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Memories of Tony Mercer and The Minstrels

It was late 1941 and my mother had a spare room so she put her name down at the old Queens Theatre where names of those prepared to accept theatricals was maintained.
And so it was that a touring show called SOLDIERS IN SKIRTS appeared there for one week only and Tony Mercer was given my mother's address and that was how he stayed with us.

I had just returned from being evacuated at Windsor and everyone thought the bombing of London was all finished. But it was just a lull whilst Hitler got busy invading the Soviet Union. Later on the bombing of London resumed. If we were at the cinema or at a theatre we were told that the air raid warning had sounded and it was left to each individual to decide if they wanted to take shelter - or stay where they were. Meanwhile - the show went on !

Tony Mercer took a shine to me but I was just a street urchin of 13 years. He took me to the cinema and chatted with me. In fact during that week we became good pals - unlikely pals, but pals nevertheless. Tony left us after a week to resume touring with his show and I followed his career with the Minstrels with specific interest.

One Saturday afternoon in the 1960s we attended the Crystal Palace Stadium where they were due to play Sheffield United. We liked to have a drink at the bar before the match started and did so on this occasion. But who should be standing there with two friends talking away but Tony! I felt I couldn't miss this opportunity and so approached him and said "I'LL BUY YOU A LARGE COGNAC IF YOU CAN REMEMBER WHO I AM!"

He looked at me this way and that way but then said "NO - THERE IS SOMETHING FAMILIAR ABOUT YOU BUT I AM SORRY - I REALLY CAN'T REMEMBER". So I refreshed his memory re-introduced myself but we only chatted for a short while because the football match was due to start.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to yet another Minstrel when I heard he was coming to a village in Devon near to us. His name is RAYMOND BUDD and he is still going strong - he is the same age as myself - 83 years! We spoke at length about Tony, about how he took the death of his son very badly indeed, and then got mixed up in some very bad investments which lost him a lot of money. We also spoke about the Minstrels and how stupid it was to have to end the show because of some moron(s) who misundertstood about the blacking up process.

In my business I sold confectionery to 1100 shops in the London area and some of these were black people. I made a point of asking their views on the matter and they told me "IT IS VERY SILLY. WE WERE NEVER OFFENDED - IN FACT WE WATCHED THE SHOW OFTEN AND THOUGHT IT WAS AMAZING".

I wonder what would happen if some black men coloured their faces for theatrical purposes to look like white men. Would that be frowned upon too !

Kind regards

David Mitchell
Author of BOY FROM NOWHERE see
www.davidjmitchell.co.uk


David Mitchell’s fascinating recollections of meeting Tony Mercer was most interesting to read because he also referred to meeting another minstrel RAYMOND BUDD.

I too know Ray Budd as he lives in my home town of Wellington Somerset. I interviewed him for a BBC Radio programme I was involved with where he chatted about the magic of the TV show The Black & White Minstrels. He recalled the excitement of live television and the pleasure of working with the stars like Tony Mercer Dai Francis and the tenor John Boulter.

We played extracts from the show and Ray sang for The Roses of Picardy which we mixed with the voice of John Boulter also singing the song.

The station received many letters from listeners saying how much they enjoyed hearing those wonderful minstrels again.

John Burgess


I have just been reading the comments of David Mitchell regarding the Minstrel Tony Mercer.

Earlier I had been listening to a Black and White Minstrel album on Apple music and it had brought back a memory of my junior school days in the late 50s early 60s. I attended Pye Bank School in Pitsmoor, Sheffield. My teacher in those days was very proud of two pupils that had also attended the school.

These were Joe Scarborough, the artist, and Tony Mercer, the Minstrel. David’s description of himself as a street urchin would have made Tony feel at ease with him as Pye Bank was a poor slum area and his fellow pupils would have all come from that background. The slums were demolished around 1960 and a large modern estate took the slums place.

The best thing regarding their meeting at a football match in later days, from my point of view, is that Tony was there to support Sheffield United, a team I have followed since 1959 myself.

Thanks to David for filling in a bit of information that has made Tony an even greater star in my eyes.
RIP Tony.
Up the Blades!

Kind Regards

Shaun Flanagan

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