Tag Archives: Rotherhithe

Malcolm Hardee, the squatters and the upcoming Cunning Stunt in Edinburgh

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock

In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.

There were squatters living on board in November.

In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.

This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.

“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”

“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”

“Any leftovers?”

“No. Only mice.”

“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.

“We could, but we have standards.”

“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”

“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”

“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”

“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”

“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”

“Physically?”

“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”

“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”

“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”

“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.

“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”

“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.

“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”

“What?” I asked.

“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”

“What does it mean?”

Darryl the Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre Bar

Darryl the Saintly Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”

“What?”

“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.

“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”

“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”

“What was in the fridge?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.

“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.

“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.

“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Malcolm would have approved of what you are doing.” (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”

“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”

“Did he ever find out?” I asked.

“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”

“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.

“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”

“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.

“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”

“From…?” I asked.

The interior of the Wibbley Wobbley during the occupation by squatters

Interior of Wibbley Wobbley during the squatter occupation.

“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”

“She lived in a nearby flat?”

“Yeah.”

“And threw rocks?”

“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”

“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”

“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.

“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!

“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”

“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.” 

“Not in those exact words?”

“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”

“And the future…?” I asked.

“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”

“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

“And the stunt is…?” I asked.

“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.

“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”

“Legal, I think.”

“How disappointing,” I said.

“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”

“Between time and space?” I asked.

“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.

“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”

“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”

“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”

“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”

“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”

“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”

“Absolutely,” said Darryl.

transformerdiy

“Anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe”

 

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Malcolm Hardee: Wibbley Wobbley RIP

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, in February 2014

A few weeks ago, I posted a couple of blogs about the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s floating pub/venue The Wibbley Wobbley being removed from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina in Rotherhithe and then, on 14th December, being taken away from there to be scrapped.

To round off this sad story tale, coincidental confirmation came from comic Sinead Wheeler, who sent me a message saying:

“I had to get my own boat (my home!) rescued and towed up the River Medway on Wednesday 14th after it sank in mid-October.

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee on board the Wibbley Wobbley (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“The towing guy said he had come straight from being up all night on ‘the Wibbley Wobbley job’. I didn’t ask at the time as I was a bit distracted by seeing my boat and all its contents (books, clothes my best undies!!!, all my food cupboard contents etc) covered in stinking mud and full of dead fish… but I texted him later.

“His answer was basically: Yes, it’s gone.

“It is gutting that it wasn’t saved, but boats are total twats to look after and never make things easy. The PLA / Southwark Council / CRT or whoever no doubt could have done more or less but that’s how they roll. People on boats lose their homes every week.

“The Wibbley Wobbley was only a small part of what Malcolm did, thankfully anyway – he won’t be forgotten.”

(THERE IS AN UPDATE – WITH PHOTO – IN A LATER BLOG)

The Wibbley Wobbley tonight, in its new berth at South Dock Marina

The Wibbley Wobbley after being moved to its temporary berth at South Dock Marina in Rotherhithe

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Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley floating venue – reportedly scrapped

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

Wibbley Wobbley was removed from South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photo by Jody VandenBurg)

Last Sunday, I posted a blog about the fate of late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s former floating bar/venue the Wibbley Wobbley.

It got a response from Jody VandenBurg on Wednesday. He is making a long-in-production documentary on Malcolm: All The Way From Over There.

“Saw the news about the Wibbley Wobbley,” Jody wrote. “I was down there filming today, met a few interesting characters. Future is uncertain, but am not convinced it’s for the scrap heap just yet.

“The squatters and other people seem convinced it’s going to be scrapped but I met a guy who said he has bought it. He seemed very upset at what had been done to it, that the boat has a lot of history and he wants to preserve it. He said he intended to take it to dry dock in Sea Reach at Canvey Island if it can make it up there.

The Wibbley Wobbley in South Dock Marina (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“He was emptying the boat of all the crap and putting it in a van to be taken to dump.” (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“Anything he finds of any note in the boat, he said, would go to Rotherhithe Museum. He was emptying the boat of all the crap the squatters had left behind and putting it in a van to be taken to dump.

“The only thing is that his account of what happened when they evicted the squatters and the squatters’ version of what happened are completely different so I am not sure who to believe on that front… So that makes me wonder about the entire thing.”

The next day – Wednesday – I got another e-mail from Jody. It said:

“So they are moving the Wibbley Wobbley properly out of the dock on Friday at about 2.00pm. I am going to go down with a couple of cameras to film it.”

I was not able to go yesterday – I was on child-minding duties – but, last night, I got another message about the Wibbley Wobbley from Jody:

“Unfortunate news. They moved it on Wednesday without keeping me updated whilst I was organising the shoot for today and it got scrapped.”

There is a trailer online for Jody’s short documentary on Malcolm Hardee’s club The Tunnel.

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Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley boat has re-appeared somewhere else

Malcolm & girlfriend Andree at the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

Malcolm and his girlfriend Andree Jenni standing by the Wibbley Wobbley in 2002

The tribute banner’s initial position...

A brief fortnight ago, anarchy was celebrated

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog in which Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury and I went to Malcolm’s old floating pub/comedy venue The Wibbley Wobbley.

It was moored in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.

There were some very amiable squatters living in the boat, putting on monthly performances. They had been there for several months.

Suitably anarchic slogans adorned the sides of the boat.

Today’s Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich

Today’s Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich was interrupted

Today, while watching the annual Pantomime Horse Race in Greenwich, I got a message from Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau telling me that the squatters had been evicted; the Wibbley Wobbley had been towed away from its berth and would be broken up.

On the left, two gangways lead to where once the Wibbley Wobbley floated

Two sad gangways (left) lead to where the Wibbley floated

Bruce asked me for a quote which he could add to the news item he had written on his Beyond The Joke website. I gave him a quote but suggested he should just make up a much better one and claim that I had said it – something of which I think Malcolm would have approved.

Alas, he just quoted the load of old cobblers I had thought of:

The Wibbley Wobbley (orange marker) in its old berth in Greenland Dock

The Wibbley Wobbley (orange marker) in its old berth in Greenland Dock. Malcolm Hardee drowned there in 2005.

“I thought 2016 was bad enough with Bowie, Prince and Manuel from Fawlty Towers dying, but this has really pissed me off.”

It’s not a great quote, is it?

The moral to this part of the story is:

If someone or something snuffs it, don’t ask me for a quote.

After the Pantomime Horse Race finished in Greenwich, I went to Greenland Dock in Rotherhithe, where the Wibbley Wobbley had been moored and where Malcolm had drowned in 2005.

The boat was, indeed, not there.

But I spotted it in the adjacent South Dock Marina.

The Wibbley Wobbley tonight, in its new berth at South Dock Marina

Wibbley Wobbley tonight, in a new berth: South Dock Marina

Coincidentally, before he bought the Wibbley Wobbley, Malcolm had lived in another boat in South Dock Marina and, ironically, I had fallen in the water there and almost drowned, myself, while carrying Malcolm’s vacuum cleaner onto the boat.

As always, it is better not to ask for too many details.

The banners which had been adorning the Wibbley Wobbley two weeks ago had, tonight, been removed.

Now under more secure lock and key in South Dock Marina

Now under more secure lock and key in South Dock Marina

But the boat itself looked perfectly OK; not ready to be scrapped.

As I left, I heard two people connected with the dock talking about the Wibbley Wobbley.

“The thing is,” one said, “if you get rid of squatters, they’ll just find somewhere else.”

A bit like memories, in that respect.


ADDITIONAL STUFF

theshippingpress_websiteThe Shipping Press account on Twitter posted an image of workers removing the Wibbley Wobbley from its original berth in Greenland Dock with text which said: “So called pirates left after trying to sink her! They converted upstairs into 7 bedrooms-and left a big mess.”

The Cockney Rebel account on Twitter commented: “Pirates on resisted removal by order of LBS ( )again! 2 make way for yuppie eatery!”

Leigh Miller replied: “How did this happen without notice? Admiralty Writ necessary- did anyone investigate?”

Cockney Rebel: “Don’t know yet. LBS very good at smash & grab doing what they want & abusing rule of law…to please developers!”

Leigh Miller: “There must be a worldwide shortage of brown envelopes by now….”

Cockney Rebel: “…mountains of used empties in every Labour/Tory Town halls also rumour has it massive stash at GLA/County Hall!”

https://twitter.com/theshippingpre1/status/807217946644856832

THERE IS AN UPDATE ON THIS STORY HERE.

 

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My night with Becky Fury a few feet from where Malcolm Hardee drowned

beckyfury_grainyThere is a famous quote from Steve Jobs of Apple. He said: “Good artists copy, Great artists steal.”

Ironically, he probably actually stole this quote from T.S.Eliot, who wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Although apparently Steve Jobs thought he stole the quote from Pablo Picasso.

All this is to add intellectual credibility a.k.a. bullshit disguise to what follows.

Last Saturday night, I went to see an unadvertised comedy/music gig at the Wibbley Wobbley, a (still just about) floating former Rhine cruiser now moored at Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, by the River Thames in London.

Regular readers of this blog will realise this was where comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in January 2005 and that the Wibbley Wobbley was his floating pub/club.

I was vaguely thinking I should write a brief blog about my Saturday night visit but then, yesterday, up-standing comic Becky Fury wrote one. 

Becky won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So I think it is only fitting I should simply steal her words. 

And here they are:

beckyfury_wibbleywobbley_nov2016

John Fleming and I went to the Wibbley Wobbley on Saturday night.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s old boat and has been squatted by an art collective. John said Malcolm only nicked cars and they’ve nicked a whole boat and that Malcolm would have approved.

The squatters had hung protest banners outside, so we took our own banner which said KNOB OUT! (one of Malcolm’s catchphrases) and hung it with the others.

The tribute banner’s initial position...

The tribute banner’s initial position aloft…

Which is the equivalent of putting flowers on your mate’s grave.

I had spray painted KNOB OUT! earlier in the day on an old bed sheet on my own boat and hung it to dry by the busy tow path in Camden.

A lot of people ushered their children past very quickly.

Those that didn’t spoke approvingly about it as a protest against Donald Trump.

Context is everything.

Back on the Wibbley Wobbley, John presented me with a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake

The angelic Malcolm’s autobiography

It has a picture of Malcolm as a cherub or angel on the cover.

Greenland Dock is where Malcolm died. He fell in the dock and drowned – as the story goes – weighed down by pound coins ‘stolen’ from his own fruit machine and, when his body was dredged from the dock, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

So the mythos goes.

Given this back story, I thought it was a very poetic and appropriate place to be handed a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography. Especially as the front cover has a Malcolm as an angel.

John gave the squatters a copy of the book too.

I tried to stop him but he was insistent.

Becky Fury performs an adequate turn

Becky performs an adequate turn inside the Wibbley Wobbley

I performed an adequate turn. Quantities of pirate juice 1 and 2 – a dubious home brew distinguishable only by colour – were consumed and a band played some music. Me and John recorded a Grouchy Club podcast.

But the most interesting part of the night was spent. So we left to catch the last tube.

On the way to the station I needed a piss, so I popped in a nearby Weatherspoons pub.

Weatherspoons likes to commemorate local characters.

There was a picture of Malcolm with the birthday cake story underneath.

Local boy Malcolm Hardee stole Freddie Mercury’s £40,000 birthday cake. When the police raided, there was no evidence of the cake because it had been donated to a local old people’s home. 

Becky Fury with her ‘new’ Malcolm Hardee award

Becky Fury with a photo of Malcolm Hardee and a pirate flag

I told John: “There’s a picture of Malcolm Hardee on the wall. With the story about stealing Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake.”

“In the women’s toilet? he asked. “That’s appropriate.”

I spoke to my friend the street artist Stik and told him about my evening and that Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake was stolen by Malcolm Hardee.

“Can you get me a copy of the autobiography?” he asked. “And I’ll send it to Brian May. I’m sure he’d love to finally know what happened to his mate’s cake.”


I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake – the picaresque autobiography of Malcolm Hardee – is out of print but available from Amazon whose online description has, for several years, been of a completely different book. It currently continues to describe I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake thus: 

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students. This book contains 220 positive, practical teaching ideas that are relevant to both new and experienced classroom teachers.”

I have never attempted to correct this mis-description because, in its full, irrelevant, surreal glory, I think Malcolm would have approved.

wibbleywobbley_banner2

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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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The near-sinking of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday party on 5th January 2002

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee was born on 5th January 1950. He used to put on a birthday comedy show.  This is an extract from my 2002 diary. Malcolm had recently bought the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe… He drowned a few feet away from the Wibbley Wobbley in 2005.

SATURDAY 5th JANUARY 2002

Charlie Chuck, advertising man Paul (whom Chuck knows) and I went to the first of two birthday parties which Malcolm Hardee is holding this weekend. It was on his new floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley.

When we arrived, Malcolm was dressed in naval captain’s uniform with Russian Convoy medals on his chest. I went to the bow area to say hello to him.

“Go back up to the bar end,” he whispered, “We’re sinking – I’m not kidding – We’re going down.”

And, as we walked back up towards the bar, sure enough, I realised we were indeed walking slightly uphill.

We were all eventually evacuated – maybe thirty of us – and someone suggested the problem seemed to be that they were trying to pump the water out underwater via the pump where water enters.

A fire engine turned up. Then two policemen. Then another two policemen. Then another fire engine. Then another two policemen. And another two. It was a good night for criminals in Rotherhithe. The police were unsmiling and uninterested except when they had chats amongst themselves. The firemen were surprisingly fat. How do they get up ladders?

On the quayside, one theory for the slow sinking of the Wibbley Wobbley was that ice in the recent bitterly cold weather had blocked the pump and a build-up of shit in the septic tank was weighing down the vessel at one end.

The Wibbley Wobbley is not yet insured. No surprise there: neither is Malcolm’s car; and he has two driving licences under different names.

After about twenty minutes, Malcolm told me: “The Coast Guard have arrived. Straight up, a bloke from the Coast Guard has just just turned up because he heard about it. He seems to be in the mood for a party.” We turned and looked at the eight policemen already here. They did not talk to the Coast Guard man.

A well-known comedian was standing next to us with staring eyes, accompanied by a tall dark man who also had brightly staring eyes. Both looked startled at what was happening.

This is no time to be on coke, I thought.

We were eventually allowed back on the ship by the firemen.

Then we were evacuated again and told no-one would be allowed back on again that night.

Then we were let back on board again.

In all, the non-sinking took about 90 minutes.

The eventual explanation was that, indeed, a pipe had got blocked and shit really had built up on board to such an extent that it almost sank the boat and everyone in it.

A simile for many a comedy career, perhaps.

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POSTSCRIPTS

Malcolm’s friend Deke has continued the tradition of Malcolm’s annual birthday party (well it would be annual, wouldn’t it?)  on the Sunday nearest to 5th January. This year it is this coming Sunday (9th January 2011) from 7.00pm at the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek in Greenwich. The event will include performances by Steve Bowditch (ex-Greatest Show on Legs) and a screening of The Tunnel the award-nominated short film about Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel Palladium. Deke’s e-mail is dekedecore@hotmail.com … You can see The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Steve Bowditch and Malcolm Hardee – perform their Naked Balloon Dance here.

This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy will be presented during a special two-hour tribute show at the Edinburgh Fringe – starting at 10.00pm on the evening of Friday 26th August 2011.

There is a Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

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