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Yet more comedy industry comments on the death of Malcolm Hardee in 2005…

A few days after comedy legend Malcolm Hardee drowned, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him.

I reposted the first of these comments (ones by people in the comedy industry) two days ago; and more yesterday.

I hate to be predictable, but here comes Part 3…

Malcolm ran two famous – or arguably infamous – London comedy clubs: The Tunnel and Up The Creek.


KEVIN DAY, comedian – 11th February 2005

The last time I performed at The Tunnel was going as well as the others (the first heckle I got was: “Fuck you, Bronski Beat banana cunt”) when, after about ten minutes, a large skinhead got up on stage and stood there very gently holding my hand. This was unusual enough to quieten the room and the rest of the set went comparatively well.

Afterwards, the guy disappeared and Malcolm tried to explain to me that he was the ghost of a guilty heckler who had been killed on the way home from the last gig. Malcolm then suggested that the decent thing to do would be to donate my fee to the bereaved family – I count myself lucky that he eventually agreed to let me keep enough money for a cab and I still went home thinking he had done me a favour. I hope whatever God he believed in has put his name on the guest list.


FRANK HARDEE, Malcolm’s son – 11th February

There are too many memories of dad to write them all down here. Many of the memories that have been left so far have been to do with ‘comedy’. But as many of you know dad’s whole life was one big comedy, whether it be nearly sinking at midnight coming back from a boat trip ‘adventure’ up the Thames and we had lost all power and we were floating with the tide and the mobile had no battery left, so we couldn’t phone the PLA. Or whether it be blagging our way into the Millennium Dome before it was complete and there were still security guards everywhere – but we were still the first members of the public inside the Dome!

The thing that dad and I shared in common was our love for quizzes – I was brought up on quizzes. No cartoons for me as a child, but Bullseye, 15 to 1, Countdown followed by Going for Gold. Even recently we’d still watch The Weakest Link and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? There are many more memories which I shall be sharing at the funeral. Hope to see you ALL there. Let’s give Greenwich council one last headache from Malcolm. Take care Frank xxx


DAVE COHEN, comedian – 14th February

I was both privileged and unfortunate enough to play the Tunnel Club and Up The Creek many times. Like every comic I’ve spoken to over the last few days, I can clearly remember every Tunnel gig I did. It was the hardest club to find. It was on the most unpopular going out-night of the week. There was no quality control on the open spots. How could it possibly succeed?

It did, because it was totally in Malcolm’s image. Raucous, sometimes brutal, often generous. I remember some years later doing an out-of-town gig with Malcolm – Norwich I think it was – and when I came off he said: “How come you’re not shit anymore?” A compliment I have always cherished.


MARK HURST aka MARK MIWURDZ, comedian – 14th February

Many good memories – Coming down from Sheffield in 1983 to do the Tunnel for the first time and staying at Malcolm and Pip’s afterwards.Tripod had shit everywhere. Doing gigs in Chorley with Malcolm who brought the baby Frank with him. I fed him on the car journey home. Frank, that is, not Malcolm. Lots of boozy nights after shows of course. Malcolm lent me Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, a few years back. He said it was his favourite book. I never got to give it back to him. I’ll keep it now.


MARK BORKOWSKI, PR guru – 15th February

I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s; he had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. One of my last conversations with him was when David Blaine was doing his stunt in London, sitting in a glass box dangling from a crane. Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help him organise the media and a crane because he’d got one of his mates in Deptford to knock up a glass box and he was going to put his up right next to Blaine and sit in it for the same amount of time… stark naked. When I told him he’d never get away with it, he decided to settle for standing underneath Blaine throwing chips at him. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.


BRENDON BURNS, comedian – 15th February

He once told me that getting angry wouldn’t work for me. What the fuck kind of advice did he give to people he managed? In his own words, “He was shit but I’d fuck him”


JEFF GREEN, comedian – 16th February

Myself, Matt Hardy, Shane Bourne and any others who want to attend his funeral and show their respects will be holding our own southern hemisphere celebration of Malcolm Hardee’s life. St Kilda Pier – 11 hours ahead of the UK service. Rum and coke obligatory.

Malcolm, I was at your birthday a few weeks ago and I remember many times backstage at Glastonbury – bringing me on to nothing!… and playing trivia machines at Up The Creek. I remember you pretending to faint in the Gilded Balloon – to see how many people would come to your aid. I remember spending an afternoon rowing boats on a trip to a gig in Bungay. And all those times I don’t remember ever hugging you and telling you what a great bloke you are. And I regret that.


CHARMIAN HUGHES, comedian – 17th February

Malcolm, Glastonbury won’t be as fun without you being there to take the piss out of it. The Tunnel was the beginning for so many of us – and the end – a level playing field where only you were king. xx


DAVE THOMPSON, comedian – 17th February

I did my fourth guest spot at the Tunnel Palladium. Everyone was saying the audience was volatile, because Malcolm was at Glastonbury and they missed him. “Who is this Malcolm?” I thought.

I found out next time I did a guest spot. He wasn’t the cool bloke I imagined. He was an anti-guru, who didn’t know the meaning of stress.

Touring with him up North, everywhere we went, he knew someone who welcomed him without condition into their house.

He wanted everyone to have a good time all the time. He was a very bad boy, but ultimately he knew the difference between right and wrong.

I never achieved the success I wanted. Then Malcolm asked me to do The Greatest Show on Legs in Montreal. We went on last at the Theatre St Denis, and effortlessly stormed it. Twice. I’m still getting the TV royalty cheques for those gigs.

All those years doing finely honed one-liners and still rejected by Jongleurs and Don Ward of the Comedy Store. But Malcolm takes me to Montreal and I have fun prancing around naked in front of TV cameras and 2000 adoring people. Thanks, Malcolm. Whenever things seem too serious, I remember your attitude and it gets put into perspective. Comedy is about having a laugh… effortlessly. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.


JIM MILLER aka JAMES MACABRE, comedian – 17th February 

Jeff Green is right about those quiz machines… I had the measure of the one at Up The Creek at a time when 20 quid was beer for the night and more. Malcolm would always wait until I had spunked 3 or 4 quid before sidling up and saying: “Sorry, Jim: I got the jackpot half an hour ago”. He was proprietorial about that machine; I think he genuinely resented me or Jo Brand cleaning it out.

I played the Tunnel one night when some Millwall football fans genuinely WERE in (as opposed to the myth). King Dembina opened and I had to follow the torrent of hate he had incited. Only time I ever witnessed a comic being booed ON and that man was me. 

At half-time, after blood on the walls and actual coppers in the house, Malcolm appealed to the audience to give the last act (Michael Redmond, who didn’t need it) a chance or we would all be going home before ten.

At the time, I was almost hoping the brilliant Michael would also fail just to see what Malcolm pulled out of the bag – and he would have come up with something, you know…..


JEREMY HARDY, comedian – 18th February

Malcolm,

you helped and encouraged me when i started. at the time i think i took it for granted. i’m not sure i ever thanked you. we lost touch over the years, partly because i tried to avoid getting involved in things which would involve you owing me money. i’m sad now that i hadn’t seen you for so long. you once introduced me at the tunnel as your little brother and people believed you. i think you only meant it as a joke, but, in retrospect, i’ll take it as a compliment if you don’t mind.


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian – 19th February

Passing water in The Thames, thinking of Malcolm
it wasn’t sinking in that he was gone
the River Thames is similar to Malcolm
the going doesn’t stop the going on.

The last time I saw Malcolm was at Arthur Smith’s 50th birthday do in Paris. It was getting late.

We got on stage to do something for Arthur, with Ronnie Golden a.k.a. Tony de Meur. A twelve bar blues was agreed. I wasn’t sufficiently co-ordinated to tune the mandolin. So, Ronnie played guitar and Malcolm played harmonica, at the one mike available to he and I. His solo was of a good length. Arthur shouted:

“Let John have a go.”

Malcolm surprised me by handing me the harmonica. I hadn’t played one for 25 years and was grateful for the challenge.

Later I asked him to dance, and he said, “No.”


ANGELO MARCOS, comedian – 21st February

I only met Malcolm a few times but he was always nice to me, even after I’d had the worst gig of my life at one of his clubs (which wasn’t difficult!)

A true loss to comedy.

RIP Malcolm.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Dave Cohen & John Dowie: Why they became comedians in the good old days

Dave Cohen & John Dowie

Writer/performers Dave Cohen and John Dowie are one gig away from the end of their current world tour.

“Yes,” Dave told me, “it’s a world tour of independent London bookshops.”

They are at Clapham Books this coming Thursday.

“Why,” I asked, “are two people with no new books out doing a book tour?”

“In my case,” John told me, “to try and get enough people to pledge to my book – The Freewheeling John Dowie – to get it out.”

Dave Cohen with his new book at last night’s launch

Dave at the launch of his How To comedy book

Dave said: “I did do a book and basically published it myself – How to be Averagely Successful at Comedy.”

“How did that do?” John asked him.

“It does as well as I can be bothered to flog it. I am going to do another one.”

“So,” I asked, “on this world tour, you are doing a split bill in these bookshop shows and reading from your books both published and unpublished?”

“No,” said Dave, “I’m doing a show. I tried to write a novel and it didn’t work. So I thought: Maybe it’s a sitcom. But that didn’t work either. So I thought Well, maybe it’s a 40-minute stand-up poem.”

“Why didn’t it work as a novel?” I asked.

“I don’t know how to write novels. Well, maybe I do. But I didn’t have whatever it takes to do it.”

“I think,” said John, “you have to write quite a lot before you can get a good one out of yourself.”

“I think,” I suggested, “writing a novel is the most difficult thing to do.”

“Well no,” said John, “having your leg taken off without an anaesthetic is worse. Tell us your dirty secrets, English paratrooper, or we will make you write a novel! That never happens.

Guns ’n’ Moses (L-R Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen, Jim Tavare)

Guns ’n’ Moses were (L-R) Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré

“To write a good joke…” suggested Dave. “Maybe 10 words, 12 words? To write a really fantastic joke: that’s a really hard skill. The most brilliant comedy writers who can do that are not necessarily that good at being able to write characters. You get people who are successful gag writers who can’t do a sitcom as good. It’s a different skill.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Horses for courses. Like comperes and comedians… It’s a different skill. Really good comedians are very often shit MCs…”

“Anyway,” said Dave, “my show… It’s called Music Was My First Love and it’s about me falling out with my dad. I did it at the Edinburgh Fringe and I think that’s in the contract. If you do a show in Edinburgh and you’re a male comic it has to be about not getting on with your dad. Did you ever do a ‘dad’ show, John?”

“It’s in me forthcoming book,” John replied. “The Freewheeling John Dowie. And I did a show about Joseph, father of Jesus Jesus, My Boy I guess that was partly to do with parenting.”

“That was great,” said Dave. “I saw it in a packed West End theatre.”

“Starring…?” I asked John.

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti.”

“Did you ever perform it yourself?” Dave asked him.

“When I first wrote it I did. Nothing sharpens the writer’s pen more than having to go on stage shovelling filth over the footlights yourself – Then it’s:  God! That scene’s going! That’s gone! THAT’s gone!”

“I’ve only done my show eight times,” Dave told me. “The first time I did it, it was about an hour and ten minutes long. The poor people who saw that first show really sat through my entire life story! So I got up the next morning and had a cup of tea and cut and cut and cut it down to about 55 minutes. Then John here told me thought 40 minutes was enough. So I cut it and cut it again and it’s now 40 minutes long.”

“How did you two meet?” I asked.

“I was,” explained Dave, “a fan of John before he even knew I existed. He was one of the pioneers in the punk days. I got into punk and, at the same time as I was setting up my record label in Bristol, John was appearing on Factory Records. There was a very small circle of people who were doing music and comedy in the late 1970s. There was Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias and John Dowie and that was kind of it. Billy Connolly sometimes – though he was Folk, really.”

“I became a big John Dowie fan and bought this record which had John on and also happened to have Joy Division and the Durutti Column. As a result, I suddenly became really hip among my Bristol contemporaries. Wow! You’re into Factory Records! But it was really just for this funny Brummie bloke who did comedy songs.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

An early John Dowie album – this one was on Virgin Records

“How,” I asked, “did a Brummie end up on Factory Records in Manchester?”

“I lived near Manchester,” John told me.

“What year is this?”

“Around 1978.”

“You did gigs with Nico when she was living in Manchester,” I prompted.

“Briefly. She lived with John Cooper Clarke. She was being managed by a guy in Manchester.”

“And you, Dave,” I said used to share with Kit Hollerbach and Jeremy Hardy

“It was very pleasant living with them,” he said. “But a single person living with a couple was very…”

“You were a gooseberry,” suggested John.

“Yes. In fact,” Dave added, “John O’Farrell always said he wanted to write a sitcom based on me: a single bloke living with a married couple. I said: Yeah. Thanks for taking the sad loneliness of my pathetic life and turning it into comedy.”

“He never tried it?” I asked.

“He came close. He was writing with Mark Burton at the time and that was one of their ideas.”

“I am,” said John, “going to sue God for my life. It was a disappointment from start to finish. It didn’t say that on the label.”

“Anyway,” I said to Dave, “basically you were a John Dowie groupie.”

“I was,” he agreed, “and then, years later, I was doing a gig at the Earth Exchange and I think John turned up with Arthur Smith and we went for a drink afterwards. So there I was with my absolute god hero and it was… eh… It was character-building.”

John laughed out loud.

Dave explained: “He basically told me what was wrong with my act and he was absolutely right. I went away and thought: He’s absolutely right! I don’t look at the audience! I do move around too much.”

Dave got better. In the 1980s and 1990s,  with Pete Sinclair, he co-wrote several songs for ITV’s Spitting Image, including one when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office.

“When I first started,” John Dowie said, “I was up in Edinburgh and a theatre director came to see it, liked the material and hated the performance. I spent a week with him in London learning how not to walk away every time you get to the punchline. Why do you keep walking away on the punchlines? Stand still and say the punchline! Of course, the reason you walk away on the punchline is because you’re frightened of not getting a laugh and then, because you do it, you don’t get a laugh.

“They were quite nice,” John continued, “those 1980s days, because everyone was sort-of-doing the same gigs and hanging out in each others pockets and drinking in the same bars and going to the same nightclubs and slipping in the same sick. And it was not always mine. It was very camaraderie orientated, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s a career now,” Dave agreed. “In the early 1980s, nobody who was doing it was thinking: Right, OK. This is my life now. I’m going to work as a stand-up, get some TV work and…”

“Well,” said John, “there was Mike Myers. He was the Paul Simon of the comedy generation. Came to London. Told everybody how he was going to be rich and famous in three years or else it was over. Went off and proved himself to be completely right.”

The Comedy Store Players (L-R Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey, Mike Myers

Very early Comedy Store Players included (L-R) Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey and Mike Myers

“But,” said Dave, “he was still also very much a part of the spirit of it. I worked a lot with him at that time. When we set up the Comedy Store Players, he was fantastic. He was very giving and very much into the whole ethos of that whole stand-up scene. But he had come from Canada and…”

John interrupted: “I assumed he was from the US.”

“No,” said Dave. “Kit Hollerbach was the American one. She brought that professionalism and Mike Myers brought the improv side thing as well. So it became sort-of professional at that point. They made it a professional thing. Which was not a bad thing. A couple of years before that, nobody would see somebody like Paul Merton and think: Oh, right, this guy’s gonna be the hugest comedy star in the country and successful for 30 years.”

“So,” I asked, “if, before this, the incentive was NOT to build a career, why was anyone doing it?”

“It was better than working,” John replied.

“And what,” I asked, “are you going to do after this world tour is finished?”

“God knows,” Dave replied.

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A stand-up comedian is like a boxer

Bob Boyton: from punch-lines to punches

A couple of days ago, I blogged about seeing Mark Kelly’s second try-out of his show-in-the-process-of-being-written Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act, which took place at Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club. Comedian Martin Soan was also in the audience.

Afterwards, I got talking to comedian-turned-writer Bob Boyton about a novel which he has spent ten years writing and which is going to be published in May. But we got sidetracked into the link between boxing and comedy.

What’s the book about?” I asked Bob.

“It’s called Bomber Jackson Does Some,” he said. “The eponymous hero is a homeless ex-boxer called Anthony ‘Bomber’ Jackson. It’s not autobiographical, but I did do some boxing training while I was writing it. I trained with Mark Reefer, an ex-Commonwealth champion who didn’t become famous despite being a champion. He was good but perhaps not big enough at his weight. A great trainer. Someone who lavished love on his training. And I’ve worked with homeless people for many years, so there’s also a link there.”

“Is it a funny novel?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he replied. “A couple of jokes in it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t like novels with jokes in ‘em,” Bob told me. “I hate when you buy a novel by a comic and he hasn’t really developed enough plot or done enough work on the characters, so he just pads it out with bits of his routine. I think it’s disrespectful of the novel and of fiction. And it’s a bit disrespectful of your act.

“It’s a problem for comedians,” he continued, “that there’s no legacy with comedy. A little bit, maybe, if you’re one of a golden few. I heard Max Miller on record and he was obviously strong and then Jimmy Jones done a lot of his material. But generally, in 150 years time, no-one’s gonna go That’s a great gag, that!… In 150 years time, Jeremy Hardy’s act won’t make any sense.”

“So your novel isn’t autobiographical?” I asked.

“Well,” laughed Bob, “I did research some of the drinking myself.”

“Why did it take you ten years?”

“There were times I just got fed up with writing the bloody thing. I kind of knew there was a story to be told. It is a bit like being a stand-up, thinking Right, I wanna deal with that subject so I’m gonna write a gag about it. It’s just a much longer process with a novel. When I was doing stand-up, I could write a gag and probably try it out in two nights time and then I might keep it in or not. Whereas I found you can spend ten years writing a novel. That’s probably why you need an editor.

“Bomber Jackson is a bloke in his mid-40s. His last big fight was at least 20 years ago… which he fucked-up because he’d been drinking when he should’ve been training. He’s fallen into criminality and those various things that happen to boxers because, if you’re good at hurting people, then you’re worth a lot of money to unsavoury characters.

“He’s just come out of prison and he knows he’s gotta find a different life. He’s done a lot of prison, a lot of small sentences and he goes in search of redemption and I hope the book keeps the reader wondering whether or not he finds it.. right to the end.”

“Why write about a boxer?” I asked.

“Well, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’m a boxing fan and I’m drawn to it because they are very much like comedians. So I started off… I don’t think it lasted very long but… It was a kind of a metaphor for when I gave up stand-up…. You do it on your own. It’s not like football, where you can blame other team members.”

“Fighting the audience?” I asked.

“Well, not so much fighting but, it’s you – if you win, it’s great. And, if you lose…”

At this point, Ivor Dembina was passing by and heard what we were talking about.

“The thing about comedians,” Ivor said, “is that we’ve all seen each other die the death on stage – everyone. However good you are, however famous, we all know you’ve been there. So there’s that kind of gut respect. And, with boxers, even though they’re competing, they all know they have put themselves in that same position of being humiliated. So there’s that kind of bottom line respect.”

“I remember,” I said, “Ricky Grover (boxer-turned comedian and actor) “told me that, when you box, all that matters is that you don’t humiliate yourself. Humiliation is the worst thing.”

At this point, Martin Soan passed by.

“I’ve based my whole fucking career on being humiliated,” he said as he passed.

“Every comedian…” Ivor continued, “All of us – We’ve all died the death. We all know what it’s like. You never forget that. And you respect other people because they go back. Even though they got booed off, they went back and had another go. You respect them. It’s the same with boxers. A boxer can take a really bad beating, but he’ll go back and fight again.”

“That’s right,” agreed Bob. “Not many boxers gave it up because they lost. The business might have given them up in the end. But either they’ve made enough money and they’ve realised they want to go out somewhere near the top. Or they just can’t get any fights.”

At this point, Bob and I gave up talking about Bomber Jackson Does Some. The conversation moved on and people talked about Malcolm Hardee, Ian Hinchliffe and pissing in wardrobes. I must have another chat with Bob Boyton about his novel at some point before it is published in May.

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Malcolm Hardee, godfather of British alternative comedy – remembered

It was seven years ago today that ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. His body was found and recovered on 2nd February 2005.

When it happened, I put a page online where people could leave memories of him.

Comedian Charlie Chuck wrote:

I met Malcolm and played Up The Creek in 1990. A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. I said to Malcolm: “Whats up with him?” He said: “It’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamar, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some.

Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him. I didn’t have a clue. He put me on a TV show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at The Creek on 15th November. Meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. I didn’t listen and played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby, instead.

During the Edinburgh Festival, at half one in the morning, two men were locked out of a car. The only place open was a bread shop. They went in and borrowed some baking implements to break into the car. It was so funny, me and Malcolm howled. 

The last time I worked with Malcolm, from me picking him up, he talked about religion and Jesus Christ. I often wandered why. He had never mentioned it before.

Joke No 1, Malcolm told me, he had a terrible day, he woke up at 9am and a prawn cocktail slapped him in the face, that was just for starters.

His memory will live on.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy wrote:

Malcolm, you helped and encouraged me when I started. At the time, I think I took it for granted. I’m not sure I ever thanked you. We lost touch over the years, partly because I tried to avoid getting involved in things which would involve you owing me money. I’m sad now that I hadn’t seen you for so long. You once introduced me at the Tunnel club as your little brother and people believed you. I think you only meant it as a joke but, in retrospect, I’ll take it as a compliment if you don’t mind.

Alan Davies wrote:

My memories of Malcolm….

The Tunnel club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: “You’re not going to wear that shirt are you?”. He introduced me. “Stone him!” they shouted. “Crucify him!” Before I could do my first line someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said Directors. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off. At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground. Malcolm said: “I’ll book you”, which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way”, he said,”It’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread even though it’s a Courage pub”.

The following month, I did a full spot and, soon after, the pub was raided and it was over. Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot, but The Tunnel was special. The hardest gig. If you went well, they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in. “Mmmm”…. louder and louder…. Malcolm would hurry from the back bar…. “mmmm…MALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler – Rex Boyd – who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back. “Oh no!” said Malcolm. “I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff”. The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation.

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs,including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me. There were stories all the way there and all the way back. He was the one-off’s one-off.

Comedian Jeff Green wrote:

I remember many times backstage at Glastonbury – bringing me on to nothing! And playing trivia machines at Up The Creek. I remember you pretending to faint in the Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh – to see how many people would come to your aid. I remember spending an afternoon rowing boats on a trip to a gig in Bungay And all those times I don’t remember ever hugging you and telling you what a great bloke you are. And I regret that.

Journalist Andrew Billen wrote:

I met Malcolm a few times and interviewed him once for the Observer, but did not know him. I just think he was the funniest stand-up, possibly the funniest man, I have ever seen.

PR man Mark Borkowski wrote:

I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s. He had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. One of my last conversations with him was when David Blaine was doing his stunt in London, sitting in a glass box dangling from a crane. Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help him organise the media and a crane because he’d got one of his mates in Deptford to knock up a glass box and he was going to put his up right next to Blaine and sit in it for the same amount of time… stark naked. When I told him he’d never get away with it, he decided to settle for standing underneath Blaine throwing chips at him. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

Comedian Simon Munnery wrote:

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel club. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. Says one: “It’s been a good night.” Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out, it’s going to be a great night.”

Backstage at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh one night, a bunch of comics were sitting round and Malcolm was seemingly out for the count, slumped in a chair, so we began discussing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which had just come out. Someone said: “Do you think any of it was exaggerated at all?” and we laughed because, knowing Malcolm, that wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Then Malcolm sits bolt upright and mumbles: “Uh uh – It worked for George Orwell”, then collapsed back into a stupor and the assembled comics spent the next twenty minutes filling in the gaps… “Road to Wigan Pier – he only got as far as Watford”…. ?

Simon Day of The Fast Show wrote:

I was supporting Vic Reeves in Newcastle. We were staying at the Copthorne Hotel. Malcolm arrived having missed the show. Earlier in the day, he had won eight 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. 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 two Special Branch officers. (There was a Tory 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 £5,760 in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards. He was taken to a portakabin nearby where he gave his address in Fingal Street. All sorts of alarms went off. It was the former home of a leading member of the IRA. After intensive questioning, they decided that he was not a threat to national security only social security and off he tottered. I miss him.

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all, he was the king of comedy.

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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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