Senior Labour figures warned of racist attacks in the coming days, leaving the BBC with 'blood on its hands'.
Mr Griffin ran the gauntlet of 1,000 angry protesters who had laid siege to the Question Time studio at Television Centre in West London. The 50-year-old, who has a criminal conviction for inciting racial hatred, was loudly booed as he went before the cameras under tight security.
Facing angry heckling, and at times looking shaken, Mr Griffin:
- Repeatedly refused to give his views on the Holocaust, drawing attacks from Jewish members of the audience.
- Claimed that Winston Churchill would have joined the BNP.
- Was branded 'disgusting' by one black member of the audience.
- Was forced to deny he had said that black men 'walk like monkeys'.
- Was laughed at when he admitted meeting Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and claimed the organisation was 'non violent'.
- Was jeered by a lesbian member of the audience who told him: 'The feeling of revulsion is mutual'.
- One Asian member of the audience called for a whip round to pay for him to go and live at the South Pole where he could enjoy a 'colourless landscape'.
Baroness Warsi, the Tory panel member, said: 'If you look at the audience and reaction outside, people are outraged by his views and he has been exposed for what he is.'
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said the evening capped a 'catastrophic week for the BNP'.
They were joined on the panel by Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne and black poet Bonnie Greer. Mr Huhne said Winston Churchill would be 'rolling' in his grave if he could hear Mr Griffin speak today.
Mr Griffin, meanwhile, was smuggled in via a side entrance by up to 40 dark-suited security guards. Inside, he attacked Mr Straw saying his own father was in the RAF in the Second World War, while Mr Straw's was arrested for refusing to fight.
A black man in the audience was cheered when he confronted Mr Griffin. His voice shaking with emotion, the man said: 'For just one minute could you not think of the benefits my parents brought to this country and other parents from an Asian, Indian or Pakistani background have brought? No, all you're thinking of doing is trying to poison politics and poison the minds of people in this country. The vast majority of this audience find what you stand for to be completely disgusting'
Mr Griffin smirked when he was asked whether he denied the Holocaust but refused to answer detailed questions on the issue. Of his previous comments, he said: 'I can't explain why I used to say those things.'
He acknowledged that the BNP had been a 'racist and anti-semitic organisation', but claimed it had changed under his leadership. 'I am not a Nazi and never have been,' he said. He was wearing the poppy he rarely removes. He says he wears it in protest at the poor treatment of soldiers injured in Afghanistan.
Shimal Thakrar, 33, from Edgware in London, said: 'It certainly wasn't as controversial as had been made out beforehand. The guy couldn't stand his ground at all. He contradicted himself throughout. He had no consistency. It was a needed debate. But he's not a politician.'
Mr Thakrar said the audience hissed and booed during the filming and shouted 'Liar' and 'Get out the door,' at Mr Griffin. The BBC had received more than 1,000 complaints ahead of the broadcast.
Senior Labour politicians predicted that black and Asian people would face a violent backlash in the coming days. The BBC insisted it had no choice but to offer an invitation to the BNP following the party's success in the European elections. But critics have accused the corporation of being naive and driven by a desire to boost ratings.
Higher Education Minister David Lammy, one of Britain's first black ministers, said ordinary people from ethnic minority backgrounds would face violence as a result. He added: 'This is a seminal moment for the country. I am very worried about the days that will follow. Many people across the country, black and white, will be appalled that Nick Griffin has been given a platform on the BBC's flagship current affairs programme for his terrible racist views. Many others, a long way from Broadcasting House, will be left very scared.'
However Mr Lammy acknowledged that the mainstream parties had to accept some of the blame for the rise of the BNP.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett criticised the BBC for 'publicity seeking'.
'To spend the first ten minutes of the Six O'Clock News covering their own decision and the consequences of putting the leader of the BNP on Question Time, was a total distortion of news priority and a deliberate promotion of their own publicity-seeking decision,' he said.
BBC Director-General Mark Thompson yesterday defended the decision to offer an invitation to Mr Griffin. Mr Thompson said the Government should change the law if it did not want the party to appear on news and current affairs programme. He said: 'Censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC.'
Note: If you missed the programme, you can watch it and laugh at Griffin here.