An East Lancashire group were debated on GB News yesterday when the use of their black face paint was pulled into question.

Bacup-based Britannia Coconut Dancers returned from a two-year hiatus at the end of September prompting some controversy.

On the Colin Brazier show which aired last night (6 October), the ‘Coconutters’ were discussed after Lancashire BME, a group which works to empower black and minority ethnic communities across Lancashire, said there was nothing racist about the group.

On the GB News episode, Colin Brazier said: “A race relations charity has given its support to traditional Morris dancers who black up their faces during performances.

“The Lancashire BME network said there was nothing racist about an English folk tradition dating back to the middle ages.”

Brazier also spoke to John Ellis, part of the Hook Eagle Morris Men, who explained that their group  decided to modify their black face by painting their faces blue.

Lancashire Telegraph: Colin Brazier talking to John Ellis about a Bacup Morris dance group on GB News (Photo: GB News)Colin Brazier talking to John Ellis about a Bacup Morris dance group on GB News (Photo: GB News)

Speaking about the Bacup Britannia Coconut Dancers, John said: “I’m quite happy for them to do it – it’s entirely their decision.

“Gavin and the boys at the Coconuts decided that their tradition was too sacrosanct and they elected to leave on good terms with the Morris trade unions and go their own way.

“They’re in a very fortunate position because their local community supports them to the hilt.”

However, Brazier brought up some controversy surrounding some of the group’s performances in Bacup.

He told John: ”Initially when they turned up at the weekend they were asked by a few people to go away and then they were implored to go back the next day, did a five hour set and were welcomed.

“So there was some division even in Bacup about what they were doing but clearly the majority of people were happy to see them in black face.”

Lancashire Telegraph: The Britannia Coconut Dancers The Britannia Coconut Dancers

At the weekend, the group has sparked controversy, with a number of people emailing Bacup Makers Market to complain about their appearance – which led the organisers to initially cancel the group.

He added that his group’s decision to change their face paint to respect current a social conditions

He explained: “We’ve elected to do [blue face] from May this year just because we want to carry on having fun and not looking over our shoulder looking to be accused of doing something racist.

“The feeling was generally that maybe we should respect the current social conditions and do some changes.

“If the opportunity came to change back to black we probably might and it would be worth considering.

“Now we’re just offending Smurfs, apparently.”

Colin Brazier also discussed the issue with fellow GB News presenter, Andrew Doyle.



Speaking to Mr Doyle, Colin said: “It’s interesting what the Lancashire BME network has come out and said.

“They’ve said ‘we appreciate and get the fact that this is something lost in the midst of time.”

Andrew Doyle added: “It’s very different from the black and white minstrels of the 1960s which was a deliberate caricature of a racial group.

“That’s why there is so much emotion attached to this. When you see that image your mind automatically runs to the black and white minstrel show and these racist tropes.

“What’s interesting to me about this is the general inability to appreciate context.

“This dates back to the 15th century and these were often underpaid workers who are disguising their identity so their boss doesn’t think they’re dancing for extra money.

“There’s a reason why it was there and it wasn’t based on race -that’s the point.”

Andrew added that he also finds Lancahire BME group’s stance “interesting”

He added: “A lot of these kind of things are often middle class white people taking offence on other people’s behalf.

“It’s a knee jerk reaction devoid of context.”

When did the Britannia Coconut Dancer controversy surface?

In 2020, the group “amicably” split from The Morris Ring group after a conflict of interest surrounding the use of full-face black makeup.

At the time, the group issued a statement about their decision to continue to wear the makeup.

They said: “As a team we have discussed the use of black face makeup in great detail and have come to a unanimous decision that this will continue to be part of our unique mining tradition, removing any part of our costume will take away the mystique of who we are.

“The dances were devised by local miners. Since they all had permanently black faces on working days, from the outset it became an essential part of the tradition that they also performed with black faces.

“This tradition has now been maintained continuously for more than a century. It has no connection with ethnicity nor any form of racial prejudice.”

Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph last week (29 September) the secretary of the group, Gavin McNulty, said the group still maintain this stance.

He said: “We will remain completely as we are and as we should.”

Lancashire BME and The Morris Ring group have been approached for comment.

The Britannia Coconut Dancers declined to provide further comment on their decision to use black face paint.

You can watch and listen to GB News via: Freeview 236, Sky HD 515, Virgin Media HD 626, YouView 236, Freesat HD 216, YouTube, mobile, online & radio.