Bernard Manning is perhaps best remembered for his appearances on hit 1970’s shows The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.
Bernard Manning told jokes about people from all walks of life. However as you might expect, although the jokes covered people from all walks it was for material involving ethnic stereotypes and minority groups that his act became best known. As you might expect this sparked frequent criticism that his act was racist.
The comic always denied this and was quoted as saying “I tell jokes. You never take a joke seriously.”
Born Bernard John Manning on 13th August 1930, in the Ancoats district of Manchester, he was of Russian, Jewish and Irish descent. Years later this was something he would note when making later jokes about the Jews and the Irish, just to to emphasise he meant no ill will.
Bernard left school aged 14 and he joined his father’s greengrocery business and then worked in a Gallaher’s tobacco factory, before joining the British Army to serve his National Service. In much the same way as other comedians of the time (including the cast of The Goon Show), Manning held little thought of entertainment as a career.
His first shoots of his future show business career would come during his National Service. Where upon being posted to Germany, he was given the responsibility of Guarding Nazi war criminals (Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and Karl Doenitz) at Spandau Prison, Berlin just post World War II.
To pass the leisure time, Manning began to sing popular standards to entertain his fellow soldiers. Manning’s ability to achieve this led him to put free shows on at the weekends: when he began to charge admission and audiences did not decrease, he realised that there was the possibility of making money from show business.
In 1959 Bernard bought Harpurhey’s Temperance Billiard Hall and set it up alongside his Father as “The Embassy Club”.
Despite his ability to make people laugh, life wasn’t always happy for Bernard. As early as 1944 he lost his Brother John, his wife Veronica, known as Vera died of a heart attack in November 1986, aged 57.
Finding himself home alone he moved out of the family home to live with his Mother. Bernard was struck by triple tragedy when in 1995 his Mother and his two remaining brothers Jackie and Frank also died.
For much of his later life Bernard was tee-total and diabetic. In June 2007 Bernard Manning was admitted to North Manchester General Hospital for a kidney complaint, two weeks later on Monday, 18 June 2007 at the age of 76 Bernard Manning died.
On returning to Britain from his National Service, Manning continued to sing professionally,whilst also working as a compere. Bernard Manning was an effective singer of popular ballads fronting many big bands during the 1950s, such as the Oscar Rabin Band. As the years passed, he would start introducing humour into his compering. This was well received and he slowly moved from being a singer/compere to a comedian.
Like many comedians of his time Bernard spent much of his professional career during the 1950’s and 60’s working the Comedy Clubs and the Northern Working Men’s Clubs.
It was in 1971 that a ground breaking TV series made by Granada TV “The Comedians” gave him his break into television. In 1974 he would use his compere skills as the host of another Granada TV show The “Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club”
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 often included people from ethnic minorities. He never toned down his act, but had a minor television career revival towards the end of his life, including Channel 4 taking him to Bombay to perform.
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 his own club The Embassy.