I’m really surprised myself by a) watching this show, and b) actually caring enough about a fat bloke who told offensive jokes for a living to watch it. In a nutshell, this was one of those ironic Channel 4 shows where stars present their obituary. What C4 didn’t count on was that the subject in question – Bernard Manning – died just after the show finished filming. That very fact made this show very weird indeed.
It started off with Bernard’s image super-imposed onto footage of his actual funeral, taking the mick out of those who had attended. There was Frank Carson (who gave a little speech. Example: “People who say Bernard was a racist were wrong. Four of the horses [that carried the coffin] were black…” Oh dear.) and Stan Boardman, and a whole host of ‘comedians and entertainers’ from yesteryear, all looked down on by a ghostly (or, in this case, pre-recorded) Bernard (sample line: “There’s my great friend Chris and his wife. She’s very beautiful. I bet he’s going to give her one when he gets home soon”). Surprisingly, I watched this until the end.
Throughout the show, we were taken on a tour of his old Manchester, got to look at some of his stand-up both in the club he owned and from other venues, from TV shows and his appearance in Las Vegas. He was proud of his upbringing, his achievements and the fact that he was born British.
There were clips of him choosing his coffin, his friends paying tribute and his family saying what a hard-working bloke he was. Bernard spoke to his late wife’s grave, and, as the very notion that he may not have too much time left, he began to weep.
And this was the weird thing (the bits where he was talking to an actor dressed as St Peter were also very weird). I actually began to feel sorry for Bernard. Here was a man who loved his family, who loved life and was very proud of the people he had met and made laugh (he showed us some of his photo collection on his mantelpiece… “there’s me and Jimmy Hill.”)
But just as you were seeing him as a human being, the ugly side of him resurfaced. While riding around Manchester in his Rolls, he pointed to a bus stop where a group of Asian women were standing and he made some seriously dodgy remarks. Some of the clips of his stand-up revealed the true, horrifying nature of some (if not most) of his racist and sexist material.
His infamous appearance on Mrs Merton was shown too, where he admitted he was racist (friend during the show said that he probably said that just to wind her up.)
And then to cap it all off he met a black member from a very recent gig (the only black member of the audience), and argued that the jokes he told were just that… jokes. Obviously the black guy and his mate argued back (in the nicest way possible), and said that surely comedians should be aware of the influence they have on an audience.
With this Bernard lost it and shouted that he had played the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and asked what these two nobodies had done in their career. When the black guy’s mate said he had been Frank Sinatra’s warm-up man, poor old Bernard was lost for words for the first time in the show.
This show left me scratching my head. I dislike Bernard’s comedy intensely, but as he reached the end of his life (and seeing he knew he was reaching the end of his life) it made me feel sad for him and aware of my own mortality. But then he would say something that blew any feeling I had for him out of the water.
The fact that he had already died also made the show extra-spooky, as the footage at the funeral, with a super-imposed Bernard sitting in the front row, was strange to say the least.
I’d love to say that with the death of Bernard Manning finally meant the death of his kind of comedy. But I’m not so sure – it’s guaranteed someone, somewhere is still spouting this kind of drivel.Join TVScoop on Facebook for exclusive competitions and gossip