Tributes to Bernard Manning

Old colleagues defend his reputation

Old-school comics have been paying tribute to Bernard Manning, who died on Monday at the age of 76.

Most, of course, defended his reputation for racist jokes – and took a swipe at those critics who criticised him for spreading hate as being humourless do-gooders.

After Manning died at the North Manchester General Hospital, where he was being treated for a kidney problem, fellow comic 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. That sense of humour overpowered everyone.’

Jim Bowen added: ‘Bernard just wanted to make sure people had a good night out. It was never his intention to hurt or upset. I have seen people of all different races at his gigs enjoying themselves. I hope his legacy will be as a talented stand-up who made thousands laugh.

Stan Boardman: ‘All these new comedians came in, but how many of them can you remember? There have been millions of them, they came and went," he said. "But Bernard carried on performing.’

Mick Miller added: ‘He was a living legend in the world of comedy– it’s as simple as that.’

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.’

And director Michael Winner said: ‘I thought he was the funniest man in the world. He was the last of the comedians who put the PC brigade behind him. He took no notice of them and just got on with the job of being funny.’

Barry Cryer was one of the few to express concerns about Manning’s material, saying: ‘The thing about Bernard was that he looked funny, he sounded funny and he had excellent timing. It was just what he actually said that could be worrying.’

Manning always denied being a racist, saying: ‘You never take a joke seriously. It's a joke. We have to tell jokes about everything and everyone.’ But however happy he was to crack jokes about different races, he thought jokes about tampons were unacceptable.

He could be shockingly offensive, going beyond the ‘stupid Irishman’ level of stereotypes of many of his contemporaries. His gags were littered with the most offensive racial insults. A typical gag was his siggestion tosolve the Northern Ireland problem 'by dropping 1,000 Pakis into Belfast' to give them 'real' Troubles.

And in 1995, talking of racial minorities, he said: ‘They actually think they are English because they are born here. That means if a dog is born in a stable it is a horse.’

He was banned from several council-run venues over fears his act would breach race relations laws, and his rare appearances on TV later in life always attracted scores of complaints. In 1995, he was secretly filmed by ITV's World In Action barracking a black officer at police charity dinner. His lines included: ‘Having a night out with nice white people? Isn't this better than swinging from the trees?’

Manning was born in Manchester in 1930, and left school at 14. He 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, and was then given the job of hosting 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 to build up a fan base of like-minded people.

Manning famously owned The Embassy, club in Harpurhey, Manchester, where he was chief performer for 40 years, and was the source of much of his fortune . The club is now run by his son, Bernard Jr.

Manning also leaves three grandchildren.

Here he is performing...

Published: 19 Jun 2007

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