Friday, June 22, 2007

Bernard Manning R.I.P.

What a coup! Bernard Manning wrote his own obituary which appeared in the Daily Mail (see below). The last of the great joke tellers, one commentator said. I always found him funny.

Bernard Manning: His own obituary, in his own words

By BERNARD MANNING - More by this author » Last updated at 08:49am on 20th June 2007

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Reviled by liberals, loved by countless people north of Watford, Bernard Manning always felt that his life's work had been misunderstood.

So four months ago, the Mail gave him a challenge: to write his own obituary. The result - complete with some of the most terrible jokes you've ever heard - nevertheless contains the essence of this extraordinary man.

Shortly before he died, my old mate Spike Milligan said he wanted an inscription on his tombstone to read: "I told you I was ill.'

Well, now that I'm gone, I want carved on my gravestone these words, in letters so small that any visitor will have to move right up close to read them: "Get off! You're standing on my privates."

Oh, I know there'll be a few who won't mourn my passing, like mothers-in-law up and down the country. I'll never forget the day I took my own mother-in-law to the Chamber of Horrors in Madame Tussauds. Suddenly, one of the attendants whispered to me: "Please keep her moving. We're trying to do a stock take."

The one bad thing about dying quietly in Manchester is that I cannot fulfil the solemn promise I made to the old battleaxe. "When you die, I'm going to dance on your grave," she once said. To which I replied: "I hope you do, because I'm going to be buried at sea."

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I don't think the Commission for Racial Equality will be holding a wake for me, either. Nor will the Lesbian and Gay Rights lot or the feminists. They were always banging on about how I was sexist or anti-gay.

It was their campaigning that kept me off mainstream television for years, while filling the airwaves with a bunch of fifth rate so-called comics who were about as funny as a dose of bird flu and whose acts had all the humour of a funeral parlour. (Trust me, I'm in one now and there's not a laugh to be had anywhere).

In their obsession with turning comedy into a branch of Left-wing politics, they forgot that the only point of jokes is to make people laugh. And that was what I was good at, whether I was on the cabaret circuit in Manchester or at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Well, at least I won't be seeing any of the po-faced, politically- correct brigade where I'm going. I had quite enough of them in my lifetime.

What they never understood was that I was an equal opportunities comedian. Unlike them, with all their little check-lists and taboos and easy targets, I never discriminated against anyone or anything. I was quite happy to get a laugh out of any situation. All that mattered to me was whether the gag was funny or not.

"I had a distant German relative who died at Auschwitz. He fell out of one of the watchtowers."

Now that's humour, precisely because it's close to the edge, unlike so many of the tired, comfortable, right- on lines

about George Bush in which modern comics indulge, massaging the consciences of their middle-class audiences instead of giving them raw entertainment.

Oh, I can see the other obituaries already: "Bernard Manning, racist bigot", the smug types will say when they hear of my departure.

But that's not what the great British public, especially in Lancashire and the rest of the North, will say. They knew that I was a funny bloke. That's why they kept flocking back to my own cabaret club, even when I was barred from the airwaves.

And I was never a racist. That's just an easy, catch-all term of abuse bandied around by the media elite against anyone who does not follow their agenda. It was just meaningless.

When told by some toffee-nosed southerner that I was prejudiced, I used to say: "Have you actually seen my act?" They would then admit they hadn't. "Then you don't know what you're talking about. You're the one who is prejudiced because you are pre-judging me."

If they'd ever bothered to turn up at one of my shows, they'd have soon discovered I told gags about everyone, including all sorts of politicians and the Royal Family.

In fact the Queen once told me with a smile, after a Royal Command Performance, how much she liked my act. If it was good enough for her, it should have been good enough for anyone.

Racist? Rubbish. Did these selfrighteous critics know that Clive Lloyd, the great West Indian cricket captain, asked me to perform as part of his testimonial?

Or that I did a fund-raising event for the Lancashire and India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer and another for the great black boxing champion John Conteh? For goodness-sake, I was multi-racial myself, a descendant of Jewish immigrants from Sevastopol. Throughout my life, a sign with the Jewish greeting 'Shalom' hung by door of my home in North Manchester.

I was born in 1930 in the Ancoats district of the city, and I never lived more than five miles from my birthplace. I always loved Manchester and her people, though that kind of loyalty and sense of belonging is never understood by the metropolitan elite who despise their own country.

My dad was a greengrocer and it was a tough upbringing, for the North was in the pit of depression and money and food were short. I was one of six children and was forced to share a bed with all my siblings, some of whom regularly wet the bed. In fact, I learnt to swim before I could walk.

I remember one night, my mother asked me: "Where do you want to sleep?" I replied: "At the shallow end."

I went to an ordinary local school and left at the age of 14, taking up a job at the Senior Service tobacco factory in Manchester. From my earliest years, I had a bit of a talent for performing, singing in choirs and at work. Then, when I was 16, my life changed dramatically on being called up to serve in the Manchester Regiment of the British Army.

Even though the war was over, I had to go out to Germany, where I was one of the armed guards watching over the Nazi hierarchy locked up in Spandau prison. For a 16-year-old, it was a bizarre experience, standing over the likes of Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer with a Bren gun.

Back home, I was a good enough singer to make it as a professional. It looked like I'd really hit the big time when, in February 1952, I was booked to sing at the London Lyceum theatre with the Oscar Rabin Big Band, with the show to be broadcast on the radio.

But the very day I was due to take to the stage King George VI died, so the event was cancelled. I'll never forgive the King for dying like that. He left me high and dry.

But soon I found that I was even better at telling gags than I was at singing and in the late 1950s I opened my own club in a converted billiard hall, Manchester's famous Embassy Club.

The venue attracted many of the biggest names in British showbusiness including Matt Monro, and even the Beatles. It also led to my show on ITV called The Comedians, which was so successful that in 1978 I was even asked to play at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Indeed, my act was an equally big success on the other side of the Atlantic, though I had to adapt his material for American audiences. So Irish jokes became Polish ones, such as: "This Polish man gets a job in Californian zoo. One day a workmate says to him, "For $2,000, would you have sex with the gorilla in that cage?"

"The Pole thinks for a minute and then says, "Yeah, all right. But on three conditions. First, that I don't have to kiss her. Second, that you don't tell any of my mates. And third, that you give me a fortnight to get the money together"."

I supposed the animal rights lobby would get me on that one.

But despite my TV appearances being reduced since the Eighties, I've still managed to enjoy a long and fruitful career. I wouldn't have changed any of it for a moment.

I was glad I managed to make it into my late 70s, but then there was always a very strong survival instinct in my family. I had an uncle who was still having sex at 74. Which was lucky, as he lived at Number 72.

It was also a contented end, which reminds me of another long lived uncle, a bus driver who went peacefully in his sleep - not screaming like his passengers.

And as I look down now on all the over-paid executives who have made such a mess of television and undermined true comedy, and as I sense the affection from the mass of the British public, I know that I am the one having the last laugh.

Well done Bernard

1 comment:

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