A village church has removed two ‘deeply offensive’ gravestones inscribed with racist words after fury from Black Lives Matter campaigners.
The two controversial headstones to two music hall singers who performed in blackface during the 1930s were covered up last week at St Margaret’s church in Rottingdean near Brighton.
They were thrown into the spotlight on Radio 4’s Today programme when comedian Harry Enfield defended performing in blackface to play Nelson Mandela, citing 1930s entertainer GH Elliott, who was a minstrel performer known as the ‘Chocolate Coloured C**n.’
The gravestones of singer Alice Banford (left) Music Hall singer GH Elliott (right) have been removed at St Margarets Church in Rottingdean, Sussex
The two controversial headstones to two music hall singers who performed in blackface during the 1930s were covered up last week (pictured) but have now been removed
Elliott was buried with a headstone which reads: ‘The last curtain call for GH Elliott the Chocolate Coloured C**n who passed peacefully away 19 November 1962. Dearly loved R.I.P.’
His headstone stands next to that of a fellow performer Alice Banford, known as Lal Cliff, whose headstone reads: ‘C**n singer and dancer’.
Worried about a backlash, church officials last week took steps to cover and protect them.
The vicar Father Anthony Moore said he found the language ‘deeply offensive’, adding: ‘I am sure that the vast majority of people would agree and would want it changed.’
Now both headstones have been removed and gaps have appeared where they stood for almost 60 years.
Mr Elliott performed on stage in the early 1900s under persona of ‘Chocolate Coloured C**n’
The gravestone of Alice Banford, which reads: ‘C**n singer and dancer’ has also now been removed
In a statement the Diocese of Chichester said: ‘In law, a headstone is the property of the heirs. Efforts will therefore continue to attempt to contact the relatives of GH Elliott – Alice Banford is believed to have no surviving relatives.
‘The Parochial Church Council would like to speak urgently with GH Elliott’s relatives in order to work with them on the re-engraving or the construction of a new headstone which properly commemorates and respects his life but which omits wording that causes hurt and offence in today’s society.’
It is proposed that these new headstones would be introduced into the churchyard once necessary permission is obtained.
Father Anthony said: ‘We are grateful for the patience of residents and are pleased that a way forward is being facilitated with other interested parties to agree an outcome which does not cause public offence but which continues to respect the memory of the deceased.’
Mr Elliott’s grave is situated in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean, Sussex
Elliott, who was born in Rochdale 1882, was a white musical hall singer and dancer, who wore blackface and did a minstrel show in an all-white top hat and tails outfit.
During his long career Elliott, who was born in Rochdale, appeared in three Royal Variety Performances in 1925, 1948 and 1958 and made over 100 records.
He retired in the seaside village of Rottingdean where he lived in a cottage called ‘Silvery Moon’ named after one of his famous songs.
The Lancashire showman who made a career out of blackface after first blacking up at the age of nine
George Henry Elliott was born in November 1882 in Rochdale, Lancashire.
He moved to the United States with his family at the age of four.
A music hall singer and dancer, known as the ‘Chocolate Coloured C**n’ who performed on stage in the early 1900s.
His act would see him wearing a painted black face and he did a minstrel show in an all-white top hat and tails outfit.
Mr Elliott featured in the 1925, 1948 and 1958 Royal Variety Performances.
He made more than 100 records and first used blackface aged just nine.
Mr Elliott was married twice. His first wife Emily Hayes died in 1940 and he then wedded acrobat Florence May Street.
Mr Elliott lived in a cottage called ‘Silvery Moon’ named after one of his famous songs.
Following his death in November 1962, he was buried at St Margaret’s Church in Rottingdean, Sussex, after retiring to the village.
His gravestone in the churchyard was covered in June 2020.
Elliott applying his traditional blackface minstrel show make-up