Manning on stage in 2005
|Birth name||Bernard John Manning|
13 August 1930|
Ancoats, Manchester, Lancashire, England
|Died||18 June 2007
North Manchester General Hospital, Crumpsall, Manchester, England
|Years active||1950s – 2007|
|Subject(s)||Ethnicity, stereotypes, minority groups|
|Spouse||Veronica Finneran (m. 1956–1986, her death)|
|Notable works and roles||The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, The Comedians, 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 always 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 the Ancoats district of Manchester, Lancashire. 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, Greater Manchester, "Shalom", the Hebrew word for "peace."
Manning 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 World War II, to pass the leisure time, he began to sing popular standards to entertain his fellow soldiers. 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 Britain, Manning continued to sing professionally, and also worked as a compere. 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, Manning began to introduce humour into his compering. This went down well, and Manning slowly moved from being a singer/compere to a comedian. After much work in comedy clubs and northern working men's clubs in the 1950s and 1960s, Manning 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.
During the 1980s, Manning fell 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, often 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 Bombay to perform. In October 2002, Manning participated in a Great Lives programmes 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 British National Party 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 40th 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 Jnr. managed it. The club is reputed to have played host to many rising acts – Manning claimed the Beatles performed there early in their career.
Manning's wife Veronica, known as Vera, died of a heart attack on 11 November 1986, aged 57. His son Bernard Jr. had moved out of the family home so Manning moved back in with his mother. His brother John had died in 1944 at the Battle of Arnhem, while in 1995 his elderly mother and his two remaining brothers Jackie and Frank also died.
For many of his later years, Manning was a teetotaler and a diabetic. Admitted two weeks earlier for a kidney complaint, Manning died in North Manchester General Hospital at 3:10 pm on Monday, 18 June 2007 at the age of 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, but he considered tampons and disabled people unacceptable subjects; although he was challenged on the Joan Rivers 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" which left Everett speechless. In 1994, two black waitresses at a charity dinner 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 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 respectable 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 family and friends insisted his controversial ways were all a stage-based act. He also lived next door to an Indian doctor's family, who over the years have appeared in a number of newspaper articles including the Daily Mail, defending Manning as a "perfect gentleman". The poet widow of Visveswara Rao Rudravajhala, Satya 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 he was a great believer in family values, who never swore in front of his mother:
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.
Around 2010, BBC Four commissioned Alice Nutter to write a biographical drama based on Manning's life. The screenplay was completed but cuts to the BBC4 budget led to the piece never being filmed.
- PR-inside.com (18 June 2007). "Controversial British comedian Bernard Manning dies at 76". Retrieved 19 June 2007.
- "Race-row comedian Bernard Manning dies". The Independent (UK). 19 June 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2007.
- "Family Notices: Bernard Manning". Manchester Evening News. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- "Comedy star Bernard Manning dies". BBC News. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- totallyjewish.com (21 June 2007). "Was Bernard a nice Jewish boy?". Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Bernard Manning". The Herald. 19 June 2007.
- "Greater Manchester Ward and Borough map". Boundary Commission for England. Archived from the original on 1 March 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
- "Greater Manchester Gazetteer". Greater Manchester County Record Office. Places names – A. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2007.
- Mark Hodkinson (29 March 1999). "Interview with Bernard Manning". The Times. UK. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- Hattenstone, Simon (23 June 2003). "'It's an act, innit'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- Bernard Manning – racist in peace The Sun, By James Clench & Guy Patrick – 19 June 2007
- "Obituary: Bernard Manning". BBC News. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- "Manning penned his own obituary". BBC News. 19 June 2007.
- "Bernard Manning". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- Anon (4 August 2003). "Manning to play BNP rally... but he denies the booking". chortle.co.uk. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- "One hundred greatest stand-ups". UK: Channel 4. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- Harper, Nick (16 May 2003). "Bernard Manning". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- "This Is Your Life (1969–1993)". Eofftv.com. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
- Bayman, Hannah (19 September 2003). "Carry on drinking?". BBC News. Retrieved 19 June 2007.
- "Bernard Manning dead". Manchester Evening News (M.E.N. Media). 18 June 2007. Retrieved 18 June 2007.
- "Bernard Manning: his own obituary in his own words". Daily Mail (UK). 20 June 2007. Retrieved 26 June 2007.
- 'Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins' Rupert Everett 2006
- "Bernard Manning". The Independent (London). 19 June 2007. Retrieved 26 April 2010.[dead link]
- "Bernard Manning: the oldest and truest punk in town". Spiked-online.com. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
- Clench, James (4 October 2007). "Bernard Manning racist in peace". The Sun (London). Retrieved 21 March 2012.
- "Manning was no racist, says Asian neighbour". Middleton Guardian (M.E.N. Media). 28 June 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
- Steve Bottoms, 'Struggling to be Human', in the programme for the 2013 West Yorkshire Playhouse production My Generation.
- Bernard Manning at the Internet Movie Database
- BBC announcement of Manning's death
- Guardian obituary: Bernard Manning
- Manchester Evening News: Article announcing Bernard Manning's death
- Bernard Manning's website
- His page at My Manchester
- Banned from the Weymouth Pavilion in 2002
- Bernard's episode of Great Lives on Radio 4 – his admiration for Mother Theresa in October 2002
- 'My dad wasn't a bigoted bruiser' says Bernard Manning's son – Mail on Sunday
- Bernard Manning on Chortle
- Stars turn out to pay respects to controversial comic Bernard Manning – Evening Standard