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The racist implications of the premise of the programme were yet to be widely acknowledged or publicly discussed. But it was this which largely led to the programme’s eventual demise.
While this was in preparation, Mitchell informed Currie that a second company would be prepared for the summer in Morecambe, and that the three lead minstrel singers in that company would follow for a tour of Australia and New Zealand beginning in the fall of 1962, and that the minstrel chorus and dancers would be auditioned and formed in Australia. Mitchell than asked Currie if he would be the chorus master for the Morecambe show, and would he also be one of the three lead soloists, then fly to Australia with the choreographer to build the company for the down under tour. Currie agreed, understanding that the tour was planned for 6 months.
On 18 May 1967, the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination delivered a petition to the BBC signed by both black and white people, which requested that the programme be taken off the television.
The BBC Television Toppers were loaned for one day by the BBC under contract and appear in the iconic 1955 film The Dam Busters in the spotlight theatre dancing scene. The filming of this scene was at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. No credits are shown on this film as to who the dancers were or the location of the theatre.
In the late 1960s, Music Music Music, a “whiteface” version of the show, had been tried, only to lose viewers. In a 1971 episode of The Two Ronnies, a musical sketch, “The Short and Fat Minstrel Show”, was performed as a parody of The Black and White Minstrel Show, featuring spoofs of various songs. “Alternative Roots”, an episode of the BBC comedy series The Goodies, spoofed the popularity of The Black and White Minstrel Show, suggesting that any programme could double its viewing figures by being performed in blackface, and mentioning that a series of The Black and White Minstrel Show had been tried without make up. The Are You Being Served? episode “Roots” featured a storyline in which Mr. Grace’s lineage was traced in order to perform an appropriate song and dance for his 90th birthday. The end result was a number that parodied The Black and White Minstrel Show by having the male performers in blackface while the females (excluding Mrs. Slocombe) were not.
Since its cancellation in 1978, The Black and White Minstrel Show has come to be seen widely as an embarrassment, despite its huge popularity at the time.
During the early years, various comedians such as Leslie Crowther, Stan Stennett and George Chisholm acted as compere, providing “filler” between the slick song and dance routines.
The show was accused of racism and ethnic stereotyping by black civil rights groups in the UK, such as the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, due to its use of blackface. This racial controversy led to the programme’s eventual cancellation from television in 1978, although a stage version ran for ten years after the show’s cancellation at Victoria Palace Theatre, London. This was followed by tours of Australia and New Zealand.
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By 1964, the show was achieving viewing figures of 21 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show at the Victoria Palace Theatre 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 and the first three albums of songs (1960–1962) all did extremely well, the first two being long-running #1 albums in the UK Albums Chart. The first of these became the first album in UK album sales history to pass 100,000 sales.
Categories: 1958 British television programme debuts1978 British television programme endings1950s British television series1960s British television series1970s British television seriesBBC Television programmesBlackface minstrel shows and filmsBritish variety television programmes
Despite the controversy, the programme continued until 1 July 1978. Ultimately, its removal from the air coincided with the demise of the popularity of the variety genre on British television.
The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British light entertainment show that ran on BBC television. Beginning in 1958, it was a weekly light entertainment and variety show which presented traditional American minstrel and country songs, as well as show tunes and music hall numbers, and with lavish costumes. It was also a popular stage show.
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The George Mitchell Minstrels had already enjoyed success on the West End stage when they featured in a one-off special called The 1957 Television Minstrels. The occasional television specials soon developed into a regular series with a forty-five minute non-stop format of Mississippi tunes and Country and Western songs.
The Black and White Minstrel ShowCreated byGeorge MitchellStarringGeorge ChisholmStan StennettLeslie CrowtherCountry of originUnited KingdomOriginal language(s)EnglishProductionProduction location(s)London, EnglandReleaseOriginal networkBBCOriginal release14 June 1958 (1958-06-14) – 21 July 1978 (1978-07-21)
Probably the most offensive thing about the show was the repertoire of old crap the group would trot out and sing every weekend. The sort of material that even Max Bygraves used to throw out . . .
The Black And White Minstrel Show harked back to a specific period and location – the Deep South where coy white women could be seen being wooed by docile, smiling black slaves, except in this case the black men were white artists “blacked-up.”
The show’s premise began to be seen as offensive and racist on account of its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving in a stereotypical manner. Following 1963 the murder of 35-year-old white postal worker William Lewis Moore in Alabama, who was on a protest march against segregation in the American South, the satirical show That Was the Week That Was did a sketch in which Millicent Martin dressed as Uncle Sam and sung a parody of I Wanna Go Back to Mississippi (“Where the scent of blossom kissed the evening breeze / Where the Mississippi mud / Seems to mingle with the blood / Of the niggers that are hanging from the branches of the trees) accompanied by minstrel singers in blackface (“… we hate all the darkies and the Catholics and the Jews / Where we welcome any man / Who is strong and white and belongs to the Ku Klux Klan”), parodying the Black and White Minstrels supposed trivialising of southern U.S. racism.
A petition against the show was received by the BBC from the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1967. In 1969, due to continuing accusations of racism, Music Music Music, 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 were not happy and The Black and White Minstrel Show returned to win back viewers.
The series featured music conducted by George Mitchell and showcased the 36 Mitchell Minstrels, featuring solo performances from Tony Mercer, John Boulter and Dai Francis – accompanied by the 24-piece Television Toppers dance troupe.
Opening in Melbourne in the fall of 1962, the show secured full houses for all evening and matinee performances, so they were held over. This happened in both countries, and every box office record was broken. The show continued for 3 years, and the Australian and New Zealand box office records it set have never been broken.
EMI Records approached the 3 lead singers, Harry Currie, Jeff Hudson and Eric Whitley, and asked them to make an LP. Currie was asked to produce the LP, felt that since they were touring the songs should all be from 12 different cities in 12 different countries. Since there were no songs for Australia, New Zealand and Currie’s home country – Canada – he wrote 3 songs over a weekend to cover those countries, and named the LP Three Voices Go Places, still advertised on the internet in 2018.
The show certainly seems surreal in retrospect, but a gaggle of Al Jolson clones in traditional “blackface” was prime variety television back then.
In the spring of 1962 the BBC musical variety show, the Black and White Minstrel Show, was to open at the Victoria Palace Theatre. While the three lead singers, Tony Mercer, John Boulter and Dai Francis ,would be in the theatrical version of the show and also in the BBC TV version, both the chorus singers and dancers would be different groups in the theatre and on BBC TV. Since George Mitchell was completely tied up with the television version, he hired Harry Currie to be the chorus master to prepare the Victoria Palace minstrel singers.
Soundtrack albums The Black and White Minstrel Show Chart positions Chart Year Peakposition UK Albums Chart 1961 1 1962 1963 Preceded bySouth Pacific by Original SoundtrackSouth Pacific by Original SoundtrackSouth Pacific by Original SoundtrackThe Shadows by The ShadowsOut of the Shadows by The Shadows UK Albums Chart number-one album29 July 1961 – 26 August 19612 September 1961 – 9 September 196116 September 1961 – 23 September 196121 October 1961 – 28 October 196129 December 1962 – 12 January 1963 Succeeded bySouth Pacific by Original SoundtrackSouth Pacific by Original SoundtrackThe Shadows by The ShadowsThe Shadows by The ShadowsWest Side Story by Original Soundtrack Another Black and White Minstrel Show Chart positions Chart Year Peakposition UK Albums Chart 1961 1 1962 Preceded by21 Today by Cliff Richard UK Albums Chart number-one album11 November 1961 – 6 January 1962 Succeeded byBlue Hawaii by Elvis Presley On Stage with the George Mitchell Minstrels Chart positions Chart Year Peakposition UK Albums Chart 1962 1 Preceded byOut of the Shadows by The Shadows UK Albums Chart number-one album1 December 1962 – 15 December 1962 Succeeded byWest Side Story by Original Soundtrack Other charted albums Title Year UK On Tour With The George Mitchell Minstrels 1963 6 Spotlight On the George Mitchell Minstrels 1964 6 Magic of the Minstrels 1965 9 Here Come the Minstrels 1966 11 Showtime Special 1967 26 The Irving Berlin Songbook 1968 33 The Magic of Christmas 1970 32 The Black and White Minstrels With the Joe Loss Orchestra – 30 Golden Greats 1977 10 References External links The Black and White Minstrel Show on IMDb The Black and White Minstrel Show at the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television
The live show Memories of the Black and White Minstrels toured the UK to packed houses in 2004 and 2005. The show was performed white-faced and featured the stars, medleys and costumes from the original TV series.
The very last episode broadcast on the 21st July 1978. Source is a Philips N1500 VCR recording and very rare. This tape cost £17.50 for 45 minutes. Remember, that was a lot of money in 1978 and equivalent to £80 today!
Prior to the creation of the Television Minstrels Show in 1957 the Television Toppers were already very popular, and The BBC Television Toppers first performed in 1953 which was aired on television for the first time February 1953. Originally the Television Toppers were dancers who performed weekly on a television show every Saturday night alongside different celebrities each week, such as Judy Garland. They also performed at Royal Command Performances. They were newspaper entertainment mini celebrities, and headlined as earning £1,000 a year in 1953.
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Creator/producer George Inns combined white dancers with black-faced singers and this was believed to be visually striking, particularly when colour television was introduced in 1967.
No doubt this BBC show would be condemned as terribly politically incorrect in this new and enlightened age with white performers ‘blacked up’, but The Black and White Minstrel Show was incredibly popular in its day (up there with The Good Old Days).
The show does have the distinction, however, of being the first-ever recipient of the Golden Rose of Montreux, an annual international contest for light entertainment that was organised by the Swiss Broadcasting Authority under the patronage of the European Broadcasting Union, in 1961.
Part of the explanation was undoubtedly the pleasure many got from the programme, with its meticulously choreographed dance routines and popular songs and melodies.
The BBC1 TV show was cancelled in 1978 as part of a reduction in variety programming (by this point the blackface element had been reduced), while the stage show continued. A touring version toured continuously from 1960 until 1987, with a second company touring Australia and New Zealand from 1962-65, 1969-1971 and 1978-79. Having left the Victoria Palace Theatre, where the stage show played from 1962 to 1972, a second show toured almost every year to various big city and seaside resort theatres around the UK, including The Futurist in Scarborough, The Winter Gardens in Morecambe, The Festival Theatre in Paignton, The Congress Theatre in Eastbourne and The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. This continued every year until 1989, when a final tour of three Butlins resorts (Minehead, Bognor Regis, and Barry Island) saw the last official Black and White Minstrel Show on stage.
The Black and White Minstrel Show was created by BBC producer George Inns working with George Mitchell. It began as a one-off special in 1957 called The 1957 Television Minstrels featuring the male Mitchell Minstrels (Mitchell was the musical director) and the female Television Toppers dancers. The show was first broadcast on the BBC on 14 June 1958. It was popular and soon developed into a regular 45-minute show on Saturday evening prime time television, featuring a sing-along format with both solo and minstrel pieces (often with extended segueing), some country and western and music derived from other foreign folk cultures. The male Minstrels performed in blackface; the female dancers and other supporting artists did not. The show included “comedy interludes” performed by Leslie Crowther, George Chisholm and Stan Stennett. It was initially produced by George Inns with George Mitchell. The Minstrels’ main soloists were baritone Dai Francis, tenor John Boulter, and bass Tony Mercer. During the nine years that the show was broadcast in black and white, the blackface makeup was actually red, as black did not film as well.
1 History 2 Popularity 3 Racial controversy 4 Post-TV work 5 Cultural impact 6 Soundtrack albums 6.1 The Black and White Minstrel Show 6.1.1 Chart positions 6.2 Another Black and White Minstrel Show 6.
2.1 Chart positions 6.3 On Stage with the George Mitchell Minstrels 6.3.1 Chart positions 6.3.2 Other charted albums 7 References 8 External links
While it started off being broadcast in black and white, the show was one of the very first to be shown in colour on BBC2 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 July 2009, Lenny Henry explained that he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show, telling The Times in 2015 that his appearance on the show led to a profound “wormhole of depression”, and that he regretted his family not intervening to prevent him from continuing in the show.
Reflecting the American Deep South the songs would be about Mammy, The Swanee River or Old Black Joe, but as time went on the performances were seen as derogatory and politically incorrect and in 1978 the show was finally dropped.