May 6

This morning I was reminded of a TV programme that I had not thought about for many years. This was a show so politically incorrect, and in such poor taste, that it’s amazing to think it was ever made. In fact, it was one of the most popular shows on British TV, running for 20 years right up until 1978. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Black and White Minstrel Show.

Even if you were fortunate enough never to have seen The Black and White Minstrel Show, you can probably guess what it was about; white performers, in blackface, singing and dancing. Apparently this form of entertainment was very popular in the first half of last century – for white people, anyway. In Britain it was part of the tradition of music hall, and in 1958 it took the logical step to TV screens to become one of the most popular television “variety” programmes of the era.

My memories of The Black and White Minstrel Show are of watching it on Sunday afternoons in the late ’70s. At the time I wasn’t particularly struck by the overtly racist, offensive and stereotypical portrayal of black people – I just thought it was boring as batshit. For an eight-year-old it was absolutely the last resort for televisual entertainment. God only knows what was on the other channels. (Of course, in Newcastle in 1978 if you didn’t like what was on NBN then it was pretty much tough shit.)

By the late ’70s attitudes towards racism were changing and the show was canned. A theatrical production continued, however, right up to 1987, when the shoe polish came off for the last time.

We are fortunate to have a few clips available for viewing – the one below is a delightfully incongruous Brazilian rumba/calypso/opera routine. What the fuck were they thinking?

May 1

“This make you better”. Our guide, Phong, had returned to the table brandishing a plastic bottle filled with clear liquid. “Rice wine. Make you strong”, he said as he poured two full glasses, one each for Rachael and me.

We had just sat down to dinner as guests of a family in the village of Ban Ho, in northern Vietnam. We almost hadn’t made it here. The previous night, in our hotel in Sapa, I had fallen ill with a fever and chills. I was determined, however, that we continue with our pre-arranged home visit, so I had put on a brave face that morning as we met Phong.

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