Tag Archives: Vic Reeves

More comics’ comments on the death of the godfather of UK Alternative Comedy

Malcolm Hardee on his boat (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee’s birthday was yesterday in 1950.

He drowned on 31st January 2005.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

Yesterday I re-posted the first of those memories by fellow comics.

They continue here…


ALAN DAVIES, comedian – 7th February, 2005

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? They’ll take the piss out of you your first line.”

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. 

“MmmmmMALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler 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.


ALEX HARDEE, Malcolm’s brother – 7th February 

I had just met a new girlfriend, who had never been introduced to any of my family before. She was from quite a well to do family, and I was quite nervous of her meeting Malcolm.

Unfortunately, it happened to be at Glastonbury where the meeting was to take place, so I dragged her backstage to the Cabaret Tent, and said, “Malcolm, this is Claudia,” at which he whipped his genitalia out and said, “Look at this Ultravoilet knob,” as he had painted it earlier with Ultravoilet paint.

A shocked look came across her face and he responded, “Don’t you worry. You should see my wife’s mouth.”

Of course, I am not still with her.

Will miss you loads. The world is a sadder and less colourful place without you.


MATTHEW HARDY, comedian – 8th February

October 2, 1992. I landed alone in the UK, straight from having lived my entire life under Mum & Dad’s working class roof in the sunny Aussie suburbs. A mate who’d been overseas showed me a copy of Time Out and, though I’d only done six open spots in Oz, I decided there was more opportunity in England. Saved money for a one-way ticket cos I was impatient. 

Many calls down the then ‘cabaret’ listings got me nowhere, until Malcolm answered at Up The Creek. My old man had verbally forced me to agree on keeping a diary, despite me saying it was for poofs. The diary entry from Nov ’92, upon meeting Malcolm in the Lord Hood on a Sunday Creek Sabbath, reads: “This weird bloke called Malcolm gave me a gig, met me in the pub next door beforehand, got me to buy him a pint, then told me I’d be shit, but not to worry. Unfortunately he was right, but I’m not worried cos he gave me another gig anyway”. 

Soon he arranged accommodation and a welcoming woman’s number. Hardee hospitality.

Years later, 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!

R.I.P mate.


SIMON DAY, comedian – 8th February

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. They don’t make them like that any more. In the end he swam away with his underwater bollocks. Thankyou.


STEVE GRIBBIN, comedian – 9th February

As the man who launched the infamous Tunnel Club, one the two best and fiercest comedy clubs in the whole fucking world, Malcolm deserves to be justly celebrated, but those of us who knew him well will recall his love of a prank and a practical joke, which often shaded into criminality!

One time we were in Aberystwyth University and had to change in the kitchen. Malcolm saw a huge 15 foot square block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Oy Oy… let’s have it!”

It took five of us to carry it into the white Ford Transit van that Malcolm had ‘borrowed’ off Greenwich Council. 

The next day a very irate official from Aberystwyth University rang up Malcolm screaming abuse down the phone. 

“You thieving bastard, I know it was you!”

Malcolm denied all knowledge, ending the phone-call with the immortal words: “Sorry mate, got to go now, me cheese on toast’s ready!”

For every tear of sadness that’s shed for his untimely demise there will also be an accompanying one of laughter. Malcolm was like that.


STEVE DAY, deaf comedian – 9th February

Malcolm helped me more than anyone else in my comedy career and when no-one else was interested. It used to be three good open spots at The Creek then you got a paid half spot – none of this perpetual open spot and competition rubbish. 

I had only done two when this happened – :

“The next bloke is a deaf bloke. I know he really is a deaf bloke cos I offered him a paid gig, but he didn’t hear me. So here he is for free… Steve Day”


IVOR DEMBINA, comedian – 9th February

Affectionate tales of Malcolm’s thieving abound, yet here’s one of an attempt of mine to steal from him. 

When I first saw Malcolm compere at his club, the Tunnel, I was so impressed by everyone’s reaction that I decided to ‘borrow’ his style of showmanship for my own comedy club in north London. 

My theft was doomed to failure because I wasn’t nearly as funny as Malcolm nor blessed with his gift for making strangers love him. 

My fruitless larceny taught me a painful lesson: as in comedy as in life, be only yourself, say what you think, do what you feel and stick to your guns. 

Malcolm Hardee was the living embodiment of that lesson and it’s a profound sadness to me that I never had the opportunity to thank him before he died.


KEVIN McCARTHY, ‘THE MAN WITH THE BEARD’, comedian – 10th February

For starting me off in this business – I thank you.
For giving me my name – I thank you.
For bouncing countless cheques on me – I forgive you.
For owing everyone on the circuit at least a tenner – I forgive you.
For swallowing a two bottle decanter of vintage port in one go and then redecorating my car with it – I forgive you.
For turning up at a meeting at the BBC as my manager with gravy down your tie and looking like a sack of shit – I forgive you.
For dying aged 55 – …


CHARLIE CHUCK, comedian – 10th February

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: “What’s 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 Lamarr, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest, you know who you are. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some. He got the media to his club, he could have signed many a comedian, could have exploited them and made money out of them. Malcolm was not that kind of man.

He was deeper and kinder than you know.

For me, Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him re TV at that time. I didn’t have a clue.

He put me on a show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I should 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. So, instead, I didn’t listen & played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby. Where?

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.

Anyway, fuck it!

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.


SIMON MUNNERY, comedian – 11th February

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel. 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.”

And that was true.

I regarded Malcolm and his wife Jane as my adopted parents and one night they dropped in to my flat in Stoke Newington. Malcolm was drunk – hold the front page – and after a bit had to go to the toilet. 

Malcolm used to steal – hold the front page – particularly from bathrooms. I knew this, Jane knew this and we could hear him crashing about in an exaggerated fashion for ages. 

When he at last returned I said, “Alright Malcolm, what have you nicked?” and he goes “Uh… uh… sorry,” and gets out this tiny pot of my girlfriend’s aromatherapy oils.

But it was too quick. 

I said “Yes; and what else?” 

He goes, “Oh, sorry,” and gets out another. And so on, and so on until, half an hour later, the entire contents of the bathroom were spread out in the living room and he swore there was nothing else. 

Later, we were helping him down the stairs when I noticed an overpowering smell. 

“What’s that smell?” I asked. 

He had emptied a bottle of perfume over his coat.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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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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Malcolm Hardee & Bob Slayer, British comedians, discovered high and naked

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

Last year’s poster for the annual Awards…

The Edinburgh Fringe does not start until August but has to be thought about from now.

Yesterday, I paid the fee for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show to be listed in the Edinburgh Fringe programme.

The extract below from Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake proved to be slightly relevant yesterday. Malcolm died in 2005. The incident took place in the early 1990s and actually did happen – I talked to other comedians who were in the hotel at the time and they confirmed Malcolm got his balconies confused. They told me the policemen looked “stunned”.

* * * * *

Julia remained a flatmate but wasn’t into mating or at least not with me. We did share many things, naturally; we even co-owned a long leather coat that she had bought but which I decided looked much finer on me. And we often mooched around together. When I was asked to screen test for a part in the video recording of a live show in Newcastle of Vic Reeves’ Big Night OutJulia was keen to come along on the jaunt.

The day before we were to head North I had gone into Ladbroke’s bookmakers at Charing Cross with twenty pounds and, in a miraculous series of drink-inspired bets, had won £5,200 by the end of the afternoon. Ladbroke’s didn’t have enough cash in the office to pay me so I agreed to pick up my winnings the following day. For some reason Julia and I convinced ourselves that the most appropriate place for this vast booty was a hat box she intended to take to Newcastle. So we turned up at King’s Cross for the train, Julia manically clinging to her hat box and me feeling like the cock of the walk as I swaggered along in my favourite leather coat – though I probably looked more like a raddled Gestapo torturer.

At Newcastle we were booked into the five-star Copthorne Hotel where Vic Reeves, Simon Day, Jimmy Nail and assorted others connected with Vic’s Big Night Out were staying. Julia and I scanned our room for a hiding place for the five grand and the only thing even vaguely suitable was a tall vase on top of the television. I picked the vase up, shook it and tipped out a pack of very pornographic playing cards. There were pictures of people – mainly – doing things even I wouldn’t do. I pocketed the cards. In case the owner came back in search of them we decided not to put the cash in the vase and so it ended up divided between the pockets of the leather coat.

I failed to make it on to Vic’s video but the live show was jolly. We trooped back from it on Vic’s tour bus – a sort of mobile hotel with bedrooms and lounge area – and spent a liquid evening in the Copthorne bar. I was one of the last to leave and when I was approaching my room I realised that Simon Day, who had been chosen in preference to me for the video, was on the same landing. He had been given the presidential suite – a very grand affair with a balcony that ran along the front of the hotel. I suspected that Simon had retired early to his room because he had lured some unsuspecting female there and, all things considered, it seemed right that I should bid him a congratulatory goodnight.

Wearing only the leather coat and a pair of socks I crawled along the balcony of my room and clambered across to Simon’s. I hammered on his window intending to flash open the coat when he pulled back the curtains. Not a sound. Disappointed I eventually returned to my room to find Julia in her bed, cowering under the sheets, and two men with guns pointed at me. They were Special Branch. Anti-terrorism. And I vaguely recalled some notices pinned in the hotel about a senior politician – Michael Heseltine, I think – who was staying there and ‘would guests behave accordingly’ as the Special Branch boys handcuffed me and marched me down to a Portakabin in the car park that was both their headquarters and their prison cell.

I was asked to turn out my pockets: £5,200 in cash and a very pornographic pack of playing cards. I was asked for my address, which I gave as 1 Mell Street, Greenwich, which they ran through their computer. This told them a fact that I had known but not been unduly bothered by before: that Mell Street had been the home of Gerard Tuite, the convicted IRA bomber who had been arrested there some years before.

Things did not look good. I was facing a charge that could have resulted in life imprisonment had a jury been convinced that I intended to murder Mr Heseltine with a pack of dirty playing cards. I spent an uncomfortable few hours – what a waste of a night in a five-star hotel – until Vic Reeves’ tour manager could be found to confirm that I was there to not star in his video.

* * * * *

Bob Slayer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe

That anecdote became relevant yesterday because I asked comedian Bob Slayer if anything interesting had happened when he performed in Leicester on Friday.

“Yes I nearly died,” he told me. “Well, almost. I was given a Health & Safety lecture after the gig because, during the show, I ran along the balcony wall (naked of course) 40 feet up.”

The moral to this story is simple.

Times change.

Comedians don’t.

The attraction of British balconies to naked comedians remains constant.

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Comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee on Vic Reeves and Michael Barrymore

This extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake gives his views of some comedians in 1995…

________

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography

I was attacked at Glastonbury by a bloke called Bone, part of the anarchist lot Class War. He was going on about how we were all rich. I must have been wearing a suit at the time. He had a daughter called Jenny Bone, who was a brilliant 16 year-old comic, the female equivalent of Jerry Sadowitz. I only ever saw her do about five or six gigs and never heard of her again. She must have given up, which is a great pity.

Some great comedians have given up when they might have gone on to greater things. Others have gone on to gain that success.

Vic Reeves went on to gain success. He should have given up.

Vic was a very clever man. He used to perform in South East London starting at The Goldsmith’s Tavern, next to Goldsmith’s University in New Cross.

Vic called his stage show Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out and performed it with a local alcoholic called Alan King. It was Alan King who was a lot of the brains behind it, but he wasn’t very good as a performer. He admits that he isn’t. He used to just get up on stage and tell a load of old Tommy Cooper jokes very badly while he was ironing.

Because the show included Vic Reeves’ name, Vic got the cult following. He used to spin a fan round and the audience all knew his catchphrases like Give it a spin! and What’s on the end of the stick, Vic? Now and again, though, he’d come into the alternative cabaret circuit and he did the Open Spot a few times at The Tunnel.

Most times he died.

After Alan King left him, Vic teamed up with Bob Mortimer and, as a favour, I got them a booking at Bracknell Arts Centre. It was an easy place to play, about 90 in the audience in a little cellar. A nice audience.

But, after Reeves & Mortimer played there, people actually signed a petition. They said they never wanted to see Vic Reeves or Bob Mortimer in the building ever again. The whole audience. A year later, the bloke who ran the place was ringing me up offering about £8,000 for them to perform in the big theatre next door.

After a time in the Goldsmith’s Tavern, Vic moved his show down the road to the Albany Empire. Michael Grade of Channel 4 was in the audience one night and that’s how Vic got his first TV series.

Alan King is still about. He’s a little bit resentful about the success that has eluded him. He recently organised a weekly Quiz Night at Up The Creek, which was really just an excuse for him to get up with his band and play. It finished after two weeks to a serious lack of audience.

I was at a club he was tempted to run in Camberwell. He’d had so much to drink he was sick into the empty beer glass and then a little later on he proceeded to drink his own vomit.

As for Vic Reeves, success hasn’t really changed him. He was arrogant before he was successful. I get on OK with him, but he’s difficult to get on with because the surreal nature of the show is actually what he is like. You can have a conversation with him that’s straight out of his show:

“I saw two cabbages walking down the road…..”

It’s a bit like schoolboy jokes where only he and his mates are in on the joke. I didn’t understand it or think it was funny when I first saw it but, if you’re told it’s funny long enough, then it becomes funny.

I now do find Reeves & Mortimer funny, though not hilariously funny. There are some comic moments there. I certainly find it funnier than most mainstream comedy.

I think Michael Barrymore is the best of the current mainstream comics. He’s a South East London boy from Bermondsey. I saw him years and years ago when his act involved standing on his head doing impersonations of an Australian John Cleese. Early in his career, he was heavily backed by the Daily Mirror. They did a story in which they followed an unknown comic and they were going to report on his progress at yearly intervals, which they did. I think that helped him along. He is extremely good at what he does, including interviewing ordinary people. He has just that right tone of cynicism but, like me, he genuinely likes ‘naff’ acts, end-of-the-pier acts. He’s encouraging yet, at the same time it’s rather tongue-in-cheek.

I have sometimes been asked who is the most talented ‘alternative’ comedian who never made it.

The most talented performer who never made it is probably Jerry Sadowitz, because he is a genuinely gifted magician-comedian. I recently read Alexei Sayle quoted as saying he thought Jerry was the only current comic genius.

But I don’t think any of the alternative comedy circuit comedians have actually really ‘made it’. Certainly not Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. They’re not on the Michael Barrymore/Bruce Forsyth/Cilla Black level. Living in big houses. People like Reeves & Mortimer are about five rungs down that ladder, still slightly fringe comedians. Possibly Lee Evans has done best. In his feature film Funny Bones, he had equal billing with Jerry Lewis.

But Lee Evans started as a mainstream comic and he linked up with the alternative acts probably mainly due to his youth. He was doing the Butlin’s Holiday Camp circuit before he latched onto the Alternative circuit. Lee always gets compared to Norman Wisdom and there are similarities: both were boxers, both became fitness fanatics and they’re both very physical comedians. But Lee was never particularly ‘alternative’.

There are three types of comedy. There’s Mainstream – your bow tie and frilly shirt Jim Davidson show. There’s Alternative – which has some sort of intellectual or even Art content. And there’s just plain Weird.

Some of the Alternative acts latch on to the public consciousness and gain some Mainstream success by changing slightly. None of the really alternative comedians have made it. The very nature of ‘alternative’ means there is a limited audience. The mainstream audience is the people who watch BBC1 at 8.30pm on a weekday. So Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson have drifted across from alternative into the mainstream. So have French & Saunders, who started off in the Comic Strip club.

Charlie Chuck is a Weird act who should theoretically never make it. But he might if he goes the Freddie Starr route and tones down his act – which he has already started doing to try to appeal to a wider audience since his appearances as ‘Uncle Peter’ on The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer.

Weird is funny, but the general public generally aren’t ready for it. About the nearest you can get to a Weird Mainstream act is Freddie Starr or Spike Milligan.

Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.

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The Edinburgh Fringe: publicising comedy shows with nudity in the street

“Two red bollocks and a sawn-off cock…”

After my blog yesterday about the Edinburgh Fringe’s sudden censorship of show titles, English grammar and risqué images this year, pink-suited Fringe veteran (how he will love that description) Mervyn Stutter pointed out to me: “Ooh that Pr*gr*mme cover, J*hn! It looks like two red b*ll*cks and a sawn off c*ck……..NURSE!!

Mervyn, whose Pick of The Fringe show celebrates its 21st birthday this year, also suggested that, if you list a show in the Fringe Programme as being Theatre not Comedy, you are more likely to get less censorious scrutiny:

Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory,” Mervyn pointed out, “sailed through without comment! What a load of nonsense. But then this Tit show is a proper musical from Dublin and is therefore Art. See the difference?………No, nor me.”

Australian performer John Robertson told me: “Mervyn may be right. I was allowed to call a show about sleeping with Queen Elizabeth The Old Whore. The Fringe Programme features a picture of her face PhotoShopped to appear goofy and hideous. Thank goodness ‘whore’ isn’t classified as slang, eh?”

With the Programme now published, performers’ thoughts are turning to how best to promote their shows in August. Martin Soan told me yesterday:

“We’re trying to approach all the people who’ve ever performed with the Greatest Show on Legs – and there are a lot of them – to see if they’re around in Edinburgh this year and fancy performing sketches with us.”

Vic Reeves did it, didn’t he?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Martin. “On an episode of The Tube.”

“And…?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Martin. “At the time, he was a self-seeking publicist. He’s gone on to do great stuff and he’s very talented and I wouldn’t take any of that away from him. But we used to do The Tube regularly and we were proud of our work on it. Vic Reeves was supposed to be a heckler from the audience who was supposed to say one thing, but he crow-barred his way in and went on for about five minutes. It destroyed a rather good sketch.”

“And,” I prompted, “Keith Chegwin did the naked balloon dance on an Amnesty gig, didn’t he?”

“He let his balloon slip,” said Martin, “and showed his bollocks halfway through the balloon dance, which is not the way it’s done. He rather mis-interpreted the ‘artistic’ side… The idea is to go through a rather drunken side-stepping routine to some cheesy music, hiding one’s bollocks all the way through to the end and then let the balloons go, show your bollocks and then just walk around and chat. I think he didn’t like me much, because I was drunk.”

“And I saw Simon Munnery do the naked balloon dance at Glastonbury,” I said.

“That was one of the times I didn’t turn up at Glastonbury,” Martin replied.

“So why did all these people perform with The Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked.

“I guess because they knew they could do whatever they wanted.” Martin suggested. “When we were in Oswestry, Paul Merton appeared as a pyjama-clad comic.”

“But no women,” I said.

Holly Burn,” said Martin. “She was the first woman to appear as part of the Greatest Show on Legs.”

“But not doing the balloon dance,” I said. “A woman couldn’t do it. It would sexualise it and they’d have to wrangle three balloons.”

“Mmm,” said Martin.

“You told me you were thinking of not doing the naked balloon dance in the Edinburgh Fringe show this year,” I said. “You have to finish the show with it, surely?”

“Or start the show with it,” said Martin. “Get it out of the way. If people want us to do it, then of course we will. In fact, we may do the balloon dance outside of the show – in the street. Let’s get into real trouble. We will do a naked balloon dance in the street with an old-fashioned portable ‘Brixton briefcase’ cassette player – to get the punters into the venue… and then, when the audience are in the Hive, we’ll get them to take their clothes off and then we’ll perform completely clothed in front of a naked audience. I think that’s a very good idea, don’t you? No-one can get in and see us unless they’re completely naked.”

“You think the police may object in the street?” I asked. “Have you had any problems with the police in the past?”

“Only when there was a fight and Chris Lynam stuck a firework up his arse,” Martin replied, ”There was a fight which we tried to break up and the police were involved in that and there was a bit of surprise when Chris Lynam stuck a firework up his arse outside the venue.”

“Why did he do that?” I asked.

“Because the venue wouldn’t allow us to put a firework up his arse inside,” replied Martin.

“Which venue was this?” I asked.

“I can’t remember,” said Martin. “It was in a pub basement near the big roundabout.”

“Why can’t you remember?” I asked.

“God, John!” said Martin. “Over the years? They just all… I tell you who was on with us. The Brighton Bottle Orchestra…”

“Ah!” I said. “Ah!…”

“They were on the show before us,” Martin explained. “And they were very very funny.”

“Indeed they were,” I agreed.

“Very funny,” said Martin. “It was a pub near the big roundabout. There’s probably something else there now. The Fringe changes.”

“Indeed it does,” I said.

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One man can change the world with a bullet (or six) in the right place….

(A version of this blog was also published in the Huffington Post under the title What Links Dead Comedian Malcolm Hardee, Gangster Mad Frank Fraser & a British Political Sex Scandal?)

My local handyman (who is a very interesting person; he was at university – UCL, London – with the mother of Kate Middleton, our possibly future Queen) came round to mend my side gate yesterday. He was telling me he hated reading Charles Dickens and could not understand what people see in Dickens’ writing.

“Just caricatures,” he fumed. “Just caricatures. But,” he continued, “Horace Walpole is worse. “The Castle of Otranto is utter shit yet people thought it was a great piece of writing at the time and they thought Horace Walpole’s name would be remembered. Now, quite rightly, no-one remembers him except dusty academics. He’s a footnote. Who knows which ‘famous’ people’s names are going to survive from the 20th century? It’s pot luck.”

Also yesterday, Bill Alford sent me a Facebook message telling me he had posted on Flickr ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… photographs he took in the years 1985-1987 at the late Malcolm Hardee‘s legendary – nay, notorious – seminal alternative comedy club The Tunnel Palladium.

In among the early photos of Keith Allen, Clive Anderson, Phil Cool, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Jeremy Hardy, Ainsley Harriott, Jools Holland, Eddie Izzard, Phill Jupitus, Josie Lawrence, Neil Morrissey, Mike Myers (yes, that Mike Myers), Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Screaming Lord Sutch, Squeeze and many others at Malcolm’s Tunnel Palladium, there is a photo of a trendy-looking gent captioned Johnny Edge.

All ninety-five… count ’em that’s ninety-five… of Bill’s photos are interesting – a nostalgic flashlight on an earlier comedy era – but the photo of Johnny Edge was the one which interested me most because I never met Johnny Edge.

I only knew of him by reputation.

He died almost exactly a year ago, on 26th September 2010.

He was just an ordinary bloke living in south east London, whom most people had never heard of yet, when he died, he merited very lengthy obituaries in the Daily Telegraphthe Guardian and the Independent.

In that sense, he was a bit like Malcolm Hardee.

Most people in Britain had never heard of Malcolm Hardee but, when he drowned in January 2005, such was his importance to the development of British comedy, that he merited near full-page obituaries in the Daily Telegraph, the Evening Standard, the Guardianthe Independent and The Times – indeed, he managed to get two obituaries in the Evening Standard and two in the Guardian.

Malcolm had told me tales of Johnny Edge coming to his comedy clubs and, when I showed the Flickr photo to a friend who worked at Malcolm’s later comedy club Up The Creek, she immediately recognised him:

“Oh yes. I recognise him. He was a regular. He always seemed to me to be on his own. I didn’t know who he was, but other people seemed to know him and treat him with respect, like he had been in known bands or something, He looked ‘reggae’ and he held himself well, maybe just because he was older and quiet. He seemed nice. I think if he had been in a rock band I would have heard which one, which is why I wondered how people were familiar with him… Now I come to think about it, maybe Malcolm always put his name ‘on the door’ so he got in for free. Logically, I think that is highly likely.”

When Malcolm had told me about Johnny Edge being a regular at his clubs, I could feel the slight thrill he had in being able to say he had met and, to an extent, known him.

Johnny ‘Edge’ was a nickname. He was actually Johnny Edgcombe. What he did in 1962 was the catalyst that triggered the Profumo Scandal in 1963 which played no minor part in bringing down the Conservative government in 1964.

Edgecombe had fired six shots at osteopath Stephen Ward’s mews flat, where Edgecombe’s ex-girlfriend Christine Keeler was hiding.

Malcolm’s barely-contained thrill at having a link with Johnny ‘Edge’ was the same thrill I could sense in him when famed 1960s South London gangster Charlie Richardson came to a party on Malcolm’s floating pub the Wibbley Wibbley. It is the same thrill some people feel if they have an even tenuous link with the Kray Twins.  I have heard more than one stand-up comic joke about the TARDIS-like capacity of the Blind Beggar, seeing as how most of the population of East London appears to have been in the pub the night Ronnie Kray shot George Cornell.

It is the thrill of one or two degrees of separation from important historic or society-changing events.

Malcolm had three degrees of separation from the Krays, which I think he always cherished and which is mentioned towards the start of his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (now out-of-print, but currently available from me via Amazon at  the remarkably reasonable price of £49.99 + p&p).

When Mad Frank Fraser, the Richardson’s ‘enforcer’ was shot in the thigh during a fight at Mr Smith’s Club in Catford, he was eventually left lying in the front garden of Malcolm’s aunt Rosemary and uncle Doug. The shooting was part of the bad blood and linked events which led to the shooting in the Blind Beggar which brought the Kray Twins and, to an extent, the Richardsons down.

Links within links within links.

To an extent, I share Malcolm’s thrill with one or two degrees of linked separation from national, international or parochial history. Everything and everyone is inter-linked.

Malcolm never met Mad Frank Fraser. I have and I am glad to have met and chatted to him a couple of times: the man who once lay bleeding in Malcolm’s aunt and uncle’s front garden.

Links within links within links.

Once, Mad Frank told me he worried “a bit” what people would say about him after he was dead, because what people are seen as being is ultimately not what they are but what people write about them in retrospect.

A butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle really can change the world. Ordinary unsung individuals can be part of the chain that creates historic events. Or, to quote anti-hero Mick’s line in Lindsay Anderson’s trendy 1968 film If….

“One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place…”

Or six bullets.

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Has British comedy stagnated since Monty Python, Hardee and Tiswas?

Beware. This is my blog. These are my very highly personal opinions. You can object. Please do.

People have said Alternative Comedy is not dead, it has just ceased to be Alternative. It has become the Mainstream. But they seldom talk about the next new wave of British comedians who will replace the now mainstream Alternative Comedians.

I desperately want to spot any new wave for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards, which I organise. Our avowed intent is to try to find “comic originality”.

We do find admirably quirky individuals to award the main annual Comic Originality prize to – last year, the one-off Robert White; this year, the one-off Johnny Sorrow.

And their one-offness is as it should be. You cannot have comic originality if 37 other people are doing something similar.

But where are the new style comedians performing a recognisable new type of comedy genre? There has not been anything overwhelmingly new since so-called Alternative Comedy arrived in the mid-1980s – over 25 years ago.

As far as I can see, there have been four very rough waves of post-War British comedy, most of them comprising overlapping double strands.

The first double wave of ‘new’ comics in the 1950s were reacting partly to stuffy mainstream 1930s Reithian radio comedy, partly to the necessary order of the 1940s wartime years and partly they were rebelling against the dying music hall circuit epitomised by John Osborne‘s fictional but iconic Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1957).

The Goon Show (1951-1960) on BBC Radio, at the height of its popularity in the mid 1950s, was the antithesis of the ‘old school’ of pre-War comedy. The Goons were a surreal comic equivalent to John Osborne’s own rebellious Look Back in Anger (1956) and the kitchen sink realism which surfaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Osborne was ultra-realistic; The Goons were ultra-surreal.

But Osborne’s plays and The Goons‘ radio comedy were both reactions to the rigidly ordered society in pre-War, wartime and immediately post-War Britain and The Goons‘ new anarchic style of comedy (although it owes some debt to the pre-War Crazy Gang and although the Wartime radio series ITMA was slightly surreal) really was like the new rock ‘n’ roll (which was not coincidentally happening simultaneously). It was startlingly new. They were consciously rebelling and revolting against a clear status quo which they saw as stuffy and restrictive.

Hot on the heels of The Goons came a different form of rebellion – the satirists of the 1960s – with Beyond the Fringe (1960) on stage and That Was The Week That Was (1962-1963) on TV. These two slightly overlapping Second Waves of new post-War British comedy were again reacting to a stuffy status quo.

The First Wave, the surrealist Goons wave, then reasserted that it was still rolling on when a Third Wave of influence – Monty Python’s Flying Circus – appeared on BBC TV 1969-1974 and – as satire declined in the 1970s – it was Monty Python‘s (and, ultimately, The Goons‘) comedic gene pool that held sway for a while – also epitomised, oddly, by the children’s TV show – Tiswas (1974-1982).

The Goons, Beyond The Fringe and That Was The Week That Was had been rebelling against something; Monty Python was surreal and Tiswas was anarchic just for the sheer sake of it. Monty Python and Tiswas were one-offs, but they have pale imitations trundling on even to today.

After Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, a Fourth Wave of new comics arose in the early and mid-1980s – a generation influenced by the satire gene not by the Goons/Python gene. These mostly-university-educated young left wing things rebelled against Thatcherism with their often political-based humour which became known as Alternative Comedy.

But again, just as there had been a second overlapping wave of comedy in the previous generation, this mostly ‘serious’ comedy was paralleled by a different wave possibly more low-key but epitomised by the decidedly fringe appeal of the hugely influential Malcolm Hardee, whose release from prison and subsequent comedy career coincided with the start of and overlapped with the future stars of Alternative Comedy.

Malcolm’s strand of mostly non-political comedy was spread by the clubs he ran and the acts he managed, agented, booked and/or nurtured: acts including the young Paul Merton (performing as Paul Martin when Malcolm first managed him), Jenny Eclair and later Keith Allen, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Jim Tavaré and Johnny Vegas.

While London’s Comedy Store nurtured future mainstream acts (some progressing there from Malcolm’s clubs), the more bizarre and original new acts continued to flock to Malcolm’s gigs and clubs including his near-legendary Sunday Night at the Tunnel Palladium gigs and later his lower-key but just as influential Up The Creek club.

These two strands of 1980s comedy – the alternative political and the Hardee-esque – successfully came together in a Channel 4 programme – not, as is often cited, Saturday Live (1985-1987), a mostly failed hotch-potch with different presenters every week, but its long-remembered successor, Geoff Posner‘s Friday Night Live (1988) which supposedly firebrand political polemic comic Ben Elton presented every week in what was supposed to be an ironic sparkly showbiz jacket.

Political alternative stand-ups mixed with strange variety and character acts, oddball comics and cross-over acts like Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield and many others nurtured by Malcolm Hardee.

This was both the highpoint and the start of the decline of Alternative Comedy because serious money was spent on the relatively low-rating Saturday Live and Friday Night Live on Channel 4, both ultimately shepherded by Alan Boyd’s resolutely mainstream but highly influential Entertainment Department at LWT.

Since then, where has the next giant New Wave of British comedy been? There are random outbreaks of originality, but mostly there has been a barren mediocrity of pale imitations of previous waves – and the desolate, mostly laugh-free zone that is BBC3.

At this point, allow me an even more personal view.

I thought I spotted a change in Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows around 2003 when Janey Godley was barred from consideration for the Perrier Award (despite a very lively verbal fight among the judging the panel) because it was decided that her seminal show Caught in the Act of Being Myself did not fall within the remit of the Awards because it was not a single ‘show’ repeated every night: she was basically ad-libbing a different hour of comedy every performance for 28 consecutive nights.

That same year, Mike Gunn performed his confessional heroin-addict show Mike Gunn: Uncut at the Fringe although, unlike Janey, he lightened and held back some of the more serious details of his life story.

It seemed to me that, certainly after 2004, when Janey performed her confessional show Good Godley!,  Fringe shows started an increasing tendency towards often confessional autobiographical storytelling. Good Godley! was one of the first hour-long comedy shows at the Fringe (though not the only one) to use material that was not in any way funny – in that case, child abuse, rape, murder and extreme emotional damage. Janey did not tell funny stories; she told stories funny. Viewed objectively, almost nothing she actually talked about was funny but audiences fell about laughing because it truly was “the way she told ’em”.

Since then, too, there seems to have been a tendency towards improvisation, probably spurred by the financial success of Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard. The traditional 1980s Alternative Comics still mostly stay to a script. The 21st Century comics influenced by Janey Godley, Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble often do not (to varying degrees).

So it could be argued there has been a tendency in this decade away from gag-telling (apart from the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine) towards storytelling… and a tendency towards improvisational gigs (bastardised by the almost entirely scripted and prepared ad-libs on TV panel shows).

But long-form storytelling does not fit comfortably into TV formats which tend to require short-form, gag-based, almost sound-bite material – you cannot tell long involved stories on panel shows and on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow type programmes. So a tendency in live gigs and certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – a tendency away from gag-based comedy to storytelling comedy – has been unable to transfer to television and has therefore not fully developed.

Occasionally, a Fifth Wave of British comedy is sighted on the horizon but, so far, all sightings have turned out to be tantalising mirages.

One possibility are the Kent Comics who all studied Stand Up Comedy as an academic subject in the University of Kent at Canterbury. They include Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club, Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, Laura Lexx and The Noise Next Door. But they share an origin, not a style.

Whither British comedy?

Who knows?

Not me.

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