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The art and psychology of heckling comics and throwing objects at them

Malcolm Hardee – known for running notorious comedy clubs

Exactly 14 years ago tonight, comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock in the Rotherhithe peninsula, London.

He maintained his principles, even in death.

When his body was raised from the dock several days later, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

Malcolm was famed for spotting and helping talented comedians at the start of their careers. He was also known for running and hosting the Tunnel Palladium club night – a Sunday evening show with good professional acts but also an ‘open spot’ section so dangerous for new acts to perform in that aspiring comics would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to see if they could survive an audience known and feared for its razor-sharp heckling.

After the club was raided and closed by the police for drugs offences (NOT on one of Malcolm’s nights – he only did Sundays) he opened Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich where, initially, the hecklers continued their trade.

Here, I chat to one of the Tunnel’s most effective hecklers – Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin.


Gordon Breslin – a taste for heckling

JOHN: You got a taste for heckling at the Tunnel club…

BRES: Well, before that, me and a friend used to go to Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday afternoon and absorb some of the heckling of speakers that was going on. I remember heckling the Reverend Donald Soper on occasion, when he was preaching there. That’s where we cut out teeth.

JOHN: Did Lord Soper take it well?

BRES: He did indeed. He was a very nice gentleman. After that, though, we discovered the Tunnel club.

JOHN: You were regulars.

BRES: Yes. And the heckling was quite good fun. To start with, it was limited to the open mic spots.

JOHN: But all heckling is surely cruel and nasty.

BRES: Sometimes it is cruel and nasty but sometimes an act just needs to go if they’re not very good.

JOHN: But these poor, sensitive people have spent months refining their act…

BRES: Well, being heckled is how they know it needs more refining. If an act is really bad, something should be done apart from walking out. I think audiences have become too tolerant of bad acts these days. Back in the Tunnel days, it could be quite rude – “Get off! You’re shit!” This was 1984 to 1989.

But word got out about the heckling there and it got progressively more ermmm… ‘aggressive’ I guess is the word.

JOHN: Well, I guess throwing beer glasses at the acts is aggressive.

BRES: Yes, but people like Simon Munnery were cutting their teeth there and he didn’t mind a bit of heckling. There used to be a very good heckler at The Tunnel called The Pirate…

JOHN: I think Malcolm told me The Pirate was a stockbroker who retired early to Spain with lots of money.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

BRES: His great one was… A comic would make his best joke of the night and The Pirate’s voice would be heard saying “Oh larf… Oh larf… Oh larf,” which would just floor the comedian. Some of the heckling was very very funny.

JOHN: And the best heckles are…?

BRES: I think the art of the heckle is… A heckler wants to make a funny gag and make the audience laugh and perhaps even get the biggest laugh of the night and – not necessarily make the comic feel small, but – make the comic appreciate the heckler’s one one-liner as well.

JOHN: Surely it is just solely to make the comic feel small.

BRES: Well, in a way. But the comic has the right of reply, so he can make the heckler feel even smaller. A lot of people don’t want to sit in the front rows because they don’t want to be picked-on by the comic. Let’s get it into perspective. For me comedians, if they are any good, will always pick on the front row. So they have more than ample opportunity to get their retaliation in first.

JOHN: So heckling is the audience picking on the comedian, not the comedian picking on the audience.

BRES: Exactly. That’s the one. As long as it’s fair and just. At The Tunnel, some of the comedians would come on looking nervous and, before they’d even said a word, the first thing shouted out was: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then someone else would take up the cry: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then the whole audience would end up shouting “Maaallcolm!!!” and, before the comedian had even said a word, it was not unknown for the act to walk off without even doing a joke.

JOHN: And the audience would sometimes call out for a taxi…

BRES: Yes. “Cab for (the comedian’s name)!” Those were the regular heckles. But then it got a bit overtaken by… Well, a bit violent, I should say – Throwing things and it… it got… erm… too bad. There was an incident where Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton)… I think it was a beer crate or something like that was thrown at them – something quite chunky…

JOHN: Malcolm told me he wasn’t the compere that night. I think he was maybe at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Malcolm made a mistake in giving a copy of this letter to each member of the Tunnel club audience

BRES: I think she sustained a cut – Joy Pickles. So, the following week, there was a letter to the audience from Tunnel Arts – which was Malcolm – asking all members of the audience to “refrain from throwing anything at the stage… The Tunnel Club is noted for its witty heckling and appreciation of a good act. Let’s not spoil it by behaving as animals. It is coming to a point where a lot of good acts are thinking twice about performing here (quite rightly so) and this means that your enjoyment will be impaired.”

A copy of this letter was put on every seat in the Tunnel club and, of course, when Malcolm came on stage, he got bombarded by people throwing screwed-up letters and paper aeroplanes at him. So the letter became a surreal heckle.

JOHN: My memory is that, sometimes, they didn’t just throw beer glasses at the acts; they sometimes threw half-full glasses so there was beer all over the place too.

BRES: Well, it was probably quite watered-down beer. 

JOHN: The heckling-off of acts was quite effective.

BRES: Yes. Sometimes self-defeating. Sometimes you might have seven or eight acts and the show would be over in half an hour because everyone had been heckled off – sometimes even the good ones.

Jools Holland (left) with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel club in 1985 (Photo by Bill Alford)

JOHN: Malcolm told me that, after the trouble with Clarence & Joy Pickles, he had to make it a members-only club and he then discovered lots of the audience were not local. They were coming through the Blackwall Tunnel from north of the Thames and a lot were very highly-paid, highly-educated City workers, which was why the heckling was of such a high standard. I think someone was once heckled off in Latin and looked a bit surprised.

BRES: Yeah.

JOHN: What was your job at that point?

BRES: (LAUGHS) I was a Lloyds underwriter, working in the City.

JOHN: So basically it was up-market scum causing the problems.

BRES: Exactly. (LAUGHS) But I am from humble beginnings. I guess the Tunnel club had a timely demise and we were then a bit bereft of anywhere to go. We tried out Jongleurs club in Clapham, but the comedy was never great there and we weren’t allowed to heckle. We were physically told-off by bouncers. Luckily, Malcolm then set-up Up The Creek in Greenwich, which didn’t have the same notoriety as the Tunnel.

JOHN: I think the brothers who co-owned it with Malcolm told him after a few weeks that he couldn’t allow heckling and throwing things. Though I do remember some open spot act who got up on stage and started reading poetry. He was a bald man and you could see the blood trickling down his forehead after something was thrown and hit him.

BRES: I was there when Eddie Shit was performing. He came on dressed as Freddie Mercury and was singing songs by Queen with all the lyrics changed to refer to shit. I was sitting down the front and we were getting things passed to us from the back – including glass ashtrays – to throw at him. Which, obviously, we never did.

There was one occasion when an act which really was shit had been using a real frozen chicken and they ended up throwing this frozen chicken at the audience. The audience kept it then, slowly but surely, it made its way down the front. It came to me and I remember getting up on stage and offering it to Malcolm and I think I started up the chant “Shag the chicken! Shag the chicken!” which the whole audience took up.

So Malcolm got his knob out and duly obliged. 

That was quite amusing.

JOHN: Did you make friends with the other hecklers?

BRES: Yes. And some of the acts as well. It wasn’t all animosity. Simon Munnery, Martin Soan, Boothby Graffoe, Rich Hall. We would leave the good acts alone and they would leave us alone.

JOHN: Mostly, I thought the hecklers at Malcolm’s clubs were firm but fair.

BRES: I would like to think that.

JOHN: Part of the training process for new comedians. You don’t get much heckling nowadays.

BRES: The demise of heckling is down to the extra tolerance we have nowadays, even for bad acts. There are hidden boundaries these days. There’s too much respect for comics these days. Performers don’t know how to give a riposte and, as a heckler, you don’t want to show them up. It would just stump them.

JOHN: Isn’t that the point?

BRES: Not always. The next generation should learn what “Maaallcolm!!!” means.

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


Today is General Election Day in the UK.

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


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

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

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

VOTE CONSERVATIVE

And on the right side:

VOTE LABOUR

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

Malcolm Hardee’s election reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Numerical accuracy put on one side, Malcolm continued…


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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

*  *  *

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

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


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

 

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The most entertaining British funeral of the last 115 years – an audio recording

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s odd 2005 funeral

Whose are the greatest British funerals of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Well, there is Queen Victoria’s in 1901, Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965 and Princess Diana’s in 1997.

But, for sheer entertainment value in the last 115 years, surely not one can compare with the funeral of comedian Malcolm Hardee on 17th February 2005. He drowned, drunk, aged 55.

The printed invitation to and running order for the religious service in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich, was headed:

YOU LUCKY BASTARD!

The invitation to & running order for Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The invitation to Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The Daily Telegraph ran a news item on the funeral the following day (yes, it printed a review of the funeral) which was headlined: Funeral at Which the Mourners’ Tears Were Caused by Laughter.

The review said: “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

The Sun also ran a review of the funeral, headlined Dead Funny – Comic Mal’s Wacky Send-Off pointing out that “instead of a wreath on his coffin, pals placed a lifebelt and an L-plate. in church, the congregation leapt to their feet and applauded as if he was taking to the stage one last time. they included comics Vic Reeves, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, David Baddiel, Jerry Sadowitz and Keith Allen.”

In the ten years since Malcolm’s death, his funeral has been oft-talked about but never repeated. Well, one doesn’t with funerals.

More wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

More sentimental wreaths at the  funeral

As comedy critic Kate Copstick is still stranded in Kenya with a non-functional computer and a dodgy mobile phone, the Grouchy Club Podcast this week has posted the uncut audio of Malcolm’s funeral service. It includes tributes by Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith and lasts 75 extraordinary minutes – especially extraordinary because the laughter, cheers and applause are happening during a church service. The running order is:

Vicar intro
Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Arthur Smith
Steve Bowditch
Vicar
Hymn: For Those in Peril on The Sea
Frank Hardee (Malcolm’s son)
Stewart Lee
Vicar
Jools Holland
Arthur Smith
Jo Brand
Arthur Smith
Al Richardson
Arthur Smith & Vicar
Owen O’Neill
Alessandro Bernardi
Vicar
Quotations from, among others, Deke De Core, Steve Frost, Alex Hardee, Clare Hardee, Chris Luby, Martin Potter, ‘Sir Ralph’, Arthur Smith, Martin Soan and Paul ‘Wizo’ Wiseman
Hymn: Jerusalem
Blessing
Coffin out (worth listening to)

This year, the three annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards given in his memory…

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Awards for comic originality, best cunning stunt and for ‘act most likely to make a million quid’

…will be announced and presented during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – two hours of bizarre and original variety – in the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August, 2300-0100.

The judges this year are:

Marissa Burgess
Kate Copstick
John Fleming
Jay Richardson
Claire Smith

Comperes Miss Behave and Janey Godley will host the bizarre and original variety acts and the World Egg Throwing Federation will supervise the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships featuring star comedy names.

The 75 minute audio recording of Malcolm Hardee’s funeral is on Podomatic and iTunes.

On YouTube, there is a 10-minute video tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren:

 

 

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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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What they actually said when anarchic comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Today is the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday.

He would have been 64.

He drowned in Greenland Dock, by the River Thames in London on 31st January 2005.

He was newly 55.

This is what was said about him in print immediately after he died (the videos are more recent):

Charles De Gaulle

French President General De Gaulle

CHORTLE comedy website, 2nd February 2005

The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. Hardee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club, where most of today’s biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. One year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. Jools Holland said: “It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.” Stewart Lee called him “South London’s king of comedy – a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution.” And Robert Newman called him “a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.”

BBC NEWS ONLINE, 2nd February 2005

Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: “There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness.”

EFESTIVALS, 2nd February 2005

He’ll probably be best remembered at Glastonbury for responding to calls to “get yer knob out”, or just getting it out anyway. If you never had the privilege to see it, it wasn’t as crude as it sounds… Oh, perhaps it was, but Malcolm was always very funny.

THE GUARDIAN, 3rd February 2005

Hardee, 55, was a legend among the comedy fraternity – a “comedian’s comedian”, says Phill Jupitus. He hosted two comedy clubs which spawned literally dozens of now household names. He never really reaped huge financial benefits himself, though, and was best known to the wider world as a member of the naked balloon dancers The Greatest Show on Legs. His trademark was getting his (impressive) testicles out and playing the harmonica.

THE STAGE, 3rd February 2005

The son of a tugboat man, he turned to comedy after numerous brushes with the law and stints in detention centres. He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers.

EVENING STANDARD, London, 3rd February 2005

A veteran comedian who launched the careers of stars including Paul Merton, Harry Enfield and Vic Reeves as well as Jo Brand and Jerry Sadowitz. He went on to form his own venue, the Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel in 1984 and followed that with Up The Creek. Both venues were where thousands of comedians took their first step into the spotlight. He acted alongside Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comic Strip movies. Mr Hardee once served a term in prison for theft. In his 1996 autobiography, he wrote of playing bridge in jail with former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3rd February 2005

He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet minister’s Rolls-Royce. He had been jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody, but the title of his 1996 autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Mr Hardee alleged that he had taken the huge cake after being refused permission to perform at the ceremony and then donated it to a nearby residential home. He also wrote of playing bridge in jail with the former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

The autobiography

INDEPENDENT, 4th February 2005

He was one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy, Venerated in the business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late Seventies – bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent hecklers. Those who worked with him paid tribute yesterday.

Mark Steel said: “For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking at him. He created the Tunnel Club which, after the Comedy Store, was the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing, nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be a hard bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn’t care. Unusually for a comic, he didn’t seem to have any ego.”

THE GUARDIAN, 4th February 2005

He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour, Jools Holland. In 1987, he stood for parliament in the Greenwich by-election, as a candidate for the Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles party, polling 174 votes. On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the River Thames where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

Margaret Thatcher meets The Greatest Show On Legs in a 1982 Sun newspaper cartoon

INDEPENDENT, 5th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years. Almost every significant new comedian was agented, managed or promoted by him, or passed through one of his clubs.

His impression of President Charles de Gaulle using no props other than his own spectacles atop his semi-flaccid penis was unsettlingly realistic. But Hardee’s other claim to fame was that he had the biggest bollocks in show business. He said that, at puberty, they did not drop, they abseiled. Everything about Hardee was larger-than-life – except his bank balance, because he did not care about money; instead he took an almost schoolboy delight in pranks, wheezes and escapades.

Yet Hardee’s influence remained almost totally unknown outside the comedy and media worlds. At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: “He’s not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out.”

NEW YORK SUN, 7th February 2005

A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a “balloon dance” stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty. He was also celebrated for a bizarre juggling act performed in the dark and with nothing visible apart from his genitals, daubed with fluorescent paint. Fans would greet his arrival on stage with cries of “Get yer knob out”. He was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden.

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Glastonbury

THE TIMES, London, 7th February 2005

A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: “To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has.” Whatever Hardee did in the world of comedy — dance, compere, steal things or drive vehicles through other people’s shows — he preferred to do it naked. He brought silliness, anarchy and a lot of nudity to a business that is becoming increasingly self-referential and corporate. The world of stand-up comedy is left with a gaping, tractor-shaped hole in it. Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His crimes were orchestrated with scant regard to not getting caught or even, sometimes, making any money. His autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, implicated his fellow comic Ricky Grover in a bungled heist, the sum proceeds of which were four ham sandwiches. Similarly his comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it. A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted. There was no comedy area Hardee was unwilling to explore.

THE SCOTSMAN, 8th February 2005

Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster, Malcolm Hardee’s sad early death robs the world of comedy of a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed “the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy”.

TIME OUT, 9th February 2005

One of the great characters in the comedy business. Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue. He played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. His scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come. But, above all, he’ll be remembered as a good bloke. He’s an impossible act to follow.

THE STAGE, 10th February 2005

Widely regarded among the stand-up fraternity as one of the godfathers of alternative comedy. Although he never leapt to the front rank of fame himself, he helped launch and nurture the careers of literally thousands of stand-up comedians. But much more than that, Hardee was a larger than life character whose ribald, sometimes vulgar behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary. Hardee was taught at, and expelled from, three south east London schools before drifting into petty crime and spending time in numerous detention centres for, among other things, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to his Sunday school piano, one of which he escaped from disguised as a monk.

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

Malcolm Hardee (on the left)

INDEPENDENT, 19th February 2005

Malcolm Hardee was a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt, He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

THE STAGE, 3rd March 2005

Malcolm’s death sent tremors of shock through the world of London comedians. No one was hugely surprised, given his wild and fearless ways but some of us who knew him felt a pang of regret that we hadn’t cherished him more vigorously in life. Every death is a reminder of our own mortality and Malcolm was the first of a generation of comics to get a booking at the big gig beyond the veil. Everything about Malcolm apart from his stand-up act was original. Although he was not a writer, he was a genius at dreaming up scams and schemes. He was a mythomaniac, the ultimate PR man, a world-class huckster and a man who trailed laughter and amazement in his wake. Like a shabby Oscar Wilde he put his genius not into his work but his life.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

R.I.P. Malcolm Gerrard Hardee, comedian, agent, manager and club-owner: born London 5 January 1950; married Jane Kintrea Matthews (one son, one daughter previously with Pip Hazelton); died London 31 January 2005.

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given in his memory at the Edinburgh Fringe.

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Necrophilia and its place in honouring comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

(If you are easily offended – or, really, if you have ever been offended by anything at any point in your life – please do not read this blog.)

Yesterday, I had an interesting evening at the Star & Garter pub in Greenwich, where comic Steve Bowditch and ‘Paul The Poet’ hold regular Friday night Open Mic nights to a very traditional London pub audience. It is like a cross between the 1890s, the 1930s and the 2010s. I could imagine geezers having knees-ups at the drop of an ‘H’.

Last night was an even more than normally unusual night because, as well as occasional open spots, there was a tribute to Malcolm Hardee, betwixt his birthday on 5th January and the day he died, 31st January.

There was a table-top shrine with a photo of Malcolm and joss-sticks with the smell, Steve Bowditch claimed, of sandalwood, cedarwood, Brut and Vosene.

The evening included interesting local guitarist Danny Alex, Ian Breslin the acapella punk poet, soiled tissue juggling, selections from Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! and Greatest Show on Legs originator Martin Soan’s always wonderful-to-watch but painful-to-perform version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller using six rubber bands.

There were also 12 minutes of video clips from Jody VandenBurg’s long-gestating documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There. One of the most interesting quotes in the film is from Malcolm’s long-term chum Jools Holland, who says: “He was like a Dickens character.”

Part of being a Dickensian-style character, I think, was (in public, at least) that he was larger-than-life, almost a cartoon caricature of someone who did not care about consequences.

Martin Potter, who started the infamous Tunnel Palladium comedy club with Malcolm, says in this future film: “He would always do what other people would like to do but didn’t dare do.”

Acapella punk Ian Breslin, who organised last night’s Malcolm tribute, told the crowded back bar at the Star & Garter:

“As some of you know, every time someone famous died, Malcolm would have a bet on the Queen Mother dying too. So, eventually it happens. The Queen Mother has just died but Malcolm has not had a bet on it happening. I’m beside myself to go down to Up the Creek and see what he’s going to say. I’m with a group of people. Some have never seen Malcolm perform before.

“I say to this woman: You do realise he’s going to say something about the Queen Mother in the first five seconds?

He wouldn’t dare, she says.

“I say: He’s going to fucking rip into her in the first five seconds.

No. No, she says, that won’t happen.

So, I say, you want a bottle of vodka on it?

“She shook my hand.

“Malcolm walks on stage and says: The cunt’s dead…

“A bottle of vodka in my hand, yeah?

“People walk out and get really upset and everything.

“Malcolm says: Still a good fuck, though…”

Ian dedicated his next poem/song to Malcolm.

“I’ve had a tee-shirt made,” Ian said.

I was pleased – indeed, humbled – to see it was a photo of the annual Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality which I organise – a microphone rising stiffly at an angle above two circles.

“This is called Dig ‘Em Up…” Ian said.

The poem/song was a sweet little ditty which started:

Had your picture on my wall
Shame you died when I was small
You looked at me through paper eyes

and later included the fine lines:

Thora Hird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Nice old bird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Mary Shelley – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too smelly – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Lena Zavaroni – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too bony – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em

It is good to see Malcolm’s memory being honoured. The only downside to the evening was at the very end, when Martin Soan told me of his disappointment:

“I thought we should polish it off in the right way for a Malcolm Hardee evening. I was going to get my kit off – fold my clothes very precisely, put my shoes on top of my folded clothes, my socks inside my shoes. But I was told, if I walked back through the bar, they wouldn’t like it. It’s a sad reflection on modern life when an Englishman can’t walk naked through a local pub.”

How true. How true.

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