Fringe Classics 4: Malcolm Hardee [1996]

This post previously appeared on in Aug 2007.

Oy Oy! Knob out!

Malcolm Hardee has been described as the father of UK alternative comedy, yet few people outside the circuit have ever heard of him. His actual talents are difficult to define. Stealing was one. Notable thefts included a huge cheese, a Tory MP’s Rolls Royce, the entire contents of Simon Munnery’s medicine cabinet and Freddie Mercury’s birthday cake. He also played harmonica; a skill taught to him by his neighbour Val Doonican. His most consistent talent though was getting naked and flashing the “biggest bollocks in show business“. He didn’t do much TV.

He made a great compère but not a great stand up. He was just Malcolm and that was funny. After achieving success with ‘The greatest show on legs’ he went on to found three London comedy clubs: The infamous ‘Tunnel Palladium’ near the Blackwall Tunnel, ‘Up the creek’ in Greenwich and the ‘Wibbly Wobbly’ in Rotherhithe. His biggest talent though (besides those enormous bollocks) was an incredible ability to spot new acts. As a manager he launched the careers of such brilliant left field talents as Simon Munnery, Vic & Bob, Charlie Chuck, Jerry Sadowitz and Madame Edith & her singing chickens.

In 1996 he published his autobiography, ‘I stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake‘ and it still remains one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Although Malcolm put a show on every year (usually entitled ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAArrrrrrgh’ so as to be first in the Fringe guide) that years show was all about the book.

Malcolm Hardee 1

Malcolm came on stage with the obligatory “Oy Oy” then said, “Alright, what do you want?” He was serious. Brilliant. In the end he told a few anecdotes, played the harmonica and signed copies of the book. Although I lived in Greenwich for a few years and saw Malcolm compère quite a few times, this is the only chance I ever got to meet him. If you’ve been following along with my previous posts then you can probably guess where this show took place. Yup. Yet another gem from the Pleasance Cabaret bar. That place should have a blue plaque.

Malcolm Hardee 2

Fringe classics 3: Arthur Smith [1992]

This post previously appeared on in Aug 2007.

Few people embody the spirit of the Fringe more than Arthur Smith. For four weeks a year the London comedy circuit ups-sticks and moves to Edinburgh, where they proceed to drink. Although Arthur is off the booze these days back then his exploits were legendary. Along with friend and occasional co-host Malcolm Hardee they could often be seen emptying the bars of Edinburgh. Although both had booked venues and sold tickets, the difference between Arthur and Malcolm was that Arthur would usually arrive with a show.

Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams

Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams

Accompanied by Tony Hawks on the piano (and high notes), Arthur introduced us to the character ofArthur Cravan, a 19th century poet, surrealist and boxer. Part lecture, part road trip, part cover band; the story of his life is interspersed with the songs of Andy Williams. Embracing the surrealist nature of his subject matter the show was advertised in the Latin music section of the Fringe guide. It cost 50p and entrants were then offered £1 to leave, thereby making a profit.

Voted by Guardian comedy critic William Cook as the best comedy show of all time, it’s not hard to see why. The show didn’t just play with the form, it tore it up and started again. The show’s lecture style paved the way for the likes of Dave Gorman and Yoram Bauman.

The Edinburgh Rock Show

Arthur Smith Edinburgh Rock Show

Arthur’s walking tours of Edinburgh are legendary affairs. It is not unknown for participants to be arrested en route. This was the same sort of thing with a twist. Arthur had hired a bus to drive us out into the countryside, whereupon we hiked up a mountain and were ambushed with a short play. We then went to the pub for a pint, another play, some fireworks and the unplanned protestations of a local woman and her dog.

All the while Arthur was wearing a costume that i find difficult to adequately describe. Imagine if you will a sort of cat-suit with a bright face and a big cigar appendage. Arthur is the self proclaimed “King of Balham”. I would often pass him on the tube when I lived there and every time I did, the memory of that outfit haunted me. At the start of the Edinburgh Rock Show he offered £500 to anyone who could write a sketch to go with it.

Hamlet by Arthur Smith

Arthur Smith Hamlet

“Programmes, 50p. Programmes, 50p!” The shout goes out as we stand in line for the show. “Yeah, I’ll have one”, I say. “Here you go sir. Here’s your programme, and here’s your 50p.” Genius.

Another show from the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, as was ‘Arthur Smith sings Andy Williams’ incidentally, this one had a crowd deafening finale courtesy of some close proximity opera singing. This was more than likely the work of Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer the Opera) who is credited with working on the show. Playing Ophelia to Arthur’s Hamlet was the gorgeous Sally Philips (Green Wing, Smack the Pony). Another triumph.

The TV version of Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams

Fringe classics 2: The Doug Anthony AllStars [1992]

This post previously appeared on in Aug 2007.

I first saw the Doug Anthony AllStars in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that that was also where The Pod played their late night gig. It’s not a big space; it probably seats between 100 and 150 people max. It’s size gives it an intimacy that you just don’t get with any other venue. Oh yeah, and it’s got it’s own bar.


The Doug Anthony AllStars were a highly explosive Australian three piece who sang songs and performed anarchic feats of audience participation. Often crude but incredibly intelligent, there was a palpable sense of danger about going to see them. At the end of the show we were herded out into the Pleasance courtyard where various members of the audience were encouraged to jump into a raging bonfire.

The following year they filled one of the biggest halls on the Fringe (The Assembly Rooms) but experiencing this much energy in such a small venue was like having a nuclear bomb go off in your living room. Hilarious, terrifying and thoroughly exhilarating. Just to max out his stress levels my brother bootlegged the show. It’s a wonder he didn’t have a heart attack.


This was DAAS last year at the Fringe and they put on shows in two different venues. The first, ‘Blood & Guts’ was another small venue, part of Edinburgh University. There were two levels of seating: a ground and a balcony level that went all round the room. Naturally Paul picked on some audience members that were feeling safe up on the balcony and went for them. The end of the show involved the guys juggling cans of beer that eventually exploded over the audience. I have a great shot these can going off somewhere, which if I can find I’ll post it.

One thing I haven’t touched on was their vulnerable side. In the midst of all their extremes they would regulate the tension with a completely straight, and often breathtakingly beautiful cover song. Favourites include, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Heard it through the grapevine‘, ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me‘ by Hunters & Collectors and Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood‘.


After seeing the guys in small venues I wasn’t sure what to expect from their show at the main hall in The Assembly Rooms. All the big name comics play here. It’s a nice enough building and they run the shows like clockwork but it’s got all the intimacy of an air display.

Greg Proops vs DAAS deathmatch
Fortunately we timed this one right. It turns out that every night prior to our show DAAS had encouraged the crowd to stamp their feet and make as much noise as possible. The ensuing carnage had drowned out Greg Proops, who was performing his one man show downstairs. Bits of plaster were falling from the roof. Two weeks of this had really ticked him off a bit and he finally snapped. Rounding up his entire audience he took them upstairs and stormed our stage.

Okay, no contest really. Three against one, he didn’t stand a hope but the ensuing chaos was awesome. Sadly the bootleg of this one didn’t come out, but I know for a fact that a copy exists as we met the sound engineer the following day. Somewhere out there is this show!

I saw them one last time before they split, in Glasgow in 1993, and they were as good as ever. A beautiful, ugly, hilarious juggernaut. God I miss ’em.

Pucker up… it’s the DAAS

In the park, after dark…

Throw your arms around me

Fringe classics 1: The Pod [1996]

This post previously appeared on in Aug 2007.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the worlds largest arts festival. Now in it’s 61st year the 2007 Fringe kicked off earlier this week. Sadly I’m not going to make it this time but my brother and I were regular visitors for many years. Although the Fringe encompasses some great music and theatre our favourite was always the comedy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a nostalgic look back at my Fringe highlights starting with a real gem from the mid nineties.

The Pod

This was an after hours show at my favourite venue, The Pleasance Cabaret Bar (of which you’ll hear more in future posts). We had just tumbled out of a show called The Comedy Zone and was handed a flyer by an earnest man in a silver space suit. You get handed a lot of flyers in Edinburgh, but this one looked interesting. It promised Techno music, a late bar and mind alteration machines. Now that sounds like a night out.

They were of course brilliant. A wonderful pastiche of bands like The Shamen and ColdCut, all delivered with a wonderfully sincere dead pan delivery by a pre Mighty Boosh, Jullian Barrett. What elevated them to “classic” status though was the music. Save the world new-age-techo never sounded so good.

Enjoy a classic 1996 interview with The Pod from London Shouting.

Kiss the ruby, smell the snake…India

A word, Timothy.

It’s review time! Regular readers may be surprised to know how long it has been since our last review. Although not half as surprised as us on learning that we have regular readers. But the astonishing fact is that we haven’t reviewed anything since, oh gosh… let’s see now… um… ever. Yes, that’s it: ever. We never reviewed anything.

Well that’s all set to change. In our tireless (and indeed tiresome) bid to stay fresh and vital we hereby introduce our new review section, a handy guide to help you the bewildered consumer weave a sure-footed path through the zeitgeisty mire of modern living. Or something. You can expect piercing insight. A bold, independent voice. You can expect informed critical opinion. Actually, you can expect spiritual epiphany and a selection of fruit chutneys if it make you happy.

But enough preamble. Onward to the amble.

Berwhale t-shirt

Whoever the wilfully demented soul behind the creation of this t-shirt is, I could kiss them. Because despite its popularity at the time, and the subsequent success of its stars, A Bit Of Fry & Laurie is now a relatively unknown and woefully under-appreciated comedy show. (This writer’s favourite, as it happens – I suppose I should declare an interest.) So the fact that this t-shirt assumes knowledge of a lesser-known sketch from an obscure TV programme simply fills me with delight. Because it’s not in the manner of typical fanboy t-shirtery (shut up, it is a word). Perhaps I’m wrong but this doesn’t come across as in-jokey self-indulgence, or some sort of geeky one-upmanship. No, it’s way beyond that. Fry & Laurie have long professed a distaste for the notion of “cool”, and the sketch is too inately silly and gently mocking to be appropriated as a badge of geek cool. If there were any doubt about the designer’s motives she/he has thoughtfully provided some explanatory text:

“When the fourth moon of Trollack rises above the Cylinder of Eyelass then Pewnack will strike. His kingdom will be numberless and darkness will blight the land, all men shall be slaves and the time of weeping will begin. So it is written in the runes of Ollerman-Goth, so it must be. Only the Chosen One can stop him, and only Berwhale, the avenger, can pierce the armour of the beast.

Now take Berwhale The Avenger and go upstairs and wash your hands for lunch!”

This, pleasingly, is entirely unhelpful to anyone not already familiar with the sketch, or aware that it even is a sketch. I still don’t quite believe this is for sale. There must be literally ones of people buying it. And amusingly it’s available in “Ladies Baby Doll” fit too. Great stuff, I live for this sort of thing.

Oh okay then, here’s the sketch for the unfamiliar.

And oh you lucky people, you can pick up A Bit Of Fry & Laurie on DVD now! Go on, do it. You know you want to. Well I want you to. Okay how about we compromise: get the first three series at least (the fourth wasn’t as good) and we’ll leave it at that. There. Good. Well done.

Soupy twist.

Whoops Apocalypse DVD release – it grabs Biff!

25 years ago, at the height of the arms race between the West and the Soviet Union, against the backdrop of the Cold War and the very real fear of imminent nuclear war, the BBC broadcast “Threads”. This landmark piece of television was a chilling drama depicting in unflinching detail the grim reality of a nuclear holocaust. After almost two hours of relentless, brutalising misery one thing was abundantly clear: nuclear war is no laughing matter.

Thankfully nobody had told this to Andrew Marshall & David Renwick who only two years previously (1982) treated the subject somewhat differently with the dementedly brilliant “Whoops Apocalypse”. Being that rarest of things, a great ITV comedy, it managed to pull off the neat trick of wringing tear-inducing laughs from the terrifying events of a world spiralling toward nuclear armageddon.

Whoops Apocalypse

It’s difficult to overstate the brilliance of this series. Whilst the plot was absurd it still packed a punch by echoing the insanity of real events as nuclear brinksmanship brought the world teetering to the edge of oblivion. It used canny parodies of contemporary political figures and had a cast to die for: Barry Morse as befuddled U.S. president Johnny Cyclops; John Barron (aka Reggie Perrin’s magnificent C.J.) as the Christian fundamentalist security advisor known as The Deacon; Peter Jones as the insane U.K. Prime Minister, Richard Griffiths as several versions of Russian Premier Dubienkin, and John Cleese (in his first TV role since Basil Fawlty) as international arms smuggler and master of disguise, Lacrobat.

But enough waffle, here’s a taster:

Until now it’s only ever been available on a much-coveted but long-deleted 137-minute Channel 5 VHS version. But finally, after a false start a couple of years ago it looks like it may finally get a DVD release:

We can’t recommend it highly enough. And don’t be put off if you were disappointed by the vastly inferior film version.

I’ve Seen Your Art…


The peerless Arthur Smith returns to Radio 4 this evening with the first in a three-part comedy series about the history of art.

Visitors to his triumphantly silly gallery/installation “Arturart” at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007/2008, or to his somewhat legendary “Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams” Fringe show, will have some idea what to expect.

1. Classical Civilisation & Arturantiquities

Radio 4, Tuesday 24th March 2009, 11pm (30 mins)

Arthur considers the beginnings of art with a visit to the oldest man-made image in Britain, reveals the truth about Van Gogh’s ear and presents a guide to the unfathomable world of Dada. With contributions from Miriam Elia, Phil Nice and Paul Bahn.

2. The High Summer Of The Arturart Renaissance

Radio 4, Tuesday 31st March 2009, 11pm (30 mins)

Arthur deconstructs the Renaissance and asks if it is time for a ‘Re-Renaissance’. The artist of the week is Caravaggio, who was not a very nice man. With contributions from Miriam Elia, Phil Nice, Leslie Primo and Jessica Hynes.

3. Modern Arturart – Post-Modern Then Email-Modern

Radio 4, Tuesday 7th April 2009, 11pm (30 mins)

Arthur continues his journey through the history of western representation and arrives at its most glorious flowering – his own work. With contributions from Miriam Elia, Phil Nice, Arnold Brown, Ian MacPherson and Simon Munnery.