Manning in 2005.
|Birth name||Bernard John Manning|
|Born||13 August 1930
Ancoats, Manchester, Lancashire, England
|Died||18 June 2007 (aged 76)
Crumpsall, Manchester, England
|Subject(s)||Ethnicity, stereotypes, minority groups|
(1986) (her death)
|Children||Bernard Manning Jr|
|Notable works and roles||The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, The Comedians, The Embassy Club|
Manning told irreverent jokes about people from all walks of life, but his act was best known for material involving ethnic stereotypes and minority groups. This led to frequent criticism that his act was racist, which he discounted, saying: "I tell jokes. You never take a joke seriously."
Manning became famous on British television during the 1970s, appearing on shows including The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. The controversy surrounding his act meant that Manning was rarely seen on television in the later part of his career, but he continued to perform in theatres and pubs until his death.
Manning was born in Ancoats, Manchester. He had Russian Jewish ancestry on his father's side, as well as roots in Ireland, and was brought up a "strict Catholic". He named his house in Alkrington "Shalom", the Hebrew word for "peace". He left school aged 14, joined his father's greengrocery business, and then worked in a Gallaher's tobacco factory, before joining the British Army to do his National Service.
Like many other comedians of the time (including the cast of The Goon Show), Manning held little thought of entertainment as a career, until posted to Germany. Guarding Nazi war criminals (Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer, and Karl Doenitz) at Spandau Prison, Berlin, just after the Second World War, he began to sing popular standards to entertain his fellow soldiers and pass the time. This ability led him to put on free shows at the weekends; when he began to charge admission and audiences did not decrease, he realised that there was a possibility of making money from show business.
On returning to England, Manning continued to sing professionally, and also worked as a compère. He was an effective singer of popular ballads and fronted many big bands in the 1950s, such as the Oscar Rabin Band. Over the years, he began to introduce humour into his compering. This went down well, and Manning slowly moved from being a singer and compère to a comedian. After much work in comedy clubs and northern working men's clubs in the 1950s and 1960s, he made his television debut in 1971 on the Granada comedy show The Comedians. He compèred The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, which began in 1974.
By the 1980s, Manning had fallen out of favour with television companies, but his appearances on the northern Working Men's Club circuit continued, playing to packed audiences which he claimed sometimes included people from ethnic minorities. Manning never toned down his act, but he had a minor television career revival towards the end of his life, including Channel 4 taking him to Mumbai to perform. In October 2002, he participated in a Great Lives programme for Radio 4. He chose to honour the Roman Catholic nun, Mother Teresa. In 2003, Manning was initially reported to have been booked to play a BNP rally. He denied this, telling the Daily Mirror: "It's a lot of bollocks. I don't know where I'm working. Speak to my agent. I don't know about any BNP nonsense. I would not do it anyway. Do you think I'm fucking barmy?"
In 2006, he appeared at the 45th birthday party of chef Marco Pierre White, with Madonna as one of the members of the audience. In March 2007, he was ranked 29th on the list of the 100 Greatest Stand Up comedians in a poll conducted by Channel 4. In his later life, although he still toured Britain, he tended to appear most frequently at the Embassy, the club on the A664 Rochdale Road. Set up with his father in 1959, Manning owned the club in Harpurhey, Manchester; his son, Bernard Jr., managed it. The club is reputed to have played host to many rising acts, and Manning claimed that the Beatles performed there early in their career.
Manning's wife, Veronica Finneran, died of a heart attack on 11 November 1986, aged 57. His son Bernard Jr. had already moved out of the family home, so Manning moved back in with his mother. His brother John died in 1944 at the Battle of Arnhem; in 1995, his elderly mother and two remaining brothers, Jackie and Frank, also died.
Having been admitted two weeks earlier for a kidney complaint, Manning died in North Manchester General Hospital at 3:10 pm on 18 June 2007. He was 76. He wrote his own eulogy, which appeared as an obituary in the Daily Mail two days later.
Race, sex, and religion were all part of the material for many of Manning's jokes, and he admitted to being racist, stating, "Yes [I am racist]. See, some people I like; some people I don't". He considered tampons and disabled people unacceptable subjects, although he was challenged on Joan Rivers's show by guest Rupert Everett when he told a joke about a wheelchair user. Manning swiftly responded with: "If your brains were dynamite, you wouldn't have enough to blow off your own hat." This left Everett speechless.
In 1994, two black waitresses at a charity dinner at a hotel in Derbyshire took exception to Manning's act and appealed to an industrial tribunal against the management of the hotel for racial discrimination. They lost, later to have the decision overturned at appeal, where they won an undisclosed sum. Manning felt that the word "wog" was "a horrible, insulting word I've never used in my life" but defended use of the words "nigger" and "coon" as historical terms with legitimate roots.
Manning's sense of humour often ridiculed the deaths of other famous people. The death of Roy Castle from lung cancer in 1994 saw Manning tell the following joke: "When Roy Castle's doctor told him that he only had six months to live, he said that he could do it in four!" In 2002, after the death of the Queen Mother, he said that the Royal Corgis were happy to hear about her death as they would no longer be blamed for urinating on the settee.
Manning's detractors criticised his style of humour, with television presenter Esther Rantzen commenting that "for me, he's always been the villain of comedy". His family and friends insisted that his controversial ways were all an act. He lived next door to an Indian doctor's family, who have appeared in many newspaper articles over the years to defend Manning as a "perfect gentleman". Satya Rudravajhala, the poet widow of Visveswara Rao Rudravajhala, wrote a eulogy that was published in the local paper, the Middleton Guardian, conveying the family's sentiments.
In interviews with journalists, Manning would remind them of his appearance with Dean Martin in Las Vegas and meeting the Queen. He claimed to be a great believer in family values who never swore in front of his mother, stating: "I dragged myself up by my bootlaces. I don't drink or smoke, I don't take drugs. I have never been a womaniser. I was brought up right with good parents and I have never been in trouble or harmed no-one. And I love my family."
In 2010, BBC Four commissioned Alice Nutter to write a biographical drama based on Manning's life. The screenplay was completed but cuts to the channel's budget led to the piece never being filmed.