Why the late (and far from great) Bernard Manning would have cause to celebrate today

Our diarist notes that the stand-up comedian, notoriously fond of making unfunny jokes, had a deeper impact on workplace legislation than you might think

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the night club comic Bernard Manning were alive today he would have something to celebrate. Manning inadvertently made legal history in 1996 when he spotted two black waitresses serving customers in a hotel where he was doing a stand-up routine. He launched into a string of quips in graphic language about the sexual organs and abilities of black men and women. The waitresses were obliged to listen and put up with lewd comments and advances from drink fuelled customers emboldened by Manning’s lead.

The events of that night introduced the concept of ‘third party harassment’ into British employment law, when the hotel was found to be liable for what the women suffered although none of its employees was implicated. But in 2011, the government turned to a billionaire venture capitalist, Adrian Beecroft, to advise them on ways to lighten employers’ regulatory burden. His report, last in May, called for third party harassment be struck off the statute book, and the Business Secretary, the genial Vince Cable, has been persuaded to do as Beecroft suggested. Proprietors will be able to hire black people to work for them, then hire funny men to make racist jokes about them, and will not need to fear comeuppance at an employment tribunal.

Chief Whip’s apology is poorly placed

A fight broke out yesterday in Downing Street close to the door of No 10, only feet away from a police officer, who made no attempt to intervene. The loser was Larry, the Downing Street cat, whose reputation as a mouser has been irrecoverably trashed by the media and impugned by David Cameron on the David Letterman show on US television. The winner was Freya, a stray recently housed by George Osborne. The affray was caught by photographers who hang around all day in Downing Street in case something happens. Asked about relations between the two cats, a No 10 spokesman said: “They co-exist.”

So hard to get a round of golf

Here is an insight into what Conservative MPs think of their new Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell. In the Commons on Monday, a former whip, Michael Fabricant, addressed a question to Mitchell’s predecessor, Patrick McLoughlin, whom he described as “sorely missed as Chief Whip.” Yesterday, Fabricant tweeted: “Colleagues are STILL congratulating me on my question to Patrick McLoughlin … I wonder why.”

You might be living in the wrong place

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, caused some sharp intakes of breath during her Commons statement on the Jimmy Savile affair, when she announced that a Newsnight investigation into Savile had been “inappropriately pulled”. There followed a flurry of explanatory statements from the Culture Department saying that the minister did not mean what she had said, and was not passing judgement on an editorial decision by the BBC.

This morning, the Hansard record of the day’s proceedings went on sale at £5.00 a copy, and now it transpires that what was picked up by the microphones was not officially said. According to the official record, Ms Miller actually said that the BBC “will look into the allegations that an item on Savile was inappropriately pulled” – a statement of fact that no one can dispute.

Way back in the days before Parliament was broadcast I watched a late evening performance by the Tory MP, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, who died in 1995, a man not famed for sobriety. Suffice to say that he was leaning forward at such a tilt that onlookers feared he might tumble down onto the next bench. Not a single word he said made any coherent sense, and yet the day’s Hansard contained a concise and well phrased parliamentary speech attributed to the fiery-faced Sir Nicholas. That Hansard writers rescued MPs from embarrassment by doctoring the record was a fact no one could prove, until they introduced microphones.