Bandleader, composer and creator of the Black and White Minstrel Show (1917 – 2002).
Musician and broadcaster Mitchell attended Southgate County High School in Fox Lane between 1928 and 1933 after his family moved to London from Falkirk. Originally training as an accountant, he joined the army in 1939 where he formed his first choir. His main claim to fame was as creator of the Black and White Minstrel show, which ran for twenty years from 1958 to 1978 . The show – which would go down like a lead balloon now – featured white singers and dancers in blackface singing show standards, music hall and American minstrel and country songs and was one of the most popular on prime time TV in the 60s. When the show was initially screened in black and white, the performer’s faces were actually red – the black make up didn’t film well.
The Black and White Minstrels – acceptable in the 60s
The show won the Golden Rose of Montreux as the best TV show in the world in 1961. The first complaints about racism followed in the late sixties, and a non blackface version of the programme was tried in 1969, to poor audience figures. The final series was also performed without blackface. Mitchell, as arranger and conductor of the orchestra not seen until he bowed at the end of each show, was said to have the ‘most famous back in show business’. After the show’s cancellation on TV in 1978, the minstrels toured provincial theatres and seaside venues for another 10 years. Mitchell was awarded the OBE in 1975, and died in 2002 aged 85
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