Tag Archives: jail

Tales of comedian Malcolm Hardee in prison and at the Glastonbury Festival

Malcolm at Glastonbury in 2003

So I was talking to Jacki Cook who runs the Emporium vintage clothes boutique in Greenwich and she was telling me about her friend, the late ‘godfather of British comedy’ Malcolm Hardee.

One of several prisons Malcolm was jailed in during the 1970s was Ford Open Prison in West Sussex.

“One day,” Jacki told me, “Malcolm said, Let’s go to Ford!

“So he took all the floorboards up in his house to find where Pip, his partner, had hidden his car keys, because he knew they would be under the floor somewhere.”

“Why had she hidden to car keys?” I asked her.

“Because,” she replied, “obviously he had been banned from driving under various names – Hardee, Hardy, lots of names – he’d been banned under various names on various licences and had run out of ‘clean’ licences and Pip didn’t want him jailed again.”

“Who was he visiting at Ford?” I asked.

“Nobody. He was going to do a show somewhere near there, so he said to me: We’ll go via Ford and chuck some cigarettes and whisky and everything over the fence to them inside.  

“Another time, he actually did a comedy show inside Ford Prison. You’re not allowed to go back into a prison after you’ve served time there, but he managed to get back in. You’re not even allowed to go visit people in there. But he so wanted to go back in, he managed to arrange to do a show there – I don’t know how he did it. He wanted to do it so much. He said he just had to go back in so he could go on stage and start his act with the words: Oy Oy – Another captive audience…

“And he also wanted to stand on stage and say… It’s so hot in here, even the governor is melting… because the poor man had had plastic surgery on his face and Malcolm said his face looked like it was melting.

“I always remember being at Glastonbury with Malcolm. He was the worse for wear and he was in his little tent near the big comedy tent and he was supposed to be on stage and the audience was getting very restless because he was supposed to be on stage and we tried to get him up and he just muttered Moan, moan moan, some people! The audience were clapping and being rowdy because he was meant to be on stage – thousands of people in there.”

“I think Malcolm once told me,” I said, “that you could squeeze 3,000 people in that tent. But he might have been drunk.”

“Big tent,” said Jacki. Thousands of people. You’ve gotta be on the stage! I told him.

“Eventually, he fell out of the tent. He was in bad shape. Fully clothed. Still in the sailor suit he’d had on all week. He stands up and looks at the big comedy tent and does a tiny little Oh… then goes Oooh, oooohh, oh, ooohhh...! and he’s walking wobbly, going Oooh, oooohhh… staggering along. I thought he was going to the lavatory to put a bit of water on his face. But No.

“I say to him Liven up!

Moan moan, he says and he staggers up onto the stage.

“They were roaring with laughter at him. But he wasn’t putting it on; it was for real.

“And he didn’t say anything. Nothing but Oh, oh, ooohhh, oh

“And there was another Glastonbury we heard about from our friend Young Jon. He said it was about 4 o’clock in the morning when everybody is wandering around. It had been pouring with rain and all the people wandering around are off their heads. And he said, out of all those thousands of people coming towards him, he saw Malcolm.

“All Malcolm had on were his underpants and his spectacles. He had fallen in the mud and the whole of one side of his body was black from the mud, but the other side was all clean – even his spectacles.

“Black mud one half; white skin the other half; 4 o’clock in the morning in his underpants.

“At another Glastonbury, I remember he was peeing on that bridge where you weren’t allowed to pee and he was on top of the bridge peeing so everybody could see him and people were going underneath and he was saluting them.

“And do you remember that night he was carried out of his club on a stretcher? He’d taken all those drugs and he couldn’t speak.”

“I wasn’t there that night,” I said.

“Somebody,” Jacki continued, “had given him ecstasy and coke and everything – and Viagra.

“He was on the stretcher in a real bad shape and he couldn’t move a limb. He could not move. And he had a massive erection. He was lying on the stretcher with this massive erection. We were killing ourselves laughing. He couldn’t speak he was so off his head. Just lying on the stretcher with an erection.

“That was Malcolm.”

This year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be compered by Miss Behave and is being staged as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe on the evening of Friday 24th August.

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The quiet men: ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser, Malcolm Hardee and John McVicar

John McVicar with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser’s autobiography

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered. Though often only if they create their own legends.

I think I have met two, possibly three, SAS men (it is difficult to know for sure). They will probably not be remembered, except by their friends and family, because they did not write books.

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee never became famous during his lifetime. The irony is that he may be remembered much longer than many comedians who achieved fame because he wrote an autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which was not just a bland quick hack book. One of the stories in the book took place when Malcolm was in prison:

___________

I used to play bridge with this bloke called Johnny Hart, who was one of the most pleasant blokes you could meet. But he started to get depressed. So he went and saw the doctor. Then he went to a psychiatrist who gave him some tablets. And, after that, he started getting extremely paranoid at certain times. When you play bridge with someone, you sometimes say:

“Well, you shouldn’t have led with that card.”

After starting the tablets, if you said that to Johnny Hart, he’d really explode and look quite dangerous.

One day, I was eating my dinner in the dining room and, all of a sudden, right in front of me, I saw Johnny Hart get up and stab this black guy. He’d stolen a 10’-12″ knife from the kitchen and he pushed it in this guy’s back. He pushed it into him right up to the hilt. The black guy literally looked like he’d turned white. He collapsed over my table. 

Johnny Hart went to court for attempted murder and it turned out it was all over the fact he thought this black guy was wearing his plimsolls.

I read some years later that Johnny Hart had committed an awful crime where he’d burgled a house, tied a couple up and murdered the wife. So maybe it wasn’t the tablets.

___________

Malcolm Hardee was quietly-spoken off-stage, rather shy, polite and sometimes had a strange inner stillness about him which I could not understand at first, until I realised he had spent rather a lot of time in prison in the 1970s. If you have lived and mixed with dangerous, sometimes psychopathic men whose personalities may suddenly turn on a sixpence, you have a certain inner wariness.

I was with Malcolm at the Edinburgh Fringe one year – it was the year he performed his show in the living room of his rented flat. After the show, a member of the audience came up to him to chat. Before the man spoke, Malcolm said: “You’ve been inside,” and he had. Malcolm had recognised something in the man’s look and demeanour and knew that he had spent time in prison.

Eric Mason died last Wednesday, aged 81. I only met him twice, very briefly. He had been in prison. He was very quietly-spoken, very polite in a slightly old-fashioned way. He had that same stillness, He was like a kindly old uncle.

One night, outside the Astor Club in London, Eric got into an argument with ‘Mad’ Frank Fraser.

Frank says he “slung him in the motor”, took him to the Atlantic Machines office and had a chat with him. Frank then drove Eric to the London Hospital and dumped him in the car park with, so the story goes, the axe still sticking out of Eric’s head.

The way Frank used to tell this story on his coach tours of Gangland London: “I wouldn’t ‘ave minded so much, except I never got me axe back and that axe was from ‘arrods.”

Frank Fraser is quietly-spoken and very polite; like a kindly old uncle. He may be remembered because he has a good turn of phrase, because he played panto and because he has been so well marketed.

He once said to me: “I worry a little bit about what they’ll say about me after I’ve gone,” but he has helped his own legend by writing copiously, notably in his autobiography Mad Frank and in Mad Frank and Friends, Mad Frank’s Britain, Mad Frank’s Underworld History of Britain et al.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

Eric Mason may be remembered, slightly, because he wrote two books: The Inside Story and The Brutal Truth

Norman Parker was also – and presumably still is – a quiet-voiced, very polite man in a neat suit. I met him briefly, once, in 2001.

In 1963, when he was 18, he killed his girlfriend Susan Fitzgerald. Her best friend testified in court that Susan slept with a gun underneath her pillow and had a record of violence. Norman is Jewish. Susan admired Adolf Hitler and both her brothers had been guards for British Nazi Sir Oswald Mosley. Susan read books on concentration camps and her family was deeply involved in armed robberies. It was said “she was a violent and unbalanced girl.” Norman pleaded self-defence and was sentenced to 6 years for manslaughter.

He later explained: “One day we had a hideous argument. She pulled out a gun. I thought she was going to shoot me, so I pulled out my gun and fired one shot. It hit her in the head.”

In 1970, when he was 26, Norman was sentenced to life imprisonment for another murder. He had killed Eddie Coleman.

‘We had an argument,” he explained, “about the way we wanted to hijack a lorry. Edward pulled a gun on me. I struggled for it, David (Woods, Norman’s co-defendant) hit him with a hammer. He fell to the ground and I killed him with his own gun. I killed a man who seconds before was trying to kill me. At worst it was manslaughter. I don’t think the public lose much sleep when violent criminals kill one another. I covered up the murder. But we bumped into a policeman when we were trying to dispose of the body, and I assaulted him.”

Norman Parker was sentenced to 23 years.

After 24 years, he was released, having spent over half his life in jail. A week after his release, he was interviewed: “I can’t believe the homeless people on the streets,” he said. “ People actually sleep in cardboard boxes. I’m also shocked by sex and promiscuity. Take these phone lines where people talk dirty to you. If someone had come out with that 23 years ago, he’d have been dragged into a psychiatric hospital.”

His book, Parkhurst Tales, sold over 20,000 copies in hardback. He followed this with five  other books: The Goldfish Bowl, Parkhurst Tales 2, Life After Life, Dangerous People Dangerous Places and Living With Killers.

The best way to control your own legend is to write the main details of it before you die.

I only met John McVicar once, many years ago, in his flat near Battersea. He, too, was very quietly-spoken, polite and reflective. And he too wrote his own legend.

He was an armed robber in the 1960s. He, too, received a 23-year jail sentence. He escaped from prison several times and, after his final re-arrest in 1970, he was given a sentence of 26 years.

His autobiography, McVicar by Himself was filmed in 1980 as McVicar, with Roger Daltrey of The Who in the title role.

If you write your own legend, memory of what you have done in your life may survive death.

If you have a rock star play you on screen, you will be remembered.

Or – if not the ‘real’ you – the ‘you’ which you yourself have created.

The meek will never inherit the earth but, sometimes, it is the quiet ones who are remembered.

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