Death by Hum – And Wibbley Wobbley Fun
Dunno about you, but the first thing I think of when I think about Malcolm Hardee isn’t clothes. And yet it’s a good half way into Jody VandenBurg’s docco The Tunnel before one of Britain’s most outrageous comics ever is seen in anything other than a full set of togs (fully-pixelated, in case you’re of a nervous disposition…)
I confess I was just too young and too scared to ever venture into the club myself – I’d heard its fearsome reputation and just going past made me nervous. Actually, it still is quite a place if you go past of a Friday night about 10.00 - and it’s somehow rather sweet that the Tunnel Club’s resident heckler who, along with Simon Munnery (who’s looking terrifyingly like Pete Beale these days), forms the main talking head-action is pleased that it’s still an ‘outside’ venue, (I was chatting to a guy of 19 who visited THAT recently and only lasted about 15 minutes before he got scared…) I told myself I was more into music anyway…
The documentary is, like Tea Time, another ‘alternative’ vision of the area covering something un-mainstream that thankfully still exists, important in that it discusses something that, by its very nature, will only ever be marginalised in history books (though I was pleased to see an entry from Mary Mills’s Greenwich and Woolwich at Work featured in the film.) There’s no narrator, so in many ways you’re expected to know, more or less, something of the history of Hardee, his notorious balloon act and the alternative alternative comedy circuit of the 1980s and 90s (if you don’t, try checking out this )
There’s not much point in my reinventing the wheel here – I recommend watching the video – which has been nominated for an award, so if you enjoy it, you could vote for it too. Don’t switch off when it comes to the (very long, considering the length of the movie) credits – there are more famous people interviewed during them, drawing on their own Tunnel visions, including one brave dissenting voice from Mark Lamarr, who loved Hardee but not the club itself. Presumably he, like pretty much every other performer there, died a horrible death – perhaps even the time mentioned in the movie where 350 people hummed some poor sod off the stage.
Hardee owned the Wibbley Wobbley boat in Greenland Dock up to the point of his untimely death in 2005 and I visited it the other evening to see how it’s faring.
It’s charming, complete with bunting , flowers and fairy lights, if perhaps not quite as raucous as it once was. Wider than you might expect, it really is a pub on water – plush bench seats, rope disco lights, and resident cat inside, comfy seats outside to watch the sun slip down behind the apartment blocks. When I went it was clearly a place for residents and boaty-types to enjoy a quiet drink under yellowing shipping maps pasted onto the ceiling. Sadly, French Fred no longer does food (even though it’s still advertised on a board on the Thames Path) but I still liked this place a lot. It’s a place for cool drinks on hot summer evenings, but I suspect it would be very cosy in the winter too. I just hope they start doing food again soon.
Do check out the docco. And if anyone fancies making a film about South East London’s music scene in the 19 70s, 80s and 90s, there’s a willing viewer waiting here…
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