Did you hear the one about the stroke?

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The Independent Online
ANTI-RACISTS everywhere will be distraught to hear that their favourite bogyman, the comedian Bernard Manning, has effectively retired. After appearing there almost nightly since 1959, he closed his club, the Embassy, on Manchester's Rochdale Road, last Saturday night. Manning has suffered a stroke - not a complete medical shock in an overweight man of 69 who smokes for England and eats a diet of practically pure lard. The affliction has left him deaf in one ear, prone to dizzy spells and under doctors' orders to slow up drastically. The workaholic comedian, who counts Stephen Fry among his admirers for his joke-telling prowess, still plans to make occasional appearances. He remains sought after at northern clubs and functions such as police socials, where his quaint views on racial matters are said to act as a tension-buster for officers forced when in uniform to be fair to ethnic minorities. While those who regard Manning as Satan with a microphone will have to look elsewhere for a target - Jim Davidson might be a good starting point - the spotlight in Manchester now falls on Manning's 39-year-old son, also Bernard. Young Bernard, as he is known locally, was last week given the Embassy Club by his father to do with as he wishes. A sweet and philosophical man whose own taste in comedy runs more to Ben Elton and Eddie Izzard, Young Bernard is pondering his options. "My dad was thinking it could make a banqueting suite for weddings, but I'm looking at turning it into an alternative- comedy venue." What, you mean you'd have anti-racist, anti-sexist comedians playing the stage once occupied by Bernard Manning? "Yes," Young Bernard chuckles. "But I'll still let him come and watch the acts. Now I have to be off to watch some comedians at the club where Steve Coogan and Caroline Aherne started out..."

IF YOU are reading this at all this August morning, there is every possibility that the world still exists, which means the tide of Nostradamus stuff we were flooded with last month about July 1999 being the date of Armageddon was - just as some of us uncannily predicted - nonsense. But we are not out of the woods yet, according to no less a seer than Paco Rabanne, the far-sighted designer of clothes and perfume. So convinced is the 65-year- old artiste soon to be known as Wacko Paco that the end of the world is nigh - on Wednesday week, to be precise - that last Sunday he officially retired. Rabanne explained in a statement issued by his embarrassed press department that the Russian Mir space station will crash into Paris at the moment of the eclipse. Which will mean curtains (albeit rather chic ones) for the couture world - and possibly the rest of us, too. The end of the world would be especially sad for Paco Rabanne, as he believes he is 78,000 years old and comes not from Spain but from "the crystal planet in the constellation of the Eagle which orbits round the star Altair". Surely this must mean that Rabanne's clothes and fragrances will now be placed in an end-of-the-world sale at never-to-be-repeated prices? Not at all, explains an anxious spokesperson. "Even in Paris the head office will remain open for business as usual," she said.

IF YOU don't have a lot of time for Paco Rabanne's claim to be an extraterrestrial, but are one of the many who believes there is something spookily un-Earthly about our own dear Prime Minister, you will be intrigued to hear of a book one of our political spies spotted in the basement (don't ask) of No 10 Downing Street. The blurb on the back of the tome, Scientology - Theology and Practice of a Contemporary Religion, speaks of the creepy religion "lifting individuals from the mire of day-to-day existence". Scientologists, of course, believe they are Thetans from the planet Bong or whatever. But don't laugh; think about it. Those cheesy grins on the faces of Scientologists such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta? And the rictus grin that is apt to appear on Tony Blair's face? Surely not? Take me to your leader ... my god, he is our leader.

THE DAWNING of the first day of August is not significant this year merely as a two-fingered salute to Nostradamus, but also as the start of a brave new world in British plumbing. Yesterday was the last day on which it was legal to fit to a newly built property the traditional British lavatory flush, which was invented by a Victorian plumber called Albert Giblin, patented in 1898 and marketed by one Thomas Crapper. As from today, every cistern must be of a controversial European design, which is designed to save water but in practice allegedly wastes it through leakage at a rate of up to 750 gallons a month. Over-eager, as might be expected, to flaunt their Europhilia, the builders of the Millennium Dome were anxious when I spoke to them to confirm that the 505 WCs within the Dome - a new- build project if ever there was one - will be of the European design, even though they could legally have got away with Crapper loos since they were already installed ahead of yesterday's deadline. All very well, but it would have been nice to see even a token appearance at the Dome by the loos of the British inventor hailed by the avant-garde of plumbing as the new Crapper. Step forward Mr Alan Somerfield of Chiswick, west London, whose HiflowSiphon has been independently demonstrated to be both Euro- and eco-friendly. Can Mr Somerfield get a British manufacturer to produce his cisterns? Of course he can't, which is why he's currently flush with success in the States, where his HiflowSiphon is being manufactured and is the cognoscentis' lavatory of choice. When, oh when, will we start to recognise true talent - as the Victorians did the Crappers - in our midst?

WE DON'T know the precise state of repair of the car belonging to Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the new transport minister. We suspect, however, that his lordship will be delighted to receive a ministerial motor as he sets out to try to rescue the Government's transport policy from two years of chaos, while simultaneously attempting to counter any impression that the Government is anti-car. At Granada TV, where, as plain Gus Macdonald, he was a behind-the-scenes journalist of the highest standing, they say he managed to get some dodgy teeth fixed at company expense just at the moment he became an on-screen presenter. Insist on the Jag, Gus.

THERE IS no conceivable reason any of us needs to know about the apparently well-founded allegation that Willie Whitelaw had a love child, Stephen McDiarmid, now 40 and a Labour Party official in Lanarkshire, with a face somewhere between Whitelaw and Holly in Red Dwarf. There is nothing any of us can usefully say about it - other than thank you to whoever was responsible for intruding on the public's privacy by telling us all about it. The next time a politician tries to argue for privacy legislation, please bear in mind the unremitting joy such stories bring, and give the argument a wide berth.

NOW YOU haven't heard of them ... now you have. Western Union, the old Wild West telegraph company founded in 1851, and hardly a household name in this century, last week became the unlikely multimillion-pound sponsors of both the Notting Hill Carnival and Manchester United Football Club. Now based in New Jersey, Western Union specialises in transmitting money across the world for people who don't have middle-class accoutrements such as credit cards - or, as they delicately put it, "grassroots people". Since they seem to be in the market for impressing our grassroots folk, I suggested they might take a look at branding one of our last unsponsored dinosaurs, the Royal Family. ("And now Her Majesty the Western Union Queen processes down the Bovril Mall towards the Domestos Horse Guards Parade." You know the sort of thing.) "Interesting," said a Western Union person. "It's a global brand. I think I could see the fit, yeah ... ask their people to speak to our people."

WITH Woodstock 99 ending in a nihilistic shambles last weekend, I predict a summer of media despair at that long-forgotten breed, the Revolting Teenager. Following Woodstock, we've already had the 15-year-old in Suffolk going to the police about her dad stopping her going out, along with a story from Australia about a shopping mall that's started playing Bing Crosby and other crooners on the PA to dissuade youths from hanging around too long. They also reportedly flood the area where teenagers congregate with fluorescent pink light which shows up their zits. Another welcome reappearance in the news are the kind of barking-mad schoolteachers who probably imagine they would render such anti-teenager strategies unnecessary. Last week alone we had Jan Tyson, the headteacher of Turnfurlong County First in Buckinghamshire, criticised by Ofsted for banning children from speaking (what a dinner-party guest she must be); and Wendy Dyble, an infant teacher from Shetland, who wants to use trained dogs to round up children in the playground. The most delightful thing about Ms Dyble and her "canine teaching assistants" plan was that it was narrowly endorsed by a vote of the 35,000-strong Professional Association of Teachers at its conference in Southport. I expect Dyble, W, and Tyson, J, to see me later in my study.