Tag Archives: pier

Memories of Swedish identical twins and lonely beheadings in foreign lands

As I had no time to write a ‘proper’ blog this morning, I looked to see what the BBC had reported happening on this day in previous years…

7th October 1959: Southend Pier fire traps hundreds

Water from the past

Three hundred people have been rescued after being cut off by a blaze on the world’s longest pleasure pier on England’s south-east coast.

The visitors became stranded when a large wooden pavilion at the shore end of the pier caught fire in the early evening.

The pavilion, which is used for holding conferences and other functions, was empty at the time.

Most of the trapped people had been at the far end of the pier when the blaze started.

They had to walk most of the nearly 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) back because the electricity to the pier’s railway had been cut off.

However, they were not able to pass the burning pavilion and had to complete the journey by climbing down the pier structure and boarding boats to shore.

Firefighters from surrounding districts joined those in Southend to help put out the flames.

They were watched by a large crowd on the sea front – many of whom had come to see the pier’s famous illuminations.

7th October 1977: Invasion of Swedish identical twins

Identical twins from Sweden

Ninety sets of Swedish identical twins have travelled to Felixstowe for a brief shopping trip.

The twins are taking part in studies by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

The scientists are investigating links between the environment and human behaviour.

But participants are viewing the excursion as a form of light relief. As one twin put it, they have come across “just for fun”.

As the twins disembarked from their ship, the Tor Scandinavia, each pair was confusingly dressed in matching outfits.

It is hoped the sets of siblings might find something different to wear when they spend their money in the local shops and boutiques.

7th October 2001: US launches air strikes against Taleban

So It Goes

The United States has begun its military campaign, Operation Enduring Freedom, against al-Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan.

Cruise missiles and bombers have targeted the airports of Kandahar and Kabul and terrorist training camps near Jalalabad.

The attacks which began around 1630 GMT were quickly followed by a public broadcast from President Bush who promised a “sustained and relentless” campaign.

The Taleban has condemned the strikes and says it shot down a plane, a claim denied by the Americans.

Up to 50 cruise missiles are reported to have been launched from submarines in the Arabian Sea.

The US also flew in B52 bombers stationed on the island of Diego Garcia, and B2 Stealth bombers direct from the US itself.

Tony Blair confirmed the initial strikes involved a British contribution by HMS Illustrious and a small number of submarines.

They form part of a US-British naval coalition gathered in the region within striking distance of Afghanistan, including two US aircraft carriers.

Speaking at a news conference, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, said key targets would be terrorist training camps and Taleban communications, fighter planes and air defence installations.

But the Pentagon says it will be mounting operations from the air and the ground, and defence experts say special forces are likely to be used soon into the campaign.

7th October 2004: British hostage feared dead in Iraq

So It Goes

Fears are growing that the British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, abducted three weeks ago in Iraq, has been murdered by his captors.

Engineer Mr Bigley, 62, and two Americans with whom he shared a house in the wealthy al-Mansour district of Baghdad, were captured on 16 September by the Islamist Tawhid and Jihad group.

His fellow contractors Eugene “Jack” Armstrong and Jack Hensley were beheaded on 20 and 21 September, when their kidnappers’ demands for the release of Iraqi women prisoners were not met.

The United States is holding two Iraqi female weapons scientists, Rihab Rashid Taha and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, but says it has no plans to release them.

Efforts to secure Mr Bigley’s release have been stepped up in the past few days.

Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams have appealed to his kidnappers on behalf of the family.

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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

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

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

* * * * *

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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