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The Black and White Minstrel Show was a British television series that ran from 1958 until 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 first broadcast on the BBC on June 14, 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" performed by Leslie Crowther, George Chisholm and Stan Stennett. It was initially produced by George Inns with George Mitchell.


Audiences regularly exceeded 18 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show produced by Robert Luff[1] which ran for 6,477 performances from 1960–1972 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 kudos; 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 number ones in the British album chart.

While the show started off being broadcast in (genuine) black-and-white, the show was one of the very first to be moved to colour by the BBC 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 comedian to appear, in 1975.[2] In July 2009, Lenny Henry stated he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show.[3]


The show's premise began to be seen as offensive on account of its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving in a stereotypical manner. A petition against it was received by the BBC in 1967,[4] and since cancellation it has come to be seen more widely as an embarrassment, despite its popularity at the time.[5][6]


The BBC1 TV show was cancelled in 1978 as part of a reduction in variety programming (although by this point the blackface element had been reduced),[7] but 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, including The Futurist in Scarborough, The Festival Hall in Paignton and The Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth. 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.

Cultural impact

"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.[8] In the late 1960s, Masquerade, a "whiteface" version of the show, had been tried, only to lose viewers.[9]


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