Tag Archives: Morecambe & Wise

Stand-up comedians, death and fame – Who will be remembered and why?

Yesterday, I was talking to someone about reviving the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – I would not be involved in them. 

Of course, few people have ever heard of Malcolm Hardee.

Fame, as they say, is a fickle mistress.

In the UK, who were the biggest and most-loved comedians of the late-20th Century?

Probably Morecambe & Wise.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Haynes.

Before him? Maybe Arthur Askey and Tommy Handley.

Before them? Maybe Arthur Lucan.

But, younger readers might ask, Who WERE these people?

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley and Arthur Lucan?

Never heard of them.

Come to that, who the fuck was Arthur Askey?

Certainly, if you are my devoted reader in Guatemala, you will never have heard of them.

But massively famous in their lifetime is what they all were. In the UK. But now forgotten by subsequent generations in the UK. And still totally unknown elsewhere. 

If you were born and brought up in China, India, Indonesia, the USA… none of those names ever meant anything even when they were at the height of their fame. Perhaps Benny Hill was more famous worldwide. There is a possibly apocryphal story that Chinese State Television interrupted their programming to announce his death. But do new generations remember him still in Shanghai or Guangzhou? I doubt it.

Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home in London, 1995

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ran at the Edinburgh Fringe 2005-2017. 

Not a lot of people know that. Certainly not in Guatemala or Guangzhou.

I mentioned during the conversation I had yesterday that I thought there was a chance – perhaps an outside chance – that Malcolm Hardee might be remembered in the UK for much longer than other comedians who were ‘famous’ during his lifetime and who are nationally known today.

Come to that, given current events, memories of Malcolm might outlive the very existence of the UK.

Malcolm was not famous when he was alive – infamous in certain areas, yes, perhaps, but never famous.

He was totally unknown by the general public unless you mentioned to people of a certain age The Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT in 1981 or 1982. Then they might remember the three-man act doing the perfomance; but not him individually. He was the one on the left.

His death in 2005 got lengthy obituaries in all the quality press but none in the popular tabloids. Because, although he was widely-known by the media and very influential in the comedy industry – Heavens! GQ even ran a fashion spread featuring Malcolm – not a man known for his sartorial elegance! – the general public didn’t know he existed.

My point yesterday was that the material and style of comedy acts date but vivid anecdotes of real people’s lives do not. 

In my opinion, Malcolm was not a good stand-up comedian. In fact, you could hardly call him a stand-up comedian at all. Though he was a superb and much-underestimated MC/compere. 

People always correctly said that Malcolm’s act was his life. He had maybe eight or ten jokes which he repeated over 20 or so years. But ask people about him and what do they remember first? Not the jokes but:

    • the fact that, naked, he drove a tractor through someone else’s act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
    • the fact that (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a good review of his own Edinburgh Fringe show and conned The Scotsman newspaper into printing it thinking it was written by their own reviewer.

If you see a stand-up comedy show from 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago, the material has dated; the style of delivery has dated; the physical look of the whole thing has dated. Even Morecambe & Wise shows, the last time I saw one, are starting to date. And, sadly, surprisingly, younger comedy fans do not find even Tommy Cooper as funny as those who saw him years ago.

Comedians’ acts and material date badly and relatively quickly.

But wildly eccentric OTT life stories and anecdotes about rebellious characters do not date.

If anyone ever fully collates the OTT anecdotes about recently-deceased comic Ian Cognito, there is another performer whose legend and personality were arguably greater than his impact on the general public.

The image which promoted the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in Edinburgh.

Successful comedians tend to be more mentally ‘together’ than the real wild card comics. People love the successful performers’ professional material, love their delivery. But they are less interesting off-stage.

When was the last time you heard a wildly eccentric anecdote about that brilliant on-stage performer Michael McIntyre doing something totally apeshit off-stage?

Malcolm Hardee could not walk from his home to the Post Office without five bizarre things happening to him – or causing bizarre things to happen.

Even the title of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (yes, he did) is OTT and the story of him stealing it will possibly still be funny decades hence, long after people have forgotten who, Freddie Mercury was.

Well, maybe that’s not true, because the off-stage Mercurial life story is a cracker too.

But my point is that anyone watching a 100% brilliant, top-notch Michael McIntyre routine… anyone watching an episode of Hancock’s Half Hour, Monty Python or Fawlty Towers… anyone watching a Robin Williams routine… in 75 or 100 years time… may not find any of them funny because tastes will have changed and cultural tastes are different. Humour in the form of jokes and scripted funny routines does not necessarily transcend borders.

A joke that is funny in Indonesia may not make ‘em rock with laughter in Canada or Novosibirsk today. A joke or routine that is funny in London today may not be funny in London in 2099. But a bizarre anecdote about a man who “throughout his life maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences” (as Malcolm Hardee’s obituary in The Times said) is likely to outlive all the people who were more ‘famous’ than he was during his lifetime.

Malcolm Hardee – generally unknown during his lifetime and remembered by few since then – may yet outlive those who apparently achieved more during their lives. 

Lao Tzu is right that “the flame which burns twice as bright burns half as long”. But the flame which burns half as bright as those around it is still just as 100% hot when you stick your finger in it and yet may burn twice as long.

Of course, if you’re dead, it doesn’t do you any good so, as Malcolm himself would have said: “Fuck it!”

Or: “It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over… Round the edge… fish.”

RIP the unknown comic, Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005.

I know someone is going to mention that Charlie Chaplin is remembered fairly worldwide. But I don’t care and I never found him funny anyway. And I am already regretting the line about sticking your finger in…

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BBC re-writes TV history in its favour by faking the Morecambe and Wise story

I just sat through the BBC TV drama Eric, Ernie & Me which re-wrote showbiz history by pretending the BBC made Morecambe & Wise famous on TV and writing-out their giant success on ITV before they joined the BBC.

Or, rather, re-joined the BBC…

The BBC had completely buggered Morecambe & Wise’s potential TV career with their first disastrous TV show Running Wild in 1954. One famous newspaper review read: “Definition of the week: TV set—the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise.”

That quote was used in Eric, Ernie & Me as if it immediately preceded their 1968 TV series with the BBC – rather than being from 14 years before and a review of another BBC show.

ATV/ITV made them mega TV successes and household names with Two of a Kind (1961-1968, written by Sid Green & Dick Hills) and that TV success was ‘bought’ by the BBC who offered them much more money and then made their shows 1968-1977 (written by Eddie Braben). The BBC bought them because they were already ratings successes and they built on that.

Personally, I always thought M&W were funnier when written for by Sid & Dick at ATV/ITV.

Pretending the BBC started their TV success from ground zero is disgraceful bullshit bollocks.

Here they are in Sid & Dick’s classic Boom-Oo-Yata-Ta-Ta sketch on ATV/ITV in 1962, six years before they moved to the BBC.

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The end of the Edinburgh Fringe: death, reviewers, pigs, ham-fistedness & drink

Edinburgh Fringe George IV Bridge stunt

Goodbye to all this… at the Edinburgh Fringe

Yesterday’s blog was supposed to be about my journey back from the Edinburgh Fringe to London on Sunday but I got side-tracked by the unexpected news of the death of TV producer Danny Greenstone.

So it goes.

I should have paid attention at the start of the journey. At the St Andrew’s bus station in Edinburgh, young Fringe wannabe theatricals about to catch an earlier coach were chatting at the departure gate by me and one of them – I think trying to impress the others with his cool – started talking about the death of 21-year-old Kyle Jean-Baptiste, the 21-year-old who was the first black actor to play the Broadway lead – as Jean Valjean – in Les Misérables. He lost his balance and fell four storeys to his death from a Brooklyn fire escape early on Saturday.

So it goes.

“But at least he left something,” the young British theatrical said in Edinburgh. “He did something first. He had a record.” His young Fringe wannabe theatricals seemed to agree this was important.

Being ‘a success’ may also involve a large dollop of loopiness. Before I left, reviewer Kate Copstick had told me something which she later posted on Facebook:


Kate Copstick at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photograph by Garry Platt)

Kate Copstick at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photograph by Garry Platt)

After the dozens and dozens of acts who seem to regard my non-attendance at their show as a deliberate slight on their brilliance and an attempt to derail their deserved success, to say nothing of those PRs and promoters who seem to think I am part of their team, I get this (I have removed the name of the performer, but it relates to a review – a hugely positive review) in Scotland on Sunday that I wrote. If I was not so tired I would be angry …

“I don’t mean to be ungrateful but I was expecting a review with stars. A good review would have been very helpful because the English press have been hating us. I’m sorry but I need to ask this.”


This is almost surreal in that the performer:

  1. appears to be unable to spot a good review when he reads it
  2. has not noticed that Scotland on Sunday never includes stars in Copstick’s column
  3. seems to think a good review without stars is not a good review
  4. thinks it is either likely or possible that a newspaper is going to reprint a previously-published review with stars added (which is what he was actually asking for)

Reviews, of course, are both the dream and the nightmare of performers at the Fringe and some of the fly-by-night publications employ (unpaid) youngsters who are barely literate, let alone knowledgable.

Either last year or the year before, promoter and performer Bob Slayer got talking in one of his late-night chat shows to a ‘comedy critic’ for one of these Fringe publications whose reviews are coveted on many a poster.

Morecambe and Wise - akin to World War II

Morecambe and Wise – akin to World War II ?

It turned out that this young comedy critic passing wise judgment on shows at the Fringe had not only never seen but never actually even heard of Morecambe and Wise. For this blog’s foreign readers, this is akin to someone writing learned history books who is unaware the Second World War ever happened.

Last year, the online Fringepig website appeared, which reviewed the reviewers.

This year – last Saturday night – the first Ham Fist Awards were announced on board Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus on behalf of Fringe Pig.

I could not go but Sandra Smith, this blog’s South Coast correspondent, could. She tells me:


Bob Slayer on the bus with his Flying Fuck Award

Bob Slayer on the BlundaBus with his Flying Fuck Award

The evening kicked off a little after 12.30am, when Bob was presented with the Flying Fuck Award, specially made for him out of copper wire. It was presented to him because, by common consent, it was decided that he really doesn’t give a flying fuck.

Bob appeared very pleased with this, and carried it with him for the rest of the evening.

Ian Wolf, data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, was awarded an Unsung Heroes Award. He received a panda mask and a pen. Rules were being made up as they went along.

Ian Wolf - proud winner of a panda mask

Ian Wolf – proud panda mask winner

At one point, Bob was trying to recall an event. Convinced that I knew the answer from a half-remembered John Fleming blog, I leapt to my feet and shouted: “Was it the joke told by Julian Clary about fisting Norman Lamont at the British Comedy Awards?”

It was not. I was a quarter of the way through a beer at the time, so I can’t even put it down to alcohol. Just old age, a bad memory and enthusiasm.

Amongst the chaos that ensued, Bob replied with two questions:

“Do you know what fisting means?”

and, pointing at me,

“Who’s got my mother pissed?”

Not feeling in the slightest bit ridiculous, I still resolved not to be so hasty in future… until the next time. People then thought that I WAS his mother, yet again.

The evening continued apace, with the Ham Fist Award being given to Stuart Goldsmith, the reviewee, who will be receiving a £200 prize.

Stuart Goldsmith (left) with Bob Slayer

Happy Stuart Goldsmith (left) with Bob Slayer

The Ham Fist Award reviewer for 2015 was Graeme Connelly, of The List, who won £50 for writing Stu Goldsmith’s winning review.

Runner up was Chortle‘s reviewer Paul Fleckney, who had reviewed a show not by going to see it but by watching it live on Periscope

Sometime after 2.00am, everyone piled outside for a group photograph and Stuart Goldsmith headed off with his fiancée. They are expecting a baby on January 29th 2016 and seemed very excited by it and keen to tell people. Or was that Bob?


I should point out that Sandra has admitted drinking a little while on the BlundaBus.

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Advice to people who think they are – or want to be – famous. Who was Skirrow?

Me and Eric Morecambe on the seafront in happier days (Photo by M-E-U-F)

Me and Eric Who on Morecambe seafront.(Photograph by M-E-U-F)

This is a blog about someone who is long dead and about whom I know almost nothing.

A few years ago at the Edinburgh Fringe, performer/promoter Bob Slayer was speaking to a young comedy reviewer. The reviewer had never seen a Morecambe & Wise TV show… and had never even heard of Morecambe & Wise. This is true.

In the early 1960s, Arthur Haynes was the most famous and most successful comedy performer in Britain.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Morecambe & Wise TV shows were the biggest ongoing successes on British TV.

If you are British, NOT in the comedy industry and under a certain age,  you have probably never heard of Arthur Haynes. Or Arthur Askey. Or Tommy Handley. Or Dan Leno.

If you are not from Britain and living outside Britain, you have almost certainly heard of none of them.

Unless you are famous in China and in India, you are statistically an unknown. And people famous in China and India are usually unknown in the rest of the world.

So…

I stumbled on two separate synopses of the same 1967 novel titled I Was Following This Girl by someone called Desmond Skirrow.

Desmond Skirrow’s book

One cover selling Skirrow’s book

SYNOPSIS ONE
John Brock spends one sunny September day following the richest and most beautiful girl in the world. This simple job becomes less simple as the days go by and he meets such unsavoury characters as a hairy-headed mystic, a sinister yokel with a ferret up his jumper, and a whispering super from the Special Branch.

SYNOPSIS TWO
Tough British adman Brook, who does occasional jobs for our Intelligence, is assigned to protect exquisite young American billionairess from rich variety of enemies including phoney psychedelic prophet, mad lesbian karate expert and giant one-legged Cotswold rustic who prefers a ferret to a pistol.

Apparently Desmond Skirrow was a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies including McCann Erickson and Masius Wynne-Williams. He was born in either 1923 or 1924 and died in 1976.

He wrote five novels in three years.

Desmond Skirrow - maybe

A photo of Desmond Skirrow – maybe. Or not

I Was Following This Girl is the second of three tongue-in-cheek spy novels he wrote in the late 1960s about a fictional British agent named John Brock.

The other Brock novels were It Won’t Get You Anywhere (1966) and I’m Trying to Give It Up (1968)

Before the Brock novels, he wrote a children’s book The Case of the Silver Egg (which was televised in 1966 as The Queen Street Gang). He wrote another novel, Poor Quail (1969), about an advertising executive’s move to the countryside,

In I Was Following This Girl, the girl John Brock is following is called Kiki Kondor. The blurbs failed to point out that the giant one-legged Cotswold rustic walks with a crutch and is called Satan Smith.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

Another cover for the Desmond Skirrow book

Differing book cover view of Skirrow’s I Was Following This Girl

“Desmond Skirrow has such a lively way with words that nobody is apt to complain that I Was Following This Girl is in essence a fairly ordinary conventional thriller about exposing a sinister politico-financial cult. There’s plenty of action and the plotting is ingenious and inventive; but the real delight of the book is the quirky narrative.”

Desmond Skirrow wrote of advertising agencies: “They are great carpeted palaces of little problems and big solutions, filled with loose minds in tight dresses.”

He was, as I said, “a painter, book jacket illustrator, journalist, and a creative director for ad agencies”. He sounds like an interesting man.

Some people are remembered. Some are forgotten. He is forgotten.

Arthur Haynes, Tommy Handley, Morecambe & Wise, the biggest entertainment names of their time are not just forgotten but were never known in China.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

So it goes.

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