The television special Petula, aired in April 1968. A vehicle for popular singer Petula Clark (“Downtown”), the show featured Harry Belafonte as her guest. During one song, Petula touched Belafonte’s arm and this “interracial contact” was considered taboo enough to cause a national controversy to surround the special.
Several takes of the song existed on tape in which Clark didn’t touch Belafonte, but the special was delivered to NBC with the controversial take intact. The moment is very tame, to say the least, to the modern eye. Even at the time Variety ended its review of the special: “… the touching bit which caused such a stir… could only disturb the spiritually sick.”
Petula Producer/Director Steve Binder was interviewed as part of the Archive of American Television’s “Living Television” collection. Watch the excerpt below (his full interview can be accessed here) for his first-hand description of how the Petula controversy unfolded.
Full interview description:
Full two-part oral history interview with acclaimed producer/director Steve Binder. He discusses his work on many notable productions including: “The T.A.M.I Show”, “Petula”, “Elvis: The ‘68 Comeback Special”, “Liza”, “Shields & Yarnell”, “Diana Ross in Central Park”, and many other specials including multiple Emmy Awards shows. Conducted March 4, 2004 by Stephen J. Abramson.