No truth in obituaries
When the late comedian Malcolm Hardee died, the surprisingly voluminous obituaries quoted some of the many bizarre stories linked to him. But, often, the stories were slightly wrong. It was fairly obvious the obituarists had read Malcolm’s autobiography (which I wrote with him) but were slightly mis-remembering and mis-quoting the anecdotes.
One story involved his genitals getting painted in day-glo paint. It happened at the Glastonbury Festival but at least one obituary claimed he regularly did this at comedy clubs.
Now, because the mis-quoted and mis-remembered stories were printed, the myth will become fact.
Malcolm would have liked that.
Yesterday afternoon, I bumped into top rock fiddler Bobby Valentino in a street in Greenwich.
Somehow, the subject of calling people ‘Wally’ came up – as in “He’s a Wally,” meaning “He’s an idiot.”
I said: “I think that started at some rock festival in the West Country, didn’t it?”
Was it originally Wally from Essex or Wally from Wessex?
“No, Essex,” said Bobby Valentino. “There was a Weeley rock festival in Essex in 1971. I was still at school and a mate of mine, Barry Bartlett or Spot Hughes, came back from the Festival and said, Oh, I’m Wally from Weeley, and, from then on, everyone was called Wallies.”
“The story I heard,” I said, “was that an announcement kept being made Could Wally please contact the organisers about something and eventually people started to yell out Wally! as a term of derision and, when they left the festival and spread out to their homes across the country, the name spread all over the country too. That’s the story, isn’t it?”
“As far as I know,” said Bobby Valentino. (Update for regular readers of this blog: his dispute with PRS over royalties for past work continues.)
When I got home, I looked up Wikipedia, which currently reckons a Wally chant did develop over the course of the Weeley Festival weekend in 1971, but that it had been a continuation of the same behaviour at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.
I had heard the term ‘Wally’ had started in the West Country. This seems to have been because (again according to Wikipedia) in 1974, a group of New Age travellers encamped near Stonehenge were being evicted and, to hinder the eviction, they all gave their name as Wally of Wessex.
Stories take on their own life. And, you may have noticed, I have been quoting what is in Wikipedia as fact. Always a dubious thing to do. But people do.
Later yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bobby Valentino:
“After I saw you today,” it said, “I remembered an Edinburgh Festival story which I hope is true.
“Some years ago one of Kirk Douglas’s sons – the one who had the drink and drug problems – fancied himself as a comedian and booked himself a slot at the Festival. At one of his shows, he wasn’t going down at all well, brick-like in fact. He then said completely the wrong thing – Do you know who I am?… I’m Kirk Douglas’s son.
“A quick witted member of the audience immediately piped up: No, I’m Kirk Douglas’s son! to be followed by another audience member… and another… and another.”
(For extraordinary people who have never seen the movie, this is a reference to the scene in Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus where, at the end, everyone in the hero’s army stands up and says I am Spartacus.)
“As far as I know,” I told Bobby Valentino, “the story is totally true, but it happened at the Comedy Store in London.”
I said this with some authority, having heard the story several times. But who knows if it is actually true?
“I think I might blog about stories tomorrow,” I told Bobby Valentino.
“If you do,” he said, “you should point out that there are two sorts of people who tell stories more than they actually do what they’re supposed to do – musicians and fishermen.
“John Sebastian wrote a song about it called Stories We Can Tell. The Everly Brothers covered it and I played it with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.”
After all this, last night, I went to Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Herne Hill, South London.
In May 2011, I posted a blog about a very weird night there which included, in the audience, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.
He was there again last night and sat right by the stage.
Michael Smiley and audience member last night
About a third of the way through the wonderful Northern Ireland comedian Michael Smiley’s act, which involved tales of coming to Great Britain 30 years ago, the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard asked in a conversational tone:
“Are you Scottish?”
“No,” replied Michael Smiley to loud laughter. “Are you Pakistani?” he added to louder laughter (including very loud laughter from the black gent).
When the laughter subsided, Michael asked: “Do you love people from Scotland?”
“I am the last king from Scotland,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard told Michael Smiley.
“You’re the last king of Scotland?” Michael Smiley said. “You’re not mate. Let me spread a few more rumours for you. What else have the voices been telling you?”
“You can get on with the show now,” the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard, said languidly.
“Well,” said Michael Smiley amiably, amid laughter, “if you’ll shut up, I will.”
“Alright,” said the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head and a beard.
“Thankyou,” said Michael Smiley.
The audience laughed and then added in a few ironic Owwwws of sympathy.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Michael Smiley, joining in, “He comes in, sits at the front, shouts out mad shit all the time, I try to get on with my shit, I try to get him to shut his shit up and I’m the feckin’ bad guy!”
The audience roared with laughter.
“I might have to stand up here and wank off a pig for you by the end of the show, just to weird the whole thing up just a little bit more. White middle class Herne Hill come out for a bit of weirdness!
“Just so you can say to your friends tomorrow: You shouldn’t have bothered your arsehole with that new restaurant down in Brixton Village. We were up in Herne Hill last night in the dark like a firecracker and there was a mad black bloke at the front and a really angry Northern Irish guy on stage. That was two stereotypes for the price of one! I couldn’t believe it! All we needed was a fuckin’ midget on a unicycle… There’s an angry lesbian poet on at the end. This is like shit time travelling. All you people who bought your squats in the 1980s are just flipping out now. When you get back to your house, there’ll be a re-run of Boys From The Black Stuff on TV and you’ll come in your pants!…”
The audience roared with laughter.
It was a very weird night
And that is without even mentioning the very attractive young girl Mina The Horse prancing around the stage with a tail sticking out of her bottom or Richard Vranch and Pippa The Ripper giving a chemistry lesson with hula hoops or George Egg producing a large bowling ball from a small suitcase and sharing with the audience the fact that, to encourage their greyhounds to win races, owners smear mustard on the dogs’ arseholes when they put them in the starting traps.
After the show, my eternally-un-named friend who used to work for the late comedian Malcolm Hardee told me: “He once asked me to get a large penis for him.”
This was at his Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich.
“I think he was being a bit… well, he might have actually wanted it but there was one somewhere – was it in the dressing room upstairs?” she asked me.
“Search me,” I said.
“Or maybe it was behind the upstairs bar,” she continued. “I think it was a prop.”
“You think it was a prop?” I asked. “But it might not have been?”
“You always ask me these things when I’m very tired,” my eternally-un-named friend complained. “It’s not fair. It was a prop. I don’t know what he was actually using it for at that point, because I hadn’t seen it in anything, but then I didn’t see the shows, did I, because I was in the box…”
“So did he…” I started to interrupt.
“…office,” she completed.
“So,” I continued, “did he suddenly just say Get me the giant penis?”
“It was after a show and everything was winding up,” my eternally-un-named friend explained, “and there was a large penis upstairs and I can’t remember now because I’m very tired, but I think it was a papier-mache one. Whether it was worn on the head or on another part of the body I don’t know. Maybe an act had had it and left it behind or whether Malcolm actually wanted it…”
“But you found it?” I asked.
“Well, he told me where it was,” she replied. “I think it was in the dressing room and there was a muddle of stuff up there, but it was obvious which one it was.”
“How giant was it?” I asked.
My eternally-un-named friend held her hands apart.
“That’s about 18 inches,” I said. “What colour?”
“I don’t remember,” she said. “It was the early 1990s and I’m very tired, but I think it was a life-likey thing. I can’t help thinking it might have been some sort of headgear…”
“For a dickhead?” I asked.
“…or a prop,” she continued. “To be honest, I don’t even remember if it was papier-mache. You know who might know? Martin Soan. He might say, Oh yes, there was a giant penis we used.”
“Were there a lot of dickheads around Up The Creek?” I prompted.
“You know what Malcolm was like,” said my eternally-un-named friend, ignoring me. “There was a point where he has this stuffed cat, which you could easily get from the Nautical Shop.”
“That’s where he got it,” I said. “I was there when he bought it.”
But that’s another story.