The word “legend” is bandied about quite a lot in the West End, but deservedly goes to Jimmy Hardwick, who has died at the age of 88.

A picture of Jimmy Hardwick on the wall of Joe Allen restaurant. Photo: Joe Allen

A picture of Jimmy Hardwick on the wall of Joe Allen restaurant. Photo: Joe Allen

Hardwick played piano at Joe Allen restaurant in Covent Garden for the last 37 years.

Food critic Jay Rayner paid tribute to him on Twitter saying that, “Jimmy could play most anything from any show and segue effortlessly depending on which star had just walked in. The piano was his home.”

Jimmy became much loved by the staff and regulars of Joe Allen, and became friends with some of the world’s biggest stars including Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner.

Born in Stafford, he originally planned to join his father’s hairdressing salon but his friend Sue Nicholls, aka Audrey in Coronation Street, persuaded him to move South!

Broadway star Elaine Stritch helped Jimmy get his big break at Joe Allen by persuading the restaurant to take him on.

The Joe Allen website has posted a splash page paying their respects to Jimmy, and saying that his death marks “a very sad day in the history of Joe Allen restaurant.

“Our beloved Jimmy Hardwick has finally played his final tune at Joes, and died this morning, after a short illness aged 88.

“He was in fine form , regaling Cathy and his family with risqué stories from his hospital bed right up until yesterday evening. His devilish sense of humour intact until the end.Jimmy played on opening night 17th of January 1977 and has played for 6 nights a week ever since, tinkling the ivories for the likes of Stephen Sondheim, Rock Hudson, Damien Lewis, Dame Judi Dench, Alison Steadman, Jane Horrocks, Tim Rice and Joanna Lumley to name a tiny few. Throughout his colourful career every Actor who has ever performed in London’s West End has been serenaded by Jimmy at one time or another and he adored them all. Jimmy was a true legend of the Musical, Theatrical and Restaurant world and will be sadly missed.”

Jimmy Hardwick died on Tuesday 14 January 2014. The restaurant will close on the day of his funeral.

JIMMY HARDWICK ANECDOTES

An interview in the Mirror marking his 30th anniversary at Joe Allen proved a source of great Jimmy anecdotes, here are a few:

  • Ava Gardner once joined him at the keyboard for an improvised duet
  • Susan Sarandon – “Hollywood royalty AND she smokes”
  • Julie Andrews – “a legend, people just stop and stare”
  • Al Pacino – “He’d always come up behind me and say ‘How ya doin’, Jimmy?’
  • Ingrid Bergman who thanked him for playing As Time Goes By from Casablanca… “I did ask her if she minded me playing it,” recalls Jimmy. “But she said she’d love to hear it again. She was an old woman and quite unwell but went into the kitchen to thank everyone for her meal.”‘
  • Elizabeth Taylor: “She was appearing in the play The Little Foxes and came down every night after the show for supper,” says Jimmy. “She was a big-bosomed tiny woman, very pretty. She was loved it here. On the last night of the play she looked amazing in all her diamonds. Her guests were Muhammad Ali and a very tall, elderly man in glasses. I’d finished playing when she sent a waiter to call me over. ‘I wonder,’ she said, ‘if you’d do me a favour? I’m tired but my friend would like to go out this evening. Can you take him?’ It was then I realised it was Rock Hudson. I took him to the gay club Heaven. I stayed for an hour then left, telling him to enjoy himself. Two years later he was dead.”
  • “Only once have I seen anyone get preferential treatment – when Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier came in.”
  • “Once an old man in a raincoat knelt by the piano and whispered, ‘I wan’tcha to know I never heard a bum note tonight and I should know, I’m Leonard Bernstein.’
  • “I never wanted the spotlight,” he says. “I was in Greece last year when this old man kept looking at me. He came over and it was Tony Curtis. ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘I know you, you’re the piano man.”

LINKS

Joe Allen Restaurant

Jimmy Hardwick, montage from Joe Allen

Jimmy Hardwick, montage from Joe Allen