The BBC Written Archives

The BBC Written Archives

An interview with Jacquie Kavanagh, BBC Written Archivist

Explore the history of broadcasting and uncover the story behind the programmes with this exclusive tour from Jacquie Kavanagh, the BBC's written archivist.


The Black and White Minstrel Show

Some programmes are obviously very difficult to present these days. Attitudes have changed enormously. Something like The Black and White Minstrel Show was, in its day, extremely popular. It attracted audiences of over 13 million people, but even in 1967 it was causing offence. There was a body called the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, which put up a petition to ask for it to be taken off because "It causes much distress to most coloured people", is what they said. And the BBC is quoted in the press as saying "The corporation has a strict attitude about the presentation of racialism in its programmes and we do not think The Black and White Minstrels offended in this way. The show is not about race. It is traditional, enjoyed by millions for what it offers in the way of good-hearted family entertainment." But even within the BBC, there are people who are not happy with this kind of show and one of them was the chief accountant, a man named Barry Thorne. And he wrote to the then chief assistant to the director general, whose name was Oliver Whitley, and Oliver Whitley writes back and says "Thank you for your memo. Much could be and has been said about this. The best advice that could be given to coloured people by their friends would be, on this issue we can see your point but, in your own best interests, for heaven's sake shut up." In fact, it was another 10 years before it was actually taken off the air.

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