Updated February 2019
Anyone who has seen or heard Jeremy Hardy could be forgiven for thinking he was just a very funny man on British television and radio. If you've never heard of Jeremy Hardy that probably qualifies as quite an impressive guess (unless you've read the title of this Entry). He was, however, much more than he at first appeared. Not content with criticising the Government, doing benefit gigs or moaning about Mrs Thatcher until she got booted out, Jeremy had been in the public arena for years, making noise, making his point, making a difference.
Jeremy made his television debut in 1986 on Now - Something Else, a vehicle for impressionist Rory Bremner, in which Jeremy featured as both a performer and a writer. He followed this up with a variety of minor writing and performing roles in Hello Mum and Lift Off! With Coppers and Co (both 1986), voice-over work in television cartoon Helping Henry (1987), AIDS Benefit Hysteria 2 and a rare acting appearance as Corporal Perkins in Blackadder Goes Forth (both 1989). In 1995 Jeremy teamed up with fellow comic Jack Dee to write and perform Jack and Jeremy's Police 4 which the pair followed up the next year with an entire series entitled Jack and Jeremy's Real Lives. Unsurprisingly, the early work had been slim pickings for Jeremy but this first television series, although it was not a big success, meant more work in the following years and, for some reason, a guest spot in 1996 presenting Top of the Pops.
In 1997 Jeremy moved away from comedy again, narrating a series on the English Civil War which went by the imaginative title Civil War: England's Fight for Freedom. The following year an astrologer would have struck extraordinarily lucky with the prediction 'You will work a lot with people called Clive', as Jeremy ticked the first name on the list by working with Clive Anderson on television panel game If I Ruled The World. Jeremy was team captain, opposite former Goodies star Graham Garden, of a political party trying to gain the audience vote. It was the first chance for a TV audience to see Jeremy airing his political views, as well as his quick and clever humour1. Another year, another Clive, as 1999 saw Jeremy achieve a regular guest slot on Monday Night Clive with Australian Clive James. This was enough to establish Jeremy as reliable combination of the intelligent and the absurd and made him a regular guest on programmes such as QI and Mock the Week. Despite this success, Jeremy was quoted as saying that TV was not his favourite medium. Certainly, he had reflected his views more completely in other arenas.
Jeremy wrote two books. His first, When Did You Last See Your Father? was first published in 1992 and is a book about fatherhood: 'From sexual intercourse to adoption, from Abraham and Isaac to sitcom fathers, this is a review of paternalism in all its forms' is how the blurb describes it. In 1993 Hardy released his second book Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation. The literal, and indeed literary-minded may feel that this is an odd choice of title and will no doubt be relieved to read that both title and contents were drawn from the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name.
Hardy's journalism was probably the most controversial aspect of his work in print. Jeremy had columns in ES (the Evening Standard advertising supplement) and The Guardian, from which he was fired. This was, according to The Guardian, because his column did not contain enough jokes2 although everyone else suggests that it was because he used the column as a platform for his political views, of which more later. Either way, printed media offered an opportunity for Jeremy to articulate his deeply and passionately-held beliefs on a range of issues, as well as to argue intelligently for them. Jeremy wrote a heartfelt obituary for close friend and fellow comedian Linda Smith in The Guardian in 2006 and also once wrote an article in the Big Issue3 arguing that you could see the extent of discrimination in the media against immigrants by substituting the word 'immigrant' for the word 'Jew', from which you would get, he claimed, something that read like Nazi propaganda. He was certainly not afraid of using strong arguments to make his points, and it wouldn't just be in his journalism that he would do this.
Do you realise you haven't said a single broadcastable thing so far today? People are going to think you're dead.
- Andy Hamilton to Jeremy Hardy on The News Quiz
Television producers tended to hire Jeremy purely as a comic. Radio was full of formats that allowed him to share his more personal views, as well as his jokes - although he had never been popular among radio bookers purely as an opinionated and controversial panelist. That Jeremy Hardy had enjoyed success on BBC Radio 4's big comedy hits such as the long-running The News Quiz and the legendary Just a Minute4 is a reflection of the extent to which radio allowed free rein not to his political opinions but to his particular comedy; articulate, intelligent and surreal in a way more reminiscent of Paul Merton5 or Eddie Izzard than a political firebrand sacked by a newspaper for not being funny enough. Jeremy had also been a big success as a regular guest on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue where he is remembered chiefly for the comically-poor quality of his singing. He also played the part of the Laird in the show's spin-off 'You'll Have Had Your Tea: The Doings of Hamish and Dougall'.
But it was with his own show Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation that he enjoyed possibly the greatest success. The show, with six series and two Sony Radio Awards to its name, consists of a series of 'lectures' on subjects such as 'how to be a father', 'how to bear up under the strain' and 'how to meet the challenge of the 21st Century'. Although the series included jokes such as 'it's always handy if scapegoats are colour-coded so that BNP members only have to be shown pictures', and much of it allowed Jeremy recourse to his own views, much of the humour was absurdist and whimsical, although Hardy's comments did get him axed from a performance at a Burnley Club by the local council. Even his trademark rambling tirades were as likely as not to be about, for example, Elton John's hair: 'whole orders of nuns have been murdered to supply the hair but it still looks like a nylon joke shop imitation of the hairstyle of a six-year-old whose very old mother cuts it while he fails to sit still on a kitchen stool'. He was, however, not shy about mocking his own appearance, having once remarked 'I used to wear cardigans, but I can't anymore because they make me look like Rigsby from Rising Damp'. With a live audience enjoying the show, nobody can claim that there weren't enough jokes. And, since you ask, here are a few more gems:
How To Be Young:
For some reason men who wear wigs or weaves usually go for styles that don't exist among the naturally-haired community.
How To Live:
Marriage is a bit like a witness protection scheme, you get all new clothes, you live in the suburbs and you're not allowed to see your old friends any more.
How To Be Afraid:
On Streatham Hill, where I live, it's only when the weather turns parky that you can tell who's not a prostitute.
How To Be Happy:
It can be useful to keep a notebook by your bed so that you can keep a diary of your dreams so that you can build up a diary of your conscious mind and try and work out how completely sick in the head you are.
Ideally we'll invest in something high risk, that's supposed to make us feel very mature and sophisticated. We give someone we don't remotely trust lots of our money, there's no chance we'll ever see it again, and that's supposed to make us feel like solid citizens.
Whatever else it may be, radio was reportedly Hardy's favourite medium. He was often quoted as saying that 'TV supplants the imagination, whereas radio feeds it'. But what about the environment where Jeremy first made his name, or at least, made his name known to other people?
Jeremy had apparently been performing professionally since 19846 part of the new wave of 'alternative' stand-up comedians emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s in clubs such as London's famous Comedy Store, which styles itself as 'Comedy's Unofficial National Theatre'. In 1987 Jeremy was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Festival but was beaten by an act called 'Brown Blues'. A year later he was nominated again, and this time Jeremy won, becoming only the second individual in the award's history to have been a winner, as all but one of the previous victors had been groups. Arnold Brown, a member of the team who won the 1987 Perrier Award, recalls Jeremy from their days at the Comedy Store. Asked to recall a particularly memorable put-down to a heckler7, Brown remembered that Jeremy had reacted to a persistent heckler with the words 'I've told you John, it's over'. Despite achieving success on the radio and on television in the subsequent years, Jeremy toured regularly.
Not content with inflicting himself on virtually every other generally available medium, Jeremy decided to turn his hand, and the rest of his body, to the heady world of film. Jeremy was among the cast of the 2002 film Hotel, along with Friends star David Schwimmer, Lucy Lui from Ally McBeal and other people who don't feature in Edited Guide Entries. As ever, though, a bit-part was never going to be enough for Jeremy.
Comedians often get stuck looking for new material, but only Jeremy would get himself shot at.
- Mark Steel.
Filmed in Easter 2002 and released the following year Jeremy Hardy vs The Israeli Army was a documentary film in which Jeremy joins the International Solidarity Movement as they attempt to resist the Israeli occupation of Palestine, specifically in the town of Bethlehem. For more information, read Jeremy's ISM Article. While the theory is that the ISM are 'safe' because they are foreign nationals and that the Israelis do not wish to shoot at British or American citizens, this does not prove to be a guarantee of security during the filming. This film was on limited cinema release in the UK, but is not widely available for sale.
Oh yes, we said political activist in the title and we don't go around promising things in the title without delivering them around here you know. It's already become fairly obvious that Jeremy was happy to express his views, often with mixed results, in a variety of media. But just as often the expression of his opinions becomes the thing that he was actually doing, not just a brief aspect of it. A firm believer in Irish Reunification, he once said 'Northern Ireland is part of Ireland, not Britain, as can clearly be seen from aerial photographs'. Jeremy campaigned for justice for a variety of victims of miscarriages of justice though, not just those which occurred during the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland.
Danny McNamee is an electrical engineer who was convicted in 1987 of an involvement in the IRA's8Hyde Park Bombing. At the second time of asking, his conviction was quashed on appeal9 shortly after he had been released from the notorious 'Maze' prison as part of the 'Good Friday' agreement. As a long-time supporter of McNamee, Jeremy drew attention to the issue in his Guardian column and attended the trial hearing at which the Irishman was acquitted, at which he was volubly critical of the decision, shouting 'He was framed. Why don't you have the grace to admit it and stop covering your own backs?' at the trio of judges as they left the bench. To read Jeremy's article on Danny McNamee, among other things, visit The Scandals in Justice website.
In November 1996, Roisin, four months pregnant, was arrested in connection with a mortar attack on a British army barracks in Germany. She was held in Belfast for six days under emergency laws but was not charged with anything at any point during her imprisonment. She was then transferred to Belmarsh Men's Prison in London, awaiting an extradition application from Germany. In due course, under severe international pressure, she was transferred to Holloway, which is a women's prison. Jeremy made perhaps his most significant contribution to an alleged miscarriage of justice for Roisin, re-mortgaging his house to contribute £30,000 of the £100,000 demanded in order for Roisin to be released on bail to a psychiatric hospital. Speaking to press at the bail hearing Jeremy remarked, 'We fear that the Government is so desperate to please Loyalists that they will use Roisin as a sacrifice. I am not optimistic, but Mr Straw10 has evidence that Roisin is unwell and evidence that she is innocent'. On 13 April, 1998, Roisin was finally released.
The Tottenham Three
In 1985 Tottenham, North London, was an area where the relationship between the London Metropolitian Police and the black community was extremely tense. When a riot started over the death of a black woman whose son had been arrested, a police officer died, and three men were arrested, charged and convicted of his murder in 1987. Jeremy attended protest rallies and trial hearings, as with Danny McNamee, and highlighted the case in the press. After the three were acquitted he continued to speak out on behalf of Winston Silcott, a member of the trio who remained in prison for a separate offence, the alleged murder of a man named Tony Smith, who he claimed to have killed in self-defence. He was finally released on parole in 2003.
Since filming Jeremy Hardy vs The Israeli Army, Hardy became active in the 'War on Want' campaign and a vocal critic of various companies alleged to be involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He was also a member of the 'Artists Against the War campaign, a member of the Socialist Alliance and has done benefits for Amnesty International. Phew! Politically active enough for you?
Jeremy contracted cancer and died on 1 February, 2019, at the age of 57. Tributes were posted on social media by fellow comedian Jack Dee, impressionist Rory Bremner and Labour leader Jeremy Corbin.