5th January 1950 - 31st January 2005
Photos by john Fleming, 2004
OBITUARIES & NEWS REPORTS OF MALCOLM'S DEATH
Malcolm Hardee, the most colourful figure of alternative comedy, has died in the River Thames in South-East London. Divers recovered his body from the river at Rotherhithe on Wednesday morning, more than two days since he was last seen.
Hardee, who had just turned 55, ran a pub, the Wibbley Wobbley, on a converted barge in Greenland Dock, and lived on a houseboat called the Sea Sovereign on the opposite side of the water. Its believed he fell from the small dinghy he used to take between the two late on Sunday night, after an evening in the pub, and drowned. Friends and family gathered on the boat today, and poured his favourite drink, rum and coke, into the dock in his memory, followed by a packet of cigarettes and white lilies. A post-mortem is due to take place at Greenwich Mortuary tomorrow.
Hardee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club at Rotherhithe, where most of todays biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. More recently, he ran Up The Creek in Greenwich, although he yielded control a few years ago.
As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He was the founder of the Greatest Show On Legs balloon dance troupe, and 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 drove a tractor through a show in a tent, and on another 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.
He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet Ministers Rolls-Royce. The title of his autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents: I Stole Freddie Mercurys Birthday Cake. In the cover notes to the book, many celebrities paid tribute to Hardees unique, deranged talent. Jools Holland said: It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.Saturate Lee called him South Londons king of comedy a natural clown who in any decent country would be a national institution.And Robert Newman called him a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.
Hardee was born in Lewisham, South London, on January 5, 1950, the son of a tug-boat worker on the Thames. At school he became involved in petty criminality, stealing Coke from the local bottling plant, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to the Sunday school piano because he wanted to see holy smoke.In the late Sixties he was a mobile DJ, going by the name of Wolf G Hardee, in between stints at various detention centres.
Over the years, he was jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody. in 1977, he came out for the last time and decided to go into showbusiness, joining with Martin Soan to form the Greatest Show On Legs at the time, an adult Punch and Judy act. It got them a regular booking at the Tramshed in Woolwich, alongside the likes of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson.
Soon afterwards, the Comedy Store opened in Soho, and they became regulars there, too. Their breakthrough came in 1981, when they did the balloon dance on Chris Tarrants OTT. Off stage, Hardee always said he was happiest when he was on the river. In his autobiography, he wrote: Im always happy on my boat. The river is part of my family tradition I feel at peace on the river.A benefit gig in his memory is expected to be organised shortly.
Comedian's body found in Thames
comedian Malcolm Hardee missing. The body of comedian Malcolm Hardee
has been found in the Thames near his home. Police said friends reported
Hardee, 55, missing from the Wibbley Wobbley pub - the converted barge
he ran in Rotherhithe - on Monday evening. Police divers started searching
for him in the River Thames, in south-east London, on Tuesday and his
body was found on Wednesday morning.
Hardee was known
for running many comedy clubs in London but most recently ran Up The
Creek in Greenwich. A post-mortem examination is due to take place at
Greenwich Mortuary on Thursday, police said. Police said an inquest
will be opened at Southwark Coroner's Court in due course.
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: Stand-ups swap the stage
for the page, 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 showbusiness."
He regularly performed at both Edinburgh and Glastonbury festivals and was known for his more risqué acts. Hardee founded the Greatest Show On Legs balloon dance troupe and used his genitals to do an impression of Charles De Gaulle.
News tonight that's
knocked me for six...
The body of comedian
Malcolm Hardee has been found in the Thames near his home.
Police said friends
reported Hardee, 55, missing from the Wibbley Wobbley pub - the converted
barge he ran in Rotherhithe - on Monday evening.
Police divers started
searching for him in the River Thames, in southeast London, on Tuesday
and his body was found on Wednesday morning.
Hardee ran Up The
Creek in Greenwich as well as other clubs in London, and was also known
for the old Tunnel Club next to the Blackwall Tunnel (I remember the
mid-1980s night it was busted and closed down - it's now a cheesy club).
The man was a legend
around here - a fixture of quite a few Greenwich boozers, including
quiz night down at The Local. More widely, he was known for getting
his knob out at just about any opportunity. He also ran a bar on a boat
in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, and lived on a houseboat nearby - it's
believed he fell from his dinghy while travelling between the two after
a boozy Sunday session.
According to Up
The Creek, "friends and family gathered on the boat today, and
poured his favourite drink, rum and coke, into the dock in his memory,
followed by a packet of cigarettes and white lilies".
If you're unfamiliar
with him, here's a little more about him, while his autobiography, I
Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake, is a must-read.
Greenwich will be a greyer, more boring place without him.
MALCOLM Hardee R.I.P.
Hardee - one of the regular comperes for the Cabaret Marquee at Glastonbury
Festival - has died. His body was found by Police in the Thames yesterday,
after friends had reported him missing from his barge in Rotherhithe.
He'll probably be
best remembered at Glastonbury for responding to calls to "get
yer knob out", or just getting it out anyway. If you never had
the privilege to see it, it wasn't as crude as it sounds ... oh, perhaps
it was, but Malcolm was always very funny.
Hardee found dead
Hardee has been found dead in the River Thames in south east London
on Wednesday - two days after he had last been seen.
The stand-up, described
as one of the most colourful characters on the circuit, had last been
seen on Sunday night taking the dingy from his pub, the Wibbley Wobbley,
on a converted barge in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe in south London
to his houseboat. A post mortem was due to be held this week. Hardee
ran some of the most notoriously tough comedy clubs in London including
The Tunnel at Rotherhithe and more recently Up the Creek, Greenwich,
although he had ceded control in the past few years. He was best known
as part of balloon comedy troupe Greatest Show on Legs and was a regular
at the Glastonbury and Edinburgh Fringe festivals. The son of a tugboat
man, he turned to comedy after numerous brushes with the law and stints
in detention centres. He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes
urinating on hecklers. A memorial service is expected to be arranged
to BBC 6 on the way to work today, I was saddened to hear Phill Jupitus
announce the death of the comedian Malcolm Hardee. According to Jupitus,
he died "in typically Hardee-ish fashion", falling off his
boat into the Thames. His body was found yesterday, two days after he
had last been seen.
55, was a legend among the comedy fraternity - a "comedian's comedian",
says Jupitus - and a well-known character in my native Greenwich, where
he hosted two fantastic comedy clubs which spawned literally dozens
of now household names. He never really reaped huge financial benefits
himself, though, and was best known to the wider world as a member of
the naked balloon dancers The Greatest Show on Legs. His trademark was
getting his (impressive) testicles out and playing the harmonica.
first time I encountered Hardee was in my early teens, on one of my
first brushes with alcohol. With Martin Soan, Hardee was treating the
drinkers outside the Crown pub in Blackheath to an extremely rude Punch
and Judy show. A long pink balloon was central to the performance.
saw Hardee in the early 80s, when he had created and was compere of
the Tunnel Club, a stand-up night in a dismal boozer called the Mitre,
located on polluted industrial wasteland south of the Blackwall Tunnel
where the Millennium Dome now stands.
was at a time when there simply weren't live comedy clubs in every town.
More than 20 years later, stand-ups still talk in hushed tones about
the ferocity of the audience. On one occasion, Jupitus recalls that
a member the audience started humming - this spread through the audience
until the hapless turn was drowned out by the monotone. Another time,
a comedian began his act with the line "I'm a schizophrenic"
- only to have some wag shout: "Well you can both fuck off, then."
seeing acts leave the stage in tears. But I also remember seeing triumphant
sets by the likes of Jerry Sadowitz (who he managed) and Jo Brand (who
he went out with), winning over the crowd by out-savaging the hecklers.
After the Tunnel Club was closed by police, Hardee opened Up the Creek
towards Deptford, which still thrives today. In later years, he ran
a pub on a boat in Rotherhithe, called the Wibbley Wobbley.
had a knack for PR stunts. He once stole Freddie Mercury's 40th birthday
cake and donated it to the local old people's home. Mark Borkowski wrote
on our Media site last year (subscription required):
"Hardee's show Aaaarrrggghhh! (or however he spelt it) always thrived, partly as a result of appearing first in the alphabetical Fringe programme. The year they changed the listings, Hardee was sitting in the bar complaining to Arthur Smith when they hit on a wheeze. Smith wrote a glowing review, wandered down to the Scotsman and dropped his piece in the arts editor's in-tray, from where it found its way into the next edition."
comedian who launched the careers of stars including Paul Merton, Harry
Enfield and Vic Reeves has been found dead in the Thames.
Hardee was pulled from the river by police divers at Greenland Dock,
Rotherhithe, two days after he was reported missing by friends. It is
feared the 55-year-old entertainer fell from the rubber dinghy he used
to travel from the Wibbley Wobbley Boat floating pub he ran in Surrey
Quays to his houseboat, moored nearby.
Hardee was a well-known figure on the London comedy circuit and at his
club he launched the careers of stand-up comedians including Merton,
Enfield and Reeves as well as Jo Brand and Jerry Sadowitz. He met Rik
Mayall, Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle at the Comedy Store and went on to
form his own venue, the Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel in 1984 and
followed that with Up The Creek. Both venues were where thousands of
comedians took their first step into the spotlight.
was also famous in his own right as part of The Greatest Show On Legs,
in which he performed a balloon dance while naked, just about keeping
his modesty with a handful of inflatables. Mr Hardee appeared at the
Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at comedy venues across the country and
acted alongside Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comic Strip movies.
In recent years, he also appeared on a TV show with Jack Dee. He had
a two-year affair with JO Brand, and his friends included comedian Arthur
Smith and musician Jools Holland.
alarm was raised after Mr Hardee had not been seen since the early hours
of Monday. A police spokeswoman said: " Following information that
he may have fallen into the Thames, divers began to search the water
near his home and his body was found at 10.20 yesterday morning."
Officers are not treating the death as suspicious and it has not yet
been established whether Mr Hardee was drunk at the time of his death,
or whether he was using the dinghy.
business partner Chris Luby said friends were shocked. "His death
will leave a huge hole,' said Mr Luby, a friend for over 30 years. "He
ran the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium,
which was the most extraordinary club ever. "It set people like
JO Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield up. Malcolm was incredibly good
at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians that were given
open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their niche in comedy."
Hardee had owned the pub since November 2001.
Born the son of a Lewisham tug boat worker, Mr Hardee once served a term in prison for theft. In his 1996 autobiography, he wrote of playing bridge in jail with former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.
Malcolm Hardee was found dead in the Thames near his Rotherhithe home yesterday. He had been missing for two days and is believed to have fallen into the water. The 55-year-old comedian/entrepreneur was one of the most anarchic figures of his era. He may not have been the biggest household name, but in comedy circles he was truly larger-than-life.
It was a tragic way to die, but Hardee was inextricably linked to the Thames. His father was a tugboat worker and Malcolm, born in Lewisham, spent much of his life nearby. He carved his comedy reputation running the riotous local Tunnel club in the eighties, went semi-respectable with Up The Creek in the nineties and in recent years ran a floating nightspot in Surrey Quays, the Wibbley Wobbley Boat.
His greatest legacy is giving early breaks to some of comedys famous names, such as Paul Merton, Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves and JO Brand, at The Tunnel. This was the Londons version of the Glasgow Empire, where if they liked you they let you live. Many acts played there, few left without seeing fists flying. Hardee was known to urinate in punters drinks if they fell asleep.
He was vulgar, but had a roguish charm. Even if you do not know Hardees name you may know his face as part of The Greatest Show On Legs a naked trio who used balloons to cover their modesty. Hardee was the one with the heavy black Eric Morecambe spectacles.
Hardee stood for Parliament in Greenwich twice. The first time his manifesto demanded cable cars to carry senior citizens up Greenwich Hill, the second time he did it to get a free mailshot to publicise Up The Creek. The door takings more than made up for losing his £500 deposit.
Legendary status in south London is only rivalled by his position as king of the Edinburgh Fringe. For over a decade no Festival was complete without Hardee, who always managed to be the first show in the brochure by calling his shows Aaaaaaargh.
He also famously filed a rave review of his own work abetted by Arthur Smith. The Scotsman duly ran it. His most famous prank, however, was driving a tractor through the tent where avant-garde playwright Eric Bogosian was performing, because Bogosians production was disturbing Hardees performance next door.
Before comedy Hardee was a DJ and a petty villain, serving sentences for theft, once stealing a Cabinet Ministers Rolls Royce. His most famous misdemeanour was immortalised in the title of his 1996 autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercurys Birthday Cake. In crime as in his clowning, he was engagingly amateurish. He once pinned a note with his home phone number on an accomplices door. On release in 1977 he went straight, becoming an alternative comedian before the term was even coined.
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.
4th FEBRUARY 2005
comedy pioneer drowns on way home from his floating pub
Paul Merton, of
the BBC's Have I Got News For You, said: "Not many people realise
that Malcolm was a brilliant impressionist. Given the right breaks he
could have been as great as Rory Bremner."
The comedian, who
promoted and ran a succession of comedy venues, was a regular at the
Edinburgh and Glastonbury festivals. He was known in his own right as
part of a routine known as The Greatest Show On Legs, which culminated
in him and four other men dancing around the stage naked with only balloons
protecting their modesty.
He met Rik Mayall,
Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle as a regular at the Comedy Store, in London,
and went on to form his own club, the Tunnel Club, near the Blackwall
Tunnel, east London, in 1984. He then opened another club, Up The Creek,
in Greenwich, southeast London. Both venues proved the launch-pads for
dozens of comedy careers and he often served as master of ceremonies
at his nights. He acted alongside Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the
Comic Strip movies and, in recent years, he appeared on a TV show with
Jack Dee. He had a two-year affair with Jo Brand and his friends included
the comedian Arthur Smith and musician Jools Holland.
Born the son of
a Lewisham tug boat worker, he took to comedy after a number of run-ins
with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet minister's Rolls-Royce.
He had been jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins
and for escaping custody, but the title of his 1996 autobiography reflected
one of the less serious incidents - I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday
Cake. Mr Hardee alleged that he had taken the huge cake after being
refused permission to perform at the ceremony and then donated it to
a nearby residential home. He also wrote of playing bridge in jail with
the former Labour MP John Stonehouse, who faked his own death.
Mr Hardee once managed
to comply with a community service order by putting on a special stand-up
comedy performance at his Greenwich club. He had been convicted of driving
offences and his probation officer went to the Up The Creek club to
make sure he carried out his "punishment". She laughed throughout
the performance, he claims.
Chris Luby, Mr Hardee's
business partner and friend of more than 30 years, said: "He ran
the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium.
It set up people like Jo Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield. "Malcolm
was incredible at spotting new talent."
- Malcolm Hardee
Malcolm Hardee ,
whose body was found in the Thames on Wednesday, was a 55-year-old 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. He did an impression of Charles de Gaulle, his penis playing the part of the General's nose. He was also celebrated for a bizarre juggling act performed in the dark and with nothing visible apart from his genitals, daubed with fluorescent paint. Fans would greet his arrival on stage with cries of "Get yer knob out". He was said to be huge in Germany and Sweden.
He was also a regular draw at the Edinburgh Fringe, where he always managed to be listed first in the brochure by calling his shows Aaaaaaaaargh. On one occasion, disappointed by a thin audience, he got his friend and fellow comic Arthur Smith to write a glowing review, adopting the prose style of one of the Scotsman's regular critics then phoning it in for the next edition. No one twigged, and the piece appeared under the critic's byline the next day. Hardee's most infamous prank was driving a tractor in the nude through a tent where the American performance artist Eric Bogosian was giving a show, because Bogosian was disturbing Hardee's performance next door.
But 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. "Don't show us your tits," they told JO Brand.
Many of Hardee's protégés went on to carve a niche on television, but Hardee himself was too much of a white-knuckle ride for mainstream programme makers (one of his least savoury habits was urinating on hecklers). When he did appear, doing his balloon dance routine on Chris Tarrant's OTT show in 1981, there were angry protests from the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association. Most of his jokes are unprintable in a family newspaper.
Malcolm Hardee was born at Lewisham, south London, on January 5 1950, into a family of lightermen who earned their living by pulling barges up the Thames. At school he became involved in petty crime, once setting fire to the Sunday School piano because he wanted to see "holy smoke". He spent time in Gaynes Hall Borstal, from which he escaped, dressed as a monk. After leaving school, he served several sentences for fraud and petty theft, once for stealing the Conservative cabinet minister Peter Walker's Rolls-Royce. In between spells inside, he freelanced as a mobile disc jockey under the name Wolf G Hardee.
In 1977, he decided to swap crime for showbusiness and joined forces with Martin Soan to form The Greatest Show On Legs, at the time a pornographic Punch and Judy act. From Salcombe, the act got them a booking at the Tramshed, Woolwich. Soon afterwards they moved to the newly-opened Comedy Store in Soho, where Hardee got to know Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and Rik Mayall. He made his first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1979.
In 1984 he opened The Tunnel as a venue for new comedy acts. Many of those who first appeared there went on to stardom. The less celebrated included Terri Rogers, the foul-mouthed ventriloquist; Chris Luby, the aircraft impersonator; and The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper, a nipple-ringed Welsh magician in fez and boxer shorts whose sword-swallowing routine sometimes ended in bloodshed. The Tunnel was eventually closed after a police raid, and in 1990 Hardee opened Up the Creek in Greenwich. He continued to have minor run-ins with the law.
In 1996 he was sentenced to 150 hours community service for driving a car without insurance. His most famous misdemeanour inspired the title of his autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake (1996). The birthday was Mercury's 40th; the cake had cost £4,000; and Hardee donated it to an old people's home just a few hours before the police arrived to search his house for crumbs.
Hardee twice stood for Parliament in Greenwich, on the second occasion with the sole purpose of getting a free mailshot to publicise his club. He had a two-year affair with JO Brand, whom he persuaded to give up nursing for comedy, and who described her former mentor as an "appalling, trampy old mess". He was married twice, secondly in 1994, but when asked on a Channel Four documentary what he would do if he had to choose between his wife and the bottle, he chose the latter, adding "but I'd miss the wife, obviously".
In 2000 he cancelled his show at the Edinburgh Fringe, complaining that his wife had chucked him out. He had two children by his first marriage. Hardee enjoyed pottering about on the Thames, but was a notoriously dangerous sailor.
In 2001 he bought a floating pub, the Wibbley Wobbley Boat at Surrey Quays. It is thought that he fell, probably on Tuesday, from the rubber dinghy in which he travelled from the pub to his houseboat, moored nearby.
Drowned on the
river he loved: comic who revived UK comedy
He was one of the
founding fathers of alternative comedy, with a penchant for performing
naked and a unique technique for stopping hecklers in their tracks.
Malcolm Hardee, the founder of the Tunnel Club in southeast London,
which played host to some of the most unforgiving comedy audiences ever
assembled, was also a prodigious talent spotter. Yesterday, however,
British comedy was mourning the loss of the nihilistic and uncompromising
performer after the 55-year-old was found drowned in the Thames.
Venerated in the
business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late
Seventies - bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk
spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent
hecklers. Those who followed included Ben Elton, Paul Merton, Harry
Enfield and Mark Steel. Others, such as Jack Dee, JO Brand and latterly
Johnny Vegas, he helped spur on to national stardom.
Hardee, who was
separated from his wife and had two teenage children, was reported missing
on Monday night. A prodigious drinker, it is believed he fell from the
dinghy he used to travel between the floating pub/restaurant he owned,
called the Wibbley Wobbley Boat, and his home on a houseboat called
the Sea Sovereign, moored on Greenland Dock near Surrey Quays. His father
was a tugboat pilot and he often spoke of the comfort and peace he felt
around the river and docks of southeast London where he lived and worked.
His body was pulled
from the water by two police divers on Wednesday morning. An inquest
was due to be opened and adjourned at Southwark coroner's court. A Scotland
Yard spokesman said: "There is no evidence to suggest the death
was suspicious." Yesterday friends and family gathered on his boat
and poured his favourite drink, rum and coke, into the dock in his memory,
followed by a packet of cigarettes and white lilies.
Those who worked
with him paid tribute yesterday. Mark Steel, a regular at the Tunnel,
said: "For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking
at him. He created the Tunnel Club which after the Comedy Store was
the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side
that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing,
nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be ahard
bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn't care.
Unusually for a comic he didn't seem to have any ego."
Don Ward, who founded
the Comedy Store in 1979, recalled him at the height of his comic powers.
"He was in at the very beginning, he was a compère here
and he also did a set that was absolutely hilarious. He was fond of
his bevvies, as we all were, but this was before the wicked drink got
to him. He was at the top of his form. His death is a profound loss."
The stories that
surrounded Hardee were legion. He grew up in one of London's toughest
neighbourhoods, becoming involved in petty crime at an early age but
eventually gravitating towards comedy after going to prison. He was
jailed in 1977 for stealing a Rolls-Royce belonging to Peter Walker,
a Tory MP. Friends say he only received a jail sentence because of public
fears over the activities of a terrorist organisation called the Angry
He founded the Tunnel
Club in 1984. Its white, working-class audience rivals the Glasgow Empire
in the collective folk memory of entertainers for hostility. But it
failed to phase Hardee, who regularly appeared there - to widespread
adulation - completely naked, except for grey socks, or with his testicles
covered in luminous paint.
He once invited
a student review from Cambridge University to appear, drafting in his
comedian friends to heckle and throw things at them. The Tunnel was
eventually closed after a performer was injured by a flying glass. For
12 years he ran Up The Creek in Greenwich, eventually handing over control
to his partner Andrew Tearle three years ago.
His own act, The
Greatest Show On Legs, is best remembered for the balloon dance performed
on Chris Tarrant's adult Tiswas spin-off, OTT. Performed naked, it remained
within broadcasting guidelines only through the dextrous application
of balloons. In the clubs he performed a more risqué version,
which included an impression of Charles De Gaulle using his penis as
the late president's nose.
Always fond of duping journalists he once reviewed his own show and filed adulatory copy to The Scotsman in the name of its critic William Cook. It was duly published. His 1996 autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake, also recalled the time he pilfered the Queen frontman's 40th birthday cake, and handed out slices at an old people's home.
4th FEBRUARY 2005
Hardee, who has died aged 55, was a familiar figure on Britain's alternative
comedy circuit, but it was as much his offstage antics that made him
the icon of that anarchic movement. Most famously, in 1986, he stole
Freddie Mercury's 40th birthday cake and donated it to a home for older
people, shortly before the police arrived to search his house for crumbs.
Hardee was born
in Lewisham, the eldest son of Frank and Joan Hardee, and spent his
first two years in an orphanage while his mother was in hospital with
tuberculosis. His father sailed tugs on the Thames. He was educated
at three southeast London schools - St Stephen's Church of England primary,
Colfe's grammar and Sedgehill comprehensive. Expelled from all three,
he drifted into petty crime.
"When it suited
me, I would claim I'd fallen in with a bad lot, but the truth was that
I was the bad lot," he observed in the autobiography he wrote with
John Fleming in 1996. During his teens and twenties, he did time in
various prisons, borstals and detention centres for car theft and burglary.
"Prison is like mime or juggling," he reflected. "A tragic
waste of time."
In 1978, after completing
a prison sentence for cheque fraud, Hardee teamed up with the comedian
Martin Soan in an adult Punch & Judy show, which they toured around
the west country. Eventually they switched to sketches, including a
nude balloon dance and a Shakespearean skit that Hardee had written
in Ford open prison. By the time the Comedy Store opened in Soho in
1979, ushering in a new wave of alternative comedy, Hardee's troupe,
The Greatest Show On Legs, were already old hands. They appeared on
TV shows such as The Tube, and even played Just For Laughs, Montreal's
international comedy festival. However, it was at the Edinburgh festival
fringe that Hardee performed his most celebrated stunts. In 1983, he
gatecrashed another comedian's one-man show, naked, on a tractor. In
1989, with a little help from fellow comic Arthur Smith, he wrote a
rave review of his own show, and submitted it to the Scotsman, under
the byline of one of the Scotsman's own reviewers. The paper printed
Hardee's self-penned rave, and his show did brisk business. Hardee was
also a frequent performer at the Glastonbury festival, where he once
did a turn with his testicles daubed in luminous paint.
Hardee played cameo roles in TV comedies such as Blackadder and The
Comic Strip, and ran his own comedy club, the Tunnel, which he had opened
at the southern end of the Blackwall Tunnel in 1984; it acquired a fearsome
reputation as a graveyard for aspiring standups. Hardee compered it
in typically idiosyncratic style, performing a genital impression of
Charles de Gaulle.
Yet 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. In 1987, he stood
for parliament in the Greenwich by-election, as a candidate for the
Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles party, polling 174 votes.
When the Tunnel
closed, Hardee decamped in 1991 to Up The Creek - a slightly better
behaved venue in nearby Greenwich, which Hardee described as "the
Tunnel with A-levels". Hardee left Up The Creek several years ago,
but the club is still going strong, and now boasts a splendid mural,
depicting Hardee surrounded by a dozen of the famous comedians he worked
with, in an impudent recreation of the Last Supper. In 2003, again with
John Fleming, Hardee edited Sit-Down Comedy, an acclaimed collection
of prose by comics such as John Hegley and Stewart Lee.
For the last few
years of his life, Hardee ran a floating pub, the Wibbley Wobbley, on
a barge moored in Rotherhithe, and lived on a houseboat, the Sea Sovereign,
on the Thames. He was reported missing on Monday, and police divers
found his body in the river on Wednesday.
He leaves a son,
Frank, and a daughter, Poppy, from his relationship with Philippa (Pip)
Hazelton, and his wife Jane. On the day his death was announced, Hardee's
friends and family converged on the Wibbley Wobbley to pour a measure
of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the river where he felt
so at home. For alternative comedy's patron sinner, who has been called
a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably
Jon Ronson writes:
On my first night
in London, aged 17, I joined the audience of the Tunnel club, where
I was beguiled - and urinated on - by Malcolm Hardee. Later, I approached
him on the street. We chatted. Then he suddenly mumbled, "Uh oh."
Within moments a
furious woman was frenziedly whacking him over the head with an umbrella.
I walked away, turned back, and watched Malcolm effortlessly recharm
A few months later
I was fast asleep on the floor of a flat in Edinburgh when I awoke to
find a completely naked Malcolm Hardee standing over me.
he said cheerfully. I fell asleep again.
The next morning
he drove me into town. The police pulled us over.
"It's not my
car. It's got no MOT, no insurance, and I'm not allowed to drive it,"
he said. "Don't worry."
He jumped out, adjusted
his Eric Morecambe glasses, and greeted the police with his usual "Urrrup!"
I couldn't hear
what he said, but before long they were all roaring with laughter and
slapping each other on the back. Malcolm got back in and drove off.
A couple of years
ago Malcolm phoned me out of the blue. "Urrrup!"
He invited me on
a day trip up the Thames. By now he had, against all odds, married a
completely lovely and sane woman. His boat was unbelievably rickety,
but Malcolm seemed entirely at peace, sailing away, a faraway look in
his eyes, pointing out all the things he loved - disused riverside factories
and tyre yards.
at that," he kept saying. "Just look at that."
I think Malcolm would have felt cheated if he had died anywhere other than in the Thames.
DROWNED IN RIVER
a stalwart of the alternative comedy scene and a regular performer at
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was pulled from the water by police divers
at Greenland dock, Rotherhithe, two days after he was reported missing.
It is believed the 55-year-old drowned on Wednesday night after he fell
from the dinghy he used to travel from the Wibbley Wobbley, the converted
barge he ran as a venue, to his houseboat.
Alex Hardee, his
brother, said the comic had been warned about rowing home in the dinghy
after he had been drinking. Floral tributes were yesterday placed inside
a lifebelt in front of the Wibbley Wobbley.
it was an accident waiting to happen," said Alex Hardee.
Chris Luby, Mr Hardee's
business partner and friend of more than 30 years, said: "He ran
the best club in the world called Sunday Night At The Tunnel Palladium.
It set up people like JO Brand, Jack Dee and Harry Enfield. Malcolm
was incredibly good at spotting new talent. There are thousands of comedians
that were given open spots by Malcolm and have gone on to carve their
niche in comedy."
Merton said: "Not
many people realise Malcolm was a brilliant impressionist. Given the
right breaks, he could have been as great as Rory Bremner."
Mr Hardee met Rik
Mayall, Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle as a regular at the Comedy Store
in London and went on to establish his own comedy clubs in the city.
Alex Hardee said
a comedy night was being organised in memory of his brother, which he
hoped would feature some of British comedy's biggest names.
Mr Hardee was probably best known for The Greatest Show On Legs in which he performed a dance while naked, preserving his modesty with a handful of inflatables.
MALCOLM HARDEE the
most colourful figure of alternative comedy, has died in the River Thames
in Southeast London. His body was apparently recovered from the river
this morning, two days after he went missing. The comic and promoter,
who lived on a boat in Rotherhithe, is thought to have slipped from
his dinghy and drowned. He had just turned 55.
He was best known
for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious
Tunnel Club at Rotherhithe, where most of todays biggest names
floundered the aggressive crowd. More recently, he ran Up The Creek
in Greenwich, although he yielded control a few years ago. As a performer,
he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He was the founder
of the Greatest Show On Legs balloon dance troupe, and 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 drove a tractor through a show in a tent, and on another 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. He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law,
including arson and stealing a Cabinet Ministers Rolls-Royce.
The title of his autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents:
I Stole Freddie Mercurys Birthday Cake.
In the cover notes
to the book, many celebrities paid tribute to Hardees unique,
Jools Holland said:
It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.
Stewart Lee called
him South Londons king of comedy a natural clown
who in any decent country would be a national institution.
And Robert Newman
called him a hilarious, anarchic legend; a millennial Falstaff.
Hardee was born
in Lewisham, South London, on January 5, 1950, the son of a tugboat
worker on the Thames. In 1977, he came out of prison and decided to
go into show business, joining with Martin Soan to form the Greatest
Show On Legs. It got them a regular booking at the Tramshed in Woolwich,
alongside the likes of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Soon afterwards,
the Comedy Store opened in Soho, and they became regulars there, too.
Their breakthrough came in 1981, when they did the balloon dance on
Chris Tarrants OTT.
Malcolm made memorable performances at the Wedgewood Rooms and recently returned to the venue to see Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff perform. All at The Wedge are sad to learn of his death. He will be sorely missed. The world of comedy has lost a true legend.
Comedian and club-owner dubbed 'a south London Rabelais'
Malcolm Hardee was arguably the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years. Almost every significant new comedian was agented, managed or promoted by him, or passed through one of his clubs in southeast London, the Tunnel Club in east Greenwich and Up the Creek nearby. The comedians he helped in their formative years include Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield, Paul Merton, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz and Johnny Vegas.
As a performer he was best known for his naked balloon dance with his own ensemble, the Greatest Show on Earth; and his impression of President Charles de Gaulle using no props other than his own spectacles atop his semi-flaccid penis was unsettlingly realistic. But Hardee's other claim to fame was that he had the biggest bollocks in show business. He said that, at puberty, they did not drop, they abseiled. Everything about Hardee was larger-than-life - except his bank balance, because he did not care about money; instead he took an almost schoolboy delight in pranks, wheezes and escapades.
His friend and fellow comedian Arthur Smith called him "a south London Rabelais"; Stewart Lee noted that "in any decent country he would be a national institution". Yet Hardee's influence remained almost totally unknown outside the comedy and media worlds. At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: "He's not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out."
Everyone who saw him perform thought they knew him: outrageous, shambolic, disreputable. But, despite his image, Hardee was highly intelligent and gentle. He was born in Lewisham, southeast London, in 1950 and the schools he attended included Colfe's public boys' school (though he was soon expelled). He loved knowledge, and was very good at figures. But he tended to show off. He set the Sunday School piano on fire so he could make a joke about Holy Smoke and he later burned down two cinemas.
In the 1960s he worked as a mobile DJ, in between doing stints in detention centres. He once arrived on a stolen white horse to impress a girlfriend. Later he graduated to car theft - including a politician's Rolls-Royce: he spent much of the 1970s in prison. In 1978 he joined up with his chum Martin Soan to form the Greatest Show on Legs, a troupe who toured an adult Punch and Judy show round the West Country. This led to a fixture at the Tramshed in Woolwich, in southeast London, and then regular slots at the newly opened Comedy Store in Soho.
From the 1970s onwards, Hardee was well known for his stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe and during his annual appearances at Glastonbury Festivals he would wistfully reminisce: "I remember this when it was all fields."He also turned up in several Comic Strip television films, often cast against type as a policeman, and he appeared in the first Blackadder series in 1983. in 1984 he became proprietor and compere at the Tunnel Club. For fledgling comedians, the Tunnel was a baptism of fire, with unforgiving audiences and flying beer glasses. From the audience's viewpoint, they were firm but fair; from the stage, it looked like Custer's Last Stand. The reason acts kept going there was that they knew if they could play the Tunnel they could play anywhere. It sharpened their performance, and Hardee would and did help everyone. The Tunnel closed in 1988. He then ran Up the Creek, in central Greenwich, for 12 years.
A rather dishevelled figure with a mumbled conversational style Hardee was, astonishingly, a "babe-magnet". The first reaction he provoked was "not with a bargepole", but his underlying nature - kind, generous - soon became apparent and resolve melted. He was incapable of sexual fidelity, yet attracted enormous devotion and his several long-term relationships (often overlapping) were usually with strong, intelligent women. Although sexually rampant, Hardee was never sexist.
I once asked him how he would like to be remembered. "As a good bloke," he told me:Someone who won't let you down. I'm loyal. I'm unfaithful to women. But nearly everyone I meet I keep in some sort of contact with.
His autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake, appeared in 1996. Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock, in Rotherhithe, which he had often visited as a child with his father, a Thames tugboat captain. He fell from his dinghy on the way back from the Wibbley Wobbley pub, which he owned, to his home ship the Sea Sovereign, drunk, with horse-race winnings in his pocket, and very happy. He was found two days later and identified by a policeman - not for the first time. His own reaction to his death would probably have been: "Fuck it! That's the catchphrase tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Fuck it!"
Malcolm Gerrard Hardee, comedian, agent, manager and club-owner: born London 5 January 1950; married Jane Kintrea Matthews (one son, one daughter previously with Pip Hazelton); died London 31 January 2005.
once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to
drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has. Whatever Hardee
did in the world of comedy dance, compere, steal things or drive
vehicles through other peoples shows he preferred to do
His anarchic contributions to the canon of stand-up include running the clubs where Paul Merton, Harry Enfield, Vic Reeves and Jo Brand made their first appearances. More than that, he brought silliness, anarchy and a lot of nudity to a business that is becoming increasingly self-referential and corporate. The world of stand-up comedy is left with a gaping, tractor-shaped hole in it.
was born in Lewisham in 1950, his father the last of three generations
of Thames lightermen who earned a living pulling barges. His first foray
into showbusiness came at the age of 11, when he ducked under a tent
flap at the circus to find himself face to face with a lion. Soon after,
he had set fire to his Sunday School teachers piano, explaining
that he wanted to see holy smoke.
his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences
that was both a wonder and a liability. At school he began stealing
Coke from a bottling plant, and gradually fell into more general theft.
He burgled a pawnbrokers, stole cars including a Cabinet
ministers Rolls-Royce and passed bad cheques. He was expelled
from three schools and spent time in custody. He once escaped from Gaynes
Hall detention centre in a monks habit. In his late teens he became
a mobile DJ, Wolf G. Hardee, earning money at youth clubs whenever at
crimes were orchestrated with scant regard to not getting caught or
even, sometimes, making any money. His autobiography, I Stole Freddie
Mercurys Birthday Cake, implicated his fellow comic Ricky Grover
in a bungled heist, the sum proceeds of which were four ham sandwiches.
Similarly his comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely
for the hell of it. In 1977, emerging from another spell inside, he
determined to stay outside. He later credited a kindly lag in the prison
garden for setting him straight, and said: Prison is like mime
or juggling a tragic waste of time.
joined his friend, the comedian Martin Soan, to form the Greatest Show
On Legs which, at the time, was an expletive-riddled Punch and Judy
act. Starting in Salcombe, Devon, they graduated to the Tramshed in
Woolwich, where they played alongside Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.
When the Comedy Store opened in Soho, they played there too. Soon afterwards,
the Comedy Store opened above a strip club in Soho, and they became
regulars. With Alexei Sayle and Lenny Henry, they got their breakthrough
on Chris Tarrants O. T. T. , on which they performed the naked
balloon dance as the Oddballs, to the outrage of viewers.
his friends would later call on him to play bit parts in Blackadder
and The Comic Strip Presents, he did not follow them into alternative
circuit fame. Instead he opened the Tunnel Club in Rotherhithe, where
a baying crowd was introduced to what is now the comedy premiership,
including Paul Merton, Clive Anderson and Jo Brand, his girlfriend for
Tunnel Club set the bar for bear pit comedy clubs, the regulars
famed for their devastating heckles. Jim Tavare once stepped up with
the words: Hello, Im a schizophrenic, and was greeted
with the response: Well, you can both f*** off, then! If
anyone managed to fall asleep in all this, Hardee would urinate on them.
The Tunnel closed after a police raid.
next established Up The Creek in Greenwich, The Tunnel with A
levels, which continues today, although Hardee gave up his proprietorship
some years ago. The premises feature a mural of the Last Supper, with
Hardee as Jesus Christ and Ben Elton as Judas Iscariot.
about Hardees escapades are legion. In 1983 he appeared in Edinburgh,
at a venue called The Circuit which was a series of purpose-made tents.
Owed a fiver by American performance artist Eric Bogosian and put out
by the noise coming from his stage, Hardee stripped naked and drove
a tractor into the adjoining tent and right through Bogosians
show. He had an Edinburgh Fringe show called Aaaaaaaaaargh to ensure
primacy in the listings but, disappointed by the lack of interest in
his 1991 offering, he got his friend Arthur Smith to write a five-star
review under the name of a Scotsman critic. It was submitted to the
newspaper and duly published. The crowds followed. His proudest moment
was stealing the Queen singer Freddie Mercurys birthday cake,
which he then donated to an old peoples home. The police searched
his house for crumbs.
garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish
ebullience that upset the faint-hearted. Those who turned up to do an
open mike spot at Up the Creek were invariably announced with the words:
This next acts probably a bit shit. If the audience
didnt heckle them to tears, Hardee would often do it himself,
before bringing on the next victim. But in quiet moments, as the acts
cried into their pints, Hardee would give encouraging words and urge
them to get back into the fray.
was no comedy area Hardee was unwilling to explore. His mother, Joan,
once appeared naked on stage with him. His advice to comics concerned
that a joke was offensive was: If you think its funny, then
was the first to see the potential in Vic Reeves, the silent-comedy
act Men in Coats and the firebrand magician and comic Gerry Sadowitz.
Hardee managed Sadowitz for a while, and appeared on his TV show. On
one he did his infamous impersonation of Charles de Gaulle, using his
penis for the nose. In 2000, though, Hardee ran away from his own shambolic
Fringe show after becoming emotionally distressed, and thereafter kept
a lower profile. He bought a pub, the Wibbley Wobbley Boat, moored at
Rotherhithe, where he attained a sense of calm and the Wibbley Wobbley
Comedy Club put a new generation of open-mike acts through the mill.
He edited Sit Down Comedy (2003) a well-received selection of
short stores by Hardees favourite comics. He said: Im
happy where I am in southeast London. Im respectable now. I have
trousers, a house and a wife.
houseboat, Sea Sovereign, was moored on the other side of the river.
He is understood to have drowned while crossing in a dinghy between
his home and his pub. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and by a son
and daughter from a previous relationship.
Hardee, Stand-up comedian
from his own stage show he had been instrumental in launching the careers
of Vic Reeves, JO Brand, Paul Merton and Harry Enfield. He performed
his infamous nude dance on television - except for three balloons strategically
placed - and won national fame when an irate Mary Whitehouse castigated
the ITV show O.T.T. for transmitting it. Hardee was a one-off.
was a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe and delighted in scheduling his
shows under the title of Aaaaaargh Company: thus ensuring that he appeared
first in the copious Fringe guide. Memorably one year he had a notable
contre temps with The Scotsman that has become part of Fringe folklore.
was the son of a tugboat worker and from his school days cultivated
a serious anti-establishment streak. He was not only a recalcitrant
pupil (being expelled three times), but also got involved in petty thieving
and, in 1967, escaped from Borstal (dressed as a monk). Hardee was also
to spend time in prison for cheque fraud and burglary.
1977 he decided to go straight and formed with Martin Soan The Greatest
Show on Legs - it was really just an expletive-ridden version of a Punch
and Judy show. It was seen at the Comedy Store in Soho and then in Edinburgh.
The Greatest Show on Legs also made an appearance on Chris Tarrants
O.T.T programme and, combined with Hardees naked dance routine,
caused a furore.
it was at the Edinburgh Fringe that Hardees career as an irreverent
comic was founded: he was billed as "alternative cabaret"
and he was certainly alternative. In 1989 he was fighting a losing battle
to get audiences and after lobbying The Scotsmans critics to gain
publicity and a review he and his friend Arthur Smith sat down and wrote
their own review under then name of Anthony Cook: modestly giving it
a five star rating. Smith phoned it in and it appeared the next day
in the paper. The show then played to packed houses.
visits to Edinburgh were invariably outrageous. In 1983 he drove (naked)
a tractor through the tent where Eric Bogosian, the American performing
artist, was doing his show. The noise of Bogosians performance
was disturbing Hardees next door. A year later he was banned by
the authorities from charging entrance because the premises were unlicenced.
Hardee gleefully demanded an exit charge instead.
was still appearing at the Fringe years later, but in 2002 had to cancel
his show because his wife "had chucked him out". That was
hardly unlikely as in a documentary for Channel Four that year he had
been asked which he would choose between his wife and the bottle. After
some thought he selected the bottle, adding whimsically "but Id
miss her, obviously".
20 years earlier Hardee had opened the Tunnel Club in Greenwich. With
its rough interior and wonderfully irreverent pictures (the Last Supper
with Hardee in the centre) he launched many a future star. The atmosphere
was dark and gloomy - the audience shouted at the performers who either
answered back or went under. The police closed it down in 1990, but
Hardee, undeterred, opened Up the Creek also close by.
Hardee delighted in scandal. In 1986, he was booked as the cabaret act
for Freddie Mercurys 40th birthday party. Hardee was banned from
performing his balloon dance so he stole the 12ft birthday cake (of
a Rolls-Royce: cost £4,000) and took it to an old peoples
died when he fell from his rubber dinghy while travelling from his floating
pub on the Thames - the Wibbley Wobbley - to his houseboat in Surrey
He was twice married and had a two-year affair with JO Brand whom he had persuaded to give up nursing for the comedy circuit.
He is survived by his wife, Jane, and by a son and daughter from a previous relationship.
the Creek with Malcolm Hardee
1996, to celebrate the publication of his autobiography I Stole Freddie
Mercury's Birthday Cake, the comedian compere and amateur sensationalist
Malcolm Hardee - who died last week - offered to take me up the Thames
in his boat. Malcolm, the man who launched two of the toughest comedy
clubs in England, was an ex-con with a gift for chaotically disastrous
stunts, many of them performed nude, or with balloons - or both.
didn't have a key to enter the club where his boat was moored. "What
am I doing?" he panted as we crawled under chicken wire and across
mudflats. "I'm 46!" His childlike, even affable indifference
to authority was one of the reasons he was so revered by peers and younger
comedians, from Paul Merton to Brendon Burns.
picked up a third person - a photographer - and made it to the boat.
After several hearty tugs on the cord the boat's motor started up, but
only then did we discover how low our fuel supplies were. The engine
stalled and we drifted downriver on the choppy tide.
I said. "Do you think we're getting a bit close to those boats?"
cigarette between his lips, looked up from pulling the cord to re-start
the motor. "Ooh, Christ," he said. "They're barges. See
the angle the prows stick out of the water? You get too close, current'll
suck you under in about four seconds."
mock-heroic whimpers as he struggled with the motor gave the impression
of an underlying confidence born from being the descendant of three
generations of lightermen who pulled barges up the Thames. But perhaps
not. "I know a bit about boats," the photographer confided
to me later. "And that was really close."
said Malcolm, giggling hoarsely as he tugged at the cord. "Start!"
motor stirred just in time, and the rest of the journey saw Malcolm
at his most serene. He pointed to a colony of 150 herons up the River
Lea, and later we saw duck-headed terns. So long as no one moved too
far off-centre, which made the boat list heavily, it was bliss.
in a Thai restaurant in Greenwich, Malcolm spotted his bank manager
and dashed after him brandishing a copy - my copy - of his book. Several
beers later, we visited his friend Jools Holland in his railway carriage
office. "London would be a sadder, gloomier, better-organised place
without Malcolm," mused Holland. It is now.
One of the great characters in the comedy business died last week. 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.
My first encounter with him came in the 1980s at the Tunnel Club, the place he ran near the southern end of the Blackwall Tunnel. "It's a good night," he said as the audience hounded an inadequate new comic from the stage and a minor fight broke out behind us.
Up The creek in Greenwich, though less dangerous to visit, also had Hardee's philosophy stamped through it; he knew how to give people a good time. The prime example of Hardee's approach was the legendary balloon dance that he performed with the Greatest Show on Legs. That and the form of touch love he'd always display as a compere. In the back of a taxi, one night at the Edinburgh Fringe, he said with pride: "I've made a go of it in comedy, haven't I? But, do you know, I've only ever written half-a-dozen jokes."
What he offered was something else - that was himself, the one and only Malcolm Hardee. his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come. But, above all, he'll be remembered as a good bloke. He's an impossible act to follow.
and promoter Malcolm Hardee, whose body was found in the River Thames
at Rotherhithe in south east London on Wednesday, February 2, two days
after he was reported missing by friends, was widely regarded among
the stand-up fraternity as one of the godfathers of alternative comedy.
He died on January 31, 2005 after falling from his dinghy while travelling
between his houseboat and the Wibbley Wobbley, a floating pub he owned.
who had just turned 55, ran and compered the notorious Tunnel comedy
club near Blackwell, London, from the mid-eighties and, more recently,
Up the Creek in Greenwich. And although he never leapt to the front
rank of fame himself, he helped launch and nurture the careers of literally
thousands of stand-up comedians, including Jo Brand, Paul Merton, Harry
Enfield and Frank Skinner.
much more than that, Hardee was a larger than life character whose ribald,
sometimes vulgar behaviour and risque pranks were legendary. He had
been a highly visible and much-loved fixture of the London comedy circuit
and Edinburgh and Glastonbury festivals for more than 20 years.
was born in Lewisham, south London, on January 5, 1950, the eldest son
of Frank Hardee, a Thames tugboat worker. He was in an orphanage until
the age of two while his mother Joan was treated for tuberculosis. Hardee
was taught at, and expelled from, three south east London schools before
drifting into petty crime and spending time in numerous detention centres
for, among other things, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to
his Sunday school piano, one of which he escaped from disguised as a
monk. In the late sixties he became a mobile DJ by the name of Wolf
G Hardee before being jailed for various offences, including cheque
fraud, escaping custody and, notably, for stealing a Cabinet ministers
his release in 1977 he teamed up with comedian Martin Soan to form The
Greatest Show on Legs, an adult Punch and Judy act. The pair toured
the West Country before landing a regular spot at the Tramshed club
in Woolwich, where they appeared with up and coming comics like Rik
Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. They were among the first wave of comics
to play The Comedy Store when it opened in Soho in 1979 and featured
on The Tube and at Montreals Just for Laughs comedy festival.
But their most high-profile appearance was on Chris Tarrants OTT,
the adult successor to Tiswas, where they performed their naked balloon
dance, much to the disgust of Mary Whitehouse.
was an unmissable presence at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and always
ensured he appeared first in the official programme by calling his shows
Aaaaaaargh. His most famous prank, however, was driving a tractor, nude
save for his trademark black-rimmed glasses, through the next-door tent
where playwright Eric Bogosian was performing his one-man show. He also
once successfully submitted a rave review of his own show to The Scotsman
under the name of one of their own reviewers, William Cook.
opened the Tunnel in 1984, which soon acquired a fearsome reputation
for hecklers, often goaded by Hardee, who made a habit of urinating
into punters drinks if they fell asleep. In his dual role of compere,
Hardee would often do impressions with his genitals, notably of Charles
de Gaulle, long before Puppetry of the Penis. But he also managed up
and coming acts, including Jerry Sadowitz and Vic Reeves, worked as
tour manager for Jools Holland and twice stood for parliament in Greenwich
- the first time, in 1987, for the Rainbow Alliance Beer, Fags and Skittles
Party and the second time to get a free mail shot for his club Up the
Creek, which he opened in 1991.
had a handful of bit-part acting roles on television, where he was sometimes
credited as Malcolm Hardee, including an episode of the first Blackadder
series and cameos in The Comic Strip Presents series. But his most substantial
role came as Malcolm the driver in Channel 4s JO Brand
- Like It or Lump It, a fictionalised account of life on the road with
Brand, a former girlfriend of Hardees, during her 1997 British
wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercurys Birthday Cake
with John Fleming in 1996 - the title came from the incident in 1986
when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singers 40th birthday
celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home. In 2003 he published
Sit-Down Comedy - Stand-Ups Swap the Stage for the Page, a collection
of short stories co-edited with Fleming from comics such as Dominic
Holland, Arthur Smith and Stewart Lee.
recent years he had passed on control of Up the Creek and in November
2001 opened the Wibbley Wobbley on a converted barge in Greenland Dock,
Rotherhithe, opposite his houseboat. It was an area in which he had
lived happily for most of his life.
He leaves his wife Jane and son Frank and daughter Poppy from a previous relationship.
Hardee was a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt, writes
Mark Borkowski (further to the obituary by John Fleming, 5 February).
He was a maverick and a risk-taker.
Edinburgh Festival was always interesting but whenever Malcolm was there,
it was even more fun and a little more edgy. One of my favourite Hardee
tales is of the time he brought his "Greatest Show on Legs"
to the festival, performing in a tent next to the actor Eric Bogosian.
Malcolm rented a sit-down lawnmower and drove it right through Eric's
tent in the middle of the show, taking his audience with him. Being
of a slightly more serious disposition, Eric did not take kindly to
the interruption and the two came to blows in front of the audience
- guaranteeing yet more publicity for Malcolm.
David Blaine was doing his stunt in London in 2003, sitting in a glass
box dangling from a crane, Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help
him organise the media because he'd got one of his mates in Deptford
to knock up a glass box. 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.
Letter to a Young
If in some future
time the Thames is drained there will be a rich and fascinating haul
of items revealed on the river bed. Among the Roman coins, medieval
weapons, bones and punctured yoghurt pots there will be a large pair
of thick black glasses. Whoever finds them will not know that they once
clung to the ears of a small legend, Mr Malcolm Hardee RIP.
Last month, with
his belly full of beer, Malcolm set off on a dinghy to row the ten feet
between the Wibbley Wobbley pub and his own residence, both of which
float in Surrey Quays in southeast London. No doubt Ellen MacArthur
would have made it, but on this occasion Malcolm, who had toppled into
the river more than once in the same circumstances, did not.
Malcolm was a man
of the water like MacArthur but there the comparison ends. Ellen MacArthur
has never been sent to jail for stealing a cabinet ministers Rolls-Royce
or toured the West Country with an obscene Punch and Judy show or put
a lighted firework up her bottom to get a laugh or ran a notorious comedy
club where the hecklers met before the show to work out their material.
has never urinated over a member of the public or tap-danced naked with
a pair of dustbin lids strapped to her feet. I doubt she has escaped
from open prison disguised as a monk, broken into a zoo and played with
the gorillas or announced the death of Glenda Jackson at a press conference
and she has definitely never impersonated General de Gaulle using a
pair of glasses and her genitalia.
sent tremors of shock through the world of London comedians. No one
was hugely surprised, given his wild and fearless ways but some of us
who knew him felt a pang of regret that we hadnt cherished him
more vigorously in life. Every death is a reminder of our own mortality
and Malcolm was the first of a generation of comics to get a booking
at the big gig beyond the veil.
the next does not follow hard upon, because I for one am exhausted by
the funeral, the wake, the auction, the benefit, the radio show and
TV documentary that have tumbled out of this tragic event. The funeral
was one of the funniest, saddest and most memorable days of my life
and at the benefit three days later I was thrilled to come out of retirement
from nude exhibitionism. It was easier to be among the wrinkly nude
men on stage than in the audience gasping at them.
Malcolm apart from his stand-up act was original. Although he was not
a writer, he was a genius at dreaming up scams and schemes. He was a
mythomaniac, the ultimate PR man, a world-class huckster and a man who
trailed laughter and amazement in his wake. Like a shabby Oscar Wilde
he put his genius not into his work but his life.
Among a number of
brilliant contributions to the funeral, Malcolms son Frank delivered
the most touching panegyric. And of all the witty quotes about Malcolm
in next days papers, the funniest two came from his daughter Poppy.
For later newspaper articles, see MALCOLM'S FUNERAL
For a report on the Inquest, CLICK HERE
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