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More comics’ comments on the death of the godfather of UK Alternative Comedy

Malcolm Hardee on his boat (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee’s birthday was yesterday in 1950.

He drowned on 31st January 2005.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

Yesterday I re-posted the first of those memories by fellow comics.

They continue here…


ALAN DAVIES, comedian – 7th February, 2005

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? They’ll take the piss out of you your first line.”

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. 

“MmmmmMALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler 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.


ALEX HARDEE, Malcolm’s brother – 7th February 

I had just met a new girlfriend, who had never been introduced to any of my family before. She was from quite a well to do family, and I was quite nervous of her meeting Malcolm.

Unfortunately, it happened to be at Glastonbury where the meeting was to take place, so I dragged her backstage to the Cabaret Tent, and said, “Malcolm, this is Claudia,” at which he whipped his genitalia out and said, “Look at this Ultravoilet knob,” as he had painted it earlier with Ultravoilet paint.

A shocked look came across her face and he responded, “Don’t you worry. You should see my wife’s mouth.”

Of course, I am not still with her.

Will miss you loads. The world is a sadder and less colourful place without you.


MATTHEW HARDY, comedian – 8th February

October 2, 1992. I landed alone in the UK, straight from having lived my entire life under Mum & Dad’s working class roof in the sunny Aussie suburbs. A mate who’d been overseas showed me a copy of Time Out and, though I’d only done six open spots in Oz, I decided there was more opportunity in England. Saved money for a one-way ticket cos I was impatient. 

Many calls down the then ‘cabaret’ listings got me nowhere, until Malcolm answered at Up The Creek. My old man had verbally forced me to agree on keeping a diary, despite me saying it was for poofs. The diary entry from Nov ’92, upon meeting Malcolm in the Lord Hood on a Sunday Creek Sabbath, reads: “This weird bloke called Malcolm gave me a gig, met me in the pub next door beforehand, got me to buy him a pint, then told me I’d be shit, but not to worry. Unfortunately he was right, but I’m not worried cos he gave me another gig anyway”. 

Soon he arranged accommodation and a welcoming woman’s number. Hardee hospitality.

Years later, he took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. 

Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater(?) out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot. 

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh. 

Just as I turn back to say, “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. 

I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad. I wanted to hit him and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. 

Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy. 

We laugh… NOW!

R.I.P mate.


SIMON DAY, comedian – 8th February

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. They don’t make them like that any more. In the end he swam away with his underwater bollocks. Thankyou.


STEVE GRIBBIN, comedian – 9th February

As the man who launched the infamous Tunnel Club, one the two best and fiercest comedy clubs in the whole fucking world, Malcolm deserves to be justly celebrated, but those of us who knew him well will recall his love of a prank and a practical joke, which often shaded into criminality!

One time we were in Aberystwyth University and had to change in the kitchen. Malcolm saw a huge 15 foot square block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Oy Oy… let’s have it!”

It took five of us to carry it into the white Ford Transit van that Malcolm had ‘borrowed’ off Greenwich Council. 

The next day a very irate official from Aberystwyth University rang up Malcolm screaming abuse down the phone. 

“You thieving bastard, I know it was you!”

Malcolm denied all knowledge, ending the phone-call with the immortal words: “Sorry mate, got to go now, me cheese on toast’s ready!”

For every tear of sadness that’s shed for his untimely demise there will also be an accompanying one of laughter. Malcolm was like that.


STEVE DAY, deaf comedian – 9th February

Malcolm helped me more than anyone else in my comedy career and when no-one else was interested. It used to be three good open spots at The Creek then you got a paid half spot – none of this perpetual open spot and competition rubbish. 

I had only done two when this happened – :

“The next bloke is a deaf bloke. I know he really is a deaf bloke cos I offered him a paid gig, but he didn’t hear me. So here he is for free… Steve Day”


IVOR DEMBINA, comedian – 9th February

Affectionate tales of Malcolm’s thieving abound, yet here’s one of an attempt of mine to steal from him. 

When I first saw Malcolm compere at his club, the Tunnel, I was so impressed by everyone’s reaction that I decided to ‘borrow’ his style of showmanship for my own comedy club in north London. 

My theft was doomed to failure because I wasn’t nearly as funny as Malcolm nor blessed with his gift for making strangers love him. 

My fruitless larceny taught me a painful lesson: as in comedy as in life, be only yourself, say what you think, do what you feel and stick to your guns. 

Malcolm Hardee was the living embodiment of that lesson and it’s a profound sadness to me that I never had the opportunity to thank him before he died.


KEVIN McCARTHY, ‘THE MAN WITH THE BEARD’, comedian – 10th February

For starting me off in this business – I thank you.
For giving me my name – I thank you.
For bouncing countless cheques on me – I forgive you.
For owing everyone on the circuit at least a tenner – I forgive you.
For swallowing a two bottle decanter of vintage port in one go and then redecorating my car with it – I forgive you.
For turning up at a meeting at the BBC as my manager with gravy down your tie and looking like a sack of shit – I forgive you.
For dying aged 55 – …


CHARLIE CHUCK, comedian – 10th February

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: “What’s 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 Lamarr, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest, you know who you are. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some. He got the media to his club, he could have signed many a comedian, could have exploited them and made money out of them. Malcolm was not that kind of man.

He was deeper and kinder than you know.

For me, Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him re TV at that time. I didn’t have a clue.

He put me on a show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I should 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. So, instead, I didn’t listen & played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby. Where?

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.

Anyway, fuck it!

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.


SIMON MUNNERY, comedian – 11th February

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel. 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.”

And that was true.

I regarded Malcolm and his wife Jane as my adopted parents and one night they dropped in to my flat in Stoke Newington. Malcolm was drunk – hold the front page – and after a bit had to go to the toilet. 

Malcolm used to steal – hold the front page – particularly from bathrooms. I knew this, Jane knew this and we could hear him crashing about in an exaggerated fashion for ages. 

When he at last returned I said, “Alright Malcolm, what have you nicked?” and he goes “Uh… uh… sorry,” and gets out this tiny pot of my girlfriend’s aromatherapy oils.

But it was too quick. 

I said “Yes; and what else?” 

He goes, “Oh, sorry,” and gets out another. And so on, and so on until, half an hour later, the entire contents of the bathroom were spread out in the living room and he swore there was nothing else. 

Later, we were helping him down the stairs when I noticed an overpowering smell. 

“What’s that smell?” I asked. 

He had emptied a bottle of perfume over his coat.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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

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

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

Today is the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday.

He would have been 64.

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

He was newly 55.

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

Charles De Gaulle

French President General De Gaulle

CHORTLE comedy website, 2nd February 2005

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

BBC NEWS ONLINE, 2nd February 2005

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

EFESTIVALS, 2nd February 2005

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

THE GUARDIAN, 3rd February 2005

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

THE STAGE, 3rd February 2005

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

EVENING STANDARD, London, 3rd February 2005

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

DAILY TELEGRAPH, 3rd February 2005

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

I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

The autobiography

INDEPENDENT, 4th February 2005

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

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

THE GUARDIAN, 4th February 2005

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

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

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

INDEPENDENT, 5th February 2005

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

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

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

NEW YORK SUN, 7th February 2005

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

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Glastonbury

THE TIMES, London, 7th February 2005

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

THE SCOTSMAN, 8th February 2005

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

TIME OUT, 9th February 2005

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

THE STAGE, 10th February 2005

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

The Greatest Show on Legs in their prime

Malcolm Hardee (on the left)

INDEPENDENT, 19th February 2005

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

THE STAGE, 3rd March 2005

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

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

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

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

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A great comedy show and scarcely-believable tales of Malcolm Hardee

The Greatest Show on multiple legs last night

The Greatest Show on many legs last night

It is a difficult blog to write if someone you know quite well does a really stonkingly good gig, because no-one is really going to believe you when you say how good it was.

Even moreso when it’s an entire comedy club evening.

All I can say is that last night’s Pull The Other One comedy show in Nunhead, South East London, was one of the best comedy nights I have been at. And I have been at a few.

Vivienne and Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows are always odd and always entertaining but – like all the very best comedy nights – there can be some ups and downs, much like a well-loved camel. Last night, there were no downs – it was more firm-peaked dromedary than lumpy Bactrian – and the very excitable audience had every right to be just that… excited.

New-ish Darren Maskell was fairly indescribable but, if I had to put words to it, I’d try ‘successfully surreal’ and audience member Phill Jupitus was roaring with laughter at many parts. I particularly liked the miniature-chainsawed ice sculpture Darren gave to a member of the audience.

Lindsay Sharman in full-flow as a rage-filled Scots poet was extremely funny, as perhaps only rage-filled Scots poets can be.

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair last night

And then Stephen Frost threw one of Martin Soan’s shoes out of the first floor window, grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off parts of Martin’s shirt and half his hair simply so Martin could deliver a gag about being “half-cut”.

Now that is true dedication to comedy. Especially as, if you throw a shoe out of a window into a South East London street, there is no guarantee it will still be there when you go to collect it ten minutes later. Fortunately the shoe was still there, though a shirt and jeans had been stolen.

Then, back on stage, there was Phill Jupitus reprising his 1980s persona of Porky The Poet with old and new material performed with flawless comic timing, followed by Oram & Meeton wildly on-form.

Triumphant Martin Soan obscured by cheering audience member

Stephen Frost and triumphant Martin Soan partially obscured by rising, cheering audience members in London last night

It maybe sounds like an ordinary comedy night ‘bigged-up’. It was not. It was a wonderful, wonderful event. At the end, one of the performers asked me: “Was tonight as good as I think it was?”

“Yes it was,” I said.

The night was, in fact, as good as some of the best nights at the late Malcolm Hardee’s clubs The Tunnel Palladium and Up The Creek and, inevitably, Malcolm’s ghost made an appearance last night.

‘Porky The Poet’ had written new poems about Martin Soan, Stephen Frost and Malcolm Hardee (as well as one about touring with Madness).

And, at the beginning of the evening, a man approached me in the club’s darkness saying “I know your face.”

Crimewatch?” I asked.

“No. You do occasional Facebook postings on the Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society page and I recognise your face from there,” he said.

This I find slightly worrying, as there is only a tiny icon-type picture of me there and, although I have occasionally been ‘recognised’ by people in trains and at parties in the past, I have only been mis-recognised as a totally different person, because I have a very unexceptional face.

I have often been mistaken for a ‘Peter’. Whether this is one particular Peter or, more likely, a variety of different Peters nationwide, I know not.

But this guy who really did recognise me in the dark at Pull The Other One last night was one Nick Bernard.

“I used to live next door to Malcolm Hardee’s house in Fingal Street in the mid-1990s,” he told me. “Well, Malcolm wasn’t living there then – that bloke from Only Fools and Horses was – but I used to hang out a lot with Malcolm. Have you heard the story about his first date with Jane (his future wife)?”

“Try me,” I said.

“I think Malcolm had met Jane at Up The Creek,” said Nick.

“Yes,” I said, “the way she tells it, the first time she saw him, he was naked on stage…”

“It was Malcolm who told me this,” said Nick, “and then Jane who ‘affirmed the narrative’… He chatted her up after the show and arranged to go on a date the next day.

“So the next day he turns up in his Jaguar at her house all suited-and-booted to pick her up… but he is desperate to go to the loo. And, rather than knock on the door and say I’m really sorry, I’ve gotta go to the loo, he thinks the best thing is to go before he knocks on the door. Except he needs to do a shit not a wee.

“So he shits in her neighbour’s front garden but doesn’t have anything to wipe himself, so he pulls his suit back together, knocks on the door, takes her to the car, Jane gets into the car and becomes aware of this foul smell… but she still married him.

“There’s obviously some winning charm there.”

“I think,” I said, “women liked his innocence.”

“Well, he did have a huge charm,” said Nick. “I think it was the honesty. I mean he could be really quite cruel, but it wasn’t like mean or deliberate. He saw the line of humour and the eventual laugh and he thought: I’ll just go for the humorous line and fuck it!

“I think the definitive Malcolm story,” I said, “is the Matthew Hardy one where…”

“Oh! And his tax!” Nick said.

“His tax?” I asked.

“Well, you know Malcolm never paid his tax?” asked Nick.

I nodded, obviously.

“So, after Matthew Hardy moved in with him,” said Nick, “there was an M.Hardee and an M.Hardy sharing an address – same name but different spellings. So, after Malcolm was owing multiple years of tax… Well, he had written to the tax office and said he’d died and that hadn’t worked… Well, it did for a bit… Then he wrote to them saying You’ve been getting my name wrong and he told them he was M.Hardy not M.Hardee… Then the tax office started chasing Matthew Hardy…”

“After Malcolm died,” I told Nick, “his brother Alex was sitting sorting through the paperwork in Malcolm’s place and the phone rang. It was someone from the tax office asking: Can I speak to Mr Malcolm Hardee, please? So Alex says, I’m afraid he died and the taxman says, You tried that last year, Mr Hardee.

“But the definitive Malcolm story, I think, is the one Matthew Hardy tells on the anecdotes page of his website…”

THIS IS MATTHEW HARDY’S STORY:

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

He took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him, and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”

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The definitive story about anarchic comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer is nothing if not quotable.

In my blog yesterday, I quoted his views about racial and racist jokes. In the same conversation, we also talked about Malcolm Hardee, the late godfather of British alternative comedy who was known for random outbreaks of nudity onstage and renowned for having “the biggest bollocks in showbusiness”.

I met Malcolm around 1985 or 1986 and wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in 1995. He drowned in 2005.

Also present when Lewis and I talked was a friend of mine who knew Malcolm far longer than I did.

“I never met Malcolm,” Lewis said, “but I would say he is he is someone who is ‘best remembered’… I never experienced what Malcolm Hardee was. The impression I get for the guy is that he didn’t really have much respect for other people. He was always messing with people. In a way, he brought people on stage at his clubs just to humiliate them.”

“No,” I answered. “They humiliated themselves.They knew how tough Malcolm’s audiences could be. They knew if they could survive the Sunday night audience at Up The Creek and, even more so at The Tunnel, then they had a good act. I always thought the Tunnel audience was firm but fair. If you had a good act, they would listen and applaud. If the act was not so good, they would shout out razor-sharp heckles. If your act was shit, they would throw beer glasses at you. Firm but fair. And, if you died on stage with good reason, when you went off, Malcolm would say: Well, he was shit, wasn’t he? or That was shit, wasn’t it, but I’d fuck her.

“He let the acts do what they did,” my friend said. “He was secure in his own world, because he lived and worked in the area he came from, so he was very secure. He was amongst people he had grown up with.”

“He half-joked he didn’t like going north of the River Thames,” I said. “and that was partly true because, when he opened a comedy club at Harlesden in north west London, he didn’t really have very much interest in it because it took a bit of time to travel up there and people didn’t know who he was.

“He said to me once that he liked being in Greenwich because he was a big fish in a small pond. He liked being recognised in the street. I once asked him why he was so attractive to women and he said: Because, to them, I’m a celebrity here. No-one knows who I am in Huddersfield but, in Greenwich, I’m a local showbiz celebrity.”

“But,” Lewis asked me, “what was he thinking when he peed at the back of the stage when someone was performing and the audience saw him and laughed but the act did not see him? That’s so disrespectful to an act.”

“It was like he was at home,” my friend said. “He felt at home. He felt so comfortable, he could say and do anything. He was…”

“But he urinated on the wall…” Lewis interrupted.

“He probably just thought,” I suggested, “I need a piss and it’s going to get a laugh. It’s as simple as that.”

The definitive Malcolm story, I think, is this one which Australian comic Matthew Hardy posted on the web page I set up after Malcolm died.

__________

He took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him, and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”.

__________

“Malcolm could have killed them and himself,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “The only reason he did it was because he knew it would get a laugh when it was told as a story later. He would do something because he thought, Oy Oy. That’ll get a laugh; I’ll do it, and just not care about the consequences.”

“People can’t help but admire that sort of thing,” my friend said. “They wish they could do it themselves.”

“They admired Malcolm’s balls,” I said.

“Literally and figuratively,” my friend said.

What I wrote about Malcolm at the time of his death was:

__________

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. Not a piece of carrot. A real goldfish. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not again, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that with his trousers down he was never embarrassed.

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