Malcolm Hardee dies

Legendary comic drowns in Thames

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 Wibbly Wobbley, on a converted barge in Greenland Dock, and lived on a houseboat called the Sea Sovereign on the opposite side of the water.

It’s 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.

Hardeee was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club at Rotherhithe, where most of today’s 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 Minister’s Rolls-Royce.

The title of his autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents: I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

In the cover notes to the book, many celebrities paid tribute to Hardee’s unique, deranged talent.

Jools Holland said: “It has been an honour and a pleasure to know Malcolm Hardee.”

Stewart Lee called him “South London’s 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 Tarrant’s OTT

Off stage, Hardee always said he was happiest when he was on the river. In his autobiography, he wrote: “I’m 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.


Published: 2 Feb 2005

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