Please leave the Minstrels their cork


TV critic Milton Shulman defends The Black and White Minstrels. Yes, it reads exactly as you think it’s going to.

Syndicated to newspapers on 25 May 1967

THE BBC’s decision to pay no attention to a petition asking that the Black and White Minstrel Show be dropped because “it causes much distress to most coloured people” has made some well-meaning people snarl with indignant anger.

What conceivable harm would it do the show, asked a fierce lady on Three After Six [Rediffusion’s post-news magazine programme – Ed], if the men merely washed the black off their faces? Wouldn’t that protect the sensitive souls of a minority group?

The answer, of course, is that it would destroy the Black and White Minstrel Show entirely and substitute something else.

Indeed, the BBC did try to do just that thing with all-white cowboys and cowgirls, directed in much the same manner as the Minstrel Show, and the experiment never caught on.

Take the cork oil their faces and you would have to change the costumes, the choreography, the choice of songs. In other words, you would have a different show.

Ah, and what harm would that do, I can hear the fierce lady asking. No special harm except that something now enjoyed by 13 million viewers would no longer be there to be enjoyed.

But, assuming Sir Hugh Greene bowed to this tiny clamour, what then? Sensitive Pakistanis and Indians would demand that Michael Bentine drop his sing-song jokes about them.

Africans would insist that John Bird never again be allowed to say, “Hello, fans,” when he gives his impression of an African head of state. There would be no Irish, Welsh, Jewish, Scots, American jokes for fear someone might be offended.

But in addition to the undemanding pleasure it gives me, I have always thought that The Black and White Minstrel Show was one of the few programmes on the air that effectively preached and practised racial tolerance.

It is the only programme that regularly shows coloured men — even if only in black make-up – cuddling, cooing, loving and courting white girls.

Not only do they talk of sharing love nests together, making whoopee, having rooms for two and maybe three, and whispering of love so soft and low, but the girls — white girls — quite definitely indicate by their smiles and wiggles and nods that they are actually enjoying it.

I have always thought that this was a programme that white racists might complain about. But never Negroes.

1 thought on “Please leave the Minstrels their cork

  1. Considering Milton Shulman never liked anything, and always criticised everything, it’s even more remarkable that he had no criticism of this programme.

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