How Britain's most racist comedian fared in the comedy clubs of Bombay

P>Talk about a tough gig. When you're notorious for hate-fuelled gags targeting 'Pakis' and 'niggers', a show in downtown Bombay is unlikely to be the best of your career.

Which, of course, exactly why Channel 4 persuaded Bernard Manning to travel to India for a revealing new documentary.

And the comic's verdict on his time in the sub-continent. " I must've been out of my fucking mind, I must've had a fucking brainstorm. £1 million wouldn't make me fucking go back. £10 fucking million wouldn't, and I like money."

The very fact he was persuaded to travel to the Bombay in the first place may come as something as a surprise. But it seems Manning has a naivety that belies his 73 years - he thought Channel 4 was giving him a free holiday.

Asked how the programme, Bernard's Bombay Dreams, came about, he said: "One of the head men - what was his name, a fat little fellow with glasses - saw a programme where I said I've never been on a holiday, which I haven't.

"Every time I've gone to Las Vegas, or the Isle of Man, or Tenerife or wherever, I've always been working. So he said 'I'd like to take you on holiday'.

"They asked where I'd like to go, and I said I'd like to visit Berlin, where I was stationed in the army, and see what it's like. They said they'd think about that, then they came back with the bloody idea of going to India, so I thought, 'Hello, this is a fucking stitch-up here'.

"And I was supposed to be going on holiday, only they booked two shows in India. Anyway, everything went well."

His definition of 'went well' is certainly open to interpretation. When the show airs on June 26, viewers will see him dying an excruciating death.

Ignoring the cliché about bad workmen, he has an excuse to hand. "The microphone broke down at the second place," he explains, "so it made it very hard."

"I had to turn it in. I said 'I can't work without a microphone,' and being India, they had no back-up. In most of the clubs in England and America, and where they think about these things, your microphone breaks down, you get provided with another one."

Given that he was unlikely to storm the gigs, and that he seemed to think he was being stitched up from the start, why agree to the show?

"I like a challenge," claimed the man who rarely ventures too far from his Manchester suburb. "I went to Las Vegas with Granada, and did very well. I like a challenge.

"I've never seen any of the Asian world, so I thought I'd go, 'cos I was getting well paid for going. It's been an eye-opener, and experience, put it that way.

"I can't stand the heat, it was like walking around with a blow-lamp on the back of your neck. It was terrible, terrible.

"And the poverty - I've seen poverty in the 1930s in England when I was a kid. I've seen people turned out of their houses for non-payment of rent. Living in one-up, one-downs with beetles and bugs and mice and rats and everything, but I've never seen a place like that in my fucking life.

"It did really upset me. Why that country is like it is I just don't know. They've got an atom bomb, and people queuing for fucking water in cans It's so ridiculous, you've got people living high on the hog, and people dying in the fucking streets.

"I can understand people not wanting to go back there that's come over here. I mean, anybody with any fucking sane mind wouldn't want to go back, and you could understand why they'd want to come here.

]"Green fields, the beautiful water coming through the taps in the houses, and the beautiful roads, and the beautiful trees and flowers and people. Humorous people with laughing eyes and smiling faces. There's no country like this, it's the greatest country in the world. You come to that conclusion when you come home.

"I kiss the front door when I come home. I know what poverty is, but I've never seen fucking poverty like that in my life."

As in the recent documentary series The Entertainers, Bernard spends much of this programme sitting around in his Y-fronts.

"It's how I'm comfortable," he says. "When I'm working at night time, I'm dressed, and that's it. I've worked the London Palladium, Royal Command Performances, Las Vegas, Paris, Berlin - you name it, I've fucking done it, and I don't do it in my underpants."

So what's next for the newly globe-trotting Bernard Manning? What he's got planned might please his detractors. " A good funeral. A bloody good funeral.

"You ask me how I am, I'll say 'Well when I got up this morning, I put my elbows out, if I don't feel wood, I know I'm right for another day'" But it's unlikely to be one spent too far from home.

Published: 27 Jul 2006

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