PM condemns `offensive' Manning

Bernard Manning was yesterday condemned by the Prime Minister for his "offensive" remarks at a police charity dinner, while the television company which broadcast his performance said a majority of calls it received supported the comedian.

In a Commons exchange with the Labour MP, Ken Livingstone, John Major was asked to condemn Manning's use of the word "nigger". He replied: "I certainly think everybody should avoid expressions that give offence to those who are on the receiving end of those expressions . . . that is true of Mr Manning and everyone else."

But while his performance, secretly recorded by Granada's World in Action, was roundly condemned by all political parties, Manning was relying on some public support. About 60 per cent of the 30-40 calls to World in Action after Monday night's programme were critical of the makers - some asking when Granada was going to highlight racism against whites.

Calls to Greater Manchester police, the force involved, were said to be split - some in support, others condemning the comedian. Manning's agent said he had picked up eight new bookings yesterday.

The programme was shown at the Birmingham club where the comedian was appearing on Monday night as a warm-up to his act. The reception was so good that the club has re-booked Manning. His agent, Chris Graham, said yesterday: "The phone hasn't stopped with offers from the Littlejohn and Esther Rantzen television programmes. The World In Action programme has helped a lot."

Mr Graham said he talked to Manning after the programme. "He wasn't upset. He said he's paid to make people laugh and that's what he did. He wasn't selling people drugs or hitting them over the head. He certainly won't be changing his act."

However, the Comedy Empire in Willesden, north-west London, has cancelled a Manning show. A statement said: "The directors feel Mr Manning's material is too offensive." Another club - the Island, in Ilford, north-east London - has also cancelled a Manning appearance, but it blames disastrous ticket sales.

Clive Soley, the Labour MP, asked the Attorney General to consider charging the comedian with inciting race hatred for the stream of racist insults and jokes which delighted his off-duty police audience.

The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester is reconsidering disciplinary action against officers involved in the event. Police sources said that while it may be difficult to pursue officers who were merely present, it may be possible to charge organisers or those actively participating with "discreditable conduct".

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