Tag Archives: Mark Borkowski

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

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

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

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

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


KEVIN DAY, comedian – 11th February 2005

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

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


FRANK HARDEE, Malcolm’s son – 11th February

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

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


DAVE COHEN, comedian – 14th February

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

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


MARK HURST aka MARK MIWURDZ, comedian – 14th February

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


MARK BORKOWSKI, PR guru – 15th February

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


BRENDON BURNS, comedian – 15th February

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


JEFF GREEN, comedian – 16th February

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

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


CHARMIAN HUGHES, comedian – 17th February

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


DAVE THOMPSON, comedian – 17th February

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

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

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

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

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

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


JIM MILLER aka JAMES MACABRE, comedian – 17th February 

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

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

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

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


JEREMY HARDY, comedian – 18th February

Malcolm,

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


JOHN HEGLEY, comedian – 19th February

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

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

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

“Let John have a go.”

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

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


ANGELO MARCOS, comedian – 21st February

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

A true loss to comedy.

RIP Malcolm.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 3: Female comic accused of blowing a male instrument

Juliette Burton: one too many female comics?

Juliette Burton shared an interesting flyering experience with me.

“Hi there,” she said to a man in the street today, “would you like to see my show The Butterfly Effect?”

“Oh, hmm,” he replied apologetically, “the thing is I’ve already booked to see TWO female comedians.”

“So,” Juliette asked him, “you can’t see three? You know female comedians are the same as male comedians just with vaginas, right?!”

“He seemed,” Juliette told me, “to shut down when I vagina-ed him, so I walked away.”

The World’s Best MC Award posters – What is the real scam?

What I have been noticing is that there seem to be a lot of posters around town for Nathan Cassidy’s World’s Best MC Award Grand Final. This is the show where I am supposedly one of the judges.

As mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it seems to me likely to be an attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and I was convinced I will turn up to an empty room. But with all these posters, there is no way Nathan can avoid real punters turning up. So I do not know what the scam (if scam it is) can be.

The Fringe thrives on uncertainties.

The Edinburgh Students’ Union Dome at Potterrow is doomed

I was told today that the Potterrow Dome building is definitely being closed and replaced later this year. Well, presumably it might take a couple of years to rebuild, as such things tend to. It will remain a Student Union afterwards but what this means to the Pleasance Dome venue at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I know not and – hey! – I can’t be bothered to ask.

I only live in the Edinburgh bubble of Fringe shows which, at this early point, are having a slight problem of over-running. I was told that, earlier in the week, one of the Big Four venues had consecutive shows over-running to such an extent that they ended up an hour late and simply cancelled one performer’s entire show to catch up.

Kieron Nicholson – clever writer about dinosaur academia war

This morning, I saw Bone Wars, a cleverly-written show about dinosaur academia by Kieron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, with Michelle Wormleighton playing all the other parts, male, female and arguably other (i.e. God).

Am I the only person who never realised the logic – mentioned in Bone Wars – that, if God made Man in his own image, then God must share all Man’s many flaws?

Weird.

Which is a terrible link to the fact I had a double-dose of Weirdos at the Hive today.

Head Weirdo Adam Larter un-knowingly chose PR legend Mark Borkowski as a punter to get up onto the stage in his L’Art Nouveau show – something that could have severely damaged his future prospects if it had gone wrong. But, luckily, it may have the opposite effect.

Fellow Weirdo Ali Brice had a good audience for his Never-Ending Pencil show and was superb – pacing, audience control, improv, surrealism, serious sections, everything worked wonderfully.

Ali Brice (right) chats with Mark Dean Quinn

Ali told me before the show that, a couple of weeks ago, he had seen me in a street in Wood Green, London. But I have not been there for years; possibly not this century. A couple of hours later, Claire Smith (Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge) phoned me to say Come back and have a tea with me! as I had just walked past her in Bristo Square… Except I had been sitting in Finnegan’s Wake pub in a different part of town for the last 15 minutes or so.

So there must be someone roaming round London and Edinburgh looking like me.

He has my sympathy.

Belly Dancing in the Old Anatomy Theatre of the University of Edinburgh launched Death on The Fringe

Later I went to the launch of the annual Death on the Fringe, organised by Robert James Peacock, which showcases a range of Fringe shows to promote more open and supportive attitudes and behaviours to death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Always eclectic, it included belly-dancer Shantisha aka Miroslava Bronnikova, Scottish Comedian of the Year Rosco McClelland, chanteuse Woodstock Taylor and Pauline Goldsmith with a coffin.

Late night, I saw Andy Barr in Tropic of Admin on a desert island where the audience was involved in a place crash. I may have been hallucinating by this point.

Accusations against a woman blowing a didgeridoo

And, before that, I saw the ever-amiable and ever funny Martha McBrier’s show Balamory Doubtfire, in which the diminutive but plucky Glaswegian eventually plays a didgeridoo. Beforehand, she told me she was “a wee bit upset” because of an email she had received.

“This woman, “Martha explained, “emailed me on my website. She said I have subjugated an entire culture. She told me I am ignorant and that I should research culture and apparently women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo. It’s a men’s instrument.”

“So you are being racist AND sexist?” I asked.

“Apparently I’m being sexist and reverse racist.”

“What does ‘reverse racist’ mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But she quoted a rapper called Nas. As Nas said, she said, Respect.”

“Nas,” I admitted, “is a bit of a philosopher, isn’t he?”

“Women have been blowing on men’s objects”

“The thing is,” Martha told me, “women have been blowing on men’s objects for some time and no-one has complained before this.”

“Who is the offended woman?” I asked.

“It turns out she is a white sociology professor.”

“How,” I asked, “did you find that out? Did she tell you?”

“Well,” Martha told me, “I have people in the know and, by that, I mean people whose internet works in their flat in Edinburgh and they Googled her.”

“So she’s a highly-knowledgable professor?” I asked.

“Well,” Martha replied, “a didgeridoo is apparently called a yidaki and I’m a musician, so I’ll know that, obviously. But she spelled it wrong. She’s probably using the white reverse racist spelling. The thing is, I took up the didgeridoo on medical advice.”

“For your lungs?” I asked.

“Yes, to increase my peak flow and to reduce stress.”

“To increase your what?” I asked.

“My peak flow,” replied Martha.

“Ah,” I said.

“My flow has peaked,” Martha informed me, “but they want it even better. They told me the didgeridoo is commonly used to help sleep apnea, snoring, asthma.”

“But, if you play the didgeridoo in bed to help sleep apnea,” I suggested, “it’s not going to increase your partner’s happiness in bed.”

“Well,” said Martha, “I’ve had no complaints so far.”

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 1: Good shows, a questionable director and a late disaster

Mark Borkowski is looking for originality

In the afternoon, with Kate Copstick, I recorded the first in a revived series of Grouchy Club Podcasts with stunt-loving PR guru Mark Borkowski who is up here partly to find right-wing comedians who may appear in a series of TV shows on RT (Russia Today). Well, that is my spin on it. Really he is looking for anyone who is so original and different that they are unlikely to get onto the currently bland and unoriginal British TV channels. Mark, in performance terms, has a taste for the bizarre and the original. He is well worth a listen.

After that, I went to see Robert White’s show billed as a comedy opera InstraMENTAL which was – rather dauntingly for the first Fringe show I have seen this year – utterly brilliant. Robert won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality in 2010 so can he be nominated again? Who knows? This unified show is so different it is not what he won for before and, unexpectedly, Kate Copstick’s voice turns up about ¾ of the way through. When I texted her about being in his show, it was news to her.

Narin Oz, budgerigar & Brunström belly paint

I had forgotten to take a photo of Mark Borkowski during the podcast recording, something I did not fail to do at Fringe Central when I was accosted by Narin Oz, who showed me a photo on her phone of her blue budgerigar in front of a blue painting created by Malcolm Hardee Award winning Michael Brunström’s belly.

Anyone present at the relevant Brunström shows will be aware this is not a joke.

Narin also showed me a photo of herself covered in mud and pointed out that her show #DirtyWoman includes copious amounts of real mud. She told me all her #DirtyWoman shows are being billed as ‘work-in-progress’ shows and, after the Edinburgh shows are finished, she will do previews in London of the already-performed shows. She said she reckons she may end up performing back in her mother’s womb. You maybe had to be there.

Elf Lyons – colourful Swan

Later, I saw that infinitely-rare thing, an act that has arguably been made even better by going to see that Gaulier man in France. Admittedly, we are talking about the already-highly-talented Elf Lyons. In her show Swan, she is telling and acting out the story of Swan Lake in eccentric costumes with dancing and mime and ongoing spiel in a form of Franglais. It is difficult to do justice to it all in a written description but, in parts, it is a sort-of disguised stand-up show with a Gaulier veneer, a lot of movement and her personality making it sparkle. She was justifiably playing to a full room.

In the audience watching her was Juliette Burton, whose Butterfly Effect show was today and will in future be (it is getting heavily booked-up ahead) playing to full houses.

All of the above titbits are part of the joy of the Fringe.

But I also received an email today from an act telling me about their show’s director:

The cobbles of Edinburgh have seen some blood flow in the last 70 years of the Fringe.

“I have paid (the named person) more than £2,000 over the last year to be director for my show and (the person) just told me TODAY that they won’t be coming up to the Fringe this year as if that’s the norm. They say their other clients who have shows here don’t mind. And I am even expected to pay an invoice for August because (the person) says they can direct my performance from London. It has really knocked me for six. This same person was here for my first few shows last year. I thought a director’s job was to sit in the audience early on to take notes. I worked really really hard doing various jobs to pay the director’s fees.”

Then, as I was about to post this blog online, Kate Copstick turned up at 1.00am (we are sharing a flat) saying she is due to review highly-esteemed musical act Die Roten Punkte for the Scotsman tomorrow night (well, tonight, in fact) – their opening night – but British Airways have lost all their musical equipment collected over many years and a very, very specifically-designed drum kit.

“British Airways,” Copstick told me, “don’t seem very concerned”.

Meanwhile, Die Roten Punkte are trying to borrow equipment and have arranged an emergency technical run-through at 07.00am.

The Edinburgh Fringe. Home of dreams and nightmares.

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The bad review of the unauthorised Father Ted stage show at the Edinburgh Fringe and the threatened legal action

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

The Father Ted logo from the original Channel 4 TV series

If you are a performer, reviewers are like Americans. It is difficult to live with them, but it is difficult to live without them.

Getting a bad review can be very upsetting, though.

Yesterday morning Garry Platt, photographer, occasional Edinburgh Fringe reviewer and one of the So It Goes blog’s increasing number of men-in-the-street with his finger-on-the-pulse, drew my attention to an amazing Fringe story.

The previous day, reviewer Amy Taylor had blogged about a theatre/comedy review she had written at the recent Edinburgh Fringe. It was her fourth year there as reviewer and, in her blog, she did not name the show she reviewed. She described it as “a two-hour long interactive comedy show, that involved actors impersonating characters from a famous TV comedy”.

She had booked her Fringe tickets via the show’s PR lady.

Amy says in her blog: “I wrote what was I felt was a negative, yet honest and fair review, which was published on The Public Reviews website shortly after. In my review, I stated that the show was ‘unauthorised’ as when I researched the show, I found a number of articles and quotes from the makers of the TV show saying that the show had not been authorised by them.”

Amy Taylor’s blog about the controversial Fringe review

It is well worth reading Amy’s full blog here but the potted story is this…

… A few days after the review was published, a barrage of e-mails started from the show’s PR lady, culminating in a threat of legal action for libel. Even this escalated with, Amy says in her blog, accusations of conspiracy.

Amy’s view is that “the intimidation, bullying and harassment of journalists simply because someone disagrees with what they have written, is immoral, unethical and odious. My advice to any company that is disappointed with a review is to see what they can take from it. If the review is constructive, then there will be something positive in there that you can learn from.”

She also points out that “journalists communicate with one another. This means that if you threaten a writer or a publication with legal proceedings, other writers will hear about it. Once others learn about your treatment of journalists, it damages your reputation more than any negative review ever could. Some might say that’s ironic, but to me, that’s poetic justice.”

Amy’s review is still online here at The Public Reviews.

The stage show logo, as published with the review

The show she reviewed was Ted & Co: The Dinner Show, staged by the British company Laughlines Comedy Entertainment who also have Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show in their repertoire (not to be confused with a rival Australian company’s show Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience).

Laughlines claims to be “the UK’s leading comedy entertainment company” – something which I think might be disputed by the BBC etc.

I asked PR guru Mark Borkowski what he thought about the handling of this affair. He has vast Edinburgh Fringe experience – he legendarily got acres of coverage for Archaos in two separate years by simply claiming they were going to juggle chainsaws during their show (they were not) and then having people ring up and complain to the Council and to the press.

He told me yesterday: “In PR, legal action is a threat of the very  last resort. Jaw-jaw before war-war. It reminds me of the Private Eye reply to a letter they received threatening legal action. The letter said:

Our attitude to damages will be influenced by the speed and sincerity of your apology.

Private Eye’s reply was:

“Tell your client to fuck off – Sincere enough for you?

“Frankly,” Borkowski told me, “every bad review is an opportunity.

“According to Claire Smith at The Scotsman,” he told me, “2012 was a high bullshit mark on the old Festival’s Plimsoll line. There were more PR people running around the Fringe than performers.”

So, obviously, I asked Claire Smith what she thought.

“I think there was definitely more paranoia around this year,” she told me, “and a lot of misunderstanding about the way PR people and journalists work together. PR people helped me get interviews – get comments on things – check information. But I heard a lot of spurious theories about the way PR people influence reviews which I would not agree with…

“Reviews are not as powerful as they once were because of the influence of social media and I would say that is a good thing. Social media has amplified the word of mouth effect – which has always been one of the great things about the Fringe. But the numbers of people getting paid to write reviews is shrinking. Are we losing something? I think we are… Though I would still argue reviewers can add something to the mix.

“I’m glad Amy blogged about her experience. I’ve had similar experiences myself in the past and it is very upsetting.”

(Claire refers to a recent report she wrote for The Scotsman on the financing of the Edinburgh Fringe and being threatened, during her research,  by a prominent venue owner and a prominent British comedian.)

Australian John Robertson, who had two shows at this year’s festival tells me: “The only PR people I saw at the Fringe drank with me in various bars, danced with each other, knew each other and when gathered in a group, all began to look and sound exactly the same. My PR was lovely, but I can’t speak to a deluge. Though I did see the high watermark of bullshit (fake stars, stars from odd places, reviews with plenty… of… this) but that begat its own backlash from punters, which is lovely.”

There is another angle to this story, though. That the Ted & Co stage show at the Fringe this year had no authorisation from the copyright owners of Father Ted.

Mark Borkowski told me: “Clearly there is a rights issue. If I was a corporate TV rottweiler legal, I would take a good look at the company’s output. Do BBC Worldwide know they are staging Fawlty Towers or Father Ted?” (BBC Worldwide distribute Channel 4’s Father Ted series)

Comedian Ian Fox pointed out to me that the Chortle comedy website had posted an article raising worries about Father Ted: The Dinner Show when it was performed at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe.

In a posting on my Facebook page yesterday, comedian Richard Herring put into words what I myself had been thinking: “I simply don’t understand (and never have) how they are allowed to do this without the consent of the people who created the characters.”

Ian Fox suggests: “The Fringe Society does question whether or not you’ll be using music in a show and you pay relevant PRS fees at the end of your run. I don’t see why they can’t ask when you fill in your Programme registration If you’re using characters and material created by others do you have the rights to perform the material? and simply not allow anyone who doesn’t have rights into the main Programme.”

As regular readers of this blog will know, Ian was randomly attacked in the street during this year’s Fringe. I can report he is slowly mending.

Ian Fox experienced one of the dangers of the Fringe

“I’m free from noticeable bruising,” he tells me. “Still not got the feeling in two teeth at the front. I believe it’s the infraorbital nerve that is damaged/injured and, once the areas that are under the skin have healed, the feeling should come back. I have more feeling in the teeth than last week. However lots of movement appears to make my face ache.

“What’s more annoying though is the fact that I appear to be showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in that I’m very jumpy in busy places and still don’t like being out at night. Which is making gigging a bit difficult.”

He is still gigging widely.

But, with threats of legal action over bad reviews and physical attacks on comedians in the street, the Edinburgh Fringe seems like it is getting to be an increasingly dangerous place to be in August.

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Malcolm Hardee, godfather of British alternative comedy – remembered

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

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

Comedian Charlie Chuck wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

His memory will live on.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy wrote:

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

Alan Davies wrote:

My memories of Malcolm….

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

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

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

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

Comedian Jeff Green wrote:

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

Journalist Andrew Billen wrote:

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

PR man Mark Borkowski wrote:

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

Comedian Simon Munnery wrote:

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

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

Simon Day of The Fast Show wrote:

I was supporting Vic Reeves in Newcastle. We were staying at the Copthorne Hotel. Malcolm arrived having missed the show. Earlier in the day, he had won eight grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. He was half-cut and mistakenly assumed I had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier. He decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl, who didn’t exist, wearing just a dressing gown.

He climbed out of the window, the icy waters of the Tyne swirling 100 foot below. He struggled along for ages finally reaching my room; no doubt he shouted “Oy! Oy!” and pressed his balls to the glass. It was the wrong room. I was fast asleep on the floor above. On returning to his junior suite, he was hurled to the ground by two Special Branch officers. (There was a Tory Conference on.) They wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge, naked except for a dressing gown.

They searched his room and found £5,760 in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards. He was taken to a portakabin nearby where he gave his address in Fingal Street. All sorts of alarms went off. It was the former home of a leading member of the IRA. After intensive questioning, they decided that he was not a threat to national security only social security and off he tottered. I miss him.

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

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Day Five of Malcolm Hardee Week – the perils of publicity stunts

Well, at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Award Show, there was a change of plan when we found out we had been successfully conned by Bob Slayer who masterminded the ‘Cockgate’ publicity stunt for Kunt and the Gang – in which Kunt’s penis stickers were put on other acts’ posters throughout Edinburgh…..

Personally, I never rated the basic stunt itself. If you are trying to raise awareness of an act called Kunt… really, do not spread penis stickers all over Edinburgh, especially if they do not have the name of the act/show on and just one of those little square things which smartphones can read but which, in fact, no-one noticed. It’s like promoting 101 Dalmatians by putting blank stickers of the outline of a cat all over the place.

Then there was the racing certainty that it would annoy all the other acts, promoters and venues which had paid for and put up the posters. I was told that one promoter has spent £36,000 on Edinburgh Fringe posters for a particular act. If you deface their posters, it ain’t surprising they are going to be a tad pissed-off.

To my mind, the whole concept of ‘Cockgate’ was cock-eyed and against the basic spirit of the Fringe. The acts (who ultimately pay for everything) are having a bad enough time at the Fringe already without some plonker coming along defacing their marketing tools.

There is much truth in the idea that the posters festooning Edinburgh are promoting promoters not acts but, ultimately, they are building awareness of acts even if they are not putting extra bums on seats; and every act – even one perceived to be successful – is struggling in some way. Showbiz careers are frail facades of mirrors and smoke.

So why did Kunt and The Gang get nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe?

Basically, because – as the nomination said – Kunt (or, rather, Bob Slayer) managed to push the basic sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible. There were tales about agents, managers and promoters threatening people legally, physically and financially; there were humorous quotes from Edinburgh Council officials about seizing and pulling off cocks; there were tales of the outrage caused; and there were photocalls with comedians far more famous than Kunt sporting the iconic penis stickers.

The stunt itself was a load of balls. The handling of and the spin put on the stunt was a work of art.

There was talk among the Malcolm Hardee Award judges of awarding the Cunning Stunt trophy to Bob Slayer instead of Kunt, but the’ Cockgate’ publicity stunt was no different to PR men Mark Borkowski or Max Clifford creating a buzz about an act. Any prize or box office credit goes to the performer not the PR man/woman.

So the nomination went to Kunt and was only slightly wobbled when Kunt sacked Bob Slayer as his PR man in this e-mail which Bob Slayer posted on his website and which I included in my blog yesterday:

Kunt has sacked me

___________________________________

Dear Bob

Sorry to have to tell you by email but I don’t want you doing anything else on the cock sticker campaign. As much as I appreciate the other comedians turning out for the photocalls that you organised, I didn’t want to be in the photos and you convinced me against my better judgement that it would be a good idea. I’ve seen the resulting photos and I look more awkward than Jade Goody’s mum on a juggling course. Also I’m getting grief off my bird after you made me put that sticker on Kate Copstick’s jumper and some cunt took that photo which is now doing the rounds that looks like I’m titting her up.

I know you were doing what you thought best but the reason I don’t do any press releases is because I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers. Since you took it upon yourself to ‘help’ with my cock sticker campaign, coverage in po-faced luvvie mags like The Stage has meant the shows have been increasingly full of pompous, middle class, chin-stroking ponces. For fuck’s sake, the poxy Culture Show have even been in!

In the last seven days since you helped ‘mastermind’ the cock campaign I have had more roll-necked twats in cuntish berets sat there with a glass of red wine and laughing ironically than in the previous seven years of gigs. Fuck knows how this has happened because I’d hardly call your act highbrow, I was there the night that bird stuck her finger up your arsehole and pulled it out leaving a rubber glove hanging out your brown eye.

I will buy you a beer when I see you to say thanks for helping us get nominated for the cunning stunt award. But I don’t want you doing anything else. At this rate it’s only a matter of time before Michael fucking MacIntyre turns up covered in cock stickers shouting ‘Where’s the party?’.

Cheers

Kunt

P.S. I seriously think you are liable for Daniel Sloss’s agent losing her sense of humour and invoicing us for 900 quid. I told you in confidence that I overheard someone saying that he didn’t have pubes yet, there was no need to go and blog it.

___________________________________

When I first read this, I thought it might be another brilliant piece of spin to keep the ‘Cockgate’ saga spinning even longer but, no, I spoke to Bob Slayer and it was genuine; he was very upset.

Except that he was not.

None of it was true.

The e-mail was a fake and was, indeed, written just to stoke the spin on ‘Cockgate’ even more.

Malcolm Hardee judge Kate Copstick and I were totally taken in. We did not realise we had been conned until we were told by Bob immediately before the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show last night.

His reason for the fake e-mail?

“We wanted to confuse Daniel Sloss’s agent so she didn’t know which one of us to sue.”

What was our reaction?

We gave Kunt his Cunning Stunt Award, but we also gave another Cunning Stunt Award to Bob Slayer for fooling us.

This is a one-off extra award and only because somehow, by accident, I had an extra Cunning Stunt Award made. I do not know how this happened. Clearly senility has hit. I cannot count. I cannot spot PR cons.

Yesterday afternoon was also the deadline for bids on eBay from anyone wanting to buy last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award from winner Robert White, who could do with some hard cash. Yesterday morning, I got an e-mail from Robert:
______________

Dear John

Malcolm came to me in a dream last night and got me to stop this obvious sham of a self-promoting non-real auction and as such the item is no longer for sale. Although I believe you can acquire one of your own by doing the Edinburgh Festival and being mental enough.

Yours with best wishes and God’s blessings,

Robert

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The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005

I wrote this article for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s magazine UK Writer in 2005.

With this year’s Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, it might be of interest.

Though plus ça change.

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LIFE ON THE FRINGE

I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.

In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.

The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.

I run his website – www.malcolmhardee.co.uk – and I am currently available for work via my website – www.thejohnfleming.com.

This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.

Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.

It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?

I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”

Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.

This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.

Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.

Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.

They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.

The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.

Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.

Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.

Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.

So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.

It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.

One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.

She handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture – the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the Fringe.

As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.

“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.

At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”

A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.

“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”

“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.

She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.

“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”

Janey Godley’s website is www.janeygodley.com

My website is www.thejohnfleming.com

We are both available.

This is the Fringe.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Well, that was the Fringe in 2005.

The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.

The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.

Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.

At the Fringe, publicity is all-important.

Remember the wise advice of Max Bialystock.

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

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