Tag Archives: John Hegley

Final stories of dead Malcolm Hardee

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

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

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


WIZO, lifelong friend – 25th February 2005

We were both sent to Borstal in 1970.

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

So we escaped.

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


KEITH ALLEN, comedian…


JOJO SMITH, comedian – March 9th 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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


BRENDON BURNS, comedian…


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet – 12th March 2005

Song for Malcolm

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

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

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

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

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


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet…


SIMON DAY, comedian/poet – 9th May 2005

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

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

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


HARRY ENFIELD, comedian…


SIMON DAY, comedian – 10th May 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all sorts of alarms went off.

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

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

i miss him.


STEWART LEE, comedian…


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

Giving birth to our first child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love,

Pip xxx


PHIL NICHOL, comedian…


WIZO, lifelong friend – 15th November

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

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

“Let’s go to Margate,” we said.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all a bit quiet without him.

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


JOOLS HOLLAND, musician and friend…


FRANK SANAZI, comedian – 25th April 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WIZO, lifelong friend – 27th April

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

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

“Yes,” I naively said.

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

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

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

How can we possibly forget you?

Shag a few Angels for us, Malc.


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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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The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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A Canadian Christmas in London, 1979

I asked Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, if she had any memories of Christmases past. She sent me this about a time when she was an exotic dancer and comedy performer.


Anna Smith in 1979

Anna Smith in London in 1979

The second time I went to England, on the QE2 liner, was in mid-November 1979. Traveling on the QE2 was cheaper than the plane fare. Ian McKellen was on the ship and he gave a little lecture about acting. He had a Q&A afterwards, but I didn’t ask him anything.

When I arrived, I had £30 pounds in cash and the address of the Nell Gwyn club in Soho, where I stayed for seven years. I worked at the Nell Gwyn/Gargoyle Club and ended up living in a house on Royal College Street in Camden full of actors and strippers and comics and an ape expert (Peter Elliott) but they all went to their parents’ houses for Christmas so I was left alone for my first Christmas in London.

It was unusually snowy that year and I got very ill from running around Soho taking my clothes off in different clubs.

So I relaxed in bed. I don’t recall quite which bed, but likely it was the ape man’s, since he probably was the only one who could afford a television.

He used to lie in bed and get woken up by calls from his agent for auditions or odd jobs like teaching Romanian child acrobats to imitate chimpanzees. One time his agent called and asked if he wanted to go to Canada, to work on a film called Quest for Fire. He was an actor and ape expert… Still is. Any British movie about apes for the last forty years, he’s been in or consulted on it.

The first time I met him, he had just returned from Birmingham with a huge white bandage on one of his fingers. A female chimpanzee had tried to rape him.

Ian Hinchliffe in the 1980s

Comedy legend Ian Hinchliffe ate glass but was not an acrobat

I think he was from an acrobat family…. Do they have many of those in Yorkshire?  Who knows?

But Yorkshire produced Ian Hinchliffe who was no acrobat, though he did perform tricks with broken glass.

Anyway, Peter Elliott, the ape expert, was a Desmond Morris fanatic; he advised me to read The Naked Ape and was not mean to me about being an ignorant Canadian.

One lady who lived in that house was very aloof about me and she was always pointing out how inferior people from the Colonies were. One time we were both heading into central London at the same time. I don’t know where she was off to but I was on my way to work and a bit late. It was very snowy and when I saw our bus rushing towards us I flagged it as if it was a taxi, even though we were not at a bus stop. She looked appalled and said sternly: “This is London – We don’t flag the bus here!”

But the bus stopped right in front of us and we both got onto it.

Really, I never have had any problems flagging a bus. One time I did it during a sandstorm in Sydney. Because of the storm I was the only passenger, so the driver took me all the way home. I think he had just finished his shift.

As for that lady who was so mean and had not appreciated that I had flagged the bus for her so, when she went out of town, I slept with her boyfriend who did not seem to think I was inferior at all.

Anyhow, I had an interesting Christmas alone in that tall four story townhouse. in Royal College Street.

I did not have much food, but I enjoyed watching television because there were so many talk shows, though I did not know who any of the guests were or have any idea what they were talking about. It was all very interesting because I was trying to figure out stuff like Why is Esther Rantzen so important to British people?

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, c 1983/1884

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein, in a London graveyard c1984

I phoned my mother in Vancouver to tell her I was fine in London making friends with lots of fantastic strippers and nice men who were ape impersonators or who wrote poetry about their glasses (John Hegley) with friends who pretended they were dead (Tony Green) and who wrote songs about stomping on their cats (Tony De Meur). Also there was a very nice gay actor who had sex with a woman once because he was very professional and said he wanted to know what it felt like in case it ever came up at an audition.

We were all very responsible and only one of the men had ever got a woman pregnant (a comedian who is now a big Name).

I did not mention to my mother the man from British Telecom who somehow had ended up at our parties, because he was a bit older and I did not want her to worry.

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984. She borrowed the cat

Anna Smith impersonates an Englishwoman in London in 1984… She had to borrow the cat

“Thank God you’re alright,” my mother had told me. “I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you for a month.”

Then she told me she had phoned Scotland Yard to ask them to look for me. Scotland Yard told my mother that hundreds of girls disappear in London every day so not to call them for another six months.

I stayed for seven years in London.

I had to keep leaving to go dance in Belgium because of UK visa restrictions.

I was constantly in trouble over my work permit in Belgium and eventually I had up go to a Belgian doctor in London’s Harley Street to get my vaccines updated and a certificate saying I was mentally fit to strip in Belgium.

Once in Brussels, we had to sign elaborate contracts in quadruplicate in French and Flemish which had hundreds of items including that if we were performing trapeze or with wild animals we were responsible for obtaining our own insurance.

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“Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

Logs_FraserRiver_VancouverAs a follow-on to yesterday’s piece from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat near Vancouver… overnight, she sent me this.


In a Catholic Chapel at an institution that I visited recently, there was a notebook, like a guestbook, where people had written letters directly to God.

So I leafed through it.

Most were short and unhappy requests for help with medical problems, but I was struck by one friendly letter which began:

Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…

I felt the vague urge to write something in it too – any kind of book with individual entries is tempting – but I stopped myself.

Right now, I am sitting in a chair on a deck at the tip of Lulu Island, where the Fraser River splits into three channels. I can see powerboats racing around and the river is strewn with logs from the freshet.

This is the worst time of year for drownings,

Last week one man was found dead after he crashed a jet-ski and another man vanished while swimming with a group around the foundation of a bridge.

The north arm of the Fraser River is the skinniest and maybe the spookiest. In the background is Tree Island, a burial ground.

A few nights ago in the dark, near my boat, I found a life ring (a lifebuoy, in British English) in the water, with something unidentifiable stuck in the middle. I noticed it was attached by a rope to something. I lifted it out of the water and then quickly dropped it back with a splash. I thought: It can wait until morning.

The next day I saw what it was.

One of my neighbours had put a potted lavender plant in the middle of the life ring.

“It will never grow,” said another neighbour. “Salt water.”

The best-known person I heard of dying in the Fraser River was the famed Manx landscape painter Toni Onley, who crashed his amphibious plane into it in 2004.

I was on my boat when I heard the news. I like his work.

His body was found three months after his plane crashed and I had kept wondering if it might float past. I was rather hoping it might, just so he would not be lost forever. They found him when a small boat operator noticed his body floating in a log boom, about four kilometres downstream from where his plane crashed.

He had crashed another plane on top of a glacier a few years earlier, landing on top of a crevasse and he had written an interesting description of that experience.

Just before he died, he had been practising takeoffs and landings on the river, east of Vancouver.

He had been born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, in 1928. He moved to Canada in 1948.

In 1955, he won an award at the Western Ontario annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to the Tate Gallery in London for a 1963 exhibition.

When I first went to England, the thing I thought was the most fascinating was not the music or fashion or comedy. It was the plastic pudding or jello molds (jelly moulds, in British English) shaped like a sort of realistic rabbit that you could buy at Woolworths. I made crème caramel in them and red raspberry jelly rabbits.

One time, I went on a picnic in Epping Forest with John Hegley and some other comedians. I brought one of the jelly rabbits with me but we were chased out of our picnic spot by an aggressive herd of cattle.

I have a Victorian book about the regulations in Epping Forest. At that time, both photography and  dancing were not allowed in the park.

I used the jelly rabbits in my comedy act and mailed the molds to my friends in Canada. I could not understand how something so beautiful, fun and inexpensive wasn’t all over the world. I think my English friends were puzzled that I liked those molds so much.

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Farting in Italy, nudity in Canada and the dead in the trenches of World War I

Blood-red poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Blood-red ceramic poppies pour out of the Tower of London

Today is Remembrance Day.

I forgot until I switched on the BBC News after lunch and saw the Tower of London’s moat filled with the 888,246 ceramic poppies.

There are two unrelated posts in this blog today – about cultural events in Italy and Canada. It ends with poppies in Vancouver.

My farting chum Mr Methane has returned to the UK bearing a gift for me: a fridge magnet of Pope Francis – the only current world religious leader to bear a striking resemblance to 1980s British TV gameshow host Jim Bowen.

I mentioned in this blog last Friday that Mr Methane – who farts around the world professionally – was in Italy but I could not say why. This was because the Italian TV show he was appearing on wanted him to be a surprise for viewers and presumably they thought my increasingly prestigious blog, being widely read in Italy, might give the game away.

But now they have put the Mr Methane clip online on Vimeo, so I can tell you that, last Saturday, Mr Methane surprised the nation that gave us Punch & Judy and The Renaissance.

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime Saturday night Television

Mr Methane performed to an unprepared Italian nation on primetime television last Saturday night…

It was, perhaps surprisingly, Mr Methane’s first appearance on Italian TV.

“Did the audience know you?” I asked him yesterday.

“There was a buzz as I entered from stage right,” he told me. “The sort of buzz that tells you people in the audience know exactly what you are going to do. I think this shows that the power of the internet and YouTube over conventional TV is growing.”

“Did the Italians,” I asked, “react in any different way from other countries?”

“Well, it’s definitely different from Norway, Sweden, Finland, France or Germany,” said Mr Methane, “but its hard to say how exactly. It was certainly a more open, intellectual and civilised approach to the subject than Simon Cowell could manage.”

(Mr Methane was invited to appear on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009. There is a clip on YouTube. It has currently had over 33 million views.)

“I think the nice bit on the Italian TV show,” said Mr Methane, “was the ending. We managed to wheel out a few old jokes that may possibly be almost as old as the fart joke which, you will remember, Michael Grade discovered was the world’s oldest joke

“The set up on Saturday was:

Panel:  Are You Married Mr Methane?

Me: No

Panel: I wonder why not.

“Then we all laughed hard at the razor-sharp wit of the judging panel while at the same time enforcing some social stereotypes and norms – a good thing to do on a traditional Saturday night family TV show and a good way of smuggling farting into the format.

“I was worried that the main host, Seniora Mara, might mess up on the cake routine as there had been no rehearsal but she positioned the candles very well for a first-timer. She seemed to have an empathy with what was going on. This could be because she has a degree in chemistry, but it is more likely because she is just an intellectual and open-minded European. I mean, could you imagine Amanda Holden being able or willing to pull that one off – She’d be worried shitless about her image etc etc etc.

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. But does he fart? (Photograph by Ben Salter/Wikipedia)

Les Dennis on Cardiff Bay in 2010. Does he fart dramatically? (Photograph by Ben Salter)

“In the early 1990s Bobby Davro told me that Les Dennis (Amanda Holden’s former husband) could perform the art of Petomania. I wasn’t sure if he was pulling my leg but about a decade later I was working on a Sky TV show with Les Dennis so I asked him about what Bobby had told me and he confirmed it was true although he said he had not tried it for a few years and didn’t know if he still had the abililty.

“So, to be fair on Amanda, as she lived with a man who possessed the gift of petomania, maybe – just maybe – I’m being a bit harsh about her ability to be able to hold candles up to a man’s arse while he farts them out. But what happens in the privacy of a person’s relationship should stay that way, so I can only speculate using the information available and come to the conclusion that while such a scenario was possible it probably never happened.”

“Did you try to speak Italian on the show last Saturday?” I asked.

“I spoke a little at the end to say Thankyou to the viewers but, for all I know, I could have been saying: I want to fuck a dead hamster.”

“What’s next?” I asked.

“A French TV show about super heroes is in the offing,” Mr Methane told me. “We just need to see if we can work the money and travel – I’m hopeful we can do as I really like the sound of the project and they seem to like the sound of me.”

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

Pope Francis on my fridge with a picture of my home town

“Thanks for the fridge magnet of Pope Francis,” I said. “Have you ever performed for any religious groups?”

“No,” said Mr Methane. “Although I was once thinking of reaching out to that market by releasing an album of faith-based recordings entitled Touching Cloth. In the end, I decided not to as I respect other people’s beliefs and would not want to offend them.”

Meanwhile, yesterday I also received news from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.

She told me: “I met an exceptional 23 year old man this summer.

“It was in a park on the waterfront in Vancouver. He was apparently from Dublin, but wasn’t. He said his name was Eddie.

“I told him: There’s a song with your name – Eddie Don’t Like Furniture.

“He surprised me by saying: I HATE that song.

You KNOW that song? I asked.

I know it and I hate it, he said, clenching his teeth.

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked furniture

On Pender Island, there was a man who disliked all furniture

“I met someone on Pender Island, near Vancouver, who reminded me of it. He hated furniture too – partitions, anything resembling furniture at all…. He ripped them all out…He did it to a caravan and he did it to a fiberglass motor cruiser – right down to the bulkheads. He even did it to a Boston Whaler. He tore all the seats out until there was nothing left but the hull and a shredded-looking steering column. Like a maniac, he steered it through the shipping lane across the Georgia Straight from Pender Island to Richmond standing up as if it was a scooter. He never wore belts or shoelaces. He thought they were bad for the circulation.

“When people sink boats deliberately I try not to become overly involved. I loaned somebody my axe once and I never got it back.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

Anna Smith is thinking of a book

“Maybe I should write a book with nothing but isolated paragraphs like that I think I could easily write a short string of striptease stories as I have told them many times over, just never written them all down.

“People do seem to enjoy those.

“The places I worked in… Very strange.

“I once performed a striptease at a library in Don Mills, an affluent suburb of Toronto. And I broke my foot flying off stage into a crowd of uranium miners in Northern Ontario. I was happy that happened on a Saturday, because it meant I only missed two shows out of the week.

“People in Vancouver are taking their clothes off in November for no particular reason and standing around outside the art gallery. The naked people are doing it because they want children to have a future and they told me it was not a protest but a Vigil for Vulnerability.

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Man in The Lego Mask & cape (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“I took photos.

“The man with the Lego mask and cape is Simon Leplante.

“He said he had made 50 of the Lego and chicken foot masks and given 48 of them away, mainly to women artists. He told me that he had performed a dance recently at a downtown nightclub and left the stage strewn with tiny bits of Lego.

“Outside the art gallery, the naked vigil enlivened the afternoon for a street vendor selling tourist trinkets. He shouted:

You gotta LOVE the art gallery!

People in Vancouver are taking off their clothes (Photograph by Anna Smith)

The Vancouver Vulnerability Vigil (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“The Vulnerability Vigil was originated by a woman from Victoria, British Columbia. The man in the photo with the tattoos is an art school model. They were very friendly and appreciative that I took many photos with their own cameras.

“Then a burly young security guard emerged from the art gallery but he did not call the police nor ask them to clothe themselves. He merely asked if they could move to a spot slightly to the west, as he said they were too close to the gallery restaurant.

“So they did.

“After I paid my phone bill I went to the library. There was an information fair outside the library where activists were promoting a movie about peyote and handing out stickers of opium poppies to remind us of the victims of all the wars.”

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The Demolition Decorators’ act in 1979: provocation and nudity at a London pub

The Glastonbury Festival starts today, so a timely reminder of an act which performed there in 1979…

The Demolition Decorators’ online album Don’t Say Baloney

The Demolition Decorators’ online album, released in 2005

The Demolition Decorators were a collective of eleven musicians and comedians based in London 1977-1981. They were arrested 24 times for street performing and apparently squatted on the main stage at Bath Festival to hold a ‘people’s event’ complete with laundry service. They called themselves ‘incidentalists’ because their performances tended to involve an element of confrontation, Allegedly at one gig, some of the audience were so incensed they firebombed the hall. Some of the Demolition Decorators’ music was released on the internet as an album Don’t Say Baloney in 2005.

I first heard of them a few weeks ago from alternative comedy pioneer Tony Green, a friend of poet John Hegley.

John Hegley & his poetic spectacles

John Hegley aka 1970s Spudikins

“In the late 1970s,” Tony told me, “Mr Hegley and I ran a children’s theatre company.”

“God help the poor children’s minds,” I said.

“How can you say such a thing?” replied Tony. “They loved us. Children love me: I’ve never really grown up myself. I think we were doing a show called There’s No Smoke Without Water, in which I played Sir Water Pipe Raleigh and John Hegley was Spudikins.

“We were at Glastonbury in 1979 and we came across a group called the Demolition Decorators, who were doing an anti-media piece which we thought was absolutely hilarious. They were a rock band / comedy performance band. We thought they were absolutely brilliant. Max Coles was the comic in the crew and he was just sitting in front of a TV set with a 30-foot carpet, looking at it.

Demolition Decorators at Glastonbury 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

Demolition Decorators perform at Glastonbury Festival, 1979 (Photograph by Richard Arridge)

“I think he was making a point about people watching too much TV. On the third day, I think the TV set was smashed to bits with people running around holding pieces of flaming ember that had been the TV set, screaming Coronation Street! Crossroads! – which we thought was a great idea.

“We asked the Demolition Decorators where they came from and, to our great surprise, we found they were based in Holloway so, when we got back to London, we made a point of going to a lot of their gigs.

“We thought they were absolutely hilarious and really liked their music. We both thought they’d take off, but you can’t always spot who is going to be famous.

“I booked them into a really rough club in East London and said: Look, If they don’t like you, they’ll probably kill you and it’s only £15 total for the group. They discussed it, then immediately phoned me back to say Yes and I could not believe how well that gig went.

“They went around asking the audience what they wanted and gave the audience what they wanted, but in their own particular way.

– What would you like to see?

– Well, that bird. Is she, like, yer singer?

– Yes.

– I wanna fuck ‘er.

– Right… What’s your name?

– Bill.

– Right, Bill would like to fuck Jan… And what about you?

– I’m a deeply religious man. Could you do a religious song for me? Something like I Believe.

– Right.

“They got the whole list of what everyone wanted and most of them were I wanna fuck the lead singer.

“So they erected a tent, banging it into the middle of the floor, causing quite a lot of damage. The singer, Jan, took all of her clothes off, got into the tent and said: Right. I’m in the tent. Is it Bill who wants to fuck me? Come over here and get in the tent and I’m ready for you.

“So Bill walks over towards the tent and Jan says: Hold on just a minute. I’ve taken all my clothes off. Are you going to take yours off? You’ve seen what you’re going to get. I want to see what I’m going to get. I want you to get your clothes off before you get into the tent.

“Of course, the man went a deep shade of crimson and ran away.

“Somebody else said: I’ll fuck ‘er.

“So she said the same thing to him. And Max, who was their comic, said: Look, I’ve got to be honest with you: she’s actually his girlfriend (pointing to the groups’ artistic and musical director Arif) and I’ve always wanted to fuck her. This is my golden opportunity and I’m not prepared to let it go now.

“So he took his clothes off and got into the tent.

“The audience was going: Do you think he’s fucking her?

From inside the tent, Jan says: If anybody else wants to get in, we’ve got plenty of room here, so you can get in and find out for yourself, can’t you?

Another one of the women in the group said: Oh, I think they’re quite attractive, so I think I’ll have a go.

So we have two women in there with their comic, Max.

“He then says: I can’t handle both of them! I need help! Would a man come in and help me out? They’re insatiable! Please! Please!

“No-one got in the tent, of course. So that really had put the audience down a peg or two.

“It was a brilliant success. We ended up with East End dockers, people from the East London Gay Liberation Front, all sorts, all holding hands in a big circle singing Happy Days Are Here Again and that was all down to the – I felt – genius of the Demolition Decorators. They had broken down the barriers of everything I loathe. There was no racism. No homophobia. If the world could be like this – big heavies holding gay people’s hands, some people with no clothes on, black people, white people all holding hands singing Happy Days Are Here Again.

“It was heaven and, since that time, it’s all been a bit downhill, really, John.”

“Where are they now?” I asked.

“Max had to get married, I think, to some Irish woman who had got pregnant. John Hegley told me the last time he saw Max was in the Essex Road and Max died of leukaemia about five years ago.

“Arif – who also called himself Dave – was from New Zealand. After a big gig they did at Ronnie Scott’s Club to try to launch them as a performance group, he thought: It’s not going to work here in England. So he said to Max and people like John Hegley and me who had done guest spots with them: Why don’t you come with us to New Zealand?

A young Tony Green (right) with unknown monster (Photograph by Anna Smith)

A young Tony Green (right) at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival (Photograph by Anna Smith)

“We never did. But Jan, who was his wife and the mother of his child, unfortunately did go. They were only there about six months before she was killed in a freak accident in April 1982. She was with their child in a van on top of a hill. She had left the handbrake off, the door came open, the child nearly fell out, she leant over and saved the child but somehow went under the van which ran over her.

“I’ve not been in touch with anyone because, as you know, I am a computer illiterate but, as far as I know, Arif is still there and involved in children’s theatre.

“It was a great pity. Mr Hegley and I were great fans of the Demolition Decorators. The theatre group we belonged to wrote them off as nothing more than anarchist ego-trippers. That was not our view at all.”

Diarist Paul Lyons remembers the Demolition Decorators online HERE… And there are memories of Glastonbury 1979 HERE.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Music, Performance