Tag Archives: Goldsmiths College

Malcolm Hardee + the start of British Alternative Comedy and Stomp music

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Comedy icon Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (Artwork by Brian Damage from an original photograph by David Tuck; additional visual messing around by Vincent Lewis)

Generations come and go.

Tommy Ramone, drummer with American punk band The Ramones, died of cancer yesterday, aged 65. So it goes.

I think I met Malcolm Hardee – the ‘father of Alternative Comedy’ around 1985 or 1986. He died in 2005; so it goes.

My eternally un-named friend met Malcolm a few years before me.

But Steve Byrne, artistic director of the Interplay theatre company in Leeds. first saw Malcolm perform in 1976.

“The first time I saw Malcolm,” he told me this week, “was in a production of Alice in Wonderland. He was the caterpillar on a toadstool that wobbled.”

“Was he a hookah-smoking caterpillar?” I asked.

“Yes. He would just stop in the middle of his lines and talk to the audience and say: I was having a wash and… and you’re not supposed to do that in theatre. You’re supposed to say the lines that have been written down by the great and good. But not Malcolm.

“It was one of those shows that – when you are young Second Year drama students who take themselves a bit too seriously – you look and you say: Oh, but they’re playing to the crowd now! They’re laughing with the audience! they’ve broken it all down! Oh the fourth wall’s gone – All that sort of shit.

Steve with my eternally-un-named and mostly unseen friend

Steve with my eternally-un-named, usually unseen friend

“I was a student at Goldsmiths College and this girl who was a couple of years older than me, in her last year, directed this version of Alice in Wonderland and she’d got Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan in the same show and I went along on that Sunday afternoon and I thought: Oh, they’ll never do anything!

“I remember looking back at it years later and laughing with Malcolm about it, telling him:

“I thought you were a tosser, a fucking no-hoper. I thought you had no skill, no talent… And I got it totally wrong.

“It was a funny time before Alternative Comedy came round, when nobody really knew which way the land was going to go. I remember people at Goldsmiths saying: We should do more of a cabaret style show. Will that work? Do people want to relax? Less of an audience that’s sitting there reverentially watching something?

“And then suddenly, almost overnight, you’ve got the Comedy Store in Soho in 1982. And there were people like Pookie Snackenburger.”

“They were music weren’t they?” I asked.

“They were music, yes,” said Steve. “but they did strange little things.”

There is a video on YouTube of them performing Just One Cornetto.

Steve Byrne told me: “The guy who ran Pookie Snackenburger was called Steve McNicholas, who I went to college with, and he went on to do Stomp.”

“And comedy manager Addison Cresswell’s brother was also involved in that,” I said.

“Yes. Luke Cresswell. Luke and Steve McNicholas came together after I left college. We’d all bashed a load of bins around and some advertising executive went by and said I want to make an advert of that.”

“An ad?” I asked.

“A Midland Bank advert.”

“And that was the beginning of the Stomp stage show years later?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was all bubbling around. All these people trying to look for different ways of doing things. It was a funny time. Musically, it defined itself very quickly after 1976 because you suddenly had punk. I remember being at Crossfields Festival at Deptford in 1976 and I was wide-eyed with all this music. There was Squeeze playing downstairs on the grass and there was ATV – a bank clerk called Mark Perry started a band called ATV and invented the first punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. It was a funny time and I was sometimes in those things and I was sometimes just observing it and Malcolm was around too.”

There is a YouTube video of Pookie Snackenburger’s pre-Stomp dustbin dance and YouTube also has a video of ATV’s song How Much Longer?

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given annually at the Edinburgh Fringe.


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A first meeting with Malcolm Hardee, the godfather of British alternative comedy (and some four-letter words)

Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan: The Greatest Show on Legs (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee (left) & Martin Soan: Greatest Show on Legs (photograph by Steve Taylor)

This morning, I got a text message from Jonathan Hale, co-owner of the Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich:

“Quite expecting my whole day to be chaos owing to Malc,” it said. “He will be playing tricks from wherever he is.”

Today would have been the 63rd birthday of Malcolm Hardee, the godfather of British alternative comedy. He drowned in 2005. The annual birthday tribute to him takes place at the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich, London, on 20th January and the three increasingly prestigious (www.increasinglypresigious.co.uk) annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are presented during the now traditional two-hour variety show in his honour at the Edinburgh Fringe on 23rd August.

For almost thirty years, on and off, Malcolm performed with Martin Soan’s comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs.

Last night, I phoned Martin.

“It’s Malcolm’s birthday tomorrow…” I said.

“I remember one year,” Martin replied, “I discovered that his favourite soup was mulligatawny soup. So, that year for his birthday, he got 48 cans of mulligatawny soup off of me.”

“How did you first meet him?” I asked.

“Ah,” he said. “I was asked to join the Put It All in The Pot show directed by Diane Brookings – Diane Broken-knees, as Malcolm nicknamed her.

“I was working as a Punch & Judy man afternoons and weekends. One of the gigs I had was Sunday lunchtime at Greenwich Theatre, performing to children in a jazz lunchtime thing – The jazz band would have a break and, in the ante room, I would do a Punch & Judy show for all the kids who’d come down with their parents to watch the jazz.

“This woman, Diane Brookings, came up and asked if I’d like to join her community-based touring show for children. I’d never done anything else except Punch & Judy and was interested and flattered that someone had asked me to do something else.

“The rehearsals were in the main hall at Goldsmith’s College, which had this staircase which came up in the middle of it.

“I ascended the stairs and my heart sank a little bit because I could hear this voice doing these theatrical exercises: I want you to stretch-stretch-stretch. I want you to pretend your fingers are like the tips of the ends of the branches of trees. Stretch-stretch-stretch. And I thought Oh fuck me! This is going to be exactly what I do NOT want to be involved in.

“As I came up the stairs, I looked round the hall and there were two other men. All the rest were women and they all had Fame-style leg-warmers on and they were all wearing lurex-lyrex-spandex whatever you call it. They were all doing these drama school warm-ups, but there was this one man who had a jacket on and a greatcoat and jeans and he could barely get his arms above his head and, every now and then, he’d adjust his glasses with his middle finger. He wasn’t really trying. It was Malcolm, of course. I looked down and there was this bald boxer dog, wearing a bow tie, fucking his leg. I thought Aha! There may be some saving grace within this show.

“That was my first image of Malcolm. It was Stuart North’s dog fucking his leg, but I can’t remember the name of the dog. It always wore a bow tie.

“During a break, Malcolm came over to me and said: See him over there? – It was the only other bloke; he was called Dave – He’s gay, Malcolm said. See that girl over there? I’ve fucked her. See that one over there? I’ve fucked her. See her over there? I’ve fucked her. I’ve fucked all these girls here. What you wanna do? You’re not gay, are you? 

“He just assaulted me with this little barrage of how good he was at everything. I was half convinced it was actually his show until Diane Brookings came over and handed out scripts.

“A number of people I’ve met who have become good friends… my first meeting with them has been strange.

“I remember the very first time I met Don, another of my friends. We were standing by a river and he just turned round to me and said: I could chuck you in that river, if I wanted. I dunno what it is in me that brings out the worst in types like Malcolm.”

“How did the Diane Brookings show go?” I asked.

“It was absolutely atrocious,” remembered Martin. “It was Malcolm, me Dave and about twelve women. There were about three weeks of rehearsals. We had scenery, costumes and a terrible script. After about a couple of weeks, I knew Malcolm as much as I knew him two weeks before he died. We were that close. Roaring with laughter backstage and playing-up and acting-up, enjoying ourselves. I think Malcolm probably shagged a couple of ‘em, but he didn’t shag ‘em all. The women were not the main reason we did it. Malcolm needed something to do when he got out of prison. I still remember one of the songs:

Put it all in the pot!
What have you got?
You’ve got fun!
You’ve got fun!

Put it all in the pot!
What have you got?
A good ti-i-ime!

“It was shockingly bad. We went to Cheltenham with it. We went to village halls with it. I think Diane Brookings had realised the script was a bit weak, so she got me in and Tom and I – he was my Punch & Judy  ‘interpreter’ at the time – basically did one half of the show with the Punch & Judy and a song at the beginning and a song at the end; and then there were a few sketches.

“But the show wasn’t really working,” said Martin. “Then the van that had all the props in was broken into overnight and nothing was stolen apart from the sound tapes. An expensive tape recorder was in there and was left; only the tapes were stolen. It was a bit odd. Diane Brookings discovered it and blew up and said We’re going to cancel the rest of the run!

“There were only about five shows left and we were quite enjoying ourselves. She got us all around in a circle and basically lost it and slagged us all off about how useless we all were. We had worked at it and we had learned our lines. We were putting on the best show that we possibly could, singing and dancing and I was putting on my Punch & Judy show.

“But she went round each one and did a character assassination on each person. When she came to Malcolm, she said: Oh, you’re absolutely useless! You’ve not been long out of out of prison. Call yourself an actor? No such thing! You’re just a useless waste of space!

“Malcolm just leant down and put his face up close to hers and said Well, at least my mum still loves me and there was something extraordinarily funny about it. She had broken her leg and she was in a wheelchair.”


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I saw this comedian last night and I have no idea who he was… or if the act was good or just deeply odd

I am worried I am going to get even fatter and ultimately explode like Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. I am also worried, having just re-read this blog entry, that I am turning into a mindless luvvie but without the glitz, glamour, class and cravat.

Yesterday I had lunch with Malcolm Hardee documentary director Jody VandenBurg and multi-talented multi-media writer Mark Kelly, who has that very rare thing: a genuinely very original TV idea. He was, at one time the stand-up comic Mr Nasty and he reminded me of one typical early Alternative Comedy incident in which comedy duo The Port Stanley Amateur Dramatic Society got banned from right-on vegetarian cabaret restaurant The Earth Exchange… for throwing ham sandwiches at the audience.

This was actually part of their normal act but proved far too non-PC an anarchic step for the militant non-carnivores at the Earth Exchange which was so small I’m surprised they actually had space to move their arms backwards to throw the offensive sandwiches.

Mark also remembered having his only serious falling-out with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Palladium comedy club after Malcolm put on stage a female fanny farting act who, at the time, might or might not have been a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of local Goldsmiths College art student Damien Hirst. Mark felt the audience – and, indeed, Malcolm – might have been laughing at the performer rather than with the act.

Knowing Malcolm, I guess it might have been a bit of both.

(Note to US readers, “fanny” has a different meaning in British and American English.)

So, anyway I had a very nice ham omelette and banana split with Mark and Jody downstairs at The Stockpot in Old Compton Street, Soho, and then Irish comic/musician/vagabond Andrias de Staic arrived. I know him from his wonderful Edinburgh Fringe shows Around The World on 80 Quid and The Summer I Did the Leaving, but he is currently appearing until 2nd April in the Woody Guthrie musical Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End.

I swear that, the last time I met Aindrias – and it was only last year – he was 5ft 9ins tall. He confirmed this height to me. Yesterday he was 6ft 1in tall.

“It’s the theatrical work,” he told me. “It makes you stand straighter and taller.”

For a moment, I believed him. Then I realised it was rubbish. Then I started to wonder if it could be true.

Or perhaps I am shrinking. The uncertainty of life can be a constant worry.

After that, I went to the weekly Rudy’s Comedy Night gig at Rudy’s Revenge in High Holborn to see Miss D perform an interestingly different routine in which she gave advice on what to do and what not to do when having a heart attack – something she knows about, having had one in June 2009.

The gig was also notable because I saw for the first time the extremely funny and talented compere Katerina Vrana… and an extraordinary act by a man claiming to be an archaeologist about having a hawk on his arm. I missed his name. If you know, tell me, because it had the same effect on me as watching Anthony Newley’s Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? in a Kensington cinema one afternoon etched on my memory in 1969. Perhaps I mean the experience scarred me for life. When the movie finished, I sat there like a stunned halibut and thought What was that??!! and sat through it again to see what on earth I had been watching and whether I liked it. Except, of course, I didn’t have the opportunity to sit still and see this guy perform again last night.

He certainly had energy, that’s for sure.

As for Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – it is highly recommended, provided you know what you are letting yourself in for.

It is a bit like North Korea in that respect.

(POSTSCRIPT: Within 5 minutes of posting this, two people Facebooked me to say the ‘hawk’ comedian is Paul Duncan McGarrity. The wonders of 21st century communications leave me in perpetual awe; I should, perhaps, get out more.)

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