Drowned on the river he loved: comic who revived UK comedy

He was one of the founding fathers of alternative comedy, with a penchant for performing naked and a unique technique for stopping hecklers in their tracks.

Malcolm Hardee, the founder of the Tunnel Club in south-east London, which played host to some of the most unforgiving comedy audiences ever assembled, was also a prodigious talent spotter. Yesterday, however, British comedy was mourning the loss of the nihilistic and uncompromising performer after the 55-year-old was found drowned in the Thames.

Venerated in the business, he helped revive the fortunes of British comedy in the late Seventies - bringing a freshness and audacity that chimed with the punk spirit of the times. He was not averse to urinating over persistent hecklers.

Those who followed included Ben Elton, Paul Merton, Harry Enfield and Mark Steel. Others, such as Jack Dee, Jo Brand and latterly Johnny Vegas, he helped spur on to national stardom.

Hardee, who was separated from his wife and had two teenage children, was reported missing on Monday night.

A prodigious drinker, it is believed he fell from the dinghy he used to travel between the floating pub/restaurant he owned, called the Wibbly Wobbly Boat, and his home on a houseboat called the Sea Sovereign, moored on Greenland Dock near Surrey Quays. His father was a tugboat pilot and he often spoke of the comfort and peace he felt around the river and docks of south-east London where he lived and worked.

His body was pulled from the water by two police divers on Wednesday morning. An inquest was due to be opened and adjourned at Southwark coroner's court. A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "There is no evidence to suggest the death was suspicious." Yesterday friends and family gathered on his boat and poured his favourite drink, rum and coke, into the dock in his memory, followed by a packet of cigarettes and white lilies.

Those who worked with him paid tribute yesterday. Mark Steel, a regular at the Tunnel, said: "For my generation of comics there were two ways of looking at him. He created the Tunnel Club which after the Comedy Store was the most influential gig in London. But then there was another side that you cannot document which was his crude presence. This amazing, nihilistic, debauchery. If you took anything seriously he could be ahard bloke to deal with. He simply destroyed pomposity. He just didn't care. Unusually for a comic he didn't seem to have any ego."

Don Ward, who founded the Comedy Store in 1979, recalled him at the height of his comic powers. "He was in at the very beginning, he was a compère here and he also did a set that was absolutely hilarious. He was fond of his bevvies, as we all were, but this was before the wicked drink got to him. He was at the top of his form. His death is a profound loss."

The stories that surrounded Hardee were legion. He grew up in one of London's toughest neighbourhoods, becoming involved in petty crime at an early age but eventually gravitating towards comedy after going to prison. He was jailed in 1977 for stealing a Rolls-Royce belonging to Peter Walker, a Tory MP. Friends say he only received a jail sentence because of public fears over the activities of a terrorist organisation called the Angry Brigade.

He founded the Tunnel Club in 1984. Its white, working-class audience rivals the Glasgow Empire in the collective folk memory of entertainers for hostility. But it failed to phase Hardee, who regularly appeared there - to widespread adulation - completely naked, except for grey socks, or with his testicles covered in luminous paint.

He once invited a student review from Cambridge University to appear, drafting in his comedian friends to heckle and throw things at them. The Tunnel was eventually closed after a performer was injured by a flying glass. For 12 years he ran Up The Creek in Greenwich, eventually handing over control to his partner Andrew Tearle three years ago.

His own act, The Greatest Show On Legs, is best remembered for the balloon dance performed on Chris Tarrant's adult Tiswas spin-off, OTT. Performed naked, it remained within broadcasting guidelines only through the dextrous application of balloons. In the clubs he performed a more risqué version, which included an impression of Charles De Gaulle using his penis as the late president's nose.

Always fond of duping journalists he once reviewed his own show and filed adulatory copy to The Scotsman in the name of its critic William Cook. It was duly published. His 1996 autobiography, I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake, also recalled the time he pilfered the Queen frontman's 40th birthday cake, and handed out slices at an old people's home.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?