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Angus Minstrels to say farewell to showbiz after almost 60 years entertaining audiences and raising charity money

The Angus Minstrels
The Angus Minstrels

Members of a Tayside entertainment institution will step out on stage for a final curtain call later this year.

The Angus Minstrels have been entertaining audiences for almost 60 years and raised £600,000 for more than 100 deserving causes.

The group – which started life as the Angus Black and White Minstrels – replicated the popular BBC television programme and had an enviable reputation for spectacular music sets, stunning costumes and memorable song and dance routines.

In 1985 it celebrated its 25th anniversary and received a royal seal of approval in the form of a visit from Princess Anne, who attended one of the performances.

The Minstrels have been proving popular in Arbroath for almost 60 years

The group changed its name in 2005 to move with the times and abandoned the 45-year-old tradition of “blacking up” on stage.

The annual show continued but dwindling crowds and a struggle to attract cast members led to last year’s show being cancelled.

The committee attempted to secure a company for this year’s production but was unable to get sufficient numbers.

Chairman Jamie Watson said the decision was made to announce a final farewell show in November “showcasing the best of the Minstrels over the last 60 years”.

Mr Watson said audiences used to queue around the block throughout the night for tickets in its heyday.

He said: “Unfortunately since the early-2000s the demand for tickets has started to drop and audience numbers have steadily reduced.

“This has had an impact on the level of monies being donated to charity and also the ability to finance the high end shows that the Minstrels are known for.

“The Minstrels are currently at a point where the monies raised are similar to the costs incurred, resulting in donations being reduced.”

The move to end “blacking-up” proved controversial, despite the practice being regarded as a relic of an earlier era by that time.

The Black and White Minstrels in 1991 at Arbroath’s Webster Theatre.

Mr Watson said it followed a request from Angus Council in 2005.

“The council were cautious in their approach and didn’t demand that the make-up be removed but we were reminded who we rented the theatre from,” he said.

“In order to continue, the Minstrels complied with the request and subsequent shows were billed as the Angus Minstrel Show – dropping all references to black and white.

“It was an old format that worked well on national television and has been widely enjoyed by thousands of audience members over the years – including many black people and other ethnic minorities.”

He said the recent drop in numbers could more likely be attributed to audience members literally dying off.

“The average age of the audiences has always been quite high,” he added.

“Link this with the older format of the variety-type show, which really hasn’t changed since the show started in 1960 and I think these would be the two main factors for the loss of audience members.”

The committee is urging past members to participate in the farewell show and interested parties should speak to any committee member, email or contact the society via Facebook.

The performances will run from November 6 until November 9 with tickets being released for general sale in August via the Webster Theatre box office.


Sandy provided the inspiration for the show

It was in 1960 that producer Maggie Moss formed the Angus Black and White Minstrels to raise money for the then Scottish Council for Spastics, which is now Capability Scotland.

The Angus group was given official permission from the producer of the Black and White Minstrel Show to use the name and the act.

Maggie Moss

The committee wrote to George Mitchell who sent them a few musical scores from his shows so that they could be as authentic as possible.

He also arranged to send them a consignment of black stage make-up.

Mrs Moss’s son, Sandy, was born with physical and mental disabilities and she booked the theatre for three nights, but such was the demand that an extra couple of nights were added to the run.

It soon became apparent that the level of funds being raised annually would allow for other charities to benefit.

Consideration was given to anyone who requested funding but priority was always given to charities that focused on the disabled and children.

Sandy sadly suffered from brain damage and died at the age of eight.

However, it was his courage which provided Mrs Moss with the inspiration to ensure the Black and White Minstrels continued performing and raising money for the benefit of children.

In its heyday, tickets the Angus Black and White Minstrels were like gold dust.

Bus-loads would head to Arbroath from all over Scotland to queue up overnight outside the Webster Theatre in the town’s High Street.

The Black And White Minstrel Show was removed from BBC television schedules in 1978 after being accused of racism and ethnic stereotyping.

A touring version toured continuously from 1960 until 1987, before a final tour of three Butlins resorts saw the last official Black and White Minstrel Show on stage in 1989.

The Arbroath show went on to outlive the original BBC series and continued to prove popular despite accusations of being politically incorrect.

Mrs Moss, who was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1989 for her services to charity, died in 2004 just months after the 43rd annual show.

The 2005 production was the first time there were no painted black faces on stage following a change of name to the Angus Minstrels.

The following year the Webster Theatre was closed for refurbishment and the Minstrels went on tour to Forfar.

There was no show in 2007 but the Minstrels opened the refurbished Webster Theatre with a performance in January 2008 and then returned to their normal performance dates in November of the same year.

Over the years the show raised thousands of pounds for various charities, with its donation of £10,500 in 2016 breaking through the £600,000 total presented to more than 100 deserving causes.

The main benefactor these days is CHAS (Children’s Hospices across Scotland).