BERNARD MANNING RIP
Manchester's most controversial comedian, Bernard Manning, has died (18th June 2007) just as the media was saying that he was recovering from a kidney problem. I never found him that offensive, but then I never found him that funny either.
I live close to the Embassy Club, in North Manchester - Bernard's world famous nightspot - it was common in my teens for the family to drag any visitors out for a night in Mannings, listening to his blue jokes. In time, as the World turned politically correct, Manning kept to the same old material - so much so that he actually sounded tired and clichéd - I found it increasingly hard to laugh at his material, though I never found him offensive.
Though his jokes were clearly about racial stereotypes, Bernard would have people of various races actually fighting to be in the front row of tables at the club, hoping to be picked out for his cutting remarks. Manning always declared that his jokes were just jokes – and not to be taken seriously. He became the main target of derision for the alternative comedy performers of the 1990’s, many of who, in being totally unfunny, were really offering alternatives to comedy.
Manning became increasingly temperamental with age. If an audience weren’t on his side, he would blame faulty microphones and stomp off stage in a rage. People who had travelled by coach for many miles to see him would be disappointed by his often-short performances.
Manning frequently c0untered claims of insensitive racism by publicising the fact that he did a great deal of ‘unpublicised charity work’. That he made such mileage of that immediately made him self-contradictory.
Manning went to school with my father, who often told me the story of manning getting into trouble during a school trip. Desperate for a lavatory stop, Manning had insisted that the coach driver stop at the nearest lay-by so he could pee. As the coach stopped, Manning leapt over a wall without bothering to look over the other side. He fell nearly twenty feet into a pigsty, and became the laughing stock of everyone on the trip when they rescued him, fortunately unhurt.
He was a lounge singer in his youth, and a very good one at that. He often broke up his comedy routines with songs even in the later years. His comedy made him though, especially when he landed a part in a TV showcase series called The Comedians, alongside Colin Crompton, Ken Goodwin, Frank Carson, and others. Manning’s material was quite tame for TV, here and in the follow up series, The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club, which he helped to compere.
It was his Embassy Club digs at ethnic minorities that made him increasingly notorious, and also reduced his TV airtime.
Offstage, he was a genuinely nice man. My family doctor had a surgery near to the club. One day, some thugs slashed the tires on my doctor’s car. As the Doctor tried fixing it, Manning saw him and said ‘you need your hands for your patients. Let me get that sorted out for you.’ Sure enough, he did.
Manning was a social dinosaur, and though never a great comedian, he was something of a national treasure. Somehow, his eccentricity, and lack of understanding of why people could find his comedy offensive, makes him one of our great eccentrics. I feel strangely sorry that he has gone.
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