Bernard Manning (13th August 1930 to 18th June 2007)

 

Most people have heard of the comedian Bernard Manning even though his politically-incorrect act confined him to clubs and pubs. I can remember seeing him on The Comedians in the seventies. Though he was on every one of the fifty shows in later years he only appeared on national television as a topic of controversy. Though he’s toxic stuff for many people this nightclub owner and jobbing portly roly-poly comedian was an astute businessman, wealthy from a young age and was still in demand up until his death.

 

I’ve got some of his shows in mp3 format and sometimes listen to him when I’m out walking in the countryside. I often find myself grinning at him even though I know what he‘s going to say (sometimes the sheep turn round to look at me.) Thankfully alternative comedy has sunk in its own blandness.

 

Bernard never moved far from Ancoats where he was born, only leaving for Jersey or the Isle Of Man to do a show. He started work at 14 in his father's greengrocery business then in Gallaher's tobacco factory before joining the British Army to do his National Service. He was posted to Germany and guarded Nazi war criminals (Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and Karl Doenitz) at Spandau Prison in Berlin. Entertainment wasn’t on his radar but, bored witless, he began singing to entertain his fellow soldiers. He put on free shows. When he started charging the audience didn’t dwindle and he knew there was money to be made.

 

After World War II he worked in a club as a compère telling jokes between songs. He persuaded his dad to sell his greengrocers shop and buy the billiard club over the road (I’m outside it in the photos.) It was turned into a nightclub and the family worked here on the tills, cleaning and loading the beers barrels. Everything was centred around Bernard who progressed from working in his club (and others at £20/night) to appearing on television aged 41.

 

By his mid-fifties television had no place for this villain of comedy and he was confined to the clubs. He refused to tone down the act used on the Working Men's Club circuit. Bernard didn’t care - the clubs were packed, nobody could out-joke him, he could destroy hecklers, his was wealthy and family life was fulfilling. Fat, fearless, foul-mouthed, fast-brained he executed his kind of humour and ignored controversy and death threats.

 

Money can’t buy luck though. One Friday 13th the club was burned down (within four months it was up and running) and his beloved wife Veronica died relatively early aged 57.

 

Hilarious or horrid Bernard was strangely moral and family was everything. When his wife died there was no other woman in his life again. He moved back home with his mum who he nursed until she died aged 95 (he also lost a brother at the Battle of Arnhem.) He didn’t drink or get into trouble, raised pots of cash for Francis House Hospice and cancer charities and his hero was Mother Teresa.

 

Though his brain could rattle off jokes his body couldn’t keep pace. As a diabetic and on 16 tablets day for various complaints its surprising he lived to 76. One day a kidney problem forced him to cancel his first gig for the first time in 60 years. He was rushed to North Manchester General Hospital and died two weeks later at 3:10 pm on 18th June 2007. He must have foresaw the end coming and wrote his own eulogy which appeared as an obituary in the Daily Mail two days after his death.

 

Here I am outside the club where many groups played on their ascent to success (including Cilla Black, Englebert Humperdink and The Beatles.) It’s now managed by Bernard’s son Bernard Junior and is currently up for sale.

 

I visited it on a Saturday morning to find it overlooked a main road in a threadbare part of Harpurhey. Thought I’d better take a few photos before it turned into a vile fast-food joint. The main reason for visiting it was my odd curiosity for locating places where people end up. I knew Bernard had been cremated at Blackley Crematorium but learnt recently that some of his ashes were mixed into the grout on the mosaic of his face that overlooks the road. I got up as close as I could to the mosaic and had a thorough look. It was odd to imagine the builder being given some ashes to mush into the grout.

 

As I’d visited the club I thought I might as well visit Blackley Cemetery where the cremation took place and then Bernard’s home (all quite close together.)

 

Big Bernard knew he didn’t have long to go and make a documentary about his own demise. The link is here…

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ffQzXneb30

 

 

 

Pointing to Bernard’s son who inherited the club…

 

Some of the Bernard’s ashes were mixed into the grout of the tile picture of him…

 

 

Funerals….FREE!

 

 

 

At the hospital where Bernard died…

 

 

Bernard was cremated here…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard’s home at 68, Mainway, Middleton….not far from his club…

 

It’s changed a bit of the years…

 

 

Looking down and up the street…