Following on from the last five days of blogs, which quoted what people’s reactions were when legendary comedian Malcolm Hardee died in 2005, here is an extract from his out-of-print 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.
All you need to know as background is that, before he entered the show business, Malcolm was not the comedy Messiah.
He was a very naughty boy…
I came out of Exeter three days after Jubilee Day 1977. Unless you’re young enough to be a footballer, there are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into showbusiness. I did both.
Alan Curry, who later joined The Greatest Show on Legs, had been looking for a flat and had just gone knocking on doors. He’d found a massive Victorian house in Micheldever Road in Lee Green, half a mile from Lewisham. A woman called Sally Niblett lived there. Her husband was disabled and was quite a famous doctor and he’d taken himself, his wheelchair and their five boys off to Papua New Guinea. She was left in this massive house on her own. So Alan Curry moved in.
Alan told Wizo about the house, Wizo told me and I moved in. At this point, Wizo was a lifeguard at a local swimming pool despite the fact he couldn’t swim. Not what you would call swimming in the traditional sense.
After that, my mate Martin Potter moved in and, over the years, Sally had maybe 70-odd different tenants in that house. My sister lived there for a time. Nearly everyone I know has lived there.
The house next door was owned by a man called Michael, who was clinically mad. He used to come along in the morning, cut the hedge and then stick the leaves back on with glue and Sellotape.
There were the maddest goings-on in the world at Sally Niblett’s house. There was a bloke called Vic, who thought he was practical but he wasn’t. He constantly had a car engine in his bedroom that he was repairing but it never worked. Once I was in bed with a girlfriend and he tried to come into the room, but there was a wooden beam across the door and he hit his head on it. He went running downstairs, got a chainsaw out, ran back up and started sawing through the wood.
Another bloke who lived there was Dave. He bought an old taxi, took the body off it and decided to make a car completely out of wood, because he was a bit of a chippie. Eventually, after about two years making this car, he decided to take it for a test run. He came out of the drive where he’d been making it, turned left and, after about 100 yards, got stopped by the police. They said:
“You can’t have this. It’s illegal. You’ve got no M.O.T. certificate”.
So he put it back in the drive and it stayed there for fifteen years until it rotted away.
Sally Niblett used to be a nurse and she had a series of affairs and eventually ended up moving into the basement because there were so many people in this house. Everyone paid her £5 per week. Didn’t matter which room: £5 per week. It was just the maddest house you could ever imagine. It made the house in BBC TV’s The Young Ones look like a palace.
Once, I wanted to have a chicken-run in the garden, so I came back with two chickens and didn’t have anywhere to put them, so I put them in the oven while I built the chicken-run. Sally Niblett came home and switched the oven on. She never noticed.
Another time, we moved a sofa from a house round the corner. We didn’t have any van to put it in, but I had an old Austin Cambridge car. So I towed it behind the car, with Vic sitting on the sofa as we towed it round the streets. I came round a corner, the rope snapped and he just carried on sitting on the sofa as it hurtled straight into the Manor Lane Cafe.
It was at this house in Micheldever Road that I became a minicab-driver when I met this bloke called ‘Alec The Greek’, who wasn’t a Greek. He lent me £65 to buy a car and I bought the cheapest possible four-door car I could: a Renault 4 saloon.
At the same time, I saw a notice in the local paper saying:
WANTED FOR THEATRE GROUP
I thought I’ll have a go at that!
This was the 1970s so, basically, being in a Theatre Group meant somebody gave you a Grant and you went round and scared kids for about an hour.
I went to this audition and they were all standing in a circle going:
“Taaaaall as a tree!……Smaaaall as a mouse!”
Then they went:
And I thought What the fuck’s going on here?
But I thought I’d have a go at it.
I had a boxer dog I was looking after at the time and as I tried doing Taaaall as a tree! the boxer dog was trying to shag my leg. They were all taking it seriously but, over the other side of the room, was a bloke called Martin Soan and he looked at me and he looked at the boxer dog and I looked at him and we knew, from that moment, we were going to get on. And we did.
I was also minicabbing with the boxer dog in the car. There was a girl in this Theatre Group who was very big. Well, let’s be honest, she was fat.
She fancied me. I don’t know why, but she did.
I went to the minicab office one night at 1.00am and this girl was there, waiting for me. She said:
“Can you take me home to Peckham, Malcolm?”
“Alright,” I said.
Just as she was getting in the car, the minicab boss shouted out:
“Oy! I’ve got another fare for Peckham, round the corner! Can you take him?”
“Yes,” I said. “No problem.”
So I drove round the corner to the address and the fare was on the 14th floor of a tower block.
I went in. The lift didn’t work. I ran up the stairs. Knocked on the door. Shouted out:
“Anyone cab for Peckham?”
This bloke came to the door a bit drunk and said:
“Can you take five?”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I can take five. I’ve got a dog in the car”. I didn’t mention the fat girl.
So this bloke called out:
“Mavis! Oi, Mavis! We like dogs, don’t we?”
“Yeah,” she called back: “We love dogs!”
So I capitulated because he said he’d pay double.
“Alright,” I said, “I’ll take five”.
I ran all the way down the stairs and shouted to the fat girl:
“Get in the boot!”
Full credit to her, she did.
The boot in my Renault was at the front. So she got into the boot and the family came down. They were luckily quite small people. I put three of them in the back with the dog over their laps and the bloke and his wife in the front. I started the engine up and the fat girl must have panicked because the boot lid came slowly up and her face rose in front of the windscreen. The bloke asked the not unreasonable question:
“Dunno,” I said.
The lid of the boot went down and we drove off to Peckham. The bloke never mentioned it again. Nor did I.