Last updated: Sat 23 Jan 2016

Black and White Minstrel Show

Before they became considered politically-incorrect, Black and White Minstrel Shows were hugely popular. Even Nunney had one!

Black and White Minstrel Show

Nunney’s Black and White Minstrel Show

The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British light entertainment show that ran on BBC television from 1958 to 1978 and was a popular stage show.

It was a weekly light entertainment and variety show presenting traditional American minstrel and country songs, as well as show and music hall numbers, usually performed in blackface, and with lavish costumes. The show was created by George Mitchell.

The show was first broadcast on the BBC on 14 June 1958. It began as a one-off special in 1957 called The 1957 Television Minstrels featuring the male Mitchell Minstrels (after George Mitchell, the Musical Director) and the female Television Toppers dancers.

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 show included “comedy interludes”.

During the nine years that the show was broadcast in black and white, the black-face makeup was actually red as black did not film very well.

Black & White Minstrel ShowBy 1964, audiences were regularly exceeding 18 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show which ran for 6,477 performances from 1960 to 1972 and established itself in The Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the largest number of people.

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.

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.

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 failed badly, was cancelled after 10 episodes and The Black and White Minstrel Show returned to win back viewers.

Since its cancellation, The Black and White Minstrel Show has come to be seen more widely as an embarrassment, despite its huge popularity at the time.

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.

Having left the Victoria Palace Theatre, where the stage show played from 1962 to 1972, the show toured almost every year to various big city and seaside resort theatres around the UK. This continued each summer until 1987, 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.

Nunney residents performed their own Black and White Minstrel Show at the village Harvest Supper, held in the Church Rooms in 1967 or 1968.

Black and White Minstrel Show

The cast members in the photo have been identified as:
Front row (left to right): Dorothy Damon-Johns, Jean Burge, Susan Hillier, Shirley Moore, Brenda Lee, Jean Moore, Nora Lestrange

Middle row: Kim Pyper, Gladys Hillier, Isobel Bullus, Dolly Gregory, Sheila Adams or Flora Bolt, Nin Haines, Elsie Hall

Back row: Ken Damon-Johns, Freda Lee, Toni Balentine, Mrs Hill, Phyl Starr, Bill Hall, Janet Price (?), Wilf Carr, Bill Antle, Alice Vince, Owen Hillier, Phyll Smith, Dorothy Scott, Bet Thorne

We thank Sally and Nora Lestrange for helping us identify the people in the picture.

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