Letters To A Young Comedian

Tuesday 1 March 2005, The Stage

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 Wibbly Wobbly pub and his own residence, both of which float in Surrey Quays in south-east 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 minister’s 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.

Ellen MacArthur 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.

Malcolm’s death 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 hadn’t 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.

Let’s hope 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.

Everything about 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, Malcolm’s son Frank delivered the most touching panegyric. And of all the witty quotes about Malcolm in next day’s papers, the funniest two came from his daughter Poppy.

I have to go back inside now because Matron is approaching in time’s winged chariot.
Goodbye Malcolm my old friend. Good luck on your new journey.

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