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Final stories of dead Malcolm Hardee

The invitation to and running order for Malcolm Hardee’s extraordinary funeral

Over the last four days, I have re-posted anecdotes told about legendary British comedian Malcolm Hardee by other comics in the days following his drowning in 2005.

Here, to round off, are some more memories re-posted from 2005 – from four more comics, plus Malcolm’s lifelong friend Wizo and Malcolm’s partner of 13 years, Pip – interspersed with some video tributes to him over the years (some require you to watch them online at YouTube).


WIZO, lifelong friend – 25th February 2005

We were both sent to Borstal in 1970.

After 3 months, Malcolm said to me: “Wizo, I fancy a sausage sandwich at Blackheath tea stall.”

So we escaped.

We broke into a church, I donned some gardener’s clothes and Malcolm put on the vicar’s robes. We split up and I found my way home and got over to Holland. Malcolm was arrested at 2am waiting at a bus stop outside Huntingdon by two coppers that pulled up and thought That’s funny: a shifty looking vicar with spectacles mended with Sellotape and nicked him again. His great escape lasted two hours. Love his old bollocks…….


KEITH ALLEN, comedian…


JOJO SMITH, comedian – March 9th 2005

Gosh, so many memories. My seventh ever gig was a Sunday night open spot at Up the Creek and, of course, Channel 4 News were filming it cos that week comedy was “the new rock’n’roll”.

I knew sod all about actually doing comedy but, as I died royally on that stage, I began to learn.

Lesson number one was to give up comedy for 6 months! Bad enough dying on my hole without hearing Malcolm say I looked like Pat Butcher!

16 months later I went back. I knew a bit more by this time, tho’ was questioning my own sanity as I sat in the audience watching the other comics, waiting to go on. Thank God the DLR wasn’t built then or I might have bolted back to Notting Hill, but the thought of 2 tubes and 3 buses for nowt made me stay.

I went on and stormed it and felt like the Queen of the World. Afterwards, I told Malcolm I’d given up for 6 months and he said: “Did you a favour then, didn’t I?”

You did, Malcolm, you did me loads of favours: gigs in South Africa, Glastonbury, that mad Uni gig in Scotland with the male and female strippers, Dublin (where I managed to get myself banned for having breasts and talking dirty), interviewing you in the Tartan Taxi for Funny Business, too many drunken, Peruvian nights in Greenwich, so many memories. I am blessed to have known you.


BRENDON BURNS, comedian…


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet – 12th March 2005

Song for Malcolm

The first time ever I saw you
was in a marquee, circa 1980,
you were shaking up some William Shakespeare stuff.
I remember thinking, who’s this man?
I cannot remember, if you wore a ruff.
Certainly not just a ruff.

Funny man from London, south.
Ringmaster and river mouth,
and no trousers, sometimes.

Going down your tunnel,
where the heckling could halt
the process of performance,
your shrug suggested a pinch of salt
is what it should be taken with,
though generally you were more fresh-water.

Funny man and river man,
Oy oy was your shout.
Oy oy’s yo yo backwards,
and you swung it all about.

You didn’t tend
to follow the trend
and you were light
at the tunnel’s end.


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet…


SIMON DAY, comedian/poet – 9th May 2005

i had just stepped off the stage at up the creek, malcom was sitting at the back in that strange bit near the cloakroom. he offered to be my agent then sat down again twitching, his head moving left to right in that strange bird like manner twirling his fag. i of course i said yes.

there followed a terrible, wonderful, extraordinary voyage of discovery underpinned by a lack of new jokes.

no matter what he did people adored him, at the end of the day if you didn’t know him then you missed out if you did know him then inside you there is a little grubby bird which will never stop singing.


HARRY ENFIELD, comedian…


SIMON DAY, comedian – 10th May 2005

i was supporting vic reeves in newcastle, we were staying at the copthorne hotel, a brand new flagship megaplinth, part of the quayside revitalisation which is now in full swing. we were in the bar after the show, malcolm arrived having missed it (he did not care much for jim and bob, thought they were overrated).

earlier in the day malcom had won 8 grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. he was half cut and mistakenly assumed i had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier, he decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl. who didn’t exist!

wearing just a dressing gown he climbed out of the window. the icy waters of the tyne swirling 100 foot below, he struggled along for ages finally reaching my room. no doubt he shouted oy! oy! and pressed his balls to the glass. i don’t know.

it was the wrong room. i was fast asleep on the floor above.

on returning to his junior suite he was hurled to the ground by 2 special branch (there was a tory party conference on!)

they wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge naked except for a dressing gown. they searched his room and found five thousand seven hundred and sixty quid in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards

he was taken to a portokabin nearby where he gave his address as fingal street in greenwich.

all sorts of alarms went off.

it was the former home of a leading member of the i.r.a.

after intensive questioning they decided that he was not a threat to national security – only social security – and off he tottered.

i miss him.


STEWART LEE, comedian…


PIP HAZELTON, Malcolm’s partner of 13 years – 8th November 2005

Giving birth to our first child.

Labour was long and Malcolm needed a fag. On returning he entered the delivery suite to find a group of worried medical staff clustered round the bed. A doctor noticed him hovering by the door and made space for him down at the business end of the bed. Just then the baby appeared to cries of encouragement from the midwife: “Well done, Julie! It’s a lovely little girl!”

Only then did Malcolm realise he had returned to the wrong delivery suite and I was still in labour next door!

I spent the rest of my stay in Greenwich Hospital avoiding chat about our respective deliveries with the girl, Julie, in the bed next to me on the ward.

When our daughter Poppy arrived three years later, I wasn’t well at all and Malcolm astonished everyone – except me of course – by how dedicated a father he was both with young Frank and our new baby.

When we split up after 13 years together, it broke my heart and, with his death, my heart was broken all over again. I never stopped loving him just couldn’t put up with his lifestyle any longer.

I have the best legacy of all – Frank and Poppy.

You loved them so much, Malcolm, and you meant the world to them too.

All my love,

Pip xxx


PHIL NICHOL, comedian…


WIZO, lifelong friend – 15th November

It was a hot summers Saturday in June 1968. Malcolm came around my house and said: “Let’s go to the seaside today.”

We had a stolen Mk 2 Jaguar stashed away in Lewisham.

“Let’s go to Margate,” we said.

So off we went, siphoning petrol from a Post Office depot and reeking of petrol.

Later on we found ourselves in The Dreamland amusement park, a most unedifying place full of mods and rockers eying one another off for a punch up. Soon a fight started and the stallholder on the hot dog stall was distracted by the sight of 60 guys bashing one another.

Ever the opportunist, Malcolm jumped over the counter, opened the till and pinched all the money and we shot off to the car that had been parked in an overflow grass car park.

Just as we were leaving in the car, Malcolm set fire to a large box of matches and threw it under another car. The grass was tinder dry and, within a couple of minutes, the whole of the car park was alight. We sat up on the Esplanade watching all this mayhem going on with petrol tanks exploding and fire engines racing to the scene.

We abandoned the car and stole a motor launch from Margate harbour and made our way home up the River, until we broke down at Gravesend – ironically with no fuel.

It’s all a bit quiet without him.

Just as well really. I can only run for 10 metres now.


JOOLS HOLLAND, musician and friend…


FRANK SANAZI, comedian – 25th April 2006

I suggested to Malcolm one evening at his Wibbley Wobbley comedy nights that he should get the worst comedian of the evening and make him/her ‘walk the plank’ off the side of his boat .

“Fucking brilliant,” said Malcolm. “Let’s do it.”

At the end of the night he was a bit too drunk to remember this show finale… Who knows? He may have been worried about having to do it himself..

Ironically, he ended up doing something similar that final day.

I will always remember Malcolm as a genuine top guy and a man who was to comedy what John Peel was to music – discovering new comedians and encouraging them no matter how weird or wacky.

Malcolm also was the conduit (Sorry! I always wanted to be an electrician) between these new comedians and established ones.

One thing’s for certain: we are missing him and his unique style of fun.

He has probably already stolen a couple of halos and re-sold them by now!!



WIZO, lifelong friend – 27th April

It was 1970. I was 19 and had just moved in with a new girlfriend.

Malcolm phoned me up: “Oy! Oy! Fancy a trip to Cornwall, Wizo? Bit of surfing, knob out with posh crumpet and general jigging about?”

“Yes,” I naively said.

Three years later, I came back to London after a whirlwind of stolen cars, bouncing cheques, Dutch drug dealers, Lord Elliot, syphoning petrol, Amanda’s and Felicity’s dose of crabs, cabinet minister’s porn collection, Exeter prison, Borstal, escapes to the continent dressed as a scout, more prison and an English degree. Finally, to round the trip off, a £10 note and a rail warrant home courtesy of H.M. Prisons.

I must say you did get good value when you went on one of Malcolm’s safaris.

He should have started an Alternative Thomas Cook‘s for South East London rascals,. He would have made a fortune rather than giving it all to the bookies. Bless his old cotton socks. He is up there in the eternal Terminus café eating something unhealthy, fiddling with a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes, a betting slip and a sure-fire scheme to make money.

How can we possibly forget you?

Shag a few Angels for us, Malc.


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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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The loud elephant noises legendary Malcolm Hardee made when he spent the night with comedian Jenny Eclair

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee in 1995 while writing his autobiography

A couple of days ago in this blog, Jenny Eclair was reminiscing about her early days as a poet and comedian in the 1980s.

It is worth bearing in mind when you read today’s blog that both Jenny and I have a fear of heights or, in my case, a fear of over-balancing.

Iconic comedian Malcolm Hardee says in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

_______________________________________________________

It all started at the Elephant Fayre...

There was this grass with kids and Angels…

Another example of a good act with the wrong audience was Jenny Eclair. In the early 1980s, she was on at The Elephant Fayre, one of the hippy fairs in Cornwall. There was supposed to be an act performing called The Vicious Boys who, at the time, were quite popular as children’s TV presenters. So the audience was 14 year olds who had come to see The Vicious Boys plus all the normal casually-dressed hippies and leather-clad Hell’s Angels.

I was compering but The Vicious Boys hadn’t arrived and, at 11.00am, the organisers decided to put Jenny Eclair on instead. All these children, hippies and Hell’s Angels were sitting on the grass, disappointed that The Vicious Boys hadn’t turned up. So I went on and said:

“We’ve got someone to replace The Vicious Boys. Will you please welcome Miss Jenny Eclair….”

She came out in an evening dress and her opening line was:

“You know what it’s like when you’ve been invited to a dinner-party….”

And they didn’t like her.

_______________________________________________________

Jenny Eclair

Jenny Eclair stood in for Vicious Boys

“The Vicious Boys were really big at the time,” Jenny told me when we chatted this week, “and the audience was actually made up of something like 800 bikers.

“I made a mistake with my first poem. It did start off about dinner parties but, in the end, it was actually about cunnilingus or shit or whatever. All my poems were always about poo or fucking.

“It turned rude later on, but it started posh. It was like a character thing and they didn’t give me the chance to get to the rude bit, because they just thought I was a middle-class wanker. So I was unceremoniously booed off the stage.”

“It was probably good for your soul,” I sympathised.

“Well, no, it wasn’t,” said Jenny. “I just remember being in a tent thinking Fucking hell! Why can’t I ever get away from these places? I didn’t drive at the time, didn’t have a car, so I could never escape until someone would give me a lift.”

“Malcolm’s London club at around that time,” I said, “was Sunday Night at The Tunnel Palladium at the south end of the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames.”

“Oh,” said Jenny, “I hated the Tunnel because it had that combined thing of fear of heights and the fucking appalling gig it sometimes was. Geoff (Jenny’s partner) used to drop me on the west side of the dual carriageway and there was a narrow footbridge over the road.

“It was Sunday nights and I’d think Everybody else who is normal in this world has had a great big Sunday roast and is lying in front of the fire or watching telly and I am walking on this footbridge over a motorway into the mouth of Hell.

“I would sometimes look down at the traffic below and think I could end it now. You know that fear of heights which also gives you the tendency to throw yourself off? I would sometimes think it was an option. If the Tunnel was really bad, it was an option.

“The Tunnel club was just grim, fantastically grim. It was crunchy on the carpet, which was also kind of sticky. Your feet would stick to the floor and then you’d hear someone like Harry Enfield, who used to be very nervous before gigs, puking up.”

Harry Enfield (right) and Bryan Alsley as Dusty & Dick at the Tunnel

Harry Enfield (right) & Bryan Elsley: Dusty & Dick (Photograph by Bill Alford)

“This would have been when he was a double act?” I asked.

“Yes. Dusty and Dick, when he was with Bryan, who went on to write the TV series Skins.

“The Tunnel was a rough club. The stage was diagonally in a corner and I can’t remember there being a dressing room. I don’t remember there being anywhere for the acts to go. I just remember standing on a sticky carpet, waiting by a toilet.”

“The audiences,” I said, “were famous for throwing beer glasses at acts they didn’t like.”

“I didn’t have things thrown at me,” said Jenny. “I would occasionally go down really well and occasionally really die on my arse. You couldn’t rely on the audience.”

“We were in the same car at Malcolm’s funeral in 2005,” I reminded her, “and you told me a story about when he was your manager in the 1980s…”

“He wasn’t my manager at all,” protested Jenny. “I was never represented by Malcolm. I’m not that daft. But sometimes he used to get me gigs: I don’t know how. I’m sure he must have got them accidentally.

Jenny centre-stage in Malcolm’s Tunnel Arts brochure

Jenny centre-stage in Hardee brochure (original photo images by Bill Alford)

“But we did go off to do some gig quite a long way from London. We had to stay overnight and, when we got to this B&B place, of course, it transpired Malcolm had booked us into one room. At least he had booked a twin room with two beds. I didn’t actually have to feel his naked flesh next to mine.

“So I got into one bed and I think I kept most of my… I kept my pants on, certainly,… and he offered me sex…”

“What did he actually say?” I asked.

Do you fancy a shag, then, Jenny? or How about one? Something casual but intended. I very politely turned him down by saying: No thankyou very much, Malcolm. 

“I got into my bed and closed my eyes and he added, almost as an afterthought, Well, you won’t mind if I have a wank, then? and so I fell asleep to Malcolm masturbating furiously and very very noisily in the twin bed not more than two feet away from mine. He was grunting loudly. It was a bit like an elephant masturbating in the same room.”

“We’ve all been there,” I said. “But it’s strange, because people tell those sort of stories about Malcolm almost fondly. I can’t imagine him ever trying to subtly seduce anyone or saying Oh, I’ll give everything up for you, my love, and we will wed.

“Oh, it was very perfunctory,” agreed Jenny. “Sort of take it or leave it and I was definitely always going to leave it.”

“He wasn’t a man you could recommend to any woman,” I said. “He was incapable of being faithful and yet, at his funeral, the church was awash with weeping women. Also he had a tendency to be unreliable about money.”

“You could never trust him,” agreed Jenny. “You would get a brown envelope that was supposed to have £35 or £40 in it and you’d get home and open the envelope and it would always be a tenner short. Always. Nobody else would try to rip you off.”

“So why did acts keep going back to him?” I asked.

“You learned, basically,” said Jenny, “to count your money out in front of him and, if it was short, you would just say firmly: Malcolm. It’s short!

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths on display at Malcolm’s 2005 funeral

“He was like an alternative Jesus. He had these followers who were all borderline criminals, vagabonds and vandals and they were all massively loyal to him. He had that ability to create loyalty. And he had that ability to go out for a packet of cigarettes and not come back for three weeks, having been abroad or something. Most people’s lives are a lot duller… Malcolm died and now Addison Cresswell has died and Chris Luby has died. All the nutters are leaving us.”

…. CONTINUED HERE ….

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What they actually said when anarchic comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Today is the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday.

He would have been 64.

He drowned in Greenland Dock, by the River Thames in London on 31st January 2005.

He was newly 55.

This is what was said about him in print immediately after he died (the videos are more recent):

Charles De Gaulle

French President General De Gaulle

CHORTLE comedy website, 2nd February 2005

The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. Hardee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club, where most of today’s biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. One year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. Jools Holland said: “It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.” Stewart Lee called him “South London’s king of comedy – a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution.” And Robert Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.”

BBC NEWS ONLINE, 2nd February 2005

Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: “There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness.”

EFESTIVALS, 2nd February 2005

He’ll probably be best remembered at Glastonbury for responding to calls to “get yer knob out”, or just getting it out anyway. If you never had the privilege to see it, it wasn’t as crude as it sounds… Oh, perhaps it was, but Malcolm was always very funny.

THE GUARDIAN, 3rd February 2005

Hardee, 55, was a legend among the comedy fraternity – a “comedian’s comedian”, says Phill Jupitus. He hosted two comedy clubs which spawned literally dozens of now household names. He never really reaped huge financial benefits himself, though, and was best known to the wider world as a member of the naked balloon dancers The Greatest Show on Legs. His trademark was getting his (impressive) testicles out and playing the harmonica.

THE STAGE, 3rd February 2005

The son of a tugboat man, he turned to comedy after numerous brushes with the law and stints in detention centres. He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers.

EVENING STANDARD, London, 3rd February 2005

A veteran comedian who launched the careers of stars including Paul Merton, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves as well as Jo Brand and Jerry Sadowitz. He went on to form his own venue, the Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel in 1984 and followed that with Up The Creek. Both venues were where thousands of comedians took their first step into the spotlight. He acted alongside Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comic Strip movies. Mr Hardee once served a term in prison for theft. In his 1996 autobiography, he wrote of playing bridge in jail with former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3rd February 2005

He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet minister’s Rolls-Royce. He had been jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody, but the title of his 1996 autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Mr Hardee alleged that he had taken the huge cake after being refused permission to perform at the ceremony and then donated it to a nearby residential home. He also wrote of playing bridge in jail with the former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

The autobiography

INDEPENDENT, 4th February 2005

He was one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy, Venerated in the business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late Seventies – bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent hecklers. Those who worked with him paid tribute yesterday.

Mark Steel said: “For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking at him. He created the Tunnel Club which, after the Comedy Store, was the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing, nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be a hard bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn’t care. Unusually for a comic, he didn’t seem to have any ego.”

THE GUARDIAN, 4th February 2005

He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour, Jools Holland. In 1987, he stood for parliament in the Greenwich by-election, as a candidate for the Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles party, polling 174 votes. On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the River Thames 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.

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

INDEPENDENT, 5th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years. Almost every significant new comedian was agented, managed or promoted by him, or passed through one of his clubs.

His impression of President Charles de Gaulle using no props other than his own spectacles atop his semi-flaccid penis was unsettlingly realistic. But Hardee’s other claim to fame was that he had the biggest bollocks in show business. He said that, at puberty, they did not drop, they abseiled. Everything about Hardee was larger-than-life – except his bank balance, because he did not care about money; instead he took an almost schoolboy delight in pranks, wheezes and escapades.

Yet Hardee’s influence remained almost totally unknown outside the comedy and media worlds. At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: “He’s not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out.”

NEW YORK SUN, 7th February 2005

A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a “balloon dance” stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty. He was also celebrated for a bizarre juggling act performed in the dark and with nothing visible apart from his genitals, daubed with fluorescent paint. Fans would greet his arrival on stage with cries of “Get yer knob out”. He was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Glastonbury

THE TIMES, London, 7th February 2005

A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: “To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has.” Whatever Hardee did in the world of comedy — dance, compere, steal things or drive vehicles through other people’s shows — he preferred to do it naked. He brought silliness, anarchy and a lot of nudity to a business that is becoming increasingly self-referential and corporate. The world of stand-up comedy is left with a gaping, tractor-shaped hole in it. Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His crimes were orchestrated with scant regard to not getting caught or even, sometimes, making any money. His autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, implicated his fellow comic Ricky Grover in a bungled heist, the sum proceeds of which were four ham sandwiches. Similarly his comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it. A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted. There was no comedy area Hardee was unwilling to explore.

THE SCOTSMAN, 8th February 2005

Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster, Malcolm Hardee’s sad early death robs the world of comedy of a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed “the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy”.

TIME OUT, 9th February 2005

One of the great characters in the comedy business. Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue. He played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. His scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come. But, above all, he’ll be remembered as a good bloke. He’s an impossible act to follow.

THE STAGE, 10th February 2005

Widely regarded among the stand-up fraternity as one of the godfathers of alternative comedy. Although he never leapt to the front rank of fame himself, he helped launch and nurture the careers of literally thousands of stand-up comedians. But much more than that, Hardee was a larger than life character whose ribald, sometimes vulgar behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary. Hardee was taught at, and expelled from, three south east London schools before drifting into petty crime and spending time in numerous detention centres for, among other things, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to his Sunday school piano, one of which he escaped from disguised as a monk.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

Malcolm Hardee (on the left)

INDEPENDENT, 19th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt, He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

THE STAGE, 3rd March 2005

Malcolm’s death sent tremors of shock through the world of London comedians. No one was hugely surprised, given his wild and fearless ways but some of us who knew him felt a pang of regret that we hadn’t cherished him more vigorously in life. Every death is a reminder of our own mortality and Malcolm was the first of a generation of comics to get a booking at the big gig beyond the veil. Everything about Malcolm apart from his stand-up act was original. Although he was not a writer, he was a genius at dreaming up scams and schemes. He was a mythomaniac, the ultimate PR man, a world-class huckster and a man who trailed laughter and amazement in his wake. Like a shabby Oscar Wilde he put his genius not into his work but his life.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

R.I.P. Malcolm Gerrard Hardee, comedian, agent, manager and club-owner: born London 5 January 1950; married Jane Kintrea Matthews (one son, one daughter previously with Pip Hazelton); died London 31 January 2005.

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given in his memory at the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Malcolm Hardee Tunnel documentary goes to Cannes Film Festival – sort of

The Tunnel film on Malcolm’s comedy club

Ever since 2005, the year Britain’s alternative comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee drowned, Jody VandenBurg has been collecting material for a feature-length film: Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.

Still unfinished but with a staggering amount of unique material collected and a vast number of interviews with Big Name comedians telling stories about Malcolm, a couple of years ago, the projected full-length documentary spawned a short 30-minute film on Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel. It includes memories of Malcolm from comedians Harry Enfield, Simon Munnery and Arthur Smith

Last night, I was at a screening of The Tunnel in Greenwich. It is being shown again on 6th May as part of the New Cross & Deptford Film Festival.

It is also, as they say, “going to Cannes” in May.

Last night, director Jody VandenBurg told me:

“We’re going because I accidentally entered The Tunnel for the Cannes Short Film Corner and accidentally got through. I wasn’t even thinking Oh. This is the Cannes Film Festival. I just thought Oh. I’ve managed to find another film festival that’s worth entering. I guess I just thought I was entering a competition rather than the actual short film section of the Festival, which is more of a market place. There are going to be lots of agents and producers looking for new talent.

“The Cannes Short Film Corner is not part of the official Cannes Film Festival competition but it is very much part of the Festival. So, like the Edinburgh Fringe, we are going to take posters and flyers and put them up and encourage people to come and watch the film and we’ve got a screening room where we can show it to people. I’ll take an iPad so I can easily shove it in people’s faces. Show them The Tunnel and the trailer for Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.

“It’s going to cost you a fortune, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Probably. Yeah,” Jody admitted. “This whole film obviously has cost us all a fortune, so far.”

“So,” I suggested, “Malcolm is managing to screw money out of people even from beyond the grave?”

“Yes,” said Jody. “But he is talent-spotting as well, isn’t he? Helping someone at the beginning of their career even from beyond the grave.”

“You should put the trailer online,” I suggested.

“Yeah, we’ll put that online before Cannes.”

“My memory of the trailer I saw at Edinburgh in 2010,” I said, “was that it had an emotional flow to it. There was a feeling of tragedy and sadness towards the end.”

“Well,” agreed Jody, “there’s much more to Malcolm than just the bollocks-out with crazy antics and stunts, isn’t there? There’s a lot more depth to him, really.”

“Who wants to hear about that, though?” I said.

“Lots of people,” replied Jody. “Big audiences hopefully. People really love The Tunnel because it has that same sort of emotional curve to it.”

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One man can change the world with a bullet (or six) in the right place….

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)

My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.

“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”

Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.

In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.

All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.

I only knew of him by reputation.

He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.

He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraphthe Guardian and the Independent.

In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.

Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardianthe Independent and The Times – indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.

Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:

“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”

When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.

Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.

Edgecombe had fired six shots at osteopath Stephen Ward’s mews flat, where Edgecombe’s ex-girlfriend Christine Keeler was hiding.

Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins.  I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.

Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at  the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).

When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.

Links within links within links.

To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.

Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.

Links within links within links.

Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.

A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….

“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”

Or six bullets.

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Has British comedy stagnated since Monty Python, Hardee and Tiswas?

Beware. This is my blog. These are my very highly personal opinions. You can object. Please do.

People have said Alternative Comedy is not dead, it has just ceased to be Alternative. It has become the Mainstream. But they seldom talk about the next new wave of British comedians who will replace the now mainstream Alternative Comedians.

I desperately want to spot any new wave for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards, which I organise. Our avowed intent is to try to find “comic originality”.

We do find admirably quirky individuals to award the main annual Comic Originality prize to – last year, the one-off Robert White; this year, the one-off Johnny Sorrow.

And their one-offness is as it should be. You cannot have comic originality if 37 other people are doing something similar.

But where are the new style comedians performing a recognisable new type of comedy genre? There has not been anything overwhelmingly new since so-called Alternative Comedy arrived in the mid-1980s – over 25 years ago.

As far as I can see, there have been four very rough waves of post-War British comedy, most of them comprising overlapping double strands.

The first double wave of ‘new’ comics in the 1950s were reacting partly to stuffy mainstream 1930s Reithian radio comedy, partly to the necessary order of the 1940s wartime years and partly they were rebelling against the dying music hall circuit epitomised by John Osborne‘s fictional but iconic Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1957).

The Goon Show (1951-1960) on BBC Radio, at the height of its popularity in the mid 1950s, was the antithesis of the ‘old school’ of pre-War comedy. The Goons were a surreal comic equivalent to John Osborne’s own rebellious Look Back in Anger (1956) and the kitchen sink realism which surfaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Osborne was ultra-realistic; The Goons were ultra-surreal.

But Osborne’s plays and The Goons‘ radio comedy were both reactions to the rigidly ordered society in pre-War, wartime and immediately post-War Britain and The Goons‘ new anarchic style of comedy (although it owes some debt to the pre-War Crazy Gang and although the Wartime radio series ITMA was slightly surreal) really was like the new rock ‘n’ roll (which was not coincidentally happening simultaneously). It was startlingly new. They were consciously rebelling and revolting against a clear status quo which they saw as stuffy and restrictive.

Hot on the heels of The Goons came a different form of rebellion – the satirists of the 1960s – with Beyond the Fringe (1960) on stage and That Was The Week That Was (1962-1963) on TV. These two slightly overlapping Second Waves of new post-War British comedy were again reacting to a stuffy status quo.

The First Wave, the surrealist Goons wave, then reasserted that it was still rolling on when a Third Wave of influence – Monty Python’s Flying Circus – appeared on BBC TV 1969-1974 and – as satire declined in the 1970s – it was Monty Python‘s (and, ultimately, The Goons‘) comedic gene pool that held sway for a while – also epitomised, oddly, by the children’s TV show – Tiswas (1974-1982).

The Goons, Beyond The Fringe and That Was The Week That Was had been rebelling against something; Monty Python was surreal and Tiswas was anarchic just for the sheer sake of it. Monty Python and Tiswas were one-offs, but they have pale imitations trundling on even to today.

After Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, a Fourth Wave of new comics arose in the early and mid-1980s – a generation influenced by the satire gene not by the Goons/Python gene. These mostly-university-educated young left wing things rebelled against Thatcherism with their often political-based humour which became known as Alternative Comedy.

But again, just as there had been a second overlapping wave of comedy in the previous generation, this mostly ‘serious’ comedy was paralleled by a different wave possibly more low-key but epitomised by the decidedly fringe appeal of the hugely influential Malcolm Hardee, whose release from prison and subsequent comedy career coincided with the start of and overlapped with the future stars of Alternative Comedy.

Malcolm’s strand of mostly non-political comedy was spread by the clubs he ran and the acts he managed, agented, booked and/or nurtured: acts including the young Paul Merton (performing as Paul Martin when Malcolm first managed him), Jenny Eclair and later Keith Allen, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Jim Tavaré and Johnny Vegas.

While London’s Comedy Store nurtured future mainstream acts (some progressing there from Malcolm’s clubs), the more bizarre and original new acts continued to flock to Malcolm’s gigs and clubs including his near-legendary Sunday Night at the Tunnel Palladium gigs and later his lower-key but just as influential Up The Creek club.

These two strands of 1980s comedy – the alternative political and the Hardee-esque – successfully came together in a Channel 4 programme – not, as is often cited, Saturday Live (1985-1987), a mostly failed hotch-potch with different presenters every week, but its long-remembered successor, Geoff Posner‘s Friday Night Live (1988) which supposedly firebrand political polemic comic Ben Elton presented every week in what was supposed to be an ironic sparkly showbiz jacket.

Political alternative stand-ups mixed with strange variety and character acts, oddball comics and cross-over acts like Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield and many others nurtured by Malcolm Hardee.

This was both the highpoint and the start of the decline of Alternative Comedy because serious money was spent on the relatively low-rating Saturday Live and Friday Night Live on Channel 4, both ultimately shepherded by Alan Boyd’s resolutely mainstream but highly influential Entertainment Department at LWT.

Since then, where has the next giant New Wave of British comedy been? There are random outbreaks of originality, but mostly there has been a barren mediocrity of pale imitations of previous waves – and the desolate, mostly laugh-free zone that is BBC3.

At this point, allow me an even more personal view.

I thought I spotted a change in Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows around 2003 when Janey Godley was barred from consideration for the Perrier Award (despite a very lively verbal fight among the judging the panel) because it was decided that her seminal show Caught in the Act of Being Myself did not fall within the remit of the Awards because it was not a single ‘show’ repeated every night: she was basically ad-libbing a different hour of comedy every performance for 28 consecutive nights.

That same year, Mike Gunn performed his confessional heroin-addict show Mike Gunn: Uncut at the Fringe although, unlike Janey, he lightened and held back some of the more serious details of his life story.

It seemed to me that, certainly after 2004, when Janey performed her confessional show Good Godley!,  Fringe shows started an increasing tendency towards often confessional autobiographical storytelling. Good Godley! was one of the first hour-long comedy shows at the Fringe (though not the only one) to use material that was not in any way funny – in that case, child abuse, rape, murder and extreme emotional damage. Janey did not tell funny stories; she told stories funny. Viewed objectively, almost nothing she actually talked about was funny but audiences fell about laughing because it truly was “the way she told ’em”.

Since then, too, there seems to have been a tendency towards improvisation, probably spurred by the financial success of Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard. The traditional 1980s Alternative Comics still mostly stay to a script. The 21st Century comics influenced by Janey Godley, Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble often do not (to varying degrees).

So it could be argued there has been a tendency in this decade away from gag-telling (apart from the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine) towards storytelling… and a tendency towards improvisational gigs (bastardised by the almost entirely scripted and prepared ad-libs on TV panel shows).

But long-form storytelling does not fit comfortably into TV formats which tend to require short-form, gag-based, almost sound-bite material – you cannot tell long involved stories on panel shows and on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow type programmes. So a tendency in live gigs and certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – a tendency away from gag-based comedy to storytelling comedy – has been unable to transfer to television and has therefore not fully developed.

Occasionally, a Fifth Wave of British comedy is sighted on the horizon but, so far, all sightings have turned out to be tantalising mirages.

One possibility are the Kent Comics who all studied Stand Up Comedy as an academic subject in the University of Kent at Canterbury. They include Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club, Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, Laura Lexx and The Noise Next Door. But they share an origin, not a style.

Whither British comedy?

Who knows?

Not me.

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