A gleaming white Lincoln continental glides into the asphalted car park ofthe Tangerine Club. Blackpool. as inconspicuous as an ocean liner. My rusty Honda follows. with a dodgy handbrake and both door locks broken by a police tow-away squad. A squat. almost perfectly round toad of a man eases his fat out of the Lincoln. Two more lithe ‘associates‘ also emerge from its depths. They fuss with the toad‘s stage clothes. while the object of their devotions slowly. plumply. self-importantly waddles to the tatty tangerine door of the Tangerine Club.
The toad makes for the urinals where your reporter catches up with his quarry. There is no conversation as we both go about our manly business. but the toad is not silent. Pity Bernard Manning. He seems to be one of those men who cannot go for a pee without emitting near-sobs of pain. ‘Oh! Fucking hell! I needed that.‘ Not for the first time I reﬂected that I would rather have a rusty Honda than dodgy waterworks.
an old cat‘s teeth
Bernard Manning physically repulsed me. In an office-cum-dressing room before his show he took his clothes offin front of me. Well. not all his clothes. He kept on a pair of baggy white underpants which long. long ago had been white but now are the colour of an old cat‘s teeth.
I Ie claims that his ‘vital statistics‘ are 56:56:56. I did not have tape measure on me. but it was all too credible. He did not so much wear his underpants as they contained an explosion of flabby white fat. There was fat to the left of me. fat to the right ofme. fat in front of me and it was all Bernard Manning. On his back and neck was a mini-forest of little fingers ofskin. a darker. purply colour against the expanse of white. No horror film. no alien thing dripping in green slime. no ritual disembowelling or despicable act of torture can touch me now: I have seen Bernard Manning semi-nude.
We chatted as he climbed into his stage clothes. purple trousers and a blue shirt. Every now and then his associates. two lantern-jawed forty year-olds. chipped in with their banter. Barry Clark is a builder. Chris Graham is a car dealer and they come along with Manning to keep him company.
And oh. what company he is. We rattled through his early career in showbiz at the ()ldham Empire. singing. tellingjokes. It would be
hard to tell who was more uninterested: him repeating the facts. as smooth as old pebbles. me jotting them down in largely illegible shorthand. Every now and then Barry or Chris leaned over my shoulder to disinter my meaningless squiggles and I would respond by writing down a spurt of gibberish. As the toad himselflikes to say: ‘Fuck ‘em.‘ ~
And on. like the dutiful interviewer. to the big question John
4 The List 13 — 26 June
Big Bernard in Blackpool. John Sweeney meets the
controversial comic and sees more than
Mortimer has made his own: ‘Do you believe in God'." Manning bulges momentarily before he answers. Not the usual line ()fquestion, this. “I do believe in God. All these clever fuckers say there ain‘t no God. they don‘t know what they are fucking talking about.‘ The voice is soft. Mancunian; the delivery quick. And the feeling behind it — although it pains to type this - seemed warm and genuine.
‘I do believe in God‘
Manning is fast to point out what he believes in: family life. family virtues. Does he believe in evil'.’ ‘()h yes. There are plenty ofevil bastards around. We‘ve got to get back to basics.‘ I told him that some people thought that the racism in his act - which has been condemned by the actors‘ union Equity — was a sort of evil.
Before he had a chance to reply one ofthe ‘associates‘ chipped in: ‘Some of his friends are black. He‘s done turns for them all. Farookh Engineer. Clive Lloyd . . .‘ Manning took up the theme: ‘My pianist‘s Jewish.‘ They laughed at that one. but I managed to keep po-faced. And so he does do work for charity.
for. ._ /,
the Variety Club. the hospitals. Bernard Maning even did his stint for Sport Aid. Not racingagainst time. ofcourse. but doing his act for a gang ofpeople who had done a sponsored parachute jump. He didn‘t have to. did he‘.’ is the unspoken question in the air.
Manning is good on the Botham question too: ‘A much maligned man. A good sportsman who‘s had the courage to own up to his own mistakes. Ifwe didn‘t make mistakes then there wouldn‘t be rubbers on the end of our pencils. Botham‘s an all-round good egg.‘
Any heroes'.’ ‘That woman who looks after all ‘em starving fucking kidsin India . . .whatsername'.’ . . . MotherTheresa.‘ I had been half-expecting I-Iitler or Botha or even Enoch Powell. and so was disappointed with this reply. I wasn‘t talking to a Guardian reader. thank God: ‘I get the Daily Mirror for the racing and the Daily Express for the write-ups. I have never had a write-up in the Daily Express. Two most useless things in the world: a write-up in the Daily Express and the Pope‘s bollocks.‘ Igrinned at that.
And so the conversation slowly edged along. I tried to be aggressive. but it felt like bouncing Puffed
Wheat off a hippo‘s back. What about the Spitting Images piss-take? ‘Fuckin‘ wonderful. It‘s an honour to be on that show.‘
He‘s not stupid. and sensed my hostility. weakening by the minute though it was. ‘My motto is never say anything behind someone‘s back i that you can‘t say to his face.‘ It was a sort ofchallenge so I looked him in the eye: ‘You‘re a fat bastard.‘ ‘.\’o son. you‘ve got it wrong. I‘m a fat rich bastard.‘ This year. he said. his tax bill would be £60.00“.
‘fat rich bastard‘
The fat rich bastard was about to go on stage. so I pumped him on politics
for one last time. "They‘re all the fuckin‘ same. A politician has to be
dedicated. . .‘ And then out it popped. from his mouth‘. . .'l‘hat Enoch Powell would have been the man. When he was right. if he had gone through with it he would have
had ()8 per cent of the country behind
him. but he missed his way.‘ (‘hris batted in: ‘Everything he said has turned out to be true. hasn‘t it'." And with that the atmosphere in the dressing room changed. From something which was mellowing all the time it turned just a little nasty. not very much. but enough to leave a certain unpleasantness in the mouth Manning almost shouted out: ‘l Ie said that. I didn‘t. Don‘t you fuckin‘ write that I said that. He said that.‘ We all agreed that he said that. Manning left to go on the stage and the ‘associates‘ stayed with me in the dressing room for a moment longer. ‘Do you ever get hit for asking Cheeky questions . . . We don't like any ofthat racist stuff. You‘re not going to write about that. are you'." As Manning likes to say. ‘Fuck ‘em.’
cruel. malicious. racist
I went through-into the big room of the Tangerine Club. The people in it look like the sort of people who would pay to watch Bernard Manning in something called the Tangerine Club. And he was off. slowly circling the audience. commenting on a womans ‘tits‘ here. a young drunk there — "l'hat‘s how I felt when I had my first pint‘ — coons. niggers. homosexuals: ‘Nobody gets AIDS in Liverpool because none of them are off their arse long enough. idle fuckers‘.
His act is obscene. cruel. malicious. racist. sexist and degrading. And worst of all. he makes people laugh. As I left the club he was attacking Bradford: ‘You can‘t move for the fucking niggers. Dial 99‘) and you get the Bengal Lancers.‘ The audience roared with laughter. Right at the back there was a black man. a middle-aged West Indian in jeans. standing with his white mates. And he was laughing as loud and long as cverybodyelsc,
Bernard Manning will be at the Pavilion Theatre. Glasgow 'I‘ue24 June. and a! the Playhouse. Edinburgh Wed 25 June.