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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

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

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

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The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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The Long Good Friday script and Malcolm Hardee following in the footsteps of Laurence Olivier

On Sunday, I met an old friend of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee at the first annual Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich. It has only just reminded me that, I guess around 1990/1991, Malcolm told me another chum of his – Barrie Keeffe, who scripted the wonderful British gangster movie The Long Good Friday – had approached him with an intriguing, bizarre and possibly brilliant suggestion.

When The Long Good Friday was produced as a TV movie, I was working for Lew Grade’s ATV in Birmingham. Lew had financed The Long Good Friday via one of his subsidiary production companies Black Lion for transmission on the ITV Network at Easter. But, when the movie was completed and Lew saw what the climactic ‘twist’ to Barrie Keeffe’s plot actually was (I presume he had never personally read the script before it was produced), he was morally and patriotically outraged. He immediately withdrew it from its ITV transmission and, initially, refused to even let the producers buy it for themselves for cinema distribution. It was only when George Harrison’s Handmade Films made Lew an offer he couldn’t refuse that he eventually relented and allowed it to be screened in cinemas to critical acclaim.

More than ten years after he had scripted The Long Good Friday, Barrie Keeffe told Malcolm he had bought rights from the Estate of the late John Osborne to update the classic showbiz play The Entertainer.

The Entertainer (which was partially about the Suez Crisis) had been written by Osborne in 1957 specifically for Laurence Olivier who also went on to play the central role of faded and rather seedy comedian Archie Rice in the 1959 movie version.

Barrie Keeffe wanted Malcolm Hardee to star as Archie Rice in this updated stage version but other events in Keeffe’s life intervened and, as far as I’m aware, the updated version of The Entertainer was never written.

I do sometimes wonder what it would have been like.

Malcolm was strangely unable to act – in his various appearances in The Comic Strip Presents, Blackadder etc, he could never really ‘inhabit’ a character. As has often been said by his friends and admirers, Malcolm never really had a stage act: his greatest act and his greatest performance was his life.

But it could have been a masterstroke of casting and the thought of Malcolm Hardee as Archie Rice conjures up all sorts of visions of what might have been.

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There is an American trailer for The Long Good Friday here; clips from The Entertainer here; and clips of Malcolm Hardee here.

An American re-located re-make of The Long Good Friday is due for release in 2011. I don’t have high hopes, although the alleged re-make of The Italian Job triumphed by totally throwing away the original script and just using the title. As Barrie Keeffe’s plot ‘twist’ at the end of the original Long Good Friday – the one which so outraged Lew Grade – is so specific to the UK, it will be interesting to see how the American-based re-make can possibly cope.

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A glove on the head in Macclesfield, a pantomime horse race and a new sexual perversion

It was a bit of a surreal weekend.

On Saturday night, Vivienne and Martin Soan‘s regular monthly London club Pull The Other One was playing their second irregular show in an interestingly packed Macclesfield Town Hall.

Interesting because it did not strike me as a regular comedy audience. They appeared to be a middle-class, middle-aged, middle-of-the-road audience just out for a good time on a Saturday night. They could have been there for an Agatha Christie play by the local Rep; they could have been there for a Michael McIntyre show. Fair enough.

What surprised me, then, was that they really seemed to appreciate the always very very bizarre, surreal comic, musical and visual talents of Andrew Bailey – who seems never happier than when he has a rubber glove on his head – and the Marmite-odd performances of Holly Burn.

Both are really beyond Alternative comedy; both would have been watched in stunned incomprehension 15 years ago (and Andrew Bailey was); but both were now accepted and appreciated by what seemed to me to be a very mainstream audience. Surprising and somehow reassuring.

But, then, the show had started with full-frontal nudity from Martin Soan with a brown paper bag over his head – so they had a hint up-front it was not going to be a Michael McIntyre show.

This Pull the Other One show in Macclesfield on Saturday night was so odd that when I went to see the first annual Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich on Sunday afternoon, it seemed a perfectly reasonable and sane event.

Although, in the gents toilet of one Greenwich pub, the normal condom vending machine was joined by another wall-mounted vending machine selling a Viagra substitute, inflatable sheep and inflatable guitars.

Condoms are perfectly normal in a gents toilet vending machine… Viagra is fine… inflatable sheep I can cope with… but inflatable guitars as a sex aid ???? Have I missed a rising perversion ???

All help and advice (preferably with pictures) gratefully received.

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