25th August 1996
Original article - click here

"I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake"
by Malcolm Hardee with John Fleming
Fourth Estate, £8.99
review by Ben Thompson

What could a man who has built a career around the public display of his genitalia (albeit occasionally shielded by a hard-pressed balloon or three) possibly have left to reveal? A fair bit, it turns out. This characterful and not overly ghost-written autobiography contains a feast of scabrous reminiscence. It is also a great deal more fun than Malcolm Hardee's act - but then again, so is having your appendix removed.

Garlanded as it is with emotional tributes from his peers ("If Malcolm Hardee is as good between these covers as he is between the sheets," erstwhile intimate Jo Brand observes fondly, "put this book back on the shelf"; Arthur Smith calls him "the South London Rabelais"), I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake goes a long way towards explaining the curious degree of reverence Hardee inspires in those whose job it is to be irreverent. It is not so much for any one single impact on the British comedy boom - for founding the infamous Tunnel Club, for his influence on the careers of Harry Enfield, Gerry Sadowitz, Vic Reeves or Jo Brand - that he is regarded as its spiritual father; rather for a lifetime contribution. In a nutshell: the construction of a permanent bridge between the worlds of pub anecdote and top-flight showbusiness.

Some of the stories recounted here - the titular-Queen-singer's-gateau- larceny outrage, the one where Malcolm escapes from borstal dressed as a monk - might seem to challenge this book's right to a "non-fiction" classification, but it would be a brave man who would commit to disproving any one of them finally. And Hardee can hardly be blamed for editing out the litany of embarrassing failures and scams gone off half-cock that is the shameful secret of every shameless opportunist, since this book is certainly no whitewash.

Its subject has, by his own admission, done more than his fair share of very bad things. Malcolm's multifarious misdemeanours range from carol singing for personal gain, through car-theft and house-breaking to a vicious unprovoked assault on an Observer comedy critic (well, anyone can make a mistake). But his accounts of such misdeeds are admirably free of the self-justificatory whinging that is the usual stock-in-trade of the criminal memoir - "When it suited me I would claim that I'd fallen in with a bad lot," Hardee observes of his life as a teenage reprobate in darkest Deptford, "but the truth was that I was the bad lot."

Like all the most entertaining autobiographers, Malcolm Hardee is an inveterate namedropper - not without good reason is the first chapter headed "Near Someone Famous". His dearest memory is playing bridge in prison with now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Labour MP John Stonehouse, and the crucial first step in the warping of his psyche seems to have been growing up next door to Val Doonican. What exploits are to be expected of those who have grown up next door to Malcolm Hardee, few would dare to contemplate.

THE EDGE - online
Original article - click here

"I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake and Othe Autobiographical Confessions"
by Malcolm Hardee with John Fleming
Fourth Estate, 229 pages

review by Gerald Houghton

There are Three Golden Rules of Comedy:

1. If in doubt, wobble about.

2. If that don't work, fall over.

3. If that don't work - knob out!

Don't laugh. Well, do laugh, because that's what people do when Malcolm Hardee gets his knob out. Which he does. A lot. Mainly in London, annually in Edinburgh, and occasionally for the edification and delight of other nations. He's a comedian, what we might call the godfather of alternative (which he would hate), and a very very funny man.

I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake is 229 marvellously entertaining pages of anecdote, story and, very likely, out-right lying. It's nominally an autobiography, but more a coathanger for a suit of fabulous jokes. Learn how Greta Garbo once walked over him. How he lived next door to Val Doonican. How he sat his 'O' levels in stripy pyjamas. Shopped his mother for shop-lifting. Stole. Stole. And stole again.

Hardee was a bad boy, nicking anything not nailed down, driving cars all over - very rarely his own - and in and out of borstal and prison. The way he tells it, it was just something you did: went to school, met girls, went to gaol.

Then he grew up - "Prison is like mime or juggling: a tragic waste of time" - and saw the light of comedy, clubs and sometime agenting for special friends. Thus we learn of his deep affection for the deeply strange Charlie Chuck (Reeves and Mortimer's Uncle Peter). And his admiration for legendary comic-magician Gerry ("Nelson Mandela. What a cunt") Sadowitz. He writes at length about the genius of a man he likes but doesn't understand. It's the book at its most restrained and considered.

The rest is stand-up. See how Hardee ran for Parliament. Learn how to make your fortune by sticking a banger up your arse. Discover how he goaded US performance artist Eric Bogosian into beating-up a tractor. See Hardee play harmonica with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. Glean all you need to know to run a successful London comedy club - booking jugglers and forgetting the low roof, or omitting to tell a tap-dancer about the carpeted stage. And, what you came along for in the first place, how he and his reprobate naked balloon-dancing pals swiped a birthdaying Freddie Mercury's £4,000 cake.

Slander, libel, lies, probably, and deliriously funny. Hardee was a bad lad but never malicious. There's a streak in him that just has to push too far (witness his second attempt at Bogosian) but you have to say that he's loyal. The philosophy? "I'm happy where I am in South East London. I'm respectable now. I have trousers, a house and a wife."

And a final enticement? These from the index: Aaaaaaaaaargh (150-1); Boy Scouts, improper use of (28, 107-8); cars, how to steal (44, 65); Heseltine, Michael: pornographic cards threat (180-1); Smith, Ronnie (sub-aqua pianist) (104, 106); and Thatcher, Margaret: source of showbiz humour (111, 145).