|THE BLACK & WHITE MINSTREL SHOW|
|Broadcast June 14, 1958-July 21, 1978|
|The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British light entertainment show that ran on BBC television from 1958 to 1978. It was a weekly variety show which presented traditional American minstrel and country songs, as well as show tunes and music hall numbers, and with lavish costumes. The show was controversial due to often using blackface.
The show was created by BBC producer George Inns, working with Scottish musician George Mitchell, and began as a one-off special on September 2, 1957 called The 1957 Television Minstrels featuring the male Mitchell Minstrels (Mitchell was the musical director) and the female Television Toppers dancers.
The show included “comedy interludes” performed by Leslie Crowther, George Chisholm and Stan Stennett.
By 1964, the show was achieving viewing figures of 21 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show produced by Robert Luff which ran for 6,477 performances from 1962 to 1972 and established itself in The Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people. At this time, the creation gained considerable international regard and was sold to over thirty countries; in 1961 the show won a Golden Rose at Montreux for best light entertainment programme.
While it started off being broadcast in black and white, the show was one of the very first to be shown in colour on BBC 2 in 1967. Several famous personalities guested on the show, while others started their careers there. Comedian Lenny Henry was one such star, being the first black performer to appear, in 1975. In 2009, Henry explained that he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show.
The show’s premise began to be seen as offensive on account of its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving in a stereotypical manner, and a petition against it was received by the BBC in 1967. Due to continuing accusations of racism, Music Music Music (January 5-May 11, 1969), a spin-off series in which the minstrels appeared without their blackface make-up, replaced The Black and White Minstrel Show. It did well, with viewing figures to match the Minstrels, but the BBC weren’t happy and The Black and White Minstrel Show returned to win back viewers.
Since its cancellation in 1978, The Black and White Minstrel Show has come to be seen more widely as an embarrassment, despite its huge popularity at the time.