Robert Luff was one of Britain’s most famous light entertainment producers and during the sixties and seventies staged summer shows with stars such as Danny La Rue, Frankie Vaughan and Cilla Black.
His greatest success, however, was the stage version of the Black and White Minstrel Show, which he presented at London’s Victoria Palace for a record-breaking run from 1962-72. The show won a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the stage show seen by the most number of people in the world.
Based on the original TV series, which starred singers such as Dai Francis, John Boulter and Tony Mercer, the stage version also included comedians such as Leslie Crowther, George Martin, Don Maclean and Stan Stennett.
In 1975, Luff controversially signed the up-and-coming black comedian Lenny Henry, a winner on TV’s New Faces, to join a touring version of the show. It was a decision that Henry later regretted.
Although the TV programme was a fixture of Saturday night viewing, it had already run into trouble in 1967 when the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination delivered a petition to the BBC which requested that it be dropped. Despite the furore, the show continued until 1978, after which it was deemed politically incorrect.
For some years, Luff was Henry’s manager and he also represented the comedienne Beryl Reid and dance troupe The Tiller Girls.
Born on July 7, 1914 Robert Luff began his career running his own dance band. He branched out as an agent and in the early thirties formed his own publicity company in London where his clients included Al Bowlly, Carroll Gibbons and his Orchestra and Harry Roy. Later he added stars such as Gracie Fields to his stable.
During the war, he served as an officer in the Gordon Highlanders and on being demobbed he and his business partner, Beryl Evetts, continued to book variety acts and bands as well as radio stars such as Eric Barker and Jon Pertwee. They also signed up George Mitchell, who went on to become the co-creator of The Black and White Minstrel Show.
During the sixties and seventies, Luff was running theatres at Morecambe, Bournemouth, Eastbourne and Blackpool. In 1967, he bought the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough as well as the Royal Hotel Scarborough.
Luff was one of the country’s leading philanthropists and raised enormous sums of money for the St John Ambulance and the Brompton Hospital, London for research into cystic fibrosis. He was appointed CBE for charitable services to medical research in 1995.
He died on February 18, 2009, aged 94. He never married.