“I got a loan of a bike. It was too big and I banged my fanny on it – In Edinburgh 10 minutes and I cracked my vag.”
Fringe fever has started early this year.
I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today, so I am writing this blog at the Costa cafe in Stafford service station on the M6 motorway.
This year’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held on Friday 22nd August. The three awards are in memory of ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in 2005. So it goes.
Below is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, published in 1996. Amazon.co.uk’s current listing retains their own humorous and extensive balls-up in which it describes the book as an aid to classroom teaching.
In this edited extract from the book itself, Malcolm talks about the first time he appeared with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Fringe.
We did our first Edinburgh Fringe in August 1982, before it became so commercial.
That year, we were playing in a venue called The Hole in The Ground which literally was just that: a hole in the ground. An ‘organisation’ called Circuit had erected a 700-seat marquee on this piece of derelict wasteland.
Also performing in The Hole in The Ground was The Egg Man, who was Icelandic years before Björk. His show consisted of a two-hour monologue performed, completely in Icelandic, to an audience of one in cave which was one of the ‘natural features’ of The Hole in The Ground. He used to auction the ticket for each show and a reviewer from the Scotsman actually had to pay over £50 to watch a performance of this two-hour Icelandic monologue. He couldn’t understand a word but, in a way, it was Art.
Today, this just wouldn’t happen as the big Agencies use Edinburgh to hype-up future short-lived TV ‘stars’.
That first year, the Circuit tent in Edinburgh held about 700 people.
I had stupidly agreed we’d do it for a ‘wage’ of £500 a week. In the meantime, we’d been on (the TV show) OTT, we were popular and we were selling the tickets out at about £5 a ticket. So they were making about £3,500 a night and we were getting £500 per week between the three of us. So I felt bitter again.
There was another lot performing at The Hole in The Ground: a group of feminists. They were called Monstrous Regiment. They were doing a play about prisoners. About how it’s not the prisoners’ fault they’re in prison. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all of our faults. All of that nonsense.
We were really poor that first year. We were performing in The Tent in The Hole in The Ground and we were living in tents next to The Tent. Edinburgh is always cold and it was even colder that year: it snowed.
Also that year, a German opera show had a pig in it and I had my tent next to the place where they kept the pig.
So, I was feeling bitter and feeling bitter cold.
At, the end of the week, Circuit decided to have a Press Conference and they put another tent up. They loved a tent. A big marquee. Commissionaire outside. Posh. We turned up and they wouldn’t let us in even though we’d been there a week and sold out our shows and everything. Well, we were naked, which might have had something to do with it. And not entirely wholesome. So we went and got dressed and eventually they let us in. But I was still bitter.
We went to this restaurant in the marquee and it was a bit of a posh do. Wine and all that stuff going on. Monstrous Regiment were there but their feminist dungarees were off and their public school cocktail dresses were on.
Then one of the Monstrous Regiment women – one I particularly didn’t like – got her handbag nicked. And she went berserk.
“Catch him!” she yelled. “Get the police! I want that man put in prison!”
So I said to her:
“It’s not his fault. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all our faults”.
At the end of all this, they asked one person from each show to get up on the bar and give a speech to the assembled Press.
By now, the Monstrous Regiment woman had calmed down. She got up on the bar and said:
“We’re doing a play. It’s about prisoners. It’s all Society’s fault and it’s a scathing indictment of Society”.
Then she jumped off the bar and the German with the pig got up.
“We’re doing an opera with a pig,” he said.
So we were next and I stood up on the bar, having told Martin to tug my trousers at the appropriate moment.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Press,” I started saying: “We’re The Greatest Show on Legs and we have a bit of a comedy show in that tent over there, but this is no night for comedy because I’ve just read in the paper that the great Glenda Jackson has passed away and, in the spirit of the Fringe,” – I had a real tear came out of my eye at this point – “I’d like to ask for one minute’s silence for a great actress.”
And they did.
A whole minute.
I looked at my watch and the whole minute went by.
A long time.
Then Martin tugged my trousers and handed up my newspaper to me. I looked at it:
“Oh!” I said. “Not Glenda Jackson. Wendy Jackson. A pensioner from Sydenham….. Doesn’t matter then, does it?”
The tent fell even more silent than during the Minute’s Silence.
After a pause, a thespian in the front just looked up at me and theatrically projected the words:
The ironic thing was that he was wearing a pink and green shirt at the time.
This was the beginning – 1982 – of a beautiful, long-running relationship between the Edinburgh Fringe and me.