On ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’

As a young snob I used to enjoy ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ in an ironic way, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It really was a televisual manifestation, and a direct continuation, of Australian vaudeville, which  reaches right back to the middle of the nineteenth century. Researching Australian spectacular visual culture in the nineteenth century I realized that touring black-face minstrel troops such as the ‘Ethiopian Serenaders’, the ‘Congo Minstrels’ and similar, were a popular and integral part of that Australian theatre tradition from the early 1840s. The racist mocking of Black people was central to the genre everywhere. Early on, black face minstrelsy was a marker of up-to-the-minute international modernity, later it was a marker of nostalgia. For instance I sometimes watched on Channel 2, with my grandmother, the BBC’s ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. It ran until 1978. I didn’t enjoy it as much because it was presented as nostalgia for ‘the good old days’ to an elderly TV audience who would themselves have seen the original music hall and vaudeville shows. For most of ‘Hey Hey’s’ demographically wider audience racist black-face was no longer direct nostalgia, but it still had enough residual power to be part of its weekly ‘familial ritualistic loosening up’, giving permission for younger viewers to go out later in the evening and have a good time, and for older viewers to retire safe in the knowledge that things weren’t changing all that much. This isn’t to excuse the racism of ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’, it’s to put it in its larger historical context.

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