Bernard Manning returns to have the last laugh

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The Independent Online

Anyone taking a stroll past the Embassy Club in the Manchester suburb of Harpurhey yesterday might have noticed that one year after Bernard Manning's death, the venue's most controversial performer was back.

High above the entrance to the working-class comedy club where the Mancunian comedian spent much of his 50-year career telling unabashed sexist, racist and homophobic jokes, there is an enormous smiling mosaic of Manning. But this is no ordinary piece of art.

Unveiled by his family yesterday to commemorate the anniversary of the comedian's death, the mosaic contains Manning's ashes in a somewhat eerie tribute to a man whose humour divided the nation.

Created by a local artist, Mark Kennedy, and made with the backing of Manning's family, some of the comedian's ashes have been placed inside the adhesive that holds the hundreds of shards of pottery together.

It replaces a much older portrait of the comedian, painted by a now unknown punter more than 25 years ago, that once used to hang in the same place.

Kennedy, whose mosaics are a regular feature of the Manchester cityscape, said the comedian once approached him about replacing the old picture because it made him look like a cross between Harry Secombe and Terry Wogan. "Bernard came to me years ago to talk about a mosaic," Kennedy said.

"A few years back I did one for the family of a local pub landlord and placed the ashes inside. When Bernard died last year, I contacted his son and said it might be a nice opportunity to do the same."

Manning's 47-year-old son, who shares the same name and now runs his club, soon warmed to the idea. "To begin with I thought, 'Hmm, I'm not sure about that,'" he said.

"But then the more we thought about it we realised it would actually be a fitting tribute. I think he would have been really chuffed; he was very nostalgic and very into his traditions. This was the place where he grew up and spent most of his life. Now his fans can look up as they are passing and say: 'Oh, there's Bernard.' I think he would have thought it was a great touch."

The mosaic, made from remnants of Royal Doulton pottery, pays tribute to Manning's strongly patriotic and pro-royal views, depicting him in his famous Union Jack waistcoat and featuring shards from numerous royal wedding mugs, but steers clear of the more controversial elements of his humour.

Kennedy said he hoped fans would see the ashes as a final comedic gesture from Manning. "People are having a good laugh about it. It's like they're saying Bernard's back at the Embassy."

In his own words

"I managed to make it into my late 70s, but then there was always a very strong survival instinct in my family. I had an uncle who was still having sex at 74. Which was lucky, he lived at No 72."

"It was also a contented end, which reminds me of another long-lived uncle, a bus driver who went peacefully in his sleep – not screaming like his passengers."