The life and legacy of television journalist turned music impresario Tony Wilson – “His passion… as a presenter made us all raise our game,” RTS North West Chair Cat Lewis told a packed audience at the Lowry in June – are commemorated by the annual Anthony H Wilson Memorial Lecture.
This year, it featured fellow Mancunian Jason Manford – comedian, actor, TV presenter and quiz show panellist – in conversation with former Coronation Street regular Catherine Tyldesley.
Manford’s start in show business could not have been more different to Wilson, who joined ITN as a trainee reporter after graduating from Cambridge University. Manford was 16 and working in a Manchester pub with a weekly comedy night, where he was lucky enough to watch the likes of Caroline Aherne and Peter Kay.
One night, he was pressed into covering for a stand-up who was a no-show. Almost immediately he was hackled about a black eye and admitted he’d been mugged.
Musing aloud, he recalled that his mugger “gave me a choice: ‘Give us your money or I’ll beat you up.’ I gave him my money and he beat me up anyway… [More than being mugged] I was annoyed this guy had broken our gentleman’s agreement.”
This got the biggest laugh of the evening and through it Manford learnt “that tragedy and comedy are closely linked” – and how to use his life as material, developing observational comedy routines like his hero, Kay.
Manford followed in Kay’s footsteps, developing parallel careers in comedy and acting. “Comics… lend themselves to acting,” Manford claimed. “There’s another layer they can bring to [the role].” Although, ironically, the roles he was offered initially were playing stand-up comedians, including one in Stephen Poliakoff’s 2006 BBC One drama Gideon’s Daughter.
Subsequently, Manford appeared in hit northern comedy dramas such as BBC One’s Cutting It and Ordinary Lies, and Channel 4’s Shameless, while continuing to enjoy great success on the comedy circuit.
This autumn Manford is set to appear in Derren Litten’s (ITV’s Benidorm) new sitcom for BBC One, Scarborough.
However, Manford’s most popular recent performance was a video he made while on location, posted on social media, in which he spoke about his struggles with mental health. “Under 55s men – their biggest killer is suicide,” he said. “[Men] go to the doctor and let him… put a finger up their bum, but won’t go in for a chat which is less weird!”
All photography by JesRPB Photography