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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

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

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: 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 show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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I can only barely remember Malcolm Hardee’s old comedy club The Tunnel

Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Club in the 1980s
(photo courtesy of Steve Taylor)

In the early hours of this morning, I was talking to a friend who knew the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. She met him as a neighbour before she knew he was a comic or a club owner and she did not go to his Sunday night Tunnel Club primarily for the comedy.

“I used to play pool there,” she told me.

“Not to watch the shows?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” she said. It’s late. I can’t really remember. I must’ve not watched the shows sometimes because I was playing pool. I didn’t go there that often, because it was a long walk in the night from Greenwich, where I lived.”

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much at all,” I said.

“But you can’t remember what happened yesterday,” she said.

I have a notoriously bad memory. I have to write everything down.

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much either,” my friend said. “So you’re never going to get a blog out of this.”

“Was the stage in a corner?” I asked. “You came in the door and turned right, didn’t you? But I think there was something odd about the positioning of the stage.”

“The bar was in the middle,” my friend explained. “On one side were the pool tables; on the other side was the bar; and, at the end was the room with the show in.”

“Was it a separate room?” I asked, surprised. I remembered it being one large pub room.

“It was quite a large room,” she said. “It wasn’t pokey. That was pleasant for a start. And the fact there were two pool tables and one of them was usually free. That was great. Then there was sometimes someone I fancied there. I loved that.”

“The audience always threw beer glasses at acts they didn’t like,” I said.

“It wasn’t dangerous for me,” my friend said, “because I always stood at the back. I didn’t sit in a seat.”

“I remember standing,” I said. “I don’t remember seats. Were you there the night Babs what’s-er-name got hit by a glass?”

“No,” my friend said, opening up her laptop computer to check her e-mails.

“Look, John,” she said, “I’m too tired to remember. Phone up Lewis Schaffer if you want a blog. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be feeling pissed-off. Is it Tuesday and Wednesday he does his Soho gigs? Phone him up and ask him how his gig was last night and say how you went to someone else’s show. That’ll cheer him up.”

The Tunnel film documentary

“People who never went to the Tunnel think it was a rowdy bear pit,” I said. “Well, I suppose it was. People were always throwing glasses at the acts. That’s rowdy. Even if they only threw them at bad acts.”

“Well,” my friend reminded me, “at that time, people threw glasses at punk bands. If you went to see a rock band, no-one was able to dance any more. Disco had vanished because people were spitting and pogo-ing.”

“The Tunnel was 1984-1988, though,” I said.

“All I know,” my friend said, “is that, in the late-1970s, there was a sudden moment when lots of pogo-ing was happening and people were spitting.”

“That was before AIDs,” I mused.

“The bands on stage were spitting at the audience,” my friend continued. “You didn’t want to sit in the front rows. If anyone danced, the floor was taken over by young men pogo-ing and bashing into each other so, if you were a woman, you couldn’t dance. That was what social nights out were turning into half the time.

“People throwing glasses at acts in The Tunnel wasn’t surprising. That’s what was happening at the music gigs as well. Musicians on stage would swing the microphone stand and whack it around with people going Whoooaaa! and ducking their heads. You would think Doh! I’m not going near the front. Punk started in 1977, but it was pretty well established by, say, 1979 and, after that, things were getting more and more seedy.

“Before then, people used to wear T-shirts saying LOVE and stuff with rainbows and hearts printed on them. After Punk started it wasn’t just ripped shirts and razor blades and studs and chains round the trousers… people had emblazoned on their T-shirts Oh, fucking hell! and Wot you looking at? and Fuck off, cunt. No-one was having Love and Peace on their T-shirts any more. So, a few years later, if people in a comedy club are throwing glasses…”

“The Tunnel must have been filled with smoke,” I said. “because people were still smoking inside pubs and clubs. It must’ve smelled of beer and fags. I don’t remember.”

“I don’t remember the smell,” my friend said, looking at her computer. “I’ve got a lot of spam.”

“Malcolm and I could never remember when we met,” I said. “It must have been around 1985 or 1986 because he was managing acts and I was looking for acts which might be useful on TV for Surprise! Surprise! or Game For a Laugh. I think I went to The Tunnel and saw Gary Howard and maybe The Greatest Show On Legs.”

“There was that guy with the dog,” my friend said.

“The Joan Collins Fan Club,” I prompted. “Julian Clary.”

“He was on at The Tunnel a lot,” my friend said. “It seemed to me, when I went, he was often on. I didn’t go that often. One time someone I knew stopped and chatted to him because they knew him from Goldsmiths College in New Cross.”

“I’ve never associated him with Malcolm,” I said. “Maybe he was around Malcolm before my time or maybe I’ve just forgotten.”

“He was there a lot,” my friend said. I remember Jerry Sadowitz too.”

“I must have seen him perform there,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I first went there. I can’t remember. I knew Malcolm around the time he released that album for Jerry – Was it called Gobshite? – It had to be withdrawn in case Jimmy Saville sued for libel.”

“I remember Harry Enfield,” my friend said. “I don’t remember seeing him perform… He was there as… someone who…”

“…who was in the audience,” I prompted.

“Well, he wasn’t in the audience,” she said. “He was a friend of Malcolm’s. I don’t remember seeing him perform. Just like Jools Holland went along as a friend of Malcolm’s, but I don’t remember seeing him perform there.”

“I remember the man who tortured teddy bears,” I said. “He was wonderful. Steve something-or-other. He had a wheel of death for the teddy bear.”

“I didn’t particularly think of it as a place to watch acts,” my friend said. “It was a chance to go out and I went along to play pool. I liked playing pool in those days. There was the odd person to fancy and the music was nice.”

“It was always easy listening music before the show, wasn’t it?” I said.

“People like Etta James,” my friend agreed. “At Last. I don’t know if Martin Potter (the sound man) used that track at The Tunnel, but he always put it on at Up The Creek.”

“Once,” I said, “I asked Malcolm why he didn’t play rock music before gigs, because that was more the audience, and he told me he played more sophisticated jazz-type stuff because he thought it put the audience in the right mood to see people perform comedy. Relaxed them. I thought Malcolm chose the music, but you told me it was Martin Potter.”

“Etta James singing Sunday Kind of Love,” my friend said,” He always played that because it was Sunday.”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“You never do,” my friend said. “That’s why you write things down.”

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Malcolm Hardee Tunnel documentary goes to Cannes Film Festival – sort of

The Tunnel film on Malcolm’s comedy club

Ever since 2005, the year Britain’s alternative comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee drowned, Jody VandenBurg has been collecting material for a feature-length film: Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.

Still unfinished but with a staggering amount of unique material collected and a vast number of interviews with Big Name comedians telling stories about Malcolm, a couple of years ago, the projected full-length documentary spawned a short 30-minute film on Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel. It includes memories of Malcolm from comedians Harry Enfield, Simon Munnery and Arthur Smith

Last night, I was at a screening of The Tunnel in Greenwich. It is being shown again on 6th May as part of the New Cross & Deptford Film Festival.

It is also, as they say, “going to Cannes” in May.

Last night, director Jody VandenBurg told me:

“We’re going because I accidentally entered The Tunnel for the Cannes Short Film Corner and accidentally got through. I wasn’t even thinking Oh. This is the Cannes Film Festival. I just thought Oh. I’ve managed to find another film festival that’s worth entering. I guess I just thought I was entering a competition rather than the actual short film section of the Festival, which is more of a market place. There are going to be lots of agents and producers looking for new talent.

“The Cannes Short Film Corner is not part of the official Cannes Film Festival competition but it is very much part of the Festival. So, like the Edinburgh Fringe, we are going to take posters and flyers and put them up and encourage people to come and watch the film and we’ve got a screening room where we can show it to people. I’ll take an iPad so I can easily shove it in people’s faces. Show them The Tunnel and the trailer for Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.

“It’s going to cost you a fortune, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Probably. Yeah,” Jody admitted. “This whole film obviously has cost us all a fortune, so far.”

“So,” I suggested, “Malcolm is managing to screw money out of people even from beyond the grave?”

“Yes,” said Jody. “But he is talent-spotting as well, isn’t he? Helping someone at the beginning of their career even from beyond the grave.”

“You should put the trailer online,” I suggested.

“Yeah, we’ll put that online before Cannes.”

“My memory of the trailer I saw at Edinburgh in 2010,” I said, “was that it had an emotional flow to it. There was a feeling of tragedy and sadness towards the end.”

“Well,” agreed Jody, “there’s much more to Malcolm than just the bollocks-out with crazy antics and stunts, isn’t there? There’s a lot more depth to him, really.”

“Who wants to hear about that, though?” I said.

“Lots of people,” replied Jody. “Big audiences hopefully. People really love The Tunnel because it has that same sort of emotional curve to it.”

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Malcolm Hardee, godfather of British alternative comedy – remembered

It was seven years ago today that ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. His body was found and recovered on 2nd February 2005.

When it happened, I put a page online where people could leave memories of him.

Comedian Charlie Chuck wrote:

I met Malcolm and played Up The Creek in 1990. A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. I said to Malcolm: “Whats up with him?” He said: “It’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamar, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some.

Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him. I didn’t have a clue. He put me on a TV show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at The Creek on 15th November. Meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. I didn’t listen and played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby, instead.

During the Edinburgh Festival, at half one in the morning, two men were locked out of a car. The only place open was a bread shop. They went in and borrowed some baking implements to break into the car. It was so funny, me and Malcolm howled. 

The last time I worked with Malcolm, from me picking him up, he talked about religion and Jesus Christ. I often wandered why. He had never mentioned it before.

Joke No 1, Malcolm told me, he had a terrible day, he woke up at 9am and a prawn cocktail slapped him in the face, that was just for starters.

His memory will live on.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy wrote:

Malcolm, you helped and encouraged me when I started. At the time, I think I took it for granted. I’m not sure I ever thanked you. We lost touch over the years, partly because I tried to avoid getting involved in things which would involve you owing me money. I’m sad now that I hadn’t seen you for so long. You once introduced me at the Tunnel club as your little brother and people believed you. I think you only meant it as a joke but, in retrospect, I’ll take it as a compliment if you don’t mind.

Alan Davies wrote:

My memories of Malcolm….

The Tunnel club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: “You’re not going to wear that shirt are you?”. He introduced me. “Stone him!” they shouted. “Crucify him!” Before I could do my first line someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said Directors. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off. At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground. Malcolm said: “I’ll book you”, which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way”, he said,”It’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread even though it’s a Courage pub”.

The following month, I did a full spot and, soon after, the pub was raided and it was over. Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot, but The Tunnel was special. The hardest gig. If you went well, they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in. “Mmmm”…. louder and louder…. Malcolm would hurry from the back bar…. “mmmm…MALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler – Rex Boyd – who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back. “Oh no!” said Malcolm. “I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff”. The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation.

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs,including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me. There were stories all the way there and all the way back. He was the one-off’s one-off.

Comedian Jeff Green wrote:

I remember many times backstage at Glastonbury – bringing me on to nothing! And playing trivia machines at Up The Creek. I remember you pretending to faint in the Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh – to see how many people would come to your aid. I remember spending an afternoon rowing boats on a trip to a gig in Bungay And all those times I don’t remember ever hugging you and telling you what a great bloke you are. And I regret that.

Journalist Andrew Billen wrote:

I met Malcolm a few times and interviewed him once for the Observer, but did not know him. I just think he was the funniest stand-up, possibly the funniest man, I have ever seen.

PR man Mark Borkowski wrote:

I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s. He had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. One of my last conversations with him was when David Blaine was doing his stunt in London, sitting in a glass box dangling from a crane. Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help him organise the media and a crane because he’d got one of his mates in Deptford to knock up a glass box and he was going to put his up right next to Blaine and sit in it for the same amount of time… stark naked. When I told him he’d never get away with it, he decided to settle for standing underneath Blaine throwing chips at him. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

Comedian Simon Munnery wrote:

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel club. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. Says one: “It’s been a good night.” Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out, it’s going to be a great night.”

Backstage at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh one night, a bunch of comics were sitting round and Malcolm was seemingly out for the count, slumped in a chair, so we began discussing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which had just come out. Someone said: “Do you think any of it was exaggerated at all?” and we laughed because, knowing Malcolm, that wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Then Malcolm sits bolt upright and mumbles: “Uh uh – It worked for George Orwell”, then collapsed back into a stupor and the assembled comics spent the next twenty minutes filling in the gaps… “Road to Wigan Pier – he only got as far as Watford”…. ?

Simon Day of The Fast Show wrote:

I was supporting Vic Reeves in Newcastle. We were staying at the Copthorne Hotel. Malcolm arrived having missed the show. Earlier in the day, he had won eight grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. He was half-cut and mistakenly assumed I had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier. He decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl, who didn’t exist, wearing just a dressing gown.

He climbed out of the window, the icy waters of the Tyne swirling 100 foot below. He struggled along for ages finally reaching my room; no doubt he shouted “Oy! Oy!” and pressed his balls to the glass. It was the wrong room. I was fast asleep on the floor above. On returning to his junior suite, he was hurled to the ground by two Special Branch officers. (There was a Tory Conference on.) They wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge, naked except for a dressing gown.

They searched his room and found £5,760 in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards. He was taken to a portakabin nearby where he gave his address in Fingal Street. All sorts of alarms went off. It was the former home of a leading member of the IRA. After intensive questioning, they decided that he was not a threat to national security only social security and off he tottered. I miss him.

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all, he was the king of comedy.

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Necrophilia and its place in honouring comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

(If you are easily offended – or, really, if you have ever been offended by anything at any point in your life – please do not read this blog.)

Yesterday, I had an interesting evening at the Star & Garter pub in Greenwich, where comic Steve Bowditch and ‘Paul The Poet’ hold regular Friday night Open Mic nights to a very traditional London pub audience. It is like a cross between the 1890s, the 1930s and the 2010s. I could imagine geezers having knees-ups at the drop of an ‘H’.

Last night was an even more than normally unusual night because, as well as occasional open spots, there was a tribute to Malcolm Hardee, betwixt his birthday on 5th January and the day he died, 31st January.

There was a table-top shrine with a photo of Malcolm and joss-sticks with the smell, Steve Bowditch claimed, of sandalwood, cedarwood, Brut and Vosene.

The evening included interesting local guitarist Danny Alex, Ian Breslin the acapella punk poet, soiled tissue juggling, selections from Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! and Greatest Show on Legs originator Martin Soan’s always wonderful-to-watch but painful-to-perform version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller using six rubber bands.

There were also 12 minutes of video clips from Jody VandenBurg’s long-gestating documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There. One of the most interesting quotes in the film is from Malcolm’s long-term chum Jools Holland, who says: “He was like a Dickens character.”

Part of being a Dickensian-style character, I think, was (in public, at least) that he was larger-than-life, almost a cartoon caricature of someone who did not care about consequences.

Martin Potter, who started the infamous Tunnel Palladium comedy club with Malcolm, says in this future film: “He would always do what other people would like to do but didn’t dare do.”

Acapella punk Ian Breslin, who organised last night’s Malcolm tribute, told the crowded back bar at the Star & Garter:

“As some of you know, every time someone famous died, Malcolm would have a bet on the Queen Mother dying too. So, eventually it happens. The Queen Mother has just died but Malcolm has not had a bet on it happening. I’m beside myself to go down to Up the Creek and see what he’s going to say. I’m with a group of people. Some have never seen Malcolm perform before.

“I say to this woman: You do realise he’s going to say something about the Queen Mother in the first five seconds?

He wouldn’t dare, she says.

“I say: He’s going to fucking rip into her in the first five seconds.

No. No, she says, that won’t happen.

So, I say, you want a bottle of vodka on it?

“She shook my hand.

“Malcolm walks on stage and says: The cunt’s dead…

“A bottle of vodka in my hand, yeah?

“People walk out and get really upset and everything.

“Malcolm says: Still a good fuck, though…”

Ian dedicated his next poem/song to Malcolm.

“I’ve had a tee-shirt made,” Ian said.

I was pleased – indeed, humbled – to see it was a photo of the annual Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality which I organise – a microphone rising stiffly at an angle above two circles.

“This is called Dig ‘Em Up…” Ian said.

The poem/song was a sweet little ditty which started:

Had your picture on my wall
Shame you died when I was small
You looked at me through paper eyes

and later included the fine lines:

Thora Hird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Nice old bird – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Mary Shelley – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too smelly – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Lena Zavaroni – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em
Far too bony – Dig ‘em up and fuck ‘em

It is good to see Malcolm’s memory being honoured. The only downside to the evening was at the very end, when Martin Soan told me of his disappointment:

“I thought we should polish it off in the right way for a Malcolm Hardee evening. I was going to get my kit off – fold my clothes very precisely, put my shoes on top of my folded clothes, my socks inside my shoes. But I was told, if I walked back through the bar, they wouldn’t like it. It’s a sad reflection on modern life when an Englishman can’t walk naked through a local pub.”

How true. How true.

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The night comedian Malcolm Hardee urinated on a member of his audience

Legends grow in the telling and re-telling of them.

When comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005, The Stage called him “a larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary”.

I told one definitive anecdote about him in yesterday’s blog.

But one of the most famous stories told about Malcolm was the night he pissed on a member of the audience at his legendarily rowdy comedy club The Tunnel.

Comedian Mark Lamarr was there that night. He says:

Jerry Sadowitz was on stage, very loud and noisy and, while he was on, this bloke was fast asleep in the front row with his head down, just absolutely gone. And Jerry rants, There’s this fucking bloke fell asleep here!… but at no point did he wake up.

“After Jerry finished, Malcolm walked on and said, Oy Oy There’s a bloke asleep and the audience – who were a vicious Klan Rally of an audience – all started shouting Piss on him, Malcolm! Piss on him!

“And he said, Yeah, alright.

“But he didn’t do it immediately. He had the most perfect comedy timing. He just started telling jokes and drinking to fill up his bladder.”

Ben Burke, who was also there in the audience that night, says: “It was Stuart North… sadly demised now, though not from being pissed on.”

Mark Lamarr remembers well what happened: “The audience is yelling: Piss on him, Malcolm! and he’s saying, Yeah, alright, and for five minutes he’s saying this and the bloke is still fast asleep.”

Ben Oakley, who was also in the audience that night, says: “It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Malcolm looked down at the bloke and nudged his boots which were up on the stage. After no response, Malcolm casually whipped it out.”

Ben Burke says: “As I recall, Malcolm took Stuart North’s furry Russian hat off and pissed in that.”

“Then,” Ben Oakley says, “Malcolm continued to drink his beer whilst streaming full pelt onto the bloke’s head.”

“He pissed all over this bloke,” Mark Lamarr recalls, “But it wasn’t a dribbly piss. From where I was standing, no-one could have lit this better. There was a big arc of piss coming over and dribbling down this bloke’s face and the crowd, as a man – 300 people – stood up and yelled: Aaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!!!!! And the bloke still hadn’t woken up.

“For a minute or so, there’s this stream – like a waterfall of piss – just going down his designer clothes. He’s there asleep and it’s going on and on and on.

“Eventually, Malcolm zips himself up and says, Alright. That’s it. See you next week. Goodnight, and that’s the end of the night and everyone leaves and there’s this bloke who’s sat there, covered in piss, still fast asleep and eventually his mates nudge him and wake him up and, from across the room, I saw his mates were miming to him how Malcolm pissed on him and he looked down and looked up and opened his mouth in happy excitement. He was over the moon that he’d somehow been a big part of the show, just as a piss recipient.”

Ben Oakley remembers is differently. He says, when Malcolm pissed on Stuart North, “The bloke woke up slowly at first by licking his piss-covered lips and face, then wiped his hand across his cheek and looked at it, at which point the whole place erupted. He got up and ran/staggered out the place.”

When Malcolm told me the story of what had happened, he said that, the following week at The Tunnel, he saw the same guy in the bar. The guy walked up to him and Malcolm thought, Oy Oy He’s going to hit me but, in fact, he beamed at Malcolm, shook him by the hand and thanked him.

“I’ve been dining out on the story all week,” he told Malcolm.

I asked Ben Burke if he thought it would be OK to name Stuart North in this story.

“Please do,” he told me. “It would make Stuart’s family very proud!”

Legends grow in the telling and re-telling of them.

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The definitive story about anarchic comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer is nothing if not quotable.

In my blog yesterday, I quoted his views about racial and racist jokes. In the same conversation, we also talked about Malcolm Hardee, the late godfather of British alternative comedy who was known for random outbreaks of nudity onstage and renowned for having “the biggest bollocks in showbusiness”.

I met Malcolm around 1985 or 1986 and wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in 1995. He drowned in 2005.

Also present when Lewis and I talked was a friend of mine who knew Malcolm far longer than I did.

“I never met Malcolm,” Lewis said, “but I would say he is he is someone who is ‘best remembered’… I never experienced what Malcolm Hardee was. The impression I get for the guy is that he didn’t really have much respect for other people. He was always messing with people. In a way, he brought people on stage at his clubs just to humiliate them.”

“No,” I answered. “They humiliated themselves.They knew how tough Malcolm’s audiences could be. They knew if they could survive the Sunday night audience at Up The Creek and, even more so at The Tunnel, then they had a good act. I always thought the Tunnel audience was firm but fair. If you had a good act, they would listen and applaud. If the act was not so good, they would shout out razor-sharp heckles. If your act was shit, they would throw beer glasses at you. Firm but fair. And, if you died on stage with good reason, when you went off, Malcolm would say: Well, he was shit, wasn’t he? or That was shit, wasn’t it, but I’d fuck her.

“He let the acts do what they did,” my friend said. “He was secure in his own world, because he lived and worked in the area he came from, so he was very secure. He was amongst people he had grown up with.”

“He half-joked he didn’t like going north of the River Thames,” I said. “and that was partly true because, when he opened a comedy club at Harlesden in north west London, he didn’t really have very much interest in it because it took a bit of time to travel up there and people didn’t know who he was.

“He said to me once that he liked being in Greenwich because he was a big fish in a small pond. He liked being recognised in the street. I once asked him why he was so attractive to women and he said: Because, to them, I’m a celebrity here. No-one knows who I am in Huddersfield but, in Greenwich, I’m a local showbiz celebrity.”

“But,” Lewis asked me, “what was he thinking when he peed at the back of the stage when someone was performing and the audience saw him and laughed but the act did not see him? That’s so disrespectful to an act.”

“It was like he was at home,” my friend said. “He felt at home. He felt so comfortable, he could say and do anything. He was…”

“But he urinated on the wall…” Lewis interrupted.

“He probably just thought,” I suggested, “I need a piss and it’s going to get a laugh. It’s as simple as that.”

The definitive Malcolm story, I think, is this one which Australian comic Matthew Hardy posted on the web page I set up after Malcolm died.

__________

He took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.

Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.

I wanted to hit him, and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy.

We laugh… NOW!”.

__________

“Malcolm could have killed them and himself,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “The only reason he did it was because he knew it would get a laugh when it was told as a story later. He would do something because he thought, Oy Oy. That’ll get a laugh; I’ll do it, and just not care about the consequences.”

“People can’t help but admire that sort of thing,” my friend said. “They wish they could do it themselves.”

“They admired Malcolm’s balls,” I said.

“Literally and figuratively,” my friend said.

What I wrote about Malcolm at the time of his death was:

__________

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. Not a piece of carrot. A real goldfish. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not again, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that with his trousers down he was never embarrassed.

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