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Backlash at Lenny Henry’s remarks about the lack of black faces in the festival crowd 

Lenny Henry pictured with Roy Parkinson in The Black And White Minstrel Show

Last year, Sir Lenny said that he was used as a ‘political football’ after appearing on The Black and White Minstrel Show, which was known for its use of white singers and actors donning blackface to perform minstrel songs and which aired on the BBC from 1958 to 1978.

Revealing that he regretted being persuaded by his family and management to work on the show for five years, he told The Times: ‘People used to say Lenny was the only one who didn’t need make-up. 

‘It was half funny once, but to hear that every day for five years was a bit of a p***er.

‘I had become a political football. My way through all of this was to bury my head in the sand and let any controversy wash over me.’

He previously wrote in the Mail: ‘Performing summer and winter seasons with the Minstrels had seemed like a good idea. I needed the work and the money, and there was undoubtedly a lot I could learn, performing in the biggest performance spaces in the country.

‘During my time in the Black And White Minstrels, I honed my craft and performed in the biggest performance spaces in the country. But the Minstrels scenario was, for the most part, a duvet of sadness.’ 

He previously wrote in the Mail: ‘Performing summer and winter seasons with the Minstrels had seemed like a good idea. I needed the work and the money, and there was undoubtedly a lot I could learn, performing in the biggest performance spaces in the country. 

‘During my time in the Black And White Minstrels, I honed my craft and performed in the biggest performance spaces in the country. But the Minstrels scenario was, for the most part, a duvet of sadness.’

He continued: ‘I had no idea what was in store for me, but I should have done more research. Robert Luff was the mastermind behind the record-breaking ten-year London run of The Black And White Minstrel Show, based on the BBC TV show in which blacked-up white male performers sang songs and danced with long-legged dancers in exotic costumes. My job was to do 12 minutes of stand-up in the first half of the show. From the end of 1975 to 1981 I was contractually obliged to appear in the Minstrels show. Apart from short interludes in pantomime, TV and clubland, my life quickly became one of creeping dread. Very similar to how Melania Trump must feel most evenings. 

‘I would arrive at the theatre and know that I would be the only actual black person in the building, perhaps the only one within a 50-mile radius.

‘I had this crazy idea that maybe once he’d realised that I could work any kind of audience, Mr Luff would move me out of the Minstrels and put me in some other show. This was not to be. Mr Luff was tough. I was vaguely aware that there had been some kind of ruckus with the Race Relations Board, and I think my association with the show allowed him to say, ‘How can we be racist? Look – we’ve got Lenny Henry.’

‘I was in a strangely split mental condition for most of the time. On the one hand, I loved the dancers, the singers and the crew, who were kind and nurturing. On the other, I was a 17-year-old black guy performing in a Minstrel show for what seemed like forever. Having begun my journey so triumphantly, I was suddenly in the doldrums, adrift, lost. The dislocation I felt as I walked out, looked at the audience and saw no one resembling me was palpable.

‘Somehow, I managed to supress these feelings. After all, I was contributing to my mother’s housekeeping bills, and I would eventually buy her a house, a phone, a colour TV and the rest. Minstrel money – yaaaay!

‘During my time in the Black And White Minstrels, I honed my craft and performed in the biggest performance spaces in the country. But the Minstrels scenario was, for the most part, a duvet of sadness.

‘Perhaps one of the by-products of the H’Integration Project as originated by my mother was that I was conditioned to fit in by any means necessary. As a child, fitting in, to my mind, meant: ‘Don’t rise to any kind of abuse. Ignore it, just get on with it.’

‘Later on, in the early days of my marriage to Dawn French, a red-top printed a picture of my house on its front page, and as a result the National Front smeared the letters ‘NF’ on my front door in excrement. They also stuffed burning rags through the letterbox and wrote us letters threatening violence. But we ignored this kind of thing.

‘Now, I wish I had stood up to racism more. And in this age of uncertainty, of Grenfell and Yarl’s Wood and stop-and-search, I wonder if turning one’s back is really the answer. 

‘Maybe we shouldn’t walk away any more. Maybe we should stand our ground. As Victoria Wood used to say, ‘Whatever they say, just say something back.’

‘I’m rarely on the receiving end of overt racism these days, but this might be my way forward. The activists’ way. Not seeking out a fight, because I’m rubbish at fighting. But having lived through riots and insults and all the rest – maybe this is the time to stand up and tell people to back off.’

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Read more at DailyMail.co.uk