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Eric (Just Eric) pays tribute to the OTT comedian Ian Cognito, who has died

Ian Cognito’s Facebook photo – presumably how he would like to be remembered

In the previous blog here, Becky Fury remembered Ian Cognito, who died while performing on stage last week.

Now fellow comedian Eric (Just Eric) adds his own tribute…


When I saw the headline BRITISH COMEDIAN DIES ONSTAGE, I thought: Oh, that will be Cogs…

Then, when I saw the full story, I was devastated to see that, tragically, my instinct was correct.

Like Malcolm Hardee before him, probably no-one ever expected to read the words “After a long battle with illness, he passed away peacefully in his sleep.”

Cogs just wasn’t that kind of guy.

He died as he lived, in the spotlight, commanding full attention, with no-one quite believing what they were witnessing.

We all have our own memories of Cogs and bizarrely I have enjoyed reading the stories that others have shared of this marvellous mischievous maverick.

I first met Ian Cognito at Malcolm Hardee’s Up the Creek comedy club when, as he passed my table en route to the stage, he scooped up my pint and drank it while headlining the night.

The Greenwich club was a renowned bear pit and it wasn’t long before he got his first heckle. Whenever this happens, it is the stock-in-trade of the comedian to deliver smart-put downs in response and the more cutting they are the better; and Cogs could cut anyone to the quick. But Cogs didn’t just embarrass his detractors: he went further, much further. He would intimidate them.

So, climbing across the seats in the direction of the hapless heckler and standing astride the back of the chairs either side of him, Cogs delivered his withering repost, while towering over the now cowering heckler. Not surprisingly, it was the only heckle that he received that night.

Given what I had just witnessed from his awesome onstage persona, I did consider saying nothing and just getting myself another beer. But, with what I now realise was a somewhat foolhardy and reckless regard for the ‘perceived’ risk to my personal safety, I summoned up all my courage and, after the show, I challenged him about drinking my pint.

I was then astonished to find him most apologetic. He had just made an honest mistake, confusing my Guinness for his own, which he then realised he had absent-mindedly left on the bar.

So he bought me a replacement and, with a mutual love of the black stuff and comedy in common, it was the start of a friendship I could never have expected. Over the next few years, I did numerous gigs with this comedic whirlwind, who would proudly announce to audiences that he had been banned from more comedy clubs than any other comic.

But that brash onstage (and sometimes offstage) persona belied the sensitive, caring, supportive soul which lay beneath.

I should imagine that anyone who ever had the privilege of being invited to his home will have the memory of that visit etched on their memory forever.

I certainly remember my first visit. Pulling up in a layby in the middle of nowhere, thinking: Why on earth would he want me to meet him here? Only to find Cogs suddenly emerging from a bush and extending an invitation to climb over a crash barrier and down a bank. Where, only a few yards from the busy highway, a boat is moored on a slow-flowing river in an unfeasibly serene spot.

In my experience the standard invitation would include a meal, which Cogs would cook in his galley while his guests sat on the bank enjoying the unexpected calm after the long drive from London.

Then, over lunch, we were treated to a side of this quiet, reflective, thoughtful man that his audiences would probably never get to see.

Then, it seems, no-one would be allowed to leave, without first choosing a book from his shed to take with them. I remember choosing The Book of Shit Towns.

Then it would be back into the car and on to the gig, where it was sometimes difficult to reconcile that the astonishing and aggressive performance the audience and fellow performers alike were treated to that evening was delivered by the same man who had humbly dished-up the pasta a shortly before, while sharing stories about his children.

When I first visited Paul (his real name was Paul Barbieri) and discovered that he lived on a boat, he said: “It’s the most interesting thing about me.”

Which is patently untrue.

No, it isn’t, Cogs, YOU are the most interesting thing about you!

Some things I know. Some things I will never know.

One thing I do know is that the world of comedy has just become a far less interesting place without you…

We have lost another shining light from our world.

What is it that is said about the flame that burns brightly…?

RIP mate.

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RIP Ian Cognito, dangerous comedian and great opera singer

“Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!”

Comedian Ian Cognito died on stage on Thursday night at the Lone Wolf Comedy Club in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

So it goes.

He reportedly “sat down on a stool while breathing heavily, before falling silent for five minutes during his show” and the audience thought it was part of his routine. He had earlier joked: “Imagine if I died in front of you lot here”.

In the US, Variety quoted audience member Ryan Mold: “He sat down, put his head and arms back; his shoulders were twitching… His behavior didn’t come off as unusual to those used to his flamboyant character.”

Compere Andrew Bird told the BBC: “Everyone in the crowd, me included, thought he was joking. Even when I walked on stage and touched his arm I was expecting him to say Boo!” 

The BBC quoted audience member John Ostojak as saying: “Only ten minutes before he sat down, he joked about having a stroke. He said: Imagine having a stroke and waking up speaking Welsh… We came out feeling really sick, we just sat there for five minutes watching him, laughing at him.”

Andrew Bird said dying on stage would have been the way Cognito “would have wanted to go… except he’d want more money and a bigger venue.”

The comedy website Chortle rather understated the case when it wrote he was “known for his outrageous and unpredictable stage act and would often boast of the number of clubs he was banned from”.

At one time, he used to start his act by walking on stage with a hammer, banging a nail into the wall and then hanging up his hat. “This lets you know two things about me,” he would shout. “Firstly, I really don’t give a shit. Secondly, I’ve got a hammer.”

Over the course of a 30-year career, no British TV company ever took the risk of putting him on screen. Yet today The Times, reported his death and called him a “cult comedian”. The Daily Mail today called him “a proper comic”.

The lesson to other comics seeking media coverage is clear: literally die on stage.

In comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, there is an anecdote which starts: “An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive.”

I always found him very amiable and intelligent though with a slightly insecure glint in his eye. Well, he WAS a comedian.

In 2005, I shared a funeral car with him and Jenny Eclair at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral in Greenwich. Malcolm had drowned by falling in a dock while drunk… So it goes. 

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

In a 2013 blog from the Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote: “Last night, Cognito told comic Pam Ford and me a very funny series of stories about his own dad’s funeral and what happened to the ashes afterwards. Alas, I don’t think I can repeat them, because I was harassing Cognito that he should do death stories as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2014.”

He didn’t, but no matter.

And, alas, I have now forgotten the stories.

I also wrote in that blog: “He was wearing a hat. He said he had a song about the late Malcolm Hardee. I invited him to perform it at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. He said Yes.”

He didn’t.

But no matter.

Today his son, Will Barbieri, shared a quote from his father: “I hope when I am gone, that you will remember me for all the things I didn’t do, but could have done so easily.”

In 2014, I quoted the comedian Matt Price in a blog. He said:

“I mentioned to Ian Cognito: There’s a rumour going round you used to be an opera singer and he said: Oooh! Keep that one going, dahlin’ I do like that one!

So I will remember Ian Cognito as an interesting human being, a fascinatingly dangerous performer and a great opera singer.

But I did not really know Ian Cognito.

Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury did know him better. She sent me what follows under trying circumstances this morning.

She wrote: “I am a bit distracted by a total freak show in the kitchen and a man naked in the kitchen. Just a standard day in Deptford.”

Here is what she sent me…


‘Cogs’… in one of his quieter, more reflective moments…

I’m sad about – but also keep laughing hysterically about – Cogs.  

He actually died on stage, the mad bastard, and people thought he was pretending but he was actually dead. The compere came on and went to prod him as he thought he was joking but he was actually dead. Fuck me, that’s hilarious.

The man was a crazy, beautiful diamond and, like all diamonds, it’s the darkness that give them their brilliance.

Last night I went on stage and told the story of Cognito’s last prank. I’m still hoping he jumps out of the coffin at the funeral and shouts: “Gotcha, you cunts!” and then dies again – because that will be really funny.

It is interesting giving people permission to laugh at death.

It’s a taboo and Cogs liked smashing those. 

It’s the essence of liberation. 

It is nice to be given permission to continue to erode those taboos and it is an honour to explain to an audience your friend died like Tommy Cooper but he did it better. Dying on stage is a very naughty thing to do and the person was very naughty to do that but you can and should laugh because the person was a great comedian and it’s what he would have wanted.

I also explained I would be doing my Ian Cognito tribute act later and I had already taken the capsules of cyanide which was the grand finale after the crowd surfing just to put my own spin on it.

I’d known Cogs since I was 19. He ‘pulled’ me after a gig I was running with my we’ll call him ‘ex’ boyfriend as he was after that happened and who also happened to be the promoter. 

My relationship status with the promoter was unknown to Cogsy but was in hindsight a classic Cogsy as he had an almost supernatural knack of pissing off promoters

We were friends after that. Me and Cogs.

Me and the ex-boyfriend never recovered.

The Cogs I knew was a lovely, fascinating guy and I had a load of really interesting times with him, like a lot of people did. 

After our initial encounter, we met again in the backstage area of Reading Festival and spent the weekend getting drunk and talking and not seeing any bands. Why would you go and see Blur when you have Ian Cognito to talk to?

He even surfaced a few months after that and helped me get rid of another unsuitable ex-boyfriend and helped end another relationship for me. Like a sexy, crazy, cool dad that you can shag.

He had an uncanny knack of appearing when he was needed like a swaggering Cockney genie that lived in a bottle of Jameson’s.

And then a few more times after that.

When I started comedy, I did a few gigs with him at the Edinburgh Fringe where he was kind enough to offer me to share a spot he had in a show at the Pleasance. I was unfortunately too pissed to take him up on the offer. I could blame the fact I was keeping up with his drinking habits but that wouldn’t be true and truth was something that was very important to Cogsy in his life and his art – not that he would have said anything that pretentious.

I never knew him to be anything other than a lovely, wise, bright, shiny, gem of a person. An authentic soul and genius comic. 

There are very few of those and now one less. 

I’m still kinda hoping he kicks his way out of the coffin, does that song about his dog farting and then makes use of some of PR his death generated. But it was never about that.

It’s about living your truth to the full and making your life and death a work of art.

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The Museum of Comedy’s Monday Club – “London’s best ‘new material’ night”?

In London, there are loads of free ‘new material’ comedy nights. This often means inexperienced comedians turn up with half-written, half-baked half-ideas and the evenings can sometimes be more endurance test than entertainment.

One exception is the (in my experience) consistently good and – amazingly – free Monday Club show, held in The Museum of Comedy on – well – on Mondays.

The Museum of Comedy is a random collection of comedy memorabilia and a well-designed performance space in a crypt under St George’s Church in Bloomsbury.

It (The Museum of Comedy not the church) is owned by the Leicester Square Theatre and this coming Monday is the 1st anniversary of The Monday Club.  

So yesterday I chatted to David Hardcastle, who (with Tony Dunn & Patch Hyde) organises The Monday Club and runs comedy competitions for the Leicester Square Theatre and the Museum of Comedy.


David Hardcastle and (top) Tommy Cooper

JOHN: The majority of new material nights in London are – well – not very good but you always maintain a high quality. Genuinely.

DAVID: I hope so. It’s mostly invitation only – some people get in touch, but they have to be of a certain level. Because a lot or some of the acts know each other, there’s a sort of support group AND competitive element in it: they HAVE to write something new for it, otherwise people will know they’ve been lazy. 

JOHN: What is your actual title at the Theatre and Museum?

DAVID: Artist Development. 

JOHN: And comedy competition supremo…

DAVID: Well, originally, at Leicester Square, we just ran the one competition and now it’s the Leicester Square Theatre AND the Museum of Comedy AND the Great Yorkshire Fringe – and there are four competitions within them, so I’ve sort-of invented my own job.

One of the reasons for The Monday Club is we used to have people coming in through competitions but then we had nothing else to give them; no way of supporting them by giving them stage time unless they came back and rented the space to do a preview. So it’s hopefully a way of keeping those people in the loop and involved in the venue.

JOHN: You have a New Comedian of the Year competition, but you no longer have an Old Comedian of the Year competition.

DAVID: Now it’s called the Not So New Comedian of the Year.

JOHN: And the title was changed because…?

DAVID: A lot of people refused to enter a competition that had the word ‘Old’ in it. It is for comics over 35 years old and people argued 35 is not old enough to call anyone old!

JOHN: I say just give it to Lynn Ruth Miller every year: she’s 85!

DAVID: Well, she MCs it every year now.

JOHN: You sometimes MC at The Monday Club yourself, but not always.

DAVID: I quite enjoy it when I do it, but I never particularly want to do it.

JOHN: You’re not frustrated by putting acts on but you’re not one of them?

DAVID: You perform comedy and you reach a stage where you are sort-of competent but, if you’re not aged 23, it’s very hard to get further than that.

My full-time job is comedy admin, so I don’t have the time to perform as well, really. And I’m too lazy to perform. I’ve not written a joke in four years.

JOHN: Before comedy, you were doing what…?

David’s poster for US comic Doug Stanhope

DAVID: Graphic design, which I still do. I still do the design work for here and Leicester Square Theatre.

JOHN: Graphic designers and stand-up comics surely have a different mind-set?

DAVID: I think, if it’s a creative thing, that’s… Well, weirdly, there are a lot of comics from an art and design background. They start popping up online at this time of year saying Do you want poster designs for your Edinburgh Fringe show? 

I did fine art originally, at Bradford College of Art.

JOHN: You are from Bradford.

DAVID: Yes. Then I did an MA at Camberwell in London. There is no money in doing fine art, but you can make a living doing graphics. So I started doing that by accident.

JOHN: You used to run a night called Get Happy in Farringdon.

DAVID: My girlfriend at the time and I had both done Logan Murray’s comedy course and running Get Happy was an easy way to get stage time.

JOHN: You did Logan Murray’s course because…?

DAVID: I think stand-up comedy is one of those things where you always fancy giving it a go.

JOHN: Not me.

DAVID: I had always fancied doing stand-up.

JOHN: So you started in…?

DAVID: Around 2007, I think.

JOHN: And now you are in theatre management and Artist Development… So do you get a hard-on by finding new talent? I will think of some better way of phrasing that when I transcribe this.

DAVID: I’m spunking my pants even as we speak.

JOHN: Perhaps I will leave it in, then, if that’s the phrase.

Behind The Scenes at the Museum… of Comedy

DAVID: I know what you mean, though. When I first started running my own comedy night, I actually found that there was more satisfaction in putting an entire night together that works than there was going up myself and performing. I just found there was something really nice about the fact that people would come into a pub and watch something for an hour and a half and go away happy.

JOHN: Because you had structured it well.

DAVID: Exactly. There are so many comedy nights that aren’t structured and are just a shambles and then they wonder why they don’t work.

JOHN: I think club owner Malcolm Hardee’s rule-of thumb was you end with the best act, start-off with the second best act and have a good solid act at the end of Part One. So what is your template structure?

DAVID: Don’t let people bang on too long and let the audience know what’s happening.

JOHN: The acts all get 5 minutes.

DAVID: Yeah. It’s all about keeping it in manageable chunks, I think. And proper lighting; proper sound.

JOHN: Have the nights got better over the course of the first year?

DAVID: Yes. Because we have started to get some regulars in the audience. People don’t come back every week but, if we ask at the start, usually at least half of them have been before, which means we now have an audience that knows what’s going on and are on-board with the concept. Which is nice. You start with a warm audience, so it’s better.

We want it to be relaxed for the audience AND the acts. One of the reasons we start at 7.00pm and finish by 9.00pm is it leaves time to have a chat afterwards.

Crypt-ic comedy under a Bloomsbury church

JOHN: The acts you have on are good solid acts but not ‘TV names’ or mega names. Are the Big Names too big to play The Monday Club?

DAVID: I think audiences generally are more aware of the concept of new material now. I think once you reach a certain level, you can do a whole hour of new material rather than rock up and do five minutes. The Big Names can do an hour and sell tickets to it. Michael McIntyre has been here at the Museum of Comedy doing new material. Alexei Sayle is on for a week with a new show.

JOHN: When they’re Big and more experienced, they can try out entire shows rather than five minute chunks, which is the Monday Club format.

DAVID: Yes. But Josh Widdicombe has done a Monday Club. Rachel Parris did one.

JOHN: Next Monday is going to be a special show to celebrate your 1st anniversary?

DAVID: Yes, we are going to have on exactly the same people we were going to have on before we realised it was our birthday.

JOHN: But with added free cake, I heard.

DAVID: Oh yes. We’re having cake.

JOHN: Then I’ll be here.

DAVID: We have started describing it as “London’s best new material night” purely on the grounds it is difficult to prove any different.

JOHN: I like your way of thinking.

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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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“I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake” by Malcolm Hardee – an extract

Following on from the last five days of blogs, which quoted what people’s reactions were when legendary comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, here is an extract from his out-of-print 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

All you need to know as background is that, before he entered the show business, Malcolm was not the comedy Messiah.

He was a very naughty boy…


I came out of Exeter three days after Jubilee Day 1977. Unless you’re young enough to be a footballer, 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. I did both. 

Alan Curry, who later joined The Greatest Show on Legs, had been looking for a flat and had just gone knocking on doors. He’d found a massive Victorian house in Micheldever Road in Lee Green, half a mile from Lewisham. A woman called Sally Niblett lived there. Her husband was disabled and was quite a famous doctor and he’d taken himself, his wheelchair and their five boys off to Papua New Guinea. She was left in this massive house on her own. So Alan Curry moved in. 

Alan told Wizo about the house, Wizo told me and I moved in. At this point, Wizo was a lifeguard at a local swimming pool despite the fact he couldn’t swim. Not what you would call swimming in the traditional sense. 

After that, my mate Martin Potter moved in and, over the years, Sally had maybe 70-odd different tenants in that house. My sister lived there for a time. Nearly everyone I know has lived there.

The house next door was owned by a man called Michael, who was clinically mad. He used to come along in the morning, cut the hedge and then stick the leaves back on with glue and Sellotape.

There were the maddest goings-on in the world at Sally Niblett’s house. There was a bloke called Vic, who thought he was practical but he wasn’t. He constantly had a car engine in his bedroom that he was repairing but it never worked. Once I was in bed with a girlfriend and he tried to come into the room, but there was a wooden beam across the door and he hit his head on it. He went running downstairs, got a chainsaw out, ran back up and started sawing through the wood.

Another bloke who lived there was Dave. He bought an old taxi, took the body off it and decided to make a car completely out of wood, because he was a bit of a chippie. Eventually, after about two years making this car, he decided to take it for a test run. He came out of the drive where he’d been making it, turned left and, after about 100 yards, got stopped by the police. They said: 

“You can’t have this. It’s illegal. You’ve got no M.O.T. certificate”. 

So he put it back in the drive and it stayed there for fifteen years until it rotted away.

Sally Niblett used to be a nurse and she had a series of affairs and eventually ended up moving into the basement because there were so many people in this house. Everyone paid her £5 per week. Didn’t matter which room: £5 per week. It was just the maddest house you could ever imagine. It made the house in BBC TV’s The Young Ones look like a palace. 

Once, I wanted to have a chicken-run in the garden, so I came back with two chickens and didn’t have anywhere to put them, so I put them in the oven while I built the chicken-run. Sally Niblett came home and switched the oven on. She never noticed.

Another time, we moved a sofa from a house round the corner. We didn’t have any van to put it in, but I had an old Austin Cambridge car. So I towed it behind the car, with Vic sitting on the sofa as we towed it round the streets. I came round a corner, the rope snapped and he just carried on sitting on the sofa as it hurtled straight into the Manor Lane Cafe. 

It was at this house in Micheldever Road that I became a minicab-driver when I met this bloke called ‘Alec The Greek’, who wasn’t a Greek. He lent me £65 to buy a car and I bought the cheapest possible four-door car I could: a Renault 4 saloon.

At the same time, I saw a notice in the local paper saying: 

WANTED FOR THEATRE GROUP

ACTORS

I thought I’ll have a go at that! 

This was the 1970s so, basically, being in a Theatre Group meant somebody gave you a Grant and you went round and scared kids for about an hour. 

I went to this audition and they were all standing in a circle going: 

“Taaaaall as a tree!……Smaaaall as a mouse!” 

Then they went: 

“Ooooooooh!……Eeeeeeeh!” 

And I thought What the fuck’s going on here? 

But I thought I’d have a go at it. 

I had a boxer dog I was looking after at the time and as I tried doing Taaaall as a tree! the boxer dog was trying to shag my leg. They were all taking it seriously but, over the other side of the room, was a bloke called Martin Soan and he looked at me and he looked at the boxer dog and I looked at him and we knew, from that moment, we were going to get on. And we did.

I was also minicabbing with the boxer dog in the car. There was a girl in this Theatre Group who was very big. Well, let’s be honest, she was fat. 

She fancied me. I don’t know why, but she did.

I went to the minicab office one night at 1.00am and this girl was there, waiting for me. She said: 

“Can you take me home to Peckham, Malcolm?” 

“Alright,” I said. 

Just as she was getting in the car, the minicab boss shouted out: 

“Oy! I’ve got another fare for Peckham, round the corner! Can you take him?” 

“Yes,” I said. “No problem.”

So I drove round the corner to the address and the fare was on the 14th floor of a tower block. 

I went in. The lift didn’t work. I ran up the stairs. Knocked on the door. Shouted out: 

“Anyone cab for Peckham?” 

This bloke came to the door a bit drunk and said: 

“Can you take five?” 

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I can take five. I’ve got a dog in the car”. I didn’t mention the fat girl. 

So this bloke called out: 

“Mavis! Oi, Mavis! We like dogs, don’t we?” 

“Yeah,” she called back: “We love dogs!”  

So I capitulated because he said he’d pay double.

 “Alright,” I said, “I’ll take five”. 

I ran all the way down the stairs and shouted to the fat girl: 

“Get in the boot!” 

Full credit to her, she did. 

The boot in my Renault was at the front. So she got into the boot and the family came down. They were luckily quite small people. I put three of them in the back with the dog over their laps and the bloke and his wife in the front. I started the engine up and the fat girl must have panicked because the boot lid came slowly up and her face rose in front of the windscreen. The bloke asked the not unreasonable question: 

“Who’s that?” 

“Dunno,” I said.

The lid of the boot went down and we drove off to Peckham. The bloke never mentioned it again. Nor did I. 

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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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Part 4: In 2005, comics (and his mum) respond to the death of Malcolm Hardee

Continuing these daily re-posts of how British comics and other comedy industry people reacted when Malcolm Hardee drowned…


REX BOYD, juggler – 21st February 2005

I’m pretty sure the juggler that Alan Davies mentions playing at the Tunnel is me. It was just a month or so after some comic had been injured by a flying pint glass on stage at the Tunnel and a few months after Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie. 

Malcolm introduced me as “some American bloke. Might be shit,” and so I walked on stage to what I think to this day is the most intelligent heckle I’ve ever had: “Why didn’t you fly Pan Am?” (of course said with a gleeful hatred)

I thought I was doing an open spot and asked Malcolm how long I should do. He said: “Do as long as you can.” So I did about 20 minutes and, when I came off, much to my surprise, Malcolm paid me £80 for my open spot. 

His generosity and honesty only continued when 5 years later I came back to London to re-establish myself and Malcolm was the only promoter who was willing to book me without the hoop jumping open-spots.

Oh, and he tried to get my 4 month old daughter to take up cigarettes at Glastonbury.


LEE MACK, comedian – 22nd February

Instead of paying me for a gig, he once convinced me I owned half of a greyhound. I was actually quite excited until another comic told me that there were about five other comedians who owned the same half of the same greyhound. I didn’t know Malcolm particularly well, but somehow really miss him. X


BEN NORRIS, comedian – 22nd February

I remember one of my Malcolm Hardee adventures was when I was booked on the same bill as The Greatest Show on Legs at The Glee in Birmingham. Malcolm called me and asked if I wanted a lift with him Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch. I accepted and Malcolm picked me up in an old black cab… I knew I was in for a memorable weekend. 

I’m pretty sure I paid for the first tank of petrol as no one “had any cash on them”. On checking into the hotel, Malcolm gave a false name and told them that my credit card would cover him as well… DANGER!! 

After one of the gigs, we were sitting in the hotel bar when Malcolm popped off for a wee, but was back within a minute. I knew the gents was down 2 flights of stairs and along a corridor so I literally smelt trouble. Sure enough, he took delight in explaining that he’d only made it as far as the door to the hotel gym.

That night he insisted on buying the drinks and putting them on his room number. Very generous, I thought.

Needless to say when I received my credit card bill a few weeks later I discovered £200 had been taken to cover the room bill of my colleague a Mr Hardee Malcolm (surely his least imaginative alias) who had left the hotel without paying.

It seemed to be almost a right of passage in the comedy world to have Malcolm financially manipulate you.

Another time, Malcolm called me up out of the blue and asked me to go to a pub quiz with him. I couldn’t resist and had another mad odyssey with him… We didn’t do very well and Malcolm seemed slightly disappointed… It was only later I realised that he must have thought I was clever. After the credit card incident, you’d have thought not.

I managed to get my money back from the hotel, but what a shame I didn’t get to spend more time with MH; he will be genuinely missed.


JOAN HARDEE, Malcolm’s mum – 22nd February

Around the time he separated from his wife Jane, I was talking to Malcolm.

“You’re my son and I love you very much,” I told him, “but to live with you must be very disconcerting. After all, you’ve got all the vices: you smoke, you drink, you gamble and you’re a womaniser.”

“Good job I’m not into donkeys,” he replied.

There was no answer to that.


KAREN KOREN, Edinburgh Fringe venue owner – 24th February

Malcolm was always in and around the Gilded Balloon in the 1980s and 1990s performing at Late’n’Live or just hanging around. When Chris Lynam did his show in the early 1990s, his big finale was to stick a firework up his bum and light it, while playing There’s No Business Like Showbusiness. 

One night, Chris had to be rushed to hospital during the show, for some emergency or other, before his Grand Finale. Malcolm was in the dressing room and said, “I’ll do it”. 

So he went on stage, naked, and put his penis and bollocks between his legs, just like Chris would do. However, Malcolm had much longer and larger bollocks than Chris, and they stuck out the back. 

He had to stick the firework up his arse but his butt cheeks, not being quite as firm as Chris’, couldn’t quite hold it in place and, after lighting it, it dropped down and set his balls alight. 

He danced round that stage to There’s No Business Like Show Busniness with flames up his back, screaming his head off. 

He came off and said, in his usual downbeat manner, “That was alright”.


JANEY GODLEY, comedian – 25th February

It was the mid eighties and Jerry Sadowitz was doing a ‘big show’ at a Glasgow theatre. Having known Jerry for a few years previous I went along to see his gig.

I sat in the auditorium and watched as this shambolic looking man in crumply suit and big glasses wandered on. I and loads of other Glaswegians were very confused. Jerry’s brand of humour was just about enough of what we could handle, but this strange ‘English’ dude chatting was mental.

The ‘crumpled’ man then just pulled down his zip and got out his penis and stood there. I laughed till I hurt but was shocked!

A bit later there was some sort of fracas happening at the front box office and I rushed out to see what it was.

There stood Malcolm, the theatre manager and a disgruntled wee Glaswegian couple. The wife was shouting: “I have never seen anything like that in my life! I came here to see comedy! I have never seen anything like that before!”

The manager looked at Malcolm, who turned to the woman and said: ”What? Are you kidding? You have been married for years and you have never seen a man’s penis?” He then pulled out his penis again and showed her it. ”There you go missus, just in case you forget what it looks like.”

He walked away laughing.

That was how I first met Mr Hardee.

Years later I got to know him a wee bit more.

He will be very sadly missed.


ALAN DAVIES – 25th February

I remember the predictions he would do on stage at the end of the year about who might die the following year. He’d keep a list of people who he and the audience reckoned might go in the year ahead and then pull it out again at the end of December to see how many were right.

The list always began with “The Queen Mum, hot favourite”.

He would then go through the people who’d gone unexpectedly before compiling a new list for the coming year, which would begin with “Queen Mum,obviously”.

There was so much laughter guessing who might die.

He’d weigh up the chances of a suggestion as if thinking what the odds were.

The juggler at The Tunnel who had his clubs hurled at him and caught them was Rex Boyd. Malcolm was worried as there was a comics’ boycott going on after Clarence and Joy Pickles had had an injury from a plastic glass. Malcolm was upset and wanted to make sure the comics would come back again.

They all did of course because they were so fond of him.

… CONTINUED HERE

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