Bernard Manning, the offensive bete noir of comedy, has died today at the age of 76.
The comic died at 3.10pm at the North Manchester General Hospital, where he was being treated for a kidney problem.
He had been a patient for the last two weeks and was taken into intensive care over the weekend.
But only yesterday his son, Bernard Jr, said the comic’s condition was improving.
Showbiz agent Mickey Martin, a close friend of the comedian, told the Manchester Evening News: ‘I was going to visit him today but young Bernard called to say he's gone. It's come all of a sudden as we thought he was on the mend.’
‘It's a sad loss to Manchester as well as to the world of comedy.’
Only five weeks ago, Manning held his own spoof wake for a Channel 4 show called This Was Your Life. and told the audience: ‘I'm going to be with you for a long time yet, so don't you worry about me.’
But at the same time he cancelled a gig for the first time in almost 60 years after being rushed to hospital for a blood transfusion.
Manning, who left school at 14, cut his teeth in the working men’s clubs of the North-West in the Fifties and Sixties following his national service posting in Germany. He started his career as a singer and compere, before gradually putting more jokes into his act.
He made his TV debut on Granada TV's stand-up show The Comedians, which showcased many of the club comics of the Seventies such as Stan Boardman and Frank Carson. He went down so well that he went on to host The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, an attempt to recreate the working men’s club nights for television.
However, his style of comedy went out of fashion in the Eighties, but Manning continued to work regularly. He unapologetically used racist jokes, playing up his reputation for being untroubled by political correctness, using his bad boy image to build up a fan base of like-minded people.
However happy he was to crack jokes about black people – or ‘coons’ or ‘niggers’ as he would happily call them, claiming were historical terms with respectable roots – he thought jokes about tampons were unacceptable.
But in later years, his act featured a cloying sentimentality, too. Click here for Chortle’s review of his act.
Despite his offensive act, Manning always denied being racist, claiming: ‘I tell jokes. You never take a joke seriously.’
Manning's biographer Jonathan Margolis said: ‘He was a man of his age - and as people of his age went, he was relatively un-racist. Until his dying day, he didn't understand what all the fuss was about.’
Stan Boardman added that all Manning did ‘was take the mickey’, which was ‘the British sense of humour’.
‘He was more successful than any of the comedians that have been on television in the last 15 years,’ Boardman added.
And Frank Carson said: ‘The only people that misunderstood him were those people who didn't have a sense of humour. Everyone loved Bernard. At the end he was still a very funny man.
‘He's gone but he'll never be forgotten. He was one of the most generous men on earth.’
Manning famously owned The Embassy, club in Harpurhey, Manchester, where he was chief performer for 40 years, amassing millions. The club is now run by his son.