The Black and White Minstrel Show

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The Black and White Minstrel Show
Black and White Minstrel Show.jpg
Created by George Mitchell
Starring George Chisholm
Stan Stennett
Leslie Crowther
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language English
Production
Production locationsLondon, England
Release
Original network BBC
Picture format4:3
Black and white (1958–1967)
Colour (1967–1978)
Original release14 June 1958 (1958-06-14) 
21 July 1978 (1978-07-21)

The Black and White Minstrel Show was a popular British light entertainment show that ran for twenty years on BBC prime-time television. Beginning in 1958, it was a weekly variety show which presented traditional American minstrel and country songs, as well as show tunes and music hall numbers, lavishly costumed. It was also a successful stage show which ran for ten years from 1962 to 1972 at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London. This was followed by tours of UK seaside resorts, together with Australia and New Zealand.

Contents

History

Minstrel shows had become a long-established feature of British music halls and seaside entertainment since the success of acts such as the Virginia Minstrels in Liverpool in the 1840s and Christy's Minstrels in London in the 1850s. These led directly to numerous British imitators such as Hamilton's Black and White Minstrels in the 1880s and many others, with Uncle Mac's Minstrels becoming such a popular mainstay in Broadstairs from the 1890s to the 1940s, that a plaque was erected to honour their memory. [1] Though any development in the performance of such acts may have ended before the First World war, the "old-time" minstrel theme remained a consistently popular form of entertainment well into the 1950s.

The Black and White Minstrel Show was created by BBC producer George Inns working with George Mitchell. [2] 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 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. [3] During the nine years that the show was broadcast in black and white, the blackface makeup was actually red, as black did not register as well.[ citation needed ]

Prior to the creation of the Television Minstrels Show in 1957 the BBC Television Toppers had performed on air since 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.[ citation needed ]

The BBC Television Toppers were loaned for one day by the BBC under contract and appear in the film The Dam Busters (1955) 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.[ citation needed ]

By 1964, the show was achieving audience figures of 21 million. The Minstrels also had a theatrical show at the Victoria Palace Theatre produced by Robert Luff [4] 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.[ citation needed ] At this time, the creation gained considerable international regard and was sold to over thirty countries;[ citation needed ] 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 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. [5]

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.[ citation needed ]

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 1962, and that the minstrel chorus and dancers would be auditioned and formed in Australia. Mitchell then 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.[ citation needed ]

Opening in Melbourne in 1962, the show secured full houses for all evening and matinee performances, so they were held over.[ citation needed ] This happened in both countries, and every box office record was broken.[ vague ] The show continued for three years,[ citation needed ] and the Australian and New Zealand box office records it set have never been broken.[ dubious ]

EMI Records approached the three lead singers, Harry Currie, Jeff Hudson and Eric Whitley, and asked them to make an LP. Currie, who was asked to produce the LP, felt that since they were touring, the songs should all be from 12 cities in 12 countries. Since there were no songs for Australia, New Zealand and Currie's home country – Canada – he wrote three songs over a weekend to cover those countries, and named the LP "Three Voices Go Places", still advertised on the Internet in 2018.[ not specific enough to verify ][ better source needed ]

While it started off being broadcast in black and white, the show was one of the first to be shown in colour on BBC2 in 1967. Several famous personalities guested on the show, whilst others started their careers there. Comedian Lenny Henry was one such star, being the first black performer to appear on it in 1975. [6] In July 2009, Henry explained that he was contractually obliged to perform and regretted his part in the show, [7] 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. [8]

Racism

Within five years of the show's premiere on UK television, its portrayal of blacked-up characters behaving with stereotypical African-American manners was already being noted for being offensive and racist. After the murder in Alabama in 1963 of 35-year-old white postal worker William Lewis Moore, who marched from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi to protest 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 sang a parody of I Wanna Go Back to Mississippi ("Where the Mississippi mud / Kind of mingles with the blood / Of the niggers that are hanging from the branches of the trees"). [9] accompanied by minstrel singers in blackface ("Mississippi, it's the state you've gotta choose / Where 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 trivialisation of the systemic racism in the Southern American states. [10] [11]

In 1967 the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination presented a petition to the BBC calling for the show to be cancelled. [12] In 1968, the BBC experimented with a version of the show called Masquerade, where the main singers appeared without blackface and the black singers wore whiteface. [13] 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. However, after one series, The Black and White Minstrel Show returned.

Since its cancellation in 1978, The Black and White Minstrel Show has come to be seen widely as an embarrassment, despite its popularity at the time. [14] [15]

Final years

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), [16] 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 to 1965, 1969 to 1971, and 1978 to 1979. 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.

Legacy

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. [17] "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. [18] 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.

Discography

The Black and White Minstrel Show

ChartYearPeak
position
UK Albums Chart [19] 19611
1962
1963
Preceded by
South Pacific by Original Soundtrack
South Pacific by Original Soundtrack
South Pacific by Original Soundtrack
The Shadows by The Shadows
Out of the Shadows by The Shadows
UK Albums Chart number-one album
29 July 1961 – 26 August 1961
2 September 1961 – 9 September 1961
16 September 1961 – 23 September 1961
21 October 1961 – 28 October 1961
29 December 1962 – 12 January 1963
Succeeded by
South Pacific by Original Soundtrack
South Pacific by Original Soundtrack
The Shadows by The Shadows
The Shadows by The Shadows
West Side Story by Original Soundtrack

Another Black and White Minstrel Show

ChartYearPeak
position
UK Albums Chart [20] 19611
1962
Preceded by
21 Today by Cliff Richard
UK Albums Chart number-one album
11 November 1961 – 6 January 1962
Succeeded by
Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley

On Stage with the George Mitchell Minstrels

ChartYearPeak
position
UK Albums Chart [21] 19621
Preceded by
Out of the Shadows by The Shadows
UK Albums Chart number-one album
1 December 1962 – 15 December 1962
Succeeded by
West Side Story by Original Soundtrack

Other albums

TitleYearUK [22]
On Tour with the George Mitchell Minstrels19636
Spotlight on the George Mitchell Minstrels19646
Magic of the Minstrels19659
Here Come the Minstrels196611
Showtime Special196726
The Irving Berlin Songbook196833
The Magic of Christmas197032
The Black and White Minstrels With the Joe Loss Orchestra – 30 Golden Greats197710

Related Research Articles

Blackface Form of theatrical makeup, now recognized as a racist practice

Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used predominantly by non-black performers to portray a caricature of a black person.

Lenny Henry British stand-up comedian

Sir Lenworth George Henry is a British actor, comedian, singer, television presenter and writer. He is known for co-founding the charity Comic Relief, and appearing in TV programmes including children's entertainment show Tiswas, sitcom Chef! and The Magicians for BBC One. He was formerly married to Dawn French. He is currently the Chancellor of Birmingham City University and is acting in the production of the Amazon Prime Lord of the Rings.

Minstrel show 19th-century American style of entertainment involving racist caricatures of black people

The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American form of racist entertainment developed in the early 19th century. Each show consisted of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music performances that depicted people specifically of African descent. The shows were performed by mostly white people in make-up or blackface for the purpose of playing the role of black people. There were also some African-American performers and black-only minstrel groups that formed and toured. Minstrel shows lampooned black people as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, and happy-go-lucky.

George Mitchell, was a Scottish musician, best known for having devised the long-running The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Jennifer Ellison English actress, model and singer

Jennifer Lesley Ellison is an English actress, former glamour model, television personality, dancer and singer. Ellison is perhaps best known for playing Emily Shadwick in the television soap opera Brookside until 2003, and as Meg Giry in the 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera. Ellison also starred on the reality television show Dance Mums the UK version of the American show Dance Moms.

Dan Emmett

Daniel Decatur Emmett was an American songwriter, entertainer, and founder of the first troupe of the blackface minstrel tradition, the Virginia Minstrels. He is most remembered as the creator of the song "Dixie".

Christys Minstrels

Christy's Minstrels, sometimes referred to as the Christy Minstrels, were a blackface group formed by Edwin Pearce Christy, a well-known ballad singer, in 1843, in Buffalo, New York. They were instrumental in the solidification of the minstrel show into a fixed three-act form. The troupe also invented or popularized "the line", the structured grouping that constituted the first act of the standardized three-act minstrel show, with the interlocutor in the middle and "Mr. Tambo" and "Mr. Bones" on the ends.

Thomas Dilward American actor and singer

Thomas Dilverd was said to be of Native American and African American ancestry. His professional name was Japanese Tommy, and he performed in blackface minstrel shows. He was also sometimes billed as "The African 'Tom Thumb'" and the "African Dwarf Tommy".

Sam Hague was a British blackface minstrel dancer and troupe owner. He was a pioneering white owner of a minstrel troupe composed of black members, and the success he saw with this troupe inspired many other white minstrel managers to tour with black companies.

Billy Whitlock American blackface performer and banjo player

William M. Whitlock (1813–1878) was an American blackface performer. He began his career in entertainment doing blackface banjo routines in circuses and dime shows, and by 1843, he was well known in New York City. He is best known for his role in forming the original minstrel show troupe, the Virginia Minstrels.

John W. Cooper

John Walcott Cooper, Jr. was an American ventriloquist, entertainer, and singer with the Southern Jubilee Singers. He was known as the "Black Napoleon of Ventriloquism" and also performed under the pseudonym Hezekiah Jones. Over the course of his lifetime Cooper was a member of the Negro Actors Guild of America, the Colored Vaudeville Benevolent Association, and the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists.

Frank Brower American entertainer

Francis Marion Brower was an American blackface performer active in the mid-19th century. Brower began performing blackface song-and-dance acts in circuses and variety shows when he was 13. He eventually introduced the bones to his act, helping to popularize it as a blackface instrument. Brower teamed with various other performers, forming his longest association with banjoist Dan Emmett beginning in 1841. Brower earned a reputation as a gifted dancer. In 1842, Brower and Emmett moved to New York City. They were out of work by January 1843, when they teamed up with Billy Whitlock and Richard Pelham to form the Virginia Minstrels. The group was the first to perform a full minstrel show as a complete evening's entertainment. Brower pioneered the role of the endman.

John Diamond (dancer)

John Diamond, aka Jack or Johnny, was an Irish-American dancer and blackface minstrel performer. Diamond entered show business at age 17 and soon came to the attention of circus promoter P. T. Barnum. In less than a year, Diamond and Barnum had a falling-out, and Diamond left to perform with other blackface performers. Diamond's dance style merged elements of English, Irish, and African dance. For the most part, he performed in blackface and sang popular minstrel tunes or accompanied a singer or instrumentalist. Diamond's movements emphasized lower-body movements and rapid footwork with little movement above the waist.

Christmas Night with the Stars was a television show broadcast each Christmas night by the BBC from 1958 to 1972. The show was hosted each year by a leading star of BBC TV and featured specially made short seasonal editions of the previous year's most popular BBC sitcoms and light entertainment programs. Most of the variety segments no longer exist in accordance with the BBC's policy of wiping at the time, prevalent into the late 1970s.

G. H. Elliott

George Henry Elliott was a British music hall singer and dancer. Known as "The Chocolate Coloured Coon", he performed with a painted brown face and dressed entirely in white: white top hat, white tail-coat which came down well below the knees, white gloves, white tie or cravat, white trousers, white shoes and white cane.

John Boulter is a British tenor best known for his appearances as a soloist in the BBC's long-running variety series The Black and White Minstrel Show. Along with bass Tony Mercer and baritone Dai Francis, Boulter was one of the show's three front men.

G. H. Chirgwin

G. H. Chirgwin was a British music hall comedian, singer and instrumentalist, billed as "the White-Eyed Kaffir", a black face minstrel act.

Black Vaudeville

Black Vaudeville was based on performances that came out of the movement and style of African Americans. The vaudeville years were the early 1880s until the early 1930s. These acts were unique on the vaudeville scene because the performers brought in different experience that the white performers could not convey. Although African-American performers were mistreated, a Vaudeville gig was better than being a maid or farm worker. Vaudeville had what they called circuits to keep the show business at the time organized. It was difficult for a black performer to be accepted into the white circuit due to the racial issues of the time. Eventually, black circuits were created to give black performers more opportunities. Black Vaudeville made it possible for African Americans to enjoy entertainment through their own heritage.

Williams and Walker Co.

George Walker and Bert Williams were two of the most renowned figures of the minstrel era. However the two did not start their careers together. Walker was born in 1873 in Lawrence, Kansas. His onstage career began at an early age as he toured in black minstrel shows as a child. George Walker became a better known stage performer as he toured the country with a traveling group of minstrels. George Walker was a "dandy", a performer notorious for performing without makeup due to his dark skin. Most vaudeville actors were white at this time and often wore blackface. As Walker and his group traveled the country, Bert Williams was touring with his group, named Martin and Selig’s Mastodon Minstrels. While performing with the Minstrels, African American song-and-dance man George Walker and Bert Williams met in San Francisco in 1893. George Walker married Ada Overton in 1899. Ada Overton Walker was known as one of the first professional African American choreographers. Prior to starring in performances with Walker and Williams, Overton wowed audiences across the country for her 1900 musical performance in the show Son of Ham. After falling ill during the tour of Bandana Land in 1909, George Walker returned to Lawrence, Kansas where he died on January 8, 1911. He was 38.

The Television Toppers, sometimes known as The TV Toppers was a female dance company who performed mostly on BBC TV variety shows but were associated mainly with The Black and White Minstrel Show.

References

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  14. thecustard.tv links and lists • The 100 Greatest TV Moments From Hell (via Internet Archive)
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  20. "The Official Charts Company – George Mitchell Minstrels – Another Black and White Minstrel Show". Official Charts Company . Retrieved 2 June 2011.
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