Far from the Manning crowd [2002 interview with Bernard Manning]

Bernard Manning’s as big as they come. This is apparent as we set foot in the Mancunian comic’s living room. He’s wearing a T-shirt and massive, old-man’s underpants. He’s getting on a bit is Bernard. Just past 70, but he still looks unusually sprightly for a man who smoked 40 a day throughout his life. That’s stopped now, of course. Diabetes has an amazing knack of bringing on a fitness routine. Manning’s regime consists of a needle and 16 tablets a day. It seems to be working because Bernard’s on form. We’re sat in the comedian’s living room in Alkrington, Manchester. It’s a big place and the cleaner has to be credited on her dusting abilities. Every room is spotless. It’s been decided between me, the photographer and the photographer’s assistant, that it’s every man for themselves once we’ve crossed the Manning threshold.

Have you ever seen a smartly dressed photographer?
Eh, son [to photographer’s assistant], you want to smarten yourself up a bit. You’d make a good tramp. And you, yer scruffy c*** [to photographer], I can see you’re a rich man, cos you spend f*** all on clothes.

Right, let’s push on. Does everything in the world have potential humour?
Everything in the world’s potentially funny, except sick gags, and I don’t do sick comedy.

What would you say is sick?
Anything about anybody in a wheelchair, anybody’s who’s having a rough time, handicapped. There are some things that are just not funny – for me. I’m not speaking for everybody else. If it’s not funny to me, then I don’t do it. You never hear me talking, like Jo Brand, about tampons and Tampaxes. I don’t want to know about it. It’s not my kind of comedy.

Where do your jokes come from. Are they told to you by pals?
I’ve worked with a lot of comedians in my time and I hear old gags and give ’em a new lease of life. And I’ve seen a few comics come and go. I’ve been in this business 50 years and I can remember comics that you’ll not know. All dead and buried now, but very funny.

What kind of themes were they covering?
The depression in the Thirties, army, the war, about the Germans, the Italians, all that carry on. That was their kind of humour.

Manchester seems to be full of talented people, especially in music.
Music, aye. I opened the Haçienda club. Not many know it. I was the main attraction on the opening night.

What do you think it is about Manchester that makes it such a special place?
It’s down to earth. You’ve got no in-between. You’ve got no poor in Manchester. Real poor, like we used to have in the Thirties. Things have moved in 70 years of my life. Moved for the good.

Have you ever met Shaun Ryder? He works on the Sport newspaper, like you.
Shaun Ryder? No. Don’t know him, but I’m sure he’s very intelligent if he works on the Sport. I wouldn’t call one of my colleagues, but when he’s got a Rolls and a Cadillac and he’s a millionaire, then I’ll reckon he’s f***in’ made it.

Did you ever think of moving to London?
No, no. I first started off as a singer in 1950 with the Oscar Rabin Band at the Lyceum on the Strand. And it’s a funny thing, I’m working at The Savoy in a couple of weeks’ time. It’s two minutes from the Lyceum. It’s where I got my very big, first break as a singer. Not as a comic, as a singer. I’ve had five LPs with Decca, and they’ve all sold well. They don’t take mugs on, you know.

So you’d never leave Manchester?
Noooooo. I was born round here, I worked round here, the Embassy Club’s just down the road, and I’ll be buried in Heaton Park Cemetery, which you’ll pass on the way back to the motorway.

What’s best, North v South? Do you ever get involved in those sorts of debates?
It’s nonsense. It’s absolute nonsense. The Londoners are fantastic people, so are the Northerners. The Londoners, during the war, the bombers are coming over every night. How they stood it, I’ll never know. How they got through it, I’ll never know. They were sweeping the glass out of the shops, the cockneys, with notices in the window, BUY NOW WHILE SHOPS LAST. And they’d just been bombed to f*** all night. Unbelievable. Unbelievable people.

How’s the tea, Bernard?
[Disregards question and turns to photographer] You’re not talking to a f***ing mug, you know. I bet you think I’m a cheeky c***. F***in’ hell. That’s why I laugh, you know? It keeps me going. Fellas come in the club, you know, and they’ve worked hard all week, and I set about them. He gets five minutes of f***in’ abuse. And he must be thinking to himself, “F***in’ hell, I need this! I’m spending money in here, and he’s calling me a big fat c***.” Hih-hih-hih-hih!

Which brings us nicely to racism.
Everyone wants to talk about racism when they come here and it gets on my nerves a bit. But there you go.

People say, “Bernard Manning’s funny a lot of the time, but he’s a racist.” Does this bother you?
Well that’s a load of b****cks, innit? I’ve got an Indian doctor lives next door to me and we get on like house on fire. I shopped at an Indian shop on Rochdale Road for seven years. He’s closed now cos they’ve had to move. But for seven years, I got all my groceries from there. I’m not gonna say I’ve got lots of friends who are Indian, like these people do, but I’ve never harmed an Indian in my life. And we had a show at the Embassy for a little Pakistani lad who was dying and we sent him to Disneyland. There’s Indians and Pakistanis come to my club and they laugh their head off.

Is a joke about a black person and a joke about a Yorkshireman or a Scouser any different?
No. You could have a black man who is a Yorkshireman, like Charlie Williams. He’s a good Yorkshireman, Charlie. I did a show with him the other week. He’s not been very well, Charlie. We’re good friends, I hope, and he takes the p*** out of us. He has a go at Enoch Powell and goodness knows what.

So it’s all taken in good spirits?
Ohhhhh, yeh. All taken in good spirit.

Do you come across many Americans at your club?
I get Americans in the audience and I give ’em some stick like everyone else. I say things about the Yanks, but they love it. I have a go at them, about what happened in Vietnam. The f***in’ boy scouts up the road could beat them. And a big country like that and what happened? Then in the Gulf War, you had friendly fire. I’m glad that they’re friendly and not our enemies.

What do you think of the new generation of comedians, like Phill Jupitus, Alan Davies and Eddie Izzard?
Never f***ing heard of ’em. They’ve heard of me, but I’ve never heard of them. And Eddie Izzard, and these kinds of people, with f***ing lipstick on.

Comedians today seem to break into films easily.
They’re f***in’ awful comedians and they’re f***in’ awful movies. You watch the television with alternative comics on. They start off well and two minutes later they go downhill. The crap they put on. And the audience, it’s not our type of people, my type of people. At the Embassy, they say, “Right make me laugh. My car’s broke down four times, I’ve got four kids, I’m up to my f***in’ eyes in debt. Make me laugh.” And that Lee Evans, he walks about like Jerry Lewis, banging his head. And he’s jumping about like a f***in’ lunatic. I remember his father. His father was a comic as well. He was no f***in’ good, either. He’s like Jerry Lewis, f***in’ this and f***in’ that. Every other word’s “f***ing”. His father, Dave Evans, he was f***in’ terrible. He was absolutely terrible.

But Lee Evans is big in films now, in Hollywood.
He made one f***in’ film, with a mouse. Absolutely terrible. He’s a poor man’s Jerry Lewis.

Are comedians too safe, today?
They’ll never get any further. Your aim in life is to become a millionaire with a Rolls, a big beautiful house and a lovely family. That is your aim in life. These people start with f*** all and that’s what they’ll end with. These comics have got to have a goal in life. And the goal is to make money and make sure they’re all right in their old age. But their comedy will not last. I mean, Ben Elton, five, six years ago, all of a sudden he’s writing f***in’ musicals.

With Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Ben Elton’s a jack of all trades, master of none. He’d make a f***in’ good Japanese sniper. If they ever do Hirohito’s life story, he could play Hirohito with them glasses on without any f***in’ make-up.

Why do people complain about swearing so much?
Probably because they don’t swear. They’re not extrovert. If I drop a hammer on my foot, I’ll say, “F***in’ hell!” And that’ll ease the pain. Now if somebody drops a hammer on their foot and says, “Oh dear,” they’ll probably wind up in hospital over the years, because you’ve not got it out of your system.

Is that why swearing is so good, because it’s a release?
Swearing lets you know where you stand with a person. You know what kind of a person he is.

Do people complain about your swearing on stage?
Oh no. It wouldn’t make any difference if they did. Me grandchildren have never heard me swear and my mother never did. I swear on stage because the gag needs it. There’s two Irish fellas walk into the Vatican, and one says, “See that fellow over there. I think that’s the Pope.” His mate says, “I don’t think it is.” So he says, “I’m sure it is. I’ll go and ask him.” And he goes over and asks, “Are you the Pope?” The Pope says, “F*** off.” He goes back and says, “What did he say?” He says, “He wouldn’t commit himself.” Now you couldn’t have said the Pope said, “Ooh, go away.” Without swearing, you lose the gag. It’s the fact that the Pope would say, “F*** off.”

Did you ever think of breaking into acting?
No. I was offered a part in Peter Kay’s thing.

Really? People like Peter Kay. He’s seems good, young and funny.
Yes, he’s got the face, but he’ll never make any f***in’ money. He goes down to London and they don’t want to hear him talking like that, like Bolton.

Bernard, they’d love him.
They wouldn’t. They wouldn’t, I’m telling you. I’ve worked in these places where these multi-millionaires sit. I did a place called the 100 Club – 100 people and every one of ’em’s multi-millionaire. If he went down there, talking like that, like, “Lad, tha nors,” like that…

Bernard, you’d be surprised. Your accent’s no bar these days. In London they love him, anyway. They’ve all seen his Blackpool video.
Maybe in Bolton they have. Well I hope you’re right. He’s a nice lad, and I hope you’re right.

Have you met him?
He’s been in here! Messing about with that video player! He offered me a part in this pub thing.

Phoenix Nights?
That’s right. He offered me a part as the club man. Comedians shouldn’t be f***in’ actors. They should be f***in’ comedians. Everybody wants to play Hamlet. To thy known self be true, as Shakespeare said.

Do you ever come across Chubby Brown?
In the old days we used to work together a lot. Me against Chubby Brown at the Mayfair. I made him look like a f***in’ novice. The Mayfair in Newcastle, about 15 years ago. The place was packed out. It was the battle of the giants.

He was in The League of Gentleman playing a mayor who’s not supposed to swear but always ends up swearing. A little part. Have you never fancied that sort of thing – a little part?
Noooo, I’m a comic. I don’t do little parts. What do I want to do little parts for? If I’m not top of the bill, I don’t f***ing want to go on the bill. You make yourself look a c***. Same as this fella who’s just been made a sir, the actor. Michael Caine. Best supporting actor. A good actor, beautiful actor, never won an Oscar. Now he’s getting old and knackered and f***ed, they’ve said, “We must do something for him.” Well that’s a sympathy f***in’ Oscar. That’s not an Oscar for something you’ve f***in’ done, like Gregory Peck and Marlon Brando. They are super superstars. They deserve Oscars. He gets an Oscar for a supporting act.

But he deserves his Oscar.
Comedian of the Year, I’m the only one who ever won it twice. If it said Second Best Comedian of the Year, I wouldn’t have f***in’ accepted it. I don’t want to be number two. On my number plates it’s BJM 1 and BJM 2. I would hate to be BJM f***ing 94, cos I wouldn’t even put that number plate on my car. I’ve never been a supporting act. I go on, the Sir Bernard Manning Show, and I pull them in, and I put arses on seats. Supporting acts can’t put arses on seats. I’ve nothing against them but they can’t draw the crowds. I get the money cos I can draw the crowds.

You’re a Man City supporter. How did that come about?
I first went to Manchester City on Maine Road in the depression. It was 1934 when I first went. It was against Derby. I can’t remember any of the players but they used to let you in at half time if your father wasn’t working.

Do you know any of the United staff?
Alex Ferguson’s a good pal of mine. We go to many dinners together. We raise a lot of money for charity.

Do you get on with the United players?
Yes. [Points at a photograph collection on the mantelpiece] There’s me with Ryan Giggs with a City scarf round his neck. I put a City scarf round his neck that morning. There’s a picture up there.

Giggs with a City scarf on. That could cause some waves.
Hih-hih-hih-hih-hih. He’s a grand lad.

So the United and City rivalry is not as serious as we’re led to believe?
I just made a video called Up U Man U, but there’s no malice behind it, it’s just a bit of fun. When the Munich disaster was on, I went round all the pubs and clubs, anybody will tell you, in Manchester, raising money. So it’s not as serious as some people think. We take the mickey out of each other, we have a go at each other verbally, but that’s as far as it goes.

What’s going to happen with City this year? Is it back to the Nationwide?
We’ll not break any records, but we’ll not go down. Too good to go down.

That’s what they said about Forest and Blackburn. Kanchelskis will make a difference.
But we musn’t get players at the end of their career and we must get players like Dennis Law and Francis Lee at the beginning of their career.

Did you ever consider buying Man City?
No, I’ve got enough on my plate. I’ve told you, I’m a comedian. Don’t start branching out into chip shops and f***in’ boot makers or something like that because then you’re not concentrating on the things you do well. There’s too many comedians playing golf. That’s the trouble. You’ve got to learn on the stage, on the timing, with an audience. You can’t learn it on the golf course. I know it’s a very pleasant thing to walk about in the sunshine with a pair of gloves hanging out of your back pocket, f***in’ posing with a yellow jumper on, and all that b****cks, but the best thing to do is be a good comic, become very wealthy and buy your own f***in’ golf course.

Do you ever do the cruises?
No. They can’t afford me on cruises. That’s the tuppence ha’penny comics who go on cruises. If you see a comic on the cruises, they’re going backwards; captive audience, you see. Nobody can get out. There’s no way you can get off the f***ing boat. Like Jim Bowen’s just bought a motorbike to take his f***in’ fans to the f***in’ concerts.

Do you get on with Jim Bowen?
Yes. Phones me every other day, he does! He’ll never live to be as old he f***in’ looks. He’s all right Jim. It’s just that he’s not funny, hih-hih-hih.

Is joke-telling an art?
It is. It’s absolute timing. People look at you, and you think, “Ooh, it looks easy, that,” but it’s not easy. The gag’s got to be good. I can walk on stage and I’ve got the audience within 10 seconds. Not 10 minutes, 10 seconds, and they’re eating out of my hand. If I didn’t have, I’d turn the job in tomorrow. If I die on me arse, I’d be out of the business.

What makes a good joke?
The hidden punchline. Like the woman who went in the chemist shop and said, “What’s this new tablet?” He says, “Viagra – I take it, love.” “Can you get it over the counter?” “Only if I take four.” So, that’s funny to me. Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m a schizophrenic and so am I. That’s the kind of stuff I like, you see.

How do you deal with hecklers?
Ooooh – just nail ’em. They get a few drinks down ’em and people’ll take you on. You must never work against the microphone, cos nobody can hear what you’re saying. Only their little table can hear what they’re saying. So they don’t laugh cos they can’t f***in’ hear it. My comeback, I nail them, “Get an agent and stop handling yourself.”

You’ve been lovely, thank you and God bless.
Have a p*** before you go, boys. It’s a long way back to London. LG


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