Tag Archives: I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Comedian Malcolm Hardee’s two bids to get elected as Member of Parliament


Today is General Election Day in the UK.

Below are three extracts from the late Malcolm Hardee’s increasingly prestigious autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (reviews HERE), published in 1996


Politics has never had any great effect on my life. I remember when I was a kid Labour seemed ‘common’ and the Conservatives seemed ‘not common’. That seemed to be the case.

When I was a kid, I remember a Mr and Mrs Minns.

On the left side of their bay window, they had a poster saying:

VOTE CONSERVATIVE

And on the right side:

VOTE LABOUR

I wondered how they got on together. They seemed very happily married.

Malcolm Hardee’s election reaction

I stood for Parliament in the very important Greenwich by-election in 1987 when Rosie Barnes stood for the SDP and Deirdre Wood was standing for the Labour Party. Everyone expected Labour to win in Greenwich but Rosie Barnes won.

I was supported by The Rainbow Alliance, who were loosely linked to The Monster Raving Loony Party. They linked up on this election and I met David – Screaming Lord – Sutch. He was broke and living with his mum at the time. He was ringing up from phone boxes trying to get his £500 deposit together.

The Rainbow Alliance was run by a peculiar old hippy called George Weiss. He had got a lot of money from his parents who were in the jewellery and silverware business and he’d blown it by gambling and betting on himself winning these elections, which he never did. I think he is convinced that one day he will win. He wanted computer-based referenda and Peace and Love all over the world. He always wanted to be a ‘personality’ but never managed it. His idea of humour was carrying a Gonk about – one of those stuffed toys that were popular in the 1960s.

George had come to the Tunnel Club which I ran and he wanted Jools Holland to run for The Rainbow Alliance in Greenwich. Jools didn’t want to appear to be a fool, so said he didn’t want to run but agreed to be my sponsor and Rainbow George put up my £500 deposit.

I ran for election under the banner THE RAINBOW ALLIANCE BEER, FAGS AND SKITTLES PARTY and we got an enormous amount of press and TV coverage because everyone thought it was going to be the last by-election before the General Election.

It was a good laugh, especially when I went to the count. The Great British public’s ignorance knows no bounds. It must be the easiest thing in the world to put an ‘X’ next to a candidate’s name. Some people had put ticks. A few had put marks out of ten. Some had voted for them all.

I got 174 votes. I beat the Communist Party. And I beat the National Front, which takes some doing because there’s strong support for them in the area.


In fact, Malcolm’s memory about the exact number of votes he received was – much like Malcolm – not exactly 100% dependable…

Numerical accuracy put on one side, Malcolm continued…


At that time, the comedy agent Addison Cresswell was very left wing and was handling all the Red Wedge tours. He phoned me up and went mad at me because I was standing. He thought I’d take votes from the Labour Party which might have an effect if it was a close-run thing. In the event, their candidate lost by a lot more than 174.

If I had thought more seriously about it, part of my Manifesto could actually have won it for me. This was Bring Charlton Athletic Back to The Valley. Charlton is the local football club and The Valley was their ground. At the time, they had to play at Crystal Palace’s ground. If I had got the whole of the Charlton Football Supporters’ Club on my side, I would have got enough votes to win it. Four years later, they did form a Valley Party for the local elections and they did get a counsellor in and did get Charlton back to The Valley.

My other Manifesto ideas were a cable car for pensioners to the top of Greenwich Hill (This has since been successfully suggested by the Millennium Committee)…Proper rides at the funfair and proper prizes….Bringing proper fog back to London for old times’ sake….And concreting the Thames so people can travel about easier.

I’ve always felt detached from politics because Government represents authority whether Labour or Conservative. The strangest thing I noticed, when I was in prison, was that prisoners always had a better deal under a Right Wing government. Parole came in under a Conservative government. One-Third and later One-Half Remission came in under a Conservative government. I also used to think that, when a Conservative government was in power, the prison officers themselves were happier and therefore the prisoners got treated better.

*  *  *

I stood for Parliament again in the 1991 General Election and put up my own money because you get a free mailout to every constituent in the borough. That’s about 42,000 people in Greenwich. I simply selected the addresses of people who might turn up to Up The Creek and got a mailout to about 10,000 people for nothing. Normally it would cost £2,500 in postage alone; it only cost me my £500 Election Deposit which I lost by standing.

*  *  *

I’m thinking of running for Parliament again and think I have a bit of a chance this time. Someone once called himself the Literal Party at a by-election and he didn’t lose his deposit because a lot of people voted for him thinking he was the Liberal Party. He had used the same typeface as them on his election literature. He got loads of votes. Nearly got in. The real Liberal candidate complained because he reckoned he would have got in if this bloke hadn’t ‘stolen’ his votes.

So I’m going to call my party Old Labour.


In fact, despite writing the book in 1995, Malcolm (and I) got the date wrong. The General Election was in 1992 not 1991. There is a BBC News clip on YouTube of that 1992 Greenwich election result being announced, with Malcolm reacting behind the officiating electoral officer.

 

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Malcolm Hardee, The Tunnel Club, the tap-dancing Swede and Madame Poulet

GrouchyClub11With co-host Kate Copstick’s internet links in Kenya still problematic, this week’s Grouchy Club podcast is an 8-minute audio clip of me talking in 1995 to the late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

At the time, we were writing his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake by recording our chats.

This one was about how he started his legendary – some might say infamous – comedy club The Tunnel. The full 8-minute audio extract is online. This is a short extract from that audio extract.


Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm Hardee on stage at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s (Photograph by Bill Alford)

Malcolm
The Tunnel became known – but I don’t know why – for its hard audience. It was like the Glasgow Empire of the South. I think possibly for where it was in South East London – who don’t suffer fools gladly to say the least. It got known for its heckling. At which point I can just put down my heckling stories, which we can just mention on the tape as Jim Tavare, Noel James, Jo Brand, tropical fish…

John
Tropical fish?

Malcolm
Tropical fish. That was a good heckle.

John
What’s tropical fish?

Malcolm
This double act whose names have got lost in the mists of time. Part of their act was wearing Red Indian headdresses. They started up and put their headdresses on and were about to beat the bongos and then one of the regular hecklers in the audience shouted out: Oy, Malcolm! You’ve got a couple of tropical fish on stage!

John
There’s a quote on one of the posters at Up The Creek – HOW LONG WOULD HITLER SURVIVE THE TUNNEL? (RADIO 4) – Is that true?

Malcolm
It was. That was on some Kaleidoscope nonsense.

John
So what did they say?

Malcolm
They’d been to this famous Open Spot. It was where people were trying out material or perhaps had not been on stage before. It always amazed me how many people were keen to do this. I still get – to this day – at least ten calls a week from people. There was Madame Poulet. I’ll just say that and it’ll all link up (in the book).

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography

John
What was the best Open Spot at The Tunnel?

Malcolm
Best or worst?

John
Both.

Malcolm
The best Open Spot was Phil Cool.

John
That was his first time?

Malcolm
He must have done the clubs, but that was his first ‘alternative’ London gig and it was from there that he got discovered and got his TV series and went on to where he is today. The worst, I think was the tap-dancing Swede.

John
What was that act?

Malcolm
He was Swedish and he had the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen. He decided he had a tap-dancing act but, unfortunately, the stage at The Tunnel was fully carpeted; it was about the only place that was.

So he’s come on and he has the tails on and the whole thing and he’s immaculate and he’s got this backing tape and he started tap-dancing but, of course, no-one could hear him and he’s doing all the smiling things and, in the end, they just shouted out Cab for the Swede! and he went off.

And, to this day, people shout out – when another act is going down particularly badly – Bring back the Swede!


Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club

Malcolm Hardee at The Tunnel Club in the 1980s… (Photograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm expanded on his reference to the open spot Madame Poulet and Her Singing Chicken in his book I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. He says:


I booked Madame Poulet over the phone and, when she arrived, she tried to convince me she was Madame Edith and that Madame Poulet would arrive later. She left the ‘chicken’ under a cloth in my office. I lifted the cloth when Madame Edith wasn’t there and it was a fake chicken made out of chicken feathers, some of which were painted pink for no apparent reason. It was like the Barbara Cartland of the Chicken World.

When she did her act, she had a little triangular screen about waist height on stage, so she could kneel down behind it.

That night, I announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen. Will you please welcome Madame Poulet and her Singing Chicken……”

And Madame Edith walked on having disguised herself as Madame Poulet by wearing a hat with a black veil over her face. She went and knelt behind the screen, the chicken appeared over the top and Madame Poulet started singing Je Ne Regret Rien completely straight in her own voice with the chicken miming to it.

This went on for about five minutes and then about ten blokes at the back of the audience, as one, all went:

“Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck-Cluck…..Cluck off!”

Madame Poulet got up, almost flew off the stage, left the club without saying a word, and I’ve never seen her since.

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How comedian Malcolm Hardee lost his virginity & then got stabbed in the back

Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

Blessed Malcolm Hardee (left) in his early life

Yesterday’s blog was about the stage show which celebrated the death – ten years ago – of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

Well, ‘celebrated’ might not be the right word. But you know what I mean.

In debonair comedy critic Bruce Dessau’s review of the show, he called me Malcolm Hardee’s “enigmatic biographer”.

I enjoyed this description so much I may use it in publicity for something-or-other. Though I have no idea what. I may bung it on my increasingly prestigious website. Self-publicity was something Malcolm Hardee specialised in.

Anyway, I was not Malcolm’s biographer. It was his autobiography I wrote – in his own words and with his own title – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

The amazon.co.uk description of the book still erroneously and surreally reads: “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 may explain why the book is out of print now. But I might re-publish it at some point. Perhaps I may crowdfund it. To quote one of Malcolm’s occasional questions: “Anyone want to lend me a tenner? Only for half an hour. I’ll give it back.”

Sometimes the unwary would give him a tenner.

In this extract from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm tells the tale of when he lost his virginity. He was always losing things. He lost a music tape of mine once. I glowered at him. He was a sensitive man who got unsettled whenever people glowered at him. Which was not infrequent. At these points, he used to blink a lot.

Here is Malcolm in his own words:


I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

Patron sinner of alternative comedy

My first proper girlfriend was Pamela Crew. I lost my virginity on my sixteenth birthday. So did she, though it wasn’t her sixteenth birthday. Then we got engaged but it was a very up and down relationship. I bought a ring and then we had a row on a 94 bus about something. I didn’t used to have rows, but she did. She threw the ring back at me and I later lost it. She never believed me – she thought I sold it – but I didn’t.

I was engaged from 16 right through to about 20 and I was completely faithful to her. We were almost exactly the same age. She was a nice girl. She went to Prendergast, which was the sister school to Colfes.

After we had been together about six months or a year, we learnt to exploit her father’s regular habits. He was a builder. He was the nearest South East London could get to Alf Garnett, a very disappointed man because he wanted a boy and Pamela was one of four daughters. His routine was that he’d do his day’s building, then, at 8.00pm, go round to the Summerfield Arms pub at the end of their street and every night he’d come home at 11.15pm and go to bed. So I used to go and visit Pamela Crew when he was out and sometimes we’d have sex in the front room when her mother and all her younger sisters had gone to bed.

This one night, her father came back at 10.50pm and looked in. I was lying on top of Pam on the floor in front of the fire, banging away. He shut the door behind him and she went out and talked to him. She was in tears and he said to me:

“You’ve made your own bed, now you can lie on it!”

I didn’t like to point out that we didn’t actually use a bed.

Her mother always had a bit of a soft spot for me, but her father just thought I was completely mad and alien. I went round there once on a white horse which I got from Mottingham Riding Stables. I thought This will impress Pamela and her dad answered the door.

“Hello,” I said. “Is Pam in?”

He said: “Bugger off, you silly fucker.”

And that was that.

For some reason, I took the horse up to Blackheath and just left it tethered to a tree. There was a  piece in The South East London Mercury later that week, headed THE MYSTERY OF THE WHITE HORSE.

I once got Pam on the front cover of the local paper as ‘Miss June’. It was in the days before feminism, so she was sitting in the swimming baths with her tits half-hanging out. That impressed her. The fact that I’d contacted the press.

When I left school, after taking my ‘O’ Levels in 1966, my first job was at a thriving advertising agency called Saward Baker at 79 New Cavendish Street in the West End. I started working as a messenger, as people did in those days, thinking you were going to progress up the line and become Mr Big at the top. I definitely wanted to be in advertising. It was a ‘glamorous’ profession. We all wanted to be copywriters or advertising executives. I was the bee’s knees, working in the West End: Malc the Mod, earning my living. My first weekly wage packet held £7-6s-8d (£7.33p in today’s money).

I worked at the ad agency with a bloke called Rod Stewart – but not Rod Stewart the singer. Like me, he was a messenger and a Mod and he had his own motor scooter. We once got stopped by the police going back to where he lived in Pratts Bottom, near Orpington in Kent. The policeman asked him his name.

“Rod Stewart,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” said the copper. “Where do you live?”

“Pratts Bottom.”

We almost got arrested on the spot.

One hot summer day, we went over to Regents Park for the lunch hour. I had a platonic friend called Diane Ainsley who was going out with a bloke called Ray Mitchell. So he came over to the park as well. We were just lying on the grass, I turned over on my front to get a bit of suntan and he threw a knife in my back. It probably went about half an inch into me and stuck there.

I was a bit shocked. He just did it with no emotion or anything. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask why he’d done it because it was known he was a bit mad. He must have taken the knife back and he went away. It didn’t hurt. When I got back to work, they all asked what had happened, because there was lots of blood coming out. My shirt was covered in blood. The first aid kit was out and someone stuck a plaster on it.

Another time, I was travelling with Ray Mitchell on a tube train. I was just sitting there, he got up and, for no reason at all, tried to deliver a karate kick right into the middle of my face. It narrowly missed and he sat down again. Never said anything. He just went like that occasionally. He lived in Blackheath and he was probably the first violent psychopath I had met.

He wasn’t a friend of mine. Just someone who was about.

About to stab me. About to kick me.


There is much more of that sort of stuff in Malcolm’s autobiography. He did not lead a dull life.

This year, as normal, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented in his honour at the Edinburgh Fringe, during a two-hour variety show on Friday 28th August.

Currently on YouTube, there is a ten-minute tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue:

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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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Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography “will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee: comic, promoter, inspiration to teenagers

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was published in 1996.

I co-wrote it with him. Well, OK, I wrote it from taped conversations with him.

It got quite well-reviewed:

“Hilarious” (The Scotsman)

“Blindingly funny” (The Independent)

“Makes you laugh in great snorts” (Daily Express)

“You will laugh out loud at least a dozen times” (Sunday Times)

“The funniest read in longer than I care to remember” (The Stage) 

“Characterful and not overly ghost-written…a feast of scabrous reminiscence” (Independent on Sunday)

It is now out of print, but Amazon has been happily selling occasional ‘new’ and ‘used’ copies for years.

Now surrealism has struck.

Comedy critic Bruce Dessau (about whom I blogged yesterday) has just drawn my attention to something.

An Amazon.co.uk person or, perhaps, computer has got their/its knickers in a twist.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

For those who don’t know, the late comic Malcolm Hardee was known for his outrageous behaviour. His autobiography tells anecdotes of sex, drugs and the time Malcolm had his genitals painted in luminous paint at the Glastonbury Festival.

Until recently – I think I looked a few months ago – Amazon’s description of the book was fairly spot-on. It was supplied by the book’s original publisher and (I think) read:

The humorous memoirs of criminal-turned-comedy agent Malcolm Hardee, who recalls a life of crime and misdemeanours before finding fame and fortune in the comedy boom of the 1980s. He also recalls how he did in fact, as the title suggests, steal Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.

Currently, the book description on Amazon.co.uk reads:

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk’s listing

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. With reference to reflective practice, best practice and Continuing Professional Development (CPD), this book provides essential support for trainee teachers, new teachers and experienced teachers looking to extend their repertoire.

Well, if teachers want to ‘extend their repertoire’ (Ooh, missus!) with impressions of French President General De Gaulle using only a pair of spectacles held atop a naked, flaccid penis representing his nose, then this is certainly the book to buy.

Something has gone terribly wrong in amazon.co.uk's listing

Amazon’s listing opens up a whole new audience for Malcolm

In the current Reviews section, the highly-regarded Teacher magazine is quoted as saying:

This book will provide ideas that motivate that most difficult of audiences, the teenager.

Absolutely true. It will certainly spice up biology classes.

The book also now has some excellent new quotes in the Reviews section including:

I enjoyed this book, and got a lot of good ideas from it” (Chris Kilby, PGCE student)

Puts a strong emphasis on the how” (Sarah Davies, Senior Lecturer, Nottingham Trent University)

Well, that is true.

And there remain some older and more representative reader reviews…

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel club, Malcolm Hardee (left) watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photo by Geraint Lewis)

I’d recommend anyone to look up the balloon dance on the internet to witness how amusing it was, ditto the ‘banger up the rear’ routine. It takes the reader on a journey of… his touring, drinking, womanising… a great book” (5 STARS – Comedy Cum Hardee, 1st March 2012)

A little piece of comedy history and an amazing insight into the Malcolm Hardie’s (sic) incredible life and journey.” (5 STARS – Sam, 19th May 2011)

Full of cheeky chappies and crazy anecdotes guaranteed to generate random fits of laughter. Malcolm was a lovable rogue who liked to show his knob a lot!” (5 STARS Mitzi, Wales, 9th September 2009)

I am inclined not to tell Amazon about this balls-up and see what happens.

The book is available via them in both new and used editions. Copies of the used books currently vary in price (+ £2.80 delivery) from £7.98p to £999.00. Copies of the book in ‘new’ condition vary from £49.99 to £999.00.

Interestingly, it is the same seller – UK_Bookstore – who is selling both New copies for £999.00 and Used copies for £999.00. The difference seems to be that New copies are in pristine condition and Used copies “may have some underlines and highlights”.

In case you should think I have made all this up or have changed the Amazon listing myself, I have not.

Barry Ferns won last year’s Cunning Stunt Award

Barry Ferns won Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2013 (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held at the Edinburgh Fringe this year on Friday 22nd August. The three awards include a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe.

This Amazon surrealism is not a cunning stunt.

We simply – it seems – live in increasingly surreal times.

I am very glad of that.

 

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Comic Malcolm Hardee was persuaded to change the start of his autobiography

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

One day, the original version of this book may or may not be published

When Malcolm Hardee and I wrote his autobiography in 1996, the editor at Fourth Estate publishers persuaded Malcolm to change the opening of the book to one which I thought and still think was a much less interesting opening. This is the way Malcolm’s book – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – originally started:

___________________________

I stole Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake. He was one of the most famous pop stars in the world and I was booked to perform nude at his 40th birthday party.

The Kray Twins seemed to split their lives into 95% criminal activity and 5% Showbiz. I’ve tried to go for 95% Showbiz intermingled with 5% criminal activity, but I only had about 3% of the success the Krays had.

Apart from me there’s no showbiz in the family, as far as I know, but my grandfather was born behind Greenwich Music Hall, which is now Greenwich Theatre. And when I was in Ford Open Prison I read a music hall book which mentioned an act 200 years ago called ‘The Great Hardeen’. A magic act. He was Greenwich-based like me, so I wonder if there was any link-up there.

When I was one day old, my Dad bought me a train set. It was a steam train and ran on methylated spirits in a little container underneath the train. It was bigger than your normal train set with a big circular track. What you did was set light to the methylated spirits and this started the piston. My Dad set it up in the hall. He didn’t let me play with it. You know what fathers are like. He set it off and it went so fast centrifugal force took the train off the rails and it set light to the carpet. (Nearly burnt the house down.)

My mother wonders if this may account for my early interest in setting fire to things.

I was born in Lewisham Hospital on 5th January 1950. But after I was born I was almost immediately whisked off to an orphanage in Ware, Hertfordshire. My Mother was in a sanatorium with tuberculosis and they didn’t allow fathers to keep their babies then. My father was working all hours on the River Thames as a lighterman.

My mother came out of the sanatorium when I was 2 years old. She quite reasonably wanted to go out and have a good time. So I was brought up by my two doting grandmothers really. They were poles apart.

My mother’s mother was the down-to-Earth, down-the-Bingo type. She’d worked in Service when she was younger – as a maid or something.

My father’s mother put on big airs and graces. She was a docker’s wife, but thought she was sort of royalty and she used to take me up to the Cafe Royal where we’d sit around and have a cup of tea. Another treat she used to give me was to go and see various relatives laid out after they died. She loved a funeral. The biggest news she ever gave my mother was that she had worked it out with funeral directors that my mother could go in the Hardee family burial plot – as long as she got cremated.

When my mother came out of hospital, we moved into Grover Court, a 1930s block of flats with flat roofs. We were in No 20 and there were about 100 flats. It was almost like a village in itself just because of where it was – set off the road.

I’ve almost always lived near someone famous. In Grover Court, I grew up next to Val Doonican. When we moved from there, Michael Leggo lived next door to me. He later invented Mr Blobby. After that, I had a flat in Lee Green and three doors up was Mark Knopfler from  Dire Straits. (I never talked to him.) Later there was Jools Holland – he lived over the road from me in Blackheath. (I did talk to him.) And now I live about five doors away from Miss Whiplash. Dire Straits played in local pubs in Deptford. There was a definite Deptford sound in music. It’s been covered in a book called South East London Rock and Roll. There was Squeeze, Dire Straits, The Flying Pickets. They all came from Deptford. They all sound different, but that’s not my fault.

At Grover Court, we lived in No.20 and Val Doonican lived at the back of the block with his mum. He wasn’t famous then. He used to sit in an armchair on an old porch, playing a guitar. He must have been in his mid-twenties. He taught me the mouth organ when I was about ten or eleven. There used to be an apple tree outside and we used to nick apples. Not him. Me and some other boys.

He came over here from Ireland with  a group called The Four Ramblers and three of the Four Ramblers lived in Grover Court. The others were a bloke called Pat Sherlock and a bloke called Pat Campbell.

Pat Campbell went on to be a Radio Luxemburg disc jockey and Pat Sherlock produced a Sunday night telly show called The Showbiz Eleven. based on football teams. They used to have The TV All Stars on one side and The Showbiz Eleven on the other. The Showbiz Eleven were the sort of people you didn’t normally get on telly – like Norman Wisdom. Pat Sherlock had a son called Barry Sherlock who was a couple of years younger than me and Barry was my mate. People in these ‘football teams’ used to come round to visit Pat Sherlock, so I used to see Tommy Steele and people like that.

In November 1957, when I was seven, I remember the Lewisham train crash happening behind my house. ‘The Great Lewisham Train Crash’ they called it in the papers. It was caused by the very thick fog which you used to get in those days. I remember foggy winters and very hot summers. I suppose it was foggier because they hadn’t passed that smoke law and we all used to have coal fires. (All that’s gone now.)

Several railway lines cross on two levels at Lewisham. There are three at the bottom and one that goes over the top. On a foggy day in November, two trains collided in the middle. Shot up in the air and knocked a whole train off the top. About 117 people died. My Dad’s garage was next to the line and afterwards there were railway wheels in it. A brick wall at the back had to be rebuilt after it was hit by a fire engine coming to rescue people.

I remember my Aunt Rosemary was in the house with her husband, Uncle Doug (though he wasn’t  my real one). He was meant to have travelled on the very train that crashed. They heard it on the radio.

I didn’t hear anything and I think I was sort of hidden away afterwards. A woman called Mrs Fantos was the hero of the crash and she went out to the main road and commandeered cars and blankets and stuff. The injured were brought into the car park space probably suffering from post-traumatic shock although, of course, they didn’t ‘have’ that in those days.

The next day I think the showbiz bug got into me. I climbed onto the flat roofs. The TV cameras were there to film it and I was up on the roof waving while they were carting dead bodies about. I felt excited because suddenly these little flats in South East London were the centre of almost world attention.

We used to play on bomb sites in Lewisham. I found old gas masks and all that sort of stuff. There were lots of bomb shelters we used to play in and there were still people who had gardens with the Anderson shelters in.

It was the Fifties, so it was still a bit bleak after the war. Rationing never affected us too much because my Dad worked on the river. They used to have all the cargo coming in, so we got bananas and things. Legally. My dad never stole anything – he was a very honest man. People who worked on the River tended to get more goods than other people. I know he didn’t steal anything because he was known as ‘Honest Frank’ Hardee.

My dad was a lighterman on the River Thames. A lighter is a barge. A lighterman pulls the barges along. He did that all his life. And his Dad before him and his Dad before him. A big family thing. It was a job for life really.

The family assumed I would do that too, but I turned out quite bright – in fact I got the highest grade in the Eleven Plus at my school. So I ended up going to grammar school. Lucky I didn’t go on the River, as it happened.

My dad was a bit eccentric. We used to go on holidays on boats. He used to work on boats then he used to take us up the River on a boat for a holiday.

He used to do impressions – Maurice Chevalier. Every time he got drunk he sang: Thank ‘eaven for leetle girls. That was the only one he could do. He sounded like Maurice Chevalier a bit. (Except he wasn’t French and couldn’t sing.)

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Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee photographed outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.

There are currently three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in his memory.

This year, they will be presented during a two hour variety show – The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 23rd August.

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You can learn some creative techniques but you cannot learn to be talented

At the weekend, crime writers P.D.James and Ruth Rendell were chatting to each other at the Soho Theatre in London. Someone (clearly not me) asked if they had any advice for a young person who wanted to write.

P.D.James wisely replied that it depends whether you want to be published more than you want to write.

It is possible to be published without being a good writer.

But, if you want to write, then you have to write and there is no real advice except possibly to read lots of well-written books – because reading badly-written books will only lead you on to writing badly-written books.

Personally, I have a feeling that taking writing courses may also lead people on to bad writing because they might start to think there are rules.

It is a bit like the view of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee, who had little time for jugglers because he saw juggling as a skill not a talent. If the average person practised eight hours per day, five days per week for two years, they could probably become a good juggler because it is a skill you can learn. But being a stand-up comic is a talent. If you are not funny, no amount of practice will ever make you truly, truly talented.

You can learn some stand-up comedy techniques from experience, but you cannot learn to be talented.

Same thing with creative writing.

There is no shame in that.

I am crap at science and foreign languages. But I can write a bit.

On the other hand, never say never.

RKO Pictures’ screen test report on Fred Astaire read: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”

There are limits, though.

P.D.James and Ruth Rendell both said they were particularly drawn to crime fiction and have written little else.

A friend recently suggested I could make a lot of money by writing romantic fiction but I said I did not really think I could write it because my heart was not in the genre. I partly said this because someone I used to work with at Granada TV actually tried to write Mills & Boon type novels and gave up.

She told me she eventually realised that you can only write that type of fiction if you believe in it heart-and-soul and enjoy it yourself. A friend of hers did enjoy the genre and he did successfully write for Mills & Boon. She did not enjoy the genre wholeheartedly so was, in effect, writing pastiche not the real thing, which she did not want to do.

She wanted to write well in a particular genre, but that was not her genre, so she felt she could not write as well in that genre as she felt she could in others.

I once had a conversation with an editor at Random House over a book which was never written. He said something to the effect of:

“I don’t know what your style is, John. I read I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake and I read Handstands in the Dark and I don’t know what your own style is.”

I told him: “Well, I hope I don’t have a style. I just write in whatever style seems most appropriate.”

In the case of I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, it was Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography and it was written from tape recordings of chats with Malcolm, so I just had to make the words on the page seem as if they came from Malcolm’s mouth. You can’t just write down exactly what people say: people don’t talk in coherent sentences. So I had to reconstruct what he said in a way that made it seem like what he had said. Of course, they were the words he had said on the tapes, but re-arranged for print so that, over-all, it read like what he would have said. They were his rhythms and words re-arranged for print.

“In the case of Handstands in the Dark, that was Janey Godley’s autobiography and she wrote it herself. At the beginning, I cajoled and encouraged her and suggested how she should perhaps go about it but, by the end I was just doing simple sub-editing – occasional commas and paragraph manipulation. I never wrote the words or sentences myself.”

When I was at college, at the end of the course (or it might have been at the end of Year One, I can’t remember), we had to deliver a significant creative project of some kind. I chose to write a novel and it was shit. But it got it out of my system. I felt that, if I wrote another two shit novels, the fourth one would be quite good.

When I was a teenager, I had wanted to be a writer and had admired (I still do) George Orwell as a communicator of thoughts. He is not a novelist, but he is a great writer – Nineteen Eighty-Four has some very dodgy characterisation and writing (the heroine is badly-drawn and the love scenes are crap). But the ideas are wonderful. It is a below-par novel but a great book. And Orwell’s non-fiction Homage to Catalonia, about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War is a masterpiece.

George Orwell is a magnificent factual writer, though not a good novelist. But he is such a good writer, he transcends that – Nineteen Eighty-Four is a wonderful novel, even if he is not a good novelist.

It seemed to me that George Orwell had achieved his ability to write so well simply by writing a lot at the BBC and elsewhere. (For a period, he literally worked in Room 101 at BBC Broadcasting House.)

So, after college, I consciously looked for somewhere I would have to write a lot, quickly, under pressure, reasoning that I might be able to write anything about anything reasonably fluently.

And that was why I initially became a Promotion Scriptwriter, writing scripts for TV announcers and trailers every day and often under extreme time deadlines.

That did result – I think – who am I to truly know? – in my being able to write pretty much anything in any style under pressure. And, because I also interviewed people for magazines, I knew the difference between writing for the human voice in vision and out of vision; and writing for different types of print.

If you are writing for TV trailers and you have to make Benny Hill, a documentary on Auschwitz and an episode of Coronation Street seem like a sensible single evening’s entertainment entity, you have to know how to tape over the cracks to join things together.

So I think I can write in pretty much any style and make the result seem fairly fluent.

But romantic fiction is just beyond my limit. I would not do it well.

And I want to write well… not just be published.

Write it as art and sell it as baked beans.

Absolutely.

But write it as art and it might last.

Unlike blogs, maybe.

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