James Leavey's Sharing An Ashtray With... Bernard Manning

Bernard Manning

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James Leavey's Corner
  By James Leavey

The notoriously politically-incorrect Mancuniancomedian, lights up.


JL: When did you start smoking"


BM:  At school in the days of about 1939, justbefore the war…in the school playground, and all that carry on.  Itwere the done thing.  Everybody used to get a fag – you could buytwo cigarettes and a match in the local shop for about a halfpenny.


JL: When was the last time you smoked – foryou’ve given up smoking recently, haven’t you"


BM:  About 2-3 years ago, the diabetes hadovertaken me, and me blood was out of order, and the doctor said,‘You know, you can’t go on like this.’ I was getting dizzy spells –well, I was in a right mess.  So I just stopped, just like that.Just like that - and I were doing 40 a day. And when the racing wason - and I’ve had a few thousand pound on the horses in me time – Iused to smoke a packet of cigarettes in a race meeting. 

JL: Do you still wave acigar around when you’re on stage"

BM:  I use it as a prop –it leads me in to a couple of gags about cigarettes.  I say that,‘They give Roy Castle six months to live.  He said ‘I’ll do it infour.’

(the late Roy Castle, whodied of cancer and blamed it all on passive smoking, hosted a showon BBC childrens’ television for many years, attempting each week tosurpass the Guinness Book of Records in various activities, and wasknown for saying he would attempt each feat in less time thanoriginally taken by the current record holder, i.e. ‘He did it infive minutes, I reckon I can do it in four.’ JL)

JL: If you did smoke acigar now, would you to put it out if someone objected to yoursmoking"

BM: I wouldn’t, because it’s my prerogative tosmoke – it’s my choice.  And there’s nothing more enjoyable than anice cigar.  You twiddle it around in your fingers, it’s aconfidence feeling…It’s a nice little prop on the stage to twiddleround your fingers. It’s a funny thing, I don’t know… It’s like ‘TheCaine Mutiny’, remember that film with Humphrey Bogart, he had thesetwo balls in his hand and was rubbing them around – he was thecaptain of the ship, you remember"  And it’s like that.  I thinkmost people enjoy it.   I know you might think I’m crackers, but acigar or a cigarette is a nice thing to hold, and twirl round inyour fingers.


JL: I suppose it’s better than playing round withyour balls on stage. Is your club – the Embassy Club in Manchester –a good place to smoke"


BM: There’s an ashtray on every table and peopleuse their own sense.  If they wanna smoke, they smoke.  If theydon’t want to smoke, they don’t need to smoke. And that’s it.  Over50 years in show business, I’ve worked in places – well, when Ifirst started there was no such thing as extractor fans and airconditioning and smoke things – you just worked.  You could cut thesmoke with a knife. There’s nothing wrong with me now, I have noproblems with me chest.  The diabetes was caused by being mugged.  Iwas mugged outside the Embassy Club (his club in Manchester) for£7,000 one Monday morning about 15 years ago.  As a matter of factthey’ve just caught them, and they’ve all got big sentences – andthat’s 15 years ago – and one of them’s grassed them up.  So they’vecaught them all. They was watching me and they set about me withguns and masks and pickaxe handles – I had the money bag.  And HarryDowd, Manchester City’s ex-goal-keeper, was there.  He was comingout of the club with me.  And I even got a laugh out of that.  Isaid, ‘I threw in the bag and he dropped it.’  I’ve had no troublewith me chest and I must have been in a million places a millionclubs – the London Palladium, MGM Grand in Las Vegas - and I’veworked in atmosphere that’s just been thick with smoke and I’ve hadno trouble with me chest whatsoever.  I’m 71 and I sing like a bird.


JL: And there’s Roy Castle, non-smoker, singinglike an angel.  I know it’s awful but he did blame his cancer onpassive smoking…


BM: He never smoked.  And it killed him! Which tome is a load of rubbish.  I think cancer’s in ya, or it’s not in ya.I do, honestly.

JL: If you had to smokein a doorway, whose doorway would you like most to smoke in"

BM: Tony Blair’s. Waiting for that lovely wife ofhis coming out in that dressing gown. You remember that picture"


JL: I do, yes.


BM: Yep. Fucking hell!


JL: That was about the only time he gave us a bitof a thrill, really. What’s your most memorable smoking experience"


BM: I remember the days when I worked on ‘TheComedians’ with Johnny Hamp, who made us all stars overnight,household names…unknowns who people’d never heard of.  I was workingin the clubs for a tenner a night, and now I can command £3-£4,000.I’m doing adverts – I’ve just done an advert for Kit-Kat.  And I’veworked all over the world.  And the man (Hamp) made me a householdname.  I used to work on stage with a ciggie in me hand banging outthe gags, one after another, people falling about with laughter. Wonderful, wonderful.

JL: What do you think ofthe British government imposing bans on tobacco ads, andparticularly on smoking in clubs like yours"

BM: It won’t mean a thing. If people want tosmoke, they’ll smoke.  I don’t think you’ll ever stop them smoking.Not at all.  Which is a sad thing, really. If smoking is killingpeople it’s a sad thing.  But if it isn’t, then people are justgonna carry on smoking anyway.

JL: If there was a buttonthat, once pressed, would stop everybody smoking – would you pressit"

BM:  Yes, I would.  It’s a thing you can dowithout. You can’t do without breathing, you can’t do without freshair, and you can’t do without food and you can’t do without water. But you can certainly do without smoking.

JL: What’s your favouritesmoking gag"

BM: Winston Churchill wasat the Cup Final, and this fella kept jumping up and down andannoying him. And Churchill says, ‘Would you mind sitting down,please.’ And the fella says, ‘Aye, well I always like to keep on themove – I’ve got 14 children.’ And Churchill says, ‘Well, I smoke 20cigars a day, but I take it out now and again.’

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