He died with a beer in his hand

Inquest into Malcolm Hardee's death

Comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee was still clutching a bottle of beer when his body was brought up from the Thames, the inquest into his death heard today.

The legendarily shambolic comic and promoter had been on one of his marathon drinking sessions when he fell into south-east London’s Greenland Dock in the early hours of January 30.

The 55 year-old father of two was trying to make his way home from the floating Wibbley Wobbley pub, where he was landlord, to his houseboat just a few yards across the water by dinghy, but he lost his balance and drowned.

On February 2, after he had been missing for two days, a police search team was called and his body was located on the bottom of the river, still holding a bottle of his favourite Budweiser.

In a statement, PC Martin Spirito told Southwark Coroners Court: ‘The search commenced at 10am. At 10.24am one of the officers came up and said he had found a lifeless body. I followed the officer's line down. Six metres down I saw a white male. The male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.’

Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: ‘The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.’

Coroner John Sampson, recording a verdict of accidental death, said. "The cause of his death was drowning.

‘He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbly Wobbly public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30 having left friends inside the pub some while before. It appears that whilst he was attempting to access his houseboat from the quay he fell into the dock and was recovered three days later.

‘I believe on the evidence I have heard that the only plausible explanation is that an accident took place here. I declare that this is an accidental death.

Hardee's colourful life included a stretch in prison for stealing a Cabinet Minister’s Rolls-Royce. On release  he became a comedian, pioneering the naked balloon dance and setting up the infamous Tunnel Club, near the Rotherhithe Tunnel, where most of today’s leading comics faced a barrage of heckles

He later went on to establish Up The Creek, where he was pictured on the wall as Christ in a parady of Da Vinci's The Last Supper' with pals such as ex-girlfriend Jo Brand and Julian Clary as disciples and Ben Elton as Judas Escariot. 

The coroner saod: ‘He does seem to have had a colourful career and been a most interesting and valuable friend and an important member of his family.’

Brother Alex Hardee, who is also manager of pop band the Scissor Sisters, said he had fallen in the dock before and someone had to pull him out.

‘It just seemed obvious the next day the little dingy was floating on its own further down the dock,’ he said. ‘That night it had been dark, he had had a few drinks, it was the middle of winter. He didn't stand a chance.’

Friend Jamie Harris had been drinking with Hardee that fateful Saturday evening. ‘The last time I saw him he had a couple of bottles of beer with him. He said he was going to go, it was about 4.30am. I can't be certain. I was quite drunk myself.‘

Barmaid Magita Stuber added: ‘The last time I saw him he had two bottles of vodka, one in each pocket. He was in a fantastic mood. He was drunk when he left us.’

The inquest heard that a pathologist found large quantities of alcohol in the comedian's blood. 

Speeaking outside court, sister Clare Hardee said: ‘Malcolm never had any enemies. Right now I am angry with him because he had so much more living to do. He would have made a great old age pensioner, had he lived.’

Clare and Malcolm's son Frank, 19, a student at Oxford University, had both tried to persuade him to live somewhere on terra firma.

‘We both begged him to move to a flat,’ said Clare. ‘We knew about his recklessness. We knew he had fallen in before. The boat where it was was not the best place to be.’


Published: 20 Jun 2005

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