Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bernard Manning

As Matt notes in today's Telegraph, Bernard Manning could be having a bit of trouble negotiating his entry through the Pearly Gates. I wonder what he was really like. Was he really a racist - or was it OK because he was offensive to everyone? Over the years, I've changed my opinion a touch on this. I hope my friends will not start falling about in laughter, but I've become a touch more politically correct about humour. And this is nothing to do with a last ditch effort to butter up the 'strong' females who are at the anti-Tory front line in Plaid's Assembly Group.

When I was a young back row forward, marauding around the rugby fields of the Midlands and the North of England, racist language was not unusual - and I didn't think of it as being racist. (Mind you, I wasn't on the end of it). There was certainly no intent to be offensive when black skinned opponents were called 'Chalkie' or 'Sooty' - just as there was no intent to offend when I, being a Welsh hill sheep farmer, was accused of being over familiar with my 'woolly friends'. But the meaning of words has changed. Today, such words are no longer harmless banter. They are unacceptable. My general approach is not to use language that offends if at all possible.

But comics like Bernard Manning were deeply unsettling for me - because they made me laugh. I wish they didn't. So without becoming too stuffy about it, I try never to listen to this sort of comedy. I recall going to a Ben Elton performance at Theatre Hafren a few years ago. He was foul - in a lavatorial jokes sense. The entire theatre was howling - except Mrs D who doesn't like this sort of humour. I almost did myself an internal injury, stifling my overwhelming desire to join in the 'howling'. It wasn't easy to go "Tut Tut" in such circumstances.

Thing about Bernard Manning is that he did challenge us to think about prejudice. He represented something that made me more aware of the need to be careful with language - which I suppose is why I try not to offend on this blog. The Telegraph printed some of Manning's jokes today. Best of them was....

'My sister went into the hairdresser's and said "Make me look like Barbara Streisland". So he hit her on the nose with a hairbrush.' I hope that's not racist or sexist or any other ist.


Romeo Murphy said...

Hello Glyn

I don't think Bernard Manning was racist - I accept his defence that, by taking the mickey out of everyone he wasn't -
though I often thought his humour was in poor taste.

The big problem for me is the fact that, particularly in the 70s, kids seeing his kind of humour on the TV would try and emulate it at school.

And that's where the nature of his comedy could hurt, particularly the young, vulnerable minorities in the school yard.

When I grew up in the 70s the Irish were the butt of many jokes. I never minded this unless I felt the joke-teller was not charming or self-deprecating. From what I recall, I found Manning's quips about the Irish harmless, probably because he didn't single out us Turf Monkeys (whoops!) for special attention.

A fellow Blog Cymru writer, when speaking to me about Manning today, told me it's his belief that a lot of adults in the UK have become over sensitive. It's a very complex issue this but I think that broadly speaking he's right. Take the ridiculous way the Big Brother Shilpa Shetty episode was blown up out of all proportion. For me Jade Goody was ignorant, not racist. The media sensationalise so many things today.

From what I've read in recent days Bernard Manning was, in private, a kind man.

And there is a great irony when reflecting on how the likes of "politically correct" jokers like Ben Elton singled out comics such as Manning and Benny Hill for scorn when the alternative comedians came on the scene.

I don't believe Benny Hill was sexist, for example, the joke was always on the men in his humour.

And one thing you can say about Manning, Hill et al is that they never made jokes about the disabled.

Unlike Ben Elton, whose name, along with Richard Curtis's and Rowan Atkinson's, is on the writing credits of a video of Atkinson's, released in the 80s, which features a cleverly constructed sketch about three disabled men called Tom, Dick and Harry. (You can find it on You Tube).

So, all this considered, who's the most offensive (if any) of the three? Elton, Hill or Manning?

Perhaps the charm (or otherwise) of the joketeller and the context of the situation are the best guides to whether a joke is offensive.

I don't know, Glyn, you got me thinking!

Glyn Davies said...

Romeo - you and me both. Once you refuse to accept the 'established' view of an issue, you do start to ask what is really offensive. My wife used to love Frankie Howard, whose humour was based on sexist jokes and mockery of gay people - but she couldn't stand the filth of Ben Elton, who I didn't like because he's so self satisfyingly superior. There was no pretense about Bernard Manning. I loved Irish jokes as well, especially since the Irish almost always have the last laugh.

Anonymous said...

It may not be sexist but it really is downright insulting to the lovely lady herelf. Stop putting yourelf about as a country bumkin Glyn and get to grips with what's acceptable and unacceptable in todays' society.

Anonymous said...

God your tone has changed in the last week or so, since you made your mind up about Westminster!!

Glyn Davies said...

anons - I hope my tone hasn't changed. It's not been deliberate. But since my blog is a record of what is in my mind when I post, its inevitable that I will be commenting more about Westminster issues if I am selected to contest Montgomeryshire. But you have to admit that Assembly stuff is in limbo at the moment.

I also accept that what makes people laugh is a controversial subject. The point of my post was that I find funny things that I know to be unacceptable. Prefer if I didn't. I suspect many others experience the same thing. This paradox interests me - even if you are much more certain about what is right and wrong.

jackbetal said...

Bernard Manning couldn't have been a racist. He joked about everyone. Plus he on top of that he told Irish jokes a plenty and for those who didn't notuce he was of Irish background.