The most shocking thing about Bernard Manning isn’t his sense of humour, ladies and gentlemen, it’s his pants.
Having dropped off the nation’s radar somewhat of late, Bernard has decided to accept Channel 4’s challenge to go to India to try out his comic routines on an audience of what the Big B would quite happily call "coons". (Well, I say happily, but as keen as Manning is to trot out jokes like "they think cos they’re born here it makes them English - does that mean if a dog is born in a stable it’s a horse?" to an admiring audience in Manchester, "coon" is noticeably not a term he dares to use in Mumbai.)
Bernard Manning is not a well man, his diabetes and, let’s face it, his obesity, put his 73-year-old body under terrific strain while waddling out on stage, and the dramatic temperatures in India make him sweat, swear and stagger to quite a worrying degree. During a diabetic turn, he experiences a blackout and the voiceover mutters, "Don’t tell me I’m gonna fookin’ die in Bombay," but Manning’s not that funny, so he survives to make it to his gigs. The young, trendy crowd at the Jazz by the Bay Club laugh along sportingly at his routine, which they take to be a piece of post-modern theatre, but the elders at the upper-class Bombay Gymkhana Club cannot bear the sight of him and don’t so much as titter. He sure is dying in Bombay now, ladies and gentlemen.
Back home in England and fully clothed, Bernard still cuts a ridiculous figure - climbing out of his powder-blue Rolls-Royce (registration 1 LAF) for a stroll through the badlands of Blackpool while loudly declaiming to the gathered undesirables that England is the best country in the world. It’s only by virtue of his physical infirmity that Manning’s jokes pose no particular threat to society (although continued exposure to those manky pants could seriously impact on the health of the nation). The best way to deal with Manning, as the denizens of the Gymkhana Club showed us, is to ignore him. In the end, the film shows Manning as a spent force, both in comedy and in life, a character more to be pitied than despised, more to be laughed at than laughed with. But I still wouldn’t want him living next door to me.
• Bernard’s Bombay Dream, Channel 4, Thursday, 9pm