A couple of days ago, I blogged about Digger Dave’s memories of his late friend Malcolm Hardee, the late ‘godfather of alternative comedy’. He mentioned “the Great Christmas Can Can Tour of London’s East End pubs” by The Greatest Show on Legs, the act Malcolm performed in. This was only one of The Greatest Show on Legs’ pub-crawling performances.
Malcolm wrote about them – and how he started his infamous comedy club The Tunnel Palladium – in his 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake…
Malcolm drowned in 2005.
Back in 1983, The Greatest Show on Legs got fed up with touring and we split up as a full-time act, though we’re still going. We’re a bit like the folk group Fairport Convention. We keep having reunions. But when we stopped being The Greatest Show on Legs full-time, I started The Tunnel Palladium, an early alternative comedy venue. It all started by accident.
Every year we did two Greatest Show on Legs Pub Crawls. We selected four or five local South East London pubs where we’d go and give a show for free. We did one Pub Crawl in the Winter, round Christmas; and one in the summer.
One of these pubs we picked was The Mitre in a very rough area of Greenwich, about 50 yards from the southern exit of the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames. Our show there was on a Sunday night and we couldn’t give it for free because the landlord insisted it was part of his Licence that he had to charge something to get in. So I think he charged £2.
When we did our show, The Mitre was packed: about 300 people were in there watching us.
The Mitre was split into two bars. The Greatest Show on Legs performed in one bar and, in the other bar, there was a stag night for the local constabulary. It wasn’t just a stag night. They had strippers who performed full sex.
They were giving blowjobs and wiping the result on the beer mats and all that sort of stuff. I went into this other bar and was sitting next to a copper who thought I was part of the stag night crowd. In front of me was a stripper sucking this bloke’s knob and I said to this copper:
“What’s that all about?”
“Oh,” he said: “That’s alright. He’s getting married tomorrow”.
After that night, I spoke to this very woman we’d been watching. She said she recognised me because she used to go out with my mate Dexie Doug Davies and it came back to me in a flash. I remembered their relationship and I remembered Dexie Doug complaining that this woman Frances wouldn’t go the whole way but spent 90% of her waking hours giving him blow jobs. (I’ve heard other complaints about other relationships, but they were the exact opposite.)
So there was Frances all these years later putting her considerable skills to good use and presumably getting paid for it.
It was a very odd experience. Two different audiences. A lot of trendy Lefties watching The Greatest Show on Legs in one bar. And, in the other bar, a load of coppers being serviced by strippers.
The next Sunday, I went back and there was a Heavy Metal band on with about four people in the audience and they were just friends of the band. I said:
“Last week, when we were here, there were 300 people. What’s going on?”
So the person who was rock promoter there, Steve Black, suggested I run a Sunday comedy club at The Mitre.
I named it The Tunnel because it was next to the Blackwall Tunnel.
Strangely enough, the landlord had ‘tunnel vision’.
But that was just an odd coincidence.
Martin Potter, who had helped us on the pilot for OTT and the audition for Game For a Laugh became my partner for our Sunday Night at The Tunnel Palladium shows. We very quickly made some promotional flyers and the club was an instant success.
Our first show was on 8th January 1984