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Black and White Minstrel Show, The (1958-78)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Black and White Minstrel Show, The (1958-78)
BBC1, tx. 14/6/1958-21/7/1978
250+ x 45 min, black & white/colour
CreatorGeorge Inns
ProducersGeorge Inns
 Ernest Maxin
 Brian Whitehouse
ConductorGeorge Mitchell

Performers: Mitchell Minstrels, Television Toppers, Tony Mercer, Dai Francis, John Boulter; Comperes: George Chisholm, Leslie Crowther, Stan Stennett, Don Maclean

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Song and dance from America's Deep South.

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Running for an incredible 20 years, The Black and White Minstrel Show, evolved from the 'Swannee River' type minstrel radio show, developed into a 45-minute television format with non-stop Dixie and Country and Western songs.

The series was devised and produced by George Inns, who had earlier produced Television Minstrels (BBC, tx. 2/11/1957) as part of the National Radio Show. It showcased The Mitchell Minstrels, with music conducted by George Mitchell and the Television Toppers dance troupe. Early series featured comedians like Leslie Crowther and Stan Stennett, who compered the show, filling the interludes between the song and dance routines. Featuring 'blacked-up' white performers, often dressed in garish costumes, the show soon established itself as one of the premier variety shows on British Television.

Looked at from a contemporary perspective, the show is laughable in its underlying racist pretence and its harking back to the old Deep South, and the weekly sight of pretty women serenaded by smiling, obedient black slaves. Yet at the time it was hugely popular. It won the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1961, and consistently commanded audiences of 16 million. Robert Luff's stage adaptation opened in 1969 at the Victoria Palace Theatre and promptly broke all box-office records, earning itself a place in The Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people.

While most viewers ignored the racist context of the show, there was a growing frustration with the representation of Black people on British television, particularly in an increasingly multicultural society. On 18 May 1967, the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination delivered a massive petition to the BBC, requesting that the show be withdrawn for its misrepresentation of Black people. It is some measure of the show's success, as well as the insipid state of British broadcasting, that it remained on air until July 1978 and, in its departure, was more a victim of declining interest in variety programmes than any rejection of its prejudiced portrayals of Black people.

Ali Jaafar

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Video Clips
Complete edition (43:38)
Crowther, Leslie (1933-1996)
TV Variety