Bernard Manning


Born: 13 August, 1930, in Manchester.

Died: 18 June, 2007, in Manchester, aged 76.

ONE thing he was not was politically correct. Bernard Manning's jokes were not simply risqu and downright insulting, but he delighted in being provocative and inflammatory. He had a total disregard for traditional sensibilities and customs and told jokes against anyone (Jews, gays, coloureds, Irish, Scots etc) without concern about hurting personal feelings. If he caused offence, all the better. Whereas other comedians (Barry Humphries for example) also has a torrid tongue, there is always a certain charm and politesse in their delivery. Not so with Manning. He would insult anyone and continue without so much as a by-your-leave. It was not surprising, therefore, that television in the Eighties stopped booking him as he was simply too dangerous . After a Manning appearance on Wogan, Mary Whitehouse went on the war-path.

Not that this worried Manning. He performed at the Embassy, his own club in Manchester, three nights a week and did gigs on the northern club circuit the other nights. Manning reflected the working-class humour of the North. He told his jokes as they were: basic, crude and vulgar. "I lose no sleep about the gags I tell. Time it right, tell it right and it gets a laff." One thing no-one could deny about Manning was his timing. He could gauge an audience and deliver a punch line on cue to maximum effect.

Bernard John Manning was born in the impoverished Ancoats area of Manchester and attended a Catholic school until aged 14. He worked in his father's greengrocery before national service where he discovered a talent for entertaining friends and on being demobbed sang with a band part time. By the mid-Fifties, Manning was singing at the Ritz Hotel, in London, and in 1959, with money from his father, opened the Embassy Club in Manchester. That was the beginning of Manning the comedian and he carved out a good career performing there and in other clubs. He also introduced future stars at the club - including the Beatles. "That John Lennon wanted a washbasin," Manning recalled. "What did he want that for? You come here to work, not wash."

In 1971, ITV offered him a slot on their new show The Comedians and Manning was an instant hit. From earning 10 for a routine, his fee rose within months to 2,000. That and the other TV programme in which Manning often appeared - The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club - brought him national renown.

After the success of The Comedians, Manning was booked, in 1977, into Las Vegas where his brand of comedy had not been seen. He played the MGM Grand just after President Nixon had been impeached and Manning told his audience, "They shouldn't have done that to your President. They should have let Teddy Kennedy drive him home." Surprisingly, Manning was asked to return. But Manning preferred the North West and what he knew best. That year, he also did the Royal Variety Performance and was at the height of his fame.

By the Eighties, Manning was a millionaire and one of the wealthiest comedians in the country. He had collected a fleet of rare cars and especially enjoyed his Rolls-Royce with a personalised number plate: I LAF. However, his act had taken on an altogether coarser and harsher tone. He claimed he was reflecting the changing face of British society - especially around Manchester - but he infuriated as many as he entertained. The language was basic and the gags split the audience: people walked out and were heckled by Manning from the stage. Manning delighted in the notoriety. But television dropped him by the late Eighties as the act was just too contentious. The decline in his fortunes meant that Manning was seldom seen outside the region.

In 1994, Manning was addressing a charity dinner in Derby when two black waitresses took exception to his remarks. They reported him to an industrial tribunal and although they lost the case, they won on appeal with an undisclosed sum. The following year Manning was secretly filmed for the World in Action programme telling racist gags to an audience of appreciative police officers. The incident made headlines and the prime minister, John Major, condemned it in parliament. In 1998, on Caroline Aherne's popular chat show, Mrs Merton's Show, he was cajoled into making unwise racist remarks which, he claimed, were ironic. The public thought otherwise.

Manning carried on regardless. He never stopped working and his fans adored the bawdy nature of his jokes. He was the master of the put-down and the frozen invective. He insulted people and groups without even a blush. But he filled clubs and made audiences laugh, and that included many whom he lampooned. In his private life, he lived a rather simple life: he never drank - he suffered from diabetes - and never went on expensive holidays. He claimed his hero was Mother Teresa and did much work for charity and gave donations to handicapped children on a strictly anonymous basis.

His jokes did make many laugh, and to those who didn't, Manning simply said: "Don't come back." He never told mother-in-law jokes, and although he mercilessly satirised the French he thought the sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo made fun of the heroes of the French underground. "That Jackanory humour is for wimps" he said to anyone who raised even an eyebrow. "I like to talk to people as if they were in their own living room."

In his Manchester homeland, that craggy, squashed face remained ever-popular. He was outsize in everything he did. Manning was over 18 stone, wore outsized shirts of hideously contrasting colours and told hideously controversial jokes in hideous bad taste .

"A joke is a joke is a joke. I am funny" Manning said. "I make people laugh. I fill theatres. I put a***s on seats."

For the past seven years Manning had faced increasing ill health and his deafness in one ear reduced his ability to work. His wife, Vera, whom he married in 1956, died in 1986. He is survived by their son.

Back to the top of the page