by Malcolm Hardee with John Fleming
1995 was the 25th anniversary of the Glastonbury Festival and the year I billed as my last Edinburgh Festival show. Neither was altogether true. It was 25 years since the Glastonbury Festival started, but the Festival did not happen on a few of those years and I might still appear occasionally at the Fringe, though probably not every year from now on.
As usual, I was compering in the Comedy Tent at Glastonbury and the last act on was a bloke called UltraVision who, basically, was a juggler. But he used dayglo luminous paint on his props. So, if you were watching in the dark and you'd had a bit of dope, it must have looked quite good. Personally, I thought it was bollocks and I was thinking along those lines in the dressing room at the back where he kept all his dayglo paint. The comedian Sean Lock walked by and I said:
"Here, Sean, do us a favour, can you paint my knob?"
So he did. I ended up with a yellow dayglo knob and red testicles. He painted little red circles on my nipples. And my belly-button was a yellow circle.
When UltraVision finished his act, I went on and said:
"Thankyou very much ladies and gentlemen. That was UltraVision. Twenty five years of Glastonbury. My tribute......"
Someone turned out the lights and put on a Bon Jovi record. I took my clothes off and I was away. I threw one of his clubs around, threw some of his dayglo confetti up in the air, started having a wank and walked off. That night, I dreamt I had some sort of sex with Mrs Hardee and we went off to one of those Rave Tents with ultraviolet lights and she was going around looking like Al Jolson.
The dayglo testicles also proved a useful addition to my act in Edinburgh that year. It was the climax of my show, which lost £4000: the first time I had ever lost money on the Fringe.
1995 was, all round, a year of near death and destruction.
It was the year the Observer sent a young bloke called Sam Taylor to review the comedy on the Fringe. But he knew nothing about the comedians or the history of it or anything. He was going to do the normal press thing of going along to the ones that the big agents had sent press releases for. My wife Jane's brother-in-law is a photographer for the Observer, so I was introduced to Sam Taylor and I said:
"You can come and review my show, if you like".
"Do you know anything about Edinburgh?" he asked me, not realising I was the self-styled King of The Fringe.
I didn't get on with him very well although, fair enough, he did eventually turn up for my show. But he turned up about three days before the last night and, because the Observer publishes on a Sunday, the review was not going to come out until after our show had finished its run. So it was no use to us. He hadn't seen the show so I explained to him that I did a bit of fake karate in which I got a volunteer to hold a bit of wood. He said he'd do that. So during the show - I'd never done this before - I said:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I used to do a bit of karate and I'd like a volunteer from the audience to hold this plank of wood".
He came up and held it and I did all the karate-style moves and then just ran towards him and kneed him in the bollocks.
He fell down and crawled off the stage.
I went up to the microphone and said:
"Sorry. I haven't done that for a long time".
He crawled up the stairs out of the venue and the bloke at the door asked him:
"Did you enjoy the show?"
"No," he said.
"Are you going to give Malcolm a good review?"
"No," he said.
And, sure enough he didn't. He said I was a balding, myopic lunatic. I wasn't that myopic when I kneed him in the bollocks, though.
In Edinburgh, I was performing with Ricky Grover and The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper.
I'm not Ricky Grover's agent, just helping him. I advised him to sign with the Avalon agency for one year. But they are now signing everyone up for five years, which sounds a bit like a sentence to me. The Edinburgh Fringe is now working on the Supermarket Theory. You get big agents like Avalon and Off The Kerb who go up there with about 15 or 20 shows like a conveyor belt of comedy. I normally went up there with one or possibly two shows. I'm like the little corner shop to their supermarkets. I supply the quality but don't necessarily get the customers in.
Ricky Grover is a bit like a male Jo Brand.
When she started performing as The Sea Monster, nearly all Jo's material was about being fat. She still gets accused of that but, in fact, very little of her material is now about being fat. A lot of Ricky Grover's material is about being fat. He's an ex-boxer in his mid-30s who was illiterate until about three or four years ago. He used to be a hairdresser and a criminal, part of an East End gang in East Ham.
On one robbery, they had been watching this bloke in a shoe shop and they were going to nick his money - about £15,000 - when he tried to put it in a Night Safe. They followed him for about three weeks. He had a pouch with the money in. Ricky's job was to go up to him - because Ricky looks quite threatening - and say:
"Look, give us the money, behave yourself and you won't get hurt".
He did this, grabbed the pouch, ran away, got in the car and off they drove. After each robbery, they used to go to the home of the mum of one of the gang members. She used to give them a cup of tea in the kitchen. So they went round to this man's mum's house, sat round the table, opened up the pouch and inside were four ham sandwiches. The gang leader didn't bat an eyelid. He just went:
"One for you...One for me...One for you...One for you..."
Ricky eventually went on a course to learn how to read. He wanted to be an actor and wrote a play about boxing: Punch. He performed part of it at the Edinburgh Fringe. Very powerful. The whole audience went quiet. It was a short play about boxing and was recently filmed by a Swedish TV company. He tried to lose weight to act in it. When they originally saw him and cast him, he was about 5 or 6 stone lighter. By the time they filmed it, he had lost his boxer's physique. But he couldn't lose the weight, so they had to do it with camera tricks.
He became a comedian
because, when he originally wrote his boxing play, he performed it to
all his chums at a boxing club. The play was so full of pathos and there
were so many tears being shed by these boxers in the audience, that
he decided he'd better get up at the end and tell a few jokes to lighten
the atmosphere. I took him to the Edinburgh Fringe in 1995 but, as he
said afterwards, it wasn't really his sort of audience. He'd prefer
to play the more mainstream Circus Tavern in Purfleet, Essex, near the
M25. He says he likes 'thick' people like himself (his description,
not mine). He goes down particularly well in Southend.
I put him on with The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper, whose real name is Sebastian. His father is Sicilian and his mother is English. He is small and wiry and speaks with a Welsh accent, because he was brought up in Swansea. Most people just sat there and stared at him, too. But he is not an act for the squeamish. We had a couple walk out because they said they felt sick.
He's basically a sword-swallower, but he trained as a musician. He went to Dartington College. There are three bits to Dartington: a drama bit, a music bit and a 'progressive' school. After he left the music bit, he learned to be a sword-swallower. It takes about a year to have your gullet open up enough so you can poke a sword down it. You have to practise every day for about a year.
When I took him up to the Edinburgh Fringe with Ricky Grover, The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper - or 'The Bastard' as we called him - was getting fed up with his relationship with his girlfriend. Halfway through the Fringe, he phoned her up in London to say it was all over. We asked how the conversation went and he said:
"Oh, she took it quite well".
This was at about 2.00pm. At 5.00pm, she was on the phone again and he was sheepish talking to her. Then she phoned again about five minutes later and, after that, he decided to put on the answerphone and pretend he was out.
We were all in the kitchen when the phone rang again and we heard her slightly Welsh voice on the machine saying:
"I'm going to tell the whole world what this Bastard's like, what he's done to me".
So we all stood there in the kitchen listening. Ricky Grover, me, Steve Bowditch and The Bastard, who was looking sheepish.
"Before he left for Edinburgh," her voice continued. "He smashed up the kitchen. He broke the living room window. And he kicked me in the cunt."
Then she slammed the phone down.
Ricky said: "What was wrong with that? That's what I do with my wife if she don't get me breakfast on time. I thought I was going to hear something good like you were a paedophile!"
About three days later, I was rounding off our show on stage. I got to the words:
"......and let's have a big round of applause for The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper,"
and I heard the mieow of a cat.
I thought this was a bit strange. I mentioned The Bastard again and the cat mieowed again. I couldn't see where the cat noise was coming from, but we ended the show with no problems.
At the Fringe, you have to pack up very fast to let the next performers prepare for their show. When the lights went up, there The Bastard's girlfriend stood, in front of the stage, holding a rather worried cat, saying:
"He's a bastard!"
There was also a woman from Latvia there - just a member of the audience. She wanted to take photos of me, Ricky and The Bastard to show her friends back home. We were trying to clear up and get out as quickly as possible, while this massive argument started between The Bastard and his girlfriend. The woman from Latvia was trying to get us into a group for a photo involving the three of us plus her and her boyfriend.
The Bastard's girlfriend was called Louise, so I said:
"Nice cat, Louise".
"Yes," she said. "And he's got very sharp claws".
With this, she threw the cat at The Bastard. The cat flew through the air and scratched me on the shoulder as it screeched towards him.
"Well," I said, "You'd better sort this out outside".
I shovelled Louise, the Bastard and the cat into the street. We packed everything up but the Latvian woman then started screaming about the photos. My friend Maurice Gibb, the fireman, had been in the audience and looks a bit like The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper - or at least he was the nearest I could get at the time. So I got Maurice to pose for the photos with Ricky Grover and me. And the Latvian woman never noticed the difference.
That night, Louise and her cat started staying in our Edinburgh flat. Things got a bit tense - Louise wasn't speaking to any of us and the cat was a bit neurotic which, I suppose, is not surprising.
After about four or five days of this, I came home with Jane and told The Bastard that Ricky Grover was a bit upset. He'd said "Hello" to Louise that morning and she'd completely ignored him. Then Louise came back and went completely mad and ranted on and on about The Bastard being a bastard and called Ricky Grover a pimp and said Jane was "a Man-Pleaser". Jane was quite flattered.
At this point, Ricky started going mad about being called a pimp, because he said he'd only ever worked in a brothel and he'd never been a pimp and his little kid was in the flat with us. It was two in the morning and The Bastard was crying, so things came to a bit of a head. Jane told The Bastard and Louise they'd have to leave the next morning or, if they kept at it, they'd have to leave immediately. Louise stormed out, shouting:
"I'm going to go to the papers!"
"I wish you would," I said. "We could do with the publicity".
After she'd left, The Bastard came in a bit tearful and asked us:
"Can you feed the cat for Louise?"
Feed the cat? We'd have fed a lion to get rid of Louise.
She went back to London and, when last heard of, she had moved to a caravan in Devon and started having therapy.
The next night, having rid ourselves of the disastrous Louise, we went to a Latin American club for a bit of relaxation. I left alone at about 2 o'clock after someone at the club gave me three Ecstasy tablets. I went back to our flat and took one. I thought I'd give it a go and see what happened. I had had one a long time ago at the Glastonbury Festival and it had been alright there, out in the fields. But, this time, the effect was completely different. Jane arrived back at our flat with some lunatic bloke who'd heard I had three tabs of Ecstasy. He wanted some, so I sold him one and made a profit. They were going off to a Rave and I said:
But I was in my dressing gown at the time and, by the time I'd got ready, they'd buggered off and I couldn't remember the address where the Rave was. So I was left in the flat alone and I took another half tab of Ecstasy.
The effect of Ecstasy is to make your heart beat faster so I just wandered about the flat like a lunatic with my heart thumping madly and then I thought:
"That's it! I'm going to die!"
So I lay down on the bed.
Jane got back at about 6.30 in the morning and I said:
"I'm going to die. I'm definitely going to have a heart attack."
She tried to be all calm and said: "You're not. Just breathe properly."
"I am!" I said: "I'm going to have a heart attack! Definitely!"
My heart seemed to be beating faster and faster and I was just getting more and more paranoid. I told Jane:
"You've got to phone an ambulance! You've got to phone an ambulance!"
And, eventually, she did.
"They're on their way, aren't they?" I asked: "I'm definitely going to die!"
Panic is the word.
According to Jane I was lying there on the bed fiddling with my genitals with my pants on, but I don't remember that.
I was panicking about the ambulance not arriving.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the doorbell rang.
"Thank God!" I said. "They're here!"
It was the postman.
Eventually two blokes did arrive in green paramedic gear. Apparently my pulse rate was 30 beats over, which isn't bad. They said they'd had people with 150 over who still lived, but they had to take me to hospital just in case. They had a chair with wheels on it to take me down the stairs. They sat me in that and put a blanket over me and tied me in. I looked like Hannibal Lector from Silence of The Lambs. It was the most frightening thing I've ever experienced in my life. They took me down two darkened flights of stairs tied to this chair.
I told them I'd taken a tab and a half of Ecstasy - they don't have to report it to the police - and a fair amount of drink. I found out later it was the drink that caused the problem.
In the ambulance, one of them asked Jane how old I was and she said:
"He should be old enough to know better," he said.
Then they asked Jane: "Is he his normal colour?"
"He is now," she said, " But he looked a bit grey earlier on".
I pulled my oxygen mask down and said:
"But I've got luminous testicles!"
The two paramedics looked at each other and I looked at them and I said:
"But I have! I have!"
I pulled my trousers down and my testicles were painted in dayglo paint because it was all part of the show. They thought I was mad. But they took me to hospital and it was like having an MOT. They did all the tests and said I was remarkable for a man of my age. Later that day, I felt fine. We did a good show that night and I went out again until about 4.00am.