

It has a picture of Malcolm as a cherub or angel on the cover.

Greenland Dock is where Malcolm died. He fell in the dock and drowned – as the story goes – weighed down by pound coins ‘stolen’ from his own fruit machine and, when his body was dredged from the dock, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

So the mythos goes.

Given this back story, I thought it was a very poetic and appropriate place to be handed a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography. Especially as the front cover has a Malcolm as an angel.

John gave the squatters a copy of the book too.

I tried to stop him but he was insistent.

Becky Fury performs an adequate turn

Becky performs an adequate turn inside the Wibbley Wobbley

I performed an adequate turn. Quantities of pirate juice 1 and 2 – a dubious home brew distinguishable only by colour – were consumed and a band played some music. Me and John recorded a Grouchy Club podcast.

But the most interesting part of the night was spent. So we left to catch the last tube.

On the way to the station I needed a piss, so I popped in a nearby Weatherspoons pub.

Weatherspoons likes to commemorate local characters.

There was a picture of Malcolm with the birthday cake story underneath.

Local boy Malcolm Hardee stole Freddie Mercury’s £40,000 birthday cake. When the police raided, there was no evidence of the cake because it had been donated to a local old people’s home. 

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ Malcolm Hardee award

Becky Fury with a photo of Malcolm Hardee and a pirate flag

I told John: “There’s a picture of Malcolm Hardee on the wall. With the story about stealing Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

“In the women’s toilet? he asked. “That’s appropriate.”

I spoke to my friend the street artist Stik and told him about my evening and that Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake was stolen by Malcolm Hardee.

“Can you get me a copy of the autobiography?” he asked. “And I’ll send it to Brian May. I’m sure he’d love to finally know what happened to his mate’s cake.”


I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – the picaresque autobiography of Malcolm Hardee – is out of print but available from Amazon whose online description has, for several years, been of a completely different book. It currently continues to describe I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake thus: 

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers.”

I have never attempted to correct this mis-description because, in its full, irrelevant, surreal glory, I think Malcolm would have approved.

wibbleywobbley_banner2

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Humor, Humour

Journalist Garry Bushell talks about being accused of hating gay men

Yesterday’s now paraphrased blog

Yesterday’s original blog

Yesterday’s blog started as an I think interesting piece in which theatre producer David Johnson remembered Piers Morgan at the 1993 British Comedy Awards reacting to Julian Clary’s joke about “fisting” the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

David posted the original fascinating piece (now removed) on his own Facebook page last Monday. I asked his permission to quote it, which is why I did not post my own blog about it until yesterday.

After I had posted yesterday’s blog, very unusually, I added something to it – a further comment which David Johnson sent me. It said (I paraphrase) that it was the Sun’s thuggish columnist Garry Bushell who actually wrote the anti-Clary piece the day after the “fisting” joke incident and who then ran homophobic articles campaigning against Julian Clary, Graham Norton etc.

David said in this added section that he was pleased it was ultimately Garry Bushell not Julian Clary who became unemployable, that Bushell had hardly worked since 2007 and is an active UKIP member.

David has since asked me to remove yesterday’s blog. I have now re-posted the blog with David’s directly quoted words replaced by paraphrased words.

David wanted the blog removed in general, as I understand it, because I told him I was going to ask Garry Bushell questions as a follow-up and (in my view) to allow GB a full come-back. David was also angry because I would not immediately post in public a private message Garry Bushell sent me. Garry Bushell has now given me permission to print the message, though I have cut out one well-known entertainer’s name. The message read:

“I made my peace with Julian many years ago, John, even appearing on his TV show. I’m not sure how your claim of homophobia sits with my consistent support for talented gay artists, from Frankie Howerd and (another well-known entertainer) on. I am not an active member of UKIP and my column is still published nationally. Best wishes Garry”

David thinks I was unreasonable in not printing that immediately in a public forum without first asking Garry Bushell’s permission and, because of that, he has deleted his original Facebook post which was about Piers Morgan. He is also offended that I have allowed Garry Bushell to respond to various claims.

So here, alas without any counterbalancing arguments or facts from David, is what Garry Bushell answered in reply to some questions I asked him:

Q: Aren’t you ashamed of having destroyed Julian Clary’s career for two years? You wrote a piece trying to get Julian banned from live TV. He must hate you.

Journalist Garry Bushell

Journalist Garry Bushell says what he thinks??

A: All I did after Julian’s fisting gag was write an opinion piece reflecting the views of my editor (Kelvin MacKenzie). You have to put the incident in context. This happened shortly after Stan Boardman had been banned not just from live TV but from ITV completely for his Focke-Wulf gag. Des O’Connor’s live show was cancelled because of that row. It seemed that there was one rule for mainstream comedians and another for fashionable ones.

I did later appear on Julian’s TV show All Rise For Julian Clary in the 1990s. I wanted to bury the hatchet. I don’t know what Julian thinks of me, but I don’t hate him. Back at the start I felt that he was a single-entendre act who had been promoted beyond his abilities. I like him and his act a lot more now – I backed him to win Celebrity Big Brother in my column. He was the most entertaining housemate by far.

Q: You hate gays.

A: I don’t hate anyone because of their sexuality and never have done. I first fell out with gay activists over a tasteless joke in my column back in the 1980s and, because I’ve always loved feuds, I took it too far. One of the first people who came to my defence was Patrick Newley who wrote Mrs Shufflewick’s biography – now there was an act!

I’ve worked with gay people pretty much everywhere I’ve had a job, and championed gay acts for decades starting with Frankie Howerd (I was a lone voice in the press campaigning for his return to TV). I adore (the well-known entertainer mentioned in Garry Bushell’s message quoted above). I like Craig Hill. I supported Alan Carr when he first appeared on the scene. I loved Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady’s drag act) – I knew Paul’s boyfriend Brendan Murphy from back when we’d both been members of the International Socialists a long time ago. And, at the risk of the old ‘some of my best friends…’ cliché, I’m still mates with Dale Winton and have been since the mid-1990s.

Q: In your youth, you joined the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party and wrote for Socialist Worker. I have always thought Hitler was a good Socialist and, after all, he did form the National Socialist Party and did everything in the name of ‘The People’…. So you were always a bit of a totalitarian?

A: I did join the IS and did write for Socialist Worker. But I think the threat to freedom now comes more from the far-Left than the far-Right, although in practice in power there is very little difference between them. It used to be rightwing Tories calling for things to be banned, now it’s the middle class Left. I find it extraordinary that the comrades are so happy to march arm-in-arm with women (and gay) hating clerical fascists.

Q: Now you are an ‘active’ member of UKIP…

A: I’m not an active member of anything.

Q: On talkSPORT Radio, you said homosexuality was a “perversion”.

A: I don’t recall the actual phrasing, but it was a dumb thing to say and I apologise for it. It’s no defence, but I had just come off the phone to my mate who is in Right Said Fred and I’d been winding him up about Fred getting punched by some Russian troglodyte.

Q: You were employed by the Sun as a ‘thug’ journalist. That’s your image, isn’t it? That’s why you get paid.

A: Am I a thug? I don’t think so. I’ve always liked acerbic humour, from Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers to Lily Savage, via Bernard Manning, and I think that if you don’t realise that you might not ‘get’ my column. Male working class humour tends to be abrasive.  My big mistake in the early days of writing the column was to caricature myself; the newspaper ‘Bushell’ was a comic exaggeration of my own views. I stopped doing that a long time ago.

Q: One of my Facebook Friends posted: Someone needs to dig up Bushell’s review of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The Sun gave him two pages to rant about how AIDS was a luvvies disease and how disgusting it was to see money raised for AIDS research when there was so little funding for proper diseases. It finished with his deathless advice on how to avoid contracting AIDS: “Don’t do drugs and don’t be gay.”

A: All I can remember about that is I used it to slip in a tasteless Jimmy Jones ode – Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, If you’d stuck with fanny You’d still be with us. I think it was over a spread, me versus Piers Morgan. I loved Queen and Freddie was one of the great rock front-men. I do think the early AIDS campaign was misleading but I genuinely regret writing this piece. If I could make amends for it, by doing a benefit gig or whatever I would happily do so, although no doubt some smartarse would then accuse me of chasing the pink pound.

Q: Do you hate women as much as perverts and pooftahs?

A: Love women, don’t know any perverts, although my old guitarist is a transvestite now – does that count?

Q: Did you ever encounter Jimmy Savile?

A: Yes. Horrible bastard, but cunning. You felt like you needed a wash after meeting him but were never quite sure why.

Q: How would you describe your novels?

A: Filthy.

Q: Do you want to create art with your writing?

A: No thanks. I want people to read it.

Q: In my blog yesterday, it was claimed you mounted “a relentless homophobic campaign against artists like Julian Clary and Graham Norton that lasted as long as Bushell was allowed air-time or column inches.” So it backfired on you, didn’t it? It destroyed your own Fleet Street career.

A: My column inches still pop up regularly and vigorously in the Daily Star Sunday, which last time I looked still outsells the Independent On Sunday.

Graham Norton’s late night Channel 4 show was filthy, so I couldn’t work out why BBC1 hired him – especially when they kept giving him flop early evening LE shows to host. He is however the smartest and funniest chat-show host in the country now – something I have been saying for years.

I don’t accept the charge of homophobia. And to suggest I relentlessly campaigned against Julian Clary and Graham Norton is untrue. I relentlessly campaigned against Ben Elton because I felt he was both an unfunny dick and a complete fake.

I’m a TV critic which means I criticise shows and stars who don’t float my boat. I moaned about Jo Brand for decades but as soon as she did something great, as she did with Getting On, I praised it to high heaven.

Tabloid readers like firm opinions. If I said everything was terrific no-one would read me.

2 Comments

Filed under Gay, Journalism, Newspapers, Racism

Good-bad comedy and bad-bad comedy on TV and at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Malcolm Hardee presents Pull The Plug!

Malcolm Hardee presents Gong Show rip-off Pull The Plug!

To rip-off American politician Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about known knowns and unknown unknowns… In comedy, there are good acts who think they are good and are good, there are bad acts who think they are good but are bad and there are bad acts who think they are bad but are good.

I am, myself, a great lover of good-bad acts and variable acts wh0 can rotate from genius to urinal on a 2p piece. In fact, you can often learn more from watching a bad-bad act than from watching a good act. Good-bad acts are to be encouraged and treasured.

When the late Malcolm Hardee and I worked at Noel Gay Television in 1990/1991, producing entertainment shows in the UK for what was then BSB, a producer called Cecil Korer came to Noel Gay suggesting a TV series called The Cockroach Show – a rip-off of infamous US TV ‘talent’ programme The Gong Show.

I loved (and love) The Gong Show which I always thought was misunderstood by people who had never seen it. People who had never seen it thought it involved bad acts. But, in fact, it involved knowingly bizarre acts: an entirely different thing. They were good-bad acts.

Unless my memory deceives me, I remember one very overweight lady on The Gong Show, dressed as Marlene Dietrich from The Blue Angel, trying and failing to get up onto a high stool while singing Falling In Love Again. It was very funny. She had great timing.

Another act involved a man (and I think also a woman) who came on and juggled a doll. Except that, after about 15 seconds, viewers (and the open-mouthed judging panel) realised it was not a doll but a real flesh-and-blood child. The act was quickly gonged off.

If only Malcolm Hardee and I could have found such an act while we were at Noel Gay…

Instead, we had Cecil Korer who, I think, had actually been responsible for Channel 4 buying and screening The Gong Show in the UK and now (1990) had this idea to rip it off as The Cockroach Show.

Cecil had a good pedigree having been, at one time, involved in BBC TV’s glorious Good Old Days music hall show. He had also commissioned entertainment shows for Channel 4, including the almost indescribable Minipops.

This mostly seemed to involve pre-pubescent little girls singing, while bumping and grinding suggestively and thrusting their hips to raunchy pop music tracks. Cecil claimed he saw it as a cute talent-type show. Many saw it as toe-curlingly and unsettlingly sexist or worse. Today, the words “Jimmy Savile show” would not be too far off the mark.

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw and Jools Holland

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw, Jools Holland

Anyway, Malcolm and I co-produced two rip-off pilots for BSB with Cecil Korer credited as producer and us as associate producers but, in fact, one show Pull The Plug! included acts chosen by him and one The Flip Show had acts chosen by Malcolm and me.

The way Malcolm tells it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

I went round the country auditioning acts with this old guy Cecil Korer and some glamorous girl he was taking round. Cecil was a TV bloke of the Old School. One of his proudest claims to fame was as producer of the appalling 1980s Channel 4 series Minipops. He liked young girls, did Cecil. Some of the acts we saw were indescribably bizarre. You had to be there. One old woman sang to backing tapes and danced about in a peculiar fashion. She tried her best to look glamorous but everything was wrong: she had no co-ordination, no glamour, nothing. Somehow, it was extremely funny and she should’ve got on the show.

In the end, we selected enough acts to do two pilots: The Flip Show, which had hand-held hooters instead of a gong, and Pull The Plug! where lights were turned off progressively until the act was in total darkness and had to stop. We recorded the shows in Gillingham with Jools Holland, Cardew Robinson and Ned Sherrin on the panel. The two pilots were not going to set the world alight, but I thought they were quite good. They never got taken up by BSB, though. We were never told exactly why.

In fact, that is not true. We were told.

We had been directed by BSB to make the two pilots “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”. We mostly ignored the second suggestion but, when BSB eventually saw these pilots, they rejected them, with apologies, because they claimed they had had a “re-appraisal” of the BSB image and the two shows were “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”.

There are some brief extracts from the shows in the Malcolm Hardee obituary video on YouTube.

One of the acts Cecil chose was, basically, a girl in her 20s dressed as a St Trinian’s schoolgirl doing quite a bit of jiggling. The acts Malcolm and I chose were more knowingly bizarre.

All this came to mind a couple of days ago, when the eternally entrepreneurial Bob Slayer sent me the pitch for his Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I think The Hive is a justification of my theory that it usually takes three consecutive years to get anywhere at the Fringe.

The first year, people are not necessarily even aware you exist.

The second year, they are aware you exist because you were there last year.

The third year, you seem an established fixture at the eternally ephemeral Fringe and have some profile.

Bob started running The Hive venue within the Free Festival two years ago.

He had an advantage in the first year that people vaguely knew of him as a solo act, though not as a venue-runner. He was also able to attract a big Fringe act – Phil Kay – to the venue.

Last year, he was getting treated even more seriously and the venue had a real buzz about it with Phil Kay and semi-breakthrough shows like Chris Dangerfield’s Sex Tourist and John Robertson‘s The Dark Room as well as the return to the Fringe of The Greatest Show on Legs. This year, I expect even more of a buzz around The Hive, so I was interested to see, as part of Bob’s pitch to acts who might want to appear at The Hive:

MY SHOW IS TERRIBLE SHOULD I STILL APPLY?
Is it really terrible? I mean so shockingly bad that we want to see it every day? If so yes apply and mark your application “Even worse than Bob Slayer’s show…”

“That was an interesting paragraph,” I said to Bob.

Bob Slayer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer in The Hive at the 2011 Fringe:. This photo can never be printed too often.

“Ah,” he replied. “We are very oversubscribed this year so I have been doing all I can to put people off. But there is always room for a real proper stinker. I realise this ‘terrible’ show slot is very important. In the past, I have mostly found these shows by accident, but you can’t rely on that.

“In the year before I took over booking at The Hive, there was a one-woman play about sexual abuse. She was on before my show and hers ended with a graphic reconstruction which she would perform to her audience of only two or three people. She was always over-running and my audience would be waiting outside… So, when she went off-stage prior to her graphic end scene, I would usher my audience into the room, telling them the intro to my show was about to start.

“Her audience would then suddenly swell and they would cheer loudly as she was entered by the devil himself. It was a beautiful piece of theatre and a perfect set-up for my show.”

Good comedy?

Bad comedy?

It can often be the same thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

The untold story of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s extraordinarily odd wedding

Jacki Cook and Jon Hale remember in Whitstable yesterday

Jacki Cook and Jon Hale run the Emporium, a vintage clothing shop in Greenwich which also supplies costumes to the movie industry – they supplied jackets for Tom Cruise in his first two Mission Impossible films.

They were also friends of the ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee and supplied his clothing when he got married to Jane in 1994. I was there that day and – like his funeral in 2005 – it is not an experience anyone present is ever likely to forget. But I did not know the full story until I had a day trip to Whitstable with Jacki and Jonathan yesterday.

The way Malcolm told it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

On the morning I was married, Julia was rushing around making sure the wedding suit I got from Jonathan Ross was alright and Annie The German gave me this bottle of German rum. It was about ten times the proof of normal British rum. I only had a couple and then I staggered off to the wedding at 11 o’clock.

After the Registry Office, I went back home and had four hours to recover before the Church Blessing at 5.00pm – or so I thought. But Annie The German gave me another rum and spiked it with some sort of hallucinogenic drug. It’s some liquid stuff they have over in Germany – a mixture of amphetamine, hallucinogenic and some other stuff.

I suppose she thought she was doing me a favour.

Emporium kitted me out with tails and a top hat and all that game, though I didn’t wear the top hat. Didn’t look right on me.

Someone had painted HELP! on the soles of my shoes – which I didn’t know about – so that when I knelt down in church everyone in the congregation could read it. I felt a bit faint halfway through, so I had to go to sit down on one side.

“It was Jon who wrote HELP,” Jacki told me yesterday.

“We supplied him with his outfit for the wedding,” explained Jon. “He came to our house to get the clothes to get dressed for the wedding. But Malcolm had seen a bag of dope at a friend’s house…”

“…and he had smoked it,” said Jacki, “and, what with everything else, that was it. He was finished.”

“I’d done his shoes the night before the wedding,” explained Jon, “with the letters HE written on the sole of his left shoe and LP on the sole of his right shoe. Obviously, I didn’t tell him.”

“He looked nice in his suit,” said Jacki.

“When did he find out about HELP being on the soles of his shoes?” I asked Jon. “Did he ask afterwards why people laughed when he knelt down?”

“Malcolm was totally wiped-out,” Jon explained. “Remember halfway through the ceremony he had to sit down and the vicar had to…”

“Oh!” said Jacki, remembering. “Malcolm keeled over, didn’t he!”

“He had to go to the bench…” Jon continued.

“Didn’t someone else almost get married to Jane?” I said, dimly remembering what I saw. When Malcolm had had to go and sit down, his best man – comedian Martin Soan – stood-in for him at the altar while the vicar warbled on until Malcolm was able to stand again. It had looked, for a time, as if Malcolm was not going to be able to stand again in time for the vows.

“It was close,” agreed Jon. “Malcolm could only just get through the ceremony.”

“He said I do,” Jacki reminded us. “And then he lost it.”

“Malcolm disappeared into one of the Confession booths,” said Jon. “And everybody…”

“He was being sick in there…” said Jacki.

“… everybody was waiting for him to come out and he was being ill in there, wasn’t he…” added Jon.

“…and that mad German woman was there,” Jacki reminded us. “Annie The German. Clare’s (Malcolm’s sister’s) pen friend. But Malcolm used to write her filthy letters, didn’t he, when they were kids. And she was mad for Malcolm. She wanted to marry Malcolm. He said it was such a shock when he saw her.”

“I think I met her at the wedding,” I said.

“She’s crazy,” said Jacki.

“She was a chemist,” said Jon. “She made this stuff and was going round giving us all these little drops from this pipette thing. A thing she’d engineered herself.”

“She was pretty crazy,” said Jacki. “Two hundred Rothmans cigarettes and a bottle of whisky in the handbag. A big 200 pack of Rothmans… ‘kin hell, Malcolm was scared of her, but it was because he’d sent her all these filthy letters. She was Claire’s pen friend… The German!” Jacki laughed. “Annie The German!…”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Drugs, Marriage, Weddings

The night comedian Malcolm Hardee took his spectacles off during a sex show

Malcolm Hardee and comic spectacle were never far apart

Malcolm Hardee has oft been said to be the father of British alternative comedy, but he was little known by the public except as one of the nude members of the Greatest Show on Legs, who  performed their naked balloon dance on television’s O.T.T. in 1982.

Even quite a time after that TV appearance, Malcolm (who, in effect, managed the comedy troupe) used to get phoned up by promoters and foreign TV companies to perform the dance. Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs, told me last night that they “used to get a fair amount of money to go off and perform it on these very bad Euro television shows. When they phoned up Malcolm to negotiate a fee, he would ask them: How much per bollock?

“In each town we went to,” Martin told me, “Malcolm would seek out the red light district.”

In his autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm wrote:

__________

The most bizarre live sex show I ever saw was in Hamburg. The Greatest Show on Legs were performing at the same place The Beatles used to play: it had been converted into a TV studio.

One night, we decided to go on a sex tour and we saw the sign:

PEEP SHOW – 2 MARKS

It was semi-circular outside and there was a series of doors. So Steve Bowditch, myself and Martin Soan all put our 2DM in the slots and went in. Inside, we found ourselves standing next to each other. It had looked like you went in and there would be little individual cubicles. That’s the whole point of a Peep Show. But not this place. We were just standing there in the open together, watching this woman on a bed that moved round in a circle and she could see us standing there right next to the bed.

She somehow took a shine to Steve but he always says the wrong thing. As she was lying there with her legs open on the rotating bed, she struck up a conversation with him. She said:

“You nice English boy”.

She said she’d see him afterwards if he went to the man at the door and gave him money. She was Brazilian. She said she was from America and Steve said:

“Grand Canyon.”

She didn’t laugh.

__________

Martin Soan remembers the incident differently:

__________

It was in Barcelona, probably in the late-1980s.

Malcolm didn’t like anything too seedy, but the El Raval, along Las Ramblas used to be fantastic for the sex industry and had a theatrical bent, a bit of class. One corner had a funfair of sex and we went into this peep show.

In the centre was this girl on a velveteen bed doing all the sexy stuff.

As soon as we went in, the one other man who was in there left immediately and, after he’d left, the girl asked us three: “Are you from London?”

“Yeah,” we said.

“Oh, what part of London?”

And, in the end, she was just sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to us about Greenwich, Deptford and all the rest, when one door opens, a bloke comes in and she says, “Sorry, fellahs, I’ve gotta get back to work again,” and spread her legs and carried on doing what she’d been doing before.

Anyway, Malcolm found this other club called Le Kasbah near Las Ramblas. It cost a bit of money because it was a bit more up-market with raked seating for about 60 people. Malcolm was very excited and told me: “It’s only a couple of years ago they got rid of the stables out the back! They used to have donkeys in the show! Donkeys in the show!”

The audience was strange. There were couples. It was respectable in some bizarre way. There was a stage and, on it, a circular bed and four televsion sets above the stage which the audience could see. You were sitting there and the live action was 3 metres away. So why on earth would you want to look at a small television up in the corner? I think it was just for ‘dressing’ – to make the place look posh.

The show was quite good. They had acts. There was a midget involved and they put a theatrical bent on it. There was a vampire act. He opened up his cloak, but he didn’t have an erection, which was a bit of a surprise. There was an interval. We went up to the bar.

Malcolm mumbled: “ Oy Oy, Oy Oy, good show, good show.”

We sit down again for the second half and these two Brazilian dancers come on. They are fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous. Dancing away. Fantastic! Really, really sexy. Really, really gorgeous.

One of them holds her hand out to me and I go very politely, in a very English way, “Oh, no thanks, no thanks.” So she goes to Steve Bowditch. He says, “No no no thanks.” Then she goes to Malcolm, who says, “Oh… alright then.”

He jumps up. They put him on this bed and it starts revolving. One of them takes his trousers down and starts putting a condom on his very limp penis and the other one, for some reason, takes off his glasses and puts them down by the bed, then starts gyrating over the top of him. The other one is trying unsuccessfully to give him some sort of oral sex which, of course, she’s never going to accomplish on stage.

But he fumbles around, picks up his glasses – the bed was revolving, remember – and all he is interested in is trying to see where the television screens are. He was more interested in seeing himself on TV with two erotic dancers than he was in actually having sex with two erotic dancers. She keeps taking his glasses off and he keeps fumbling around for them – his arm reaching off the bed – the bed is revolving – trying to see the TV screens above him.

I start laughing and laughing and laughing and eventually I see my knees above me because I am laughing so much – I am on the floor. I am roaring with laughter and this very polite bouncer comes up to me and says: “Excuse me, sir, you are going to have to retire out to the foyer because you’re disturbing the show.”

I get to the foyer, still laughing, and there’s this other bloke in there in exactly the same state as me, pissing himself laughing. It turned out he was the barman. He had been working there for five years and never seen anything like it.

Afterwards, outside in the street – I always regret saying this as soon as I’ve said it but – I got down on my knees in front of Malcolm… and said: “Malcolm, you are the fucking funniest man in the fucking universe!”

Leave a comment

Filed under China, Second World War, Writing