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These sad, evocative ruins are all that's left of the great Britannia Music Hall in Glasgow.
They feel like the relics of a vanished civilisation,
mysterious and incomprehensible to us now.
The Britannia was built in 1857 at the height of the British music hall boom
and this stage has hosted performances by some of music hall's greatest names.
Dan Leno, The King's Jester,
described as the funniest man on Earth.
Marie Lloyd, the queen of the halls, notorious for her innuendo
but adored for songs that found laughter in the adversities of working-class life.
And a 16-year-old Stan Laurel,
who made an audience laugh for the first time in this room.
In Victorian Britain, the music hall was ubiquitous.
Every town, every suburb had its version of this space.
The period of their heyday was a time of colossal upheaval in British society,
and the halls were an authentic, creative response to this rapidly-changing world.
A hilarious, absurdist, mocking commentary on the life and times of the people in song and laughter.
Mass entertainment has been my family business for generations,
and I want to trace its evolution back to its earliest roots.
I'll be visiting the venues,
the warm, bright, welcoming spaces that grew out of our pub culture.
Pothouses that became grand palaces,
where even the King came
for a good night out.
I'll be rediscovering the performers and their songs...
# Champagne Charlie is my name... #
..and trying to decipher some Victorian innuendo.
# Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow... #
I just think they must have been absolutely wonderful, and I really wish I could have met some of them.
They sound absolutely great.
I'll be singing the odd verse myself.
# If it wasn't for the houses in between. #
And finding out just who frequented the halls.
A jaunty angle or about there?
Look at that! Absolutely fantastic.
So let's have a look at the story of this wonderful institution.
Its stars, its audiences, the politics behind it,
and just why it tells us so much about the entertainment we enjoy today.
Somewhere in this street, about 100 years ago, my grandparents,
Olga and Isaac, began a new life in two rented rooms above a shoe shop.
They were Jewish refugees from the Ukraine, and settled here in the East End of London -
at that time, indisputably the greatest city on Earth.
Isaac died young and it fell to my Uncle Lou to support the whole family.
He developed an act, dancing the charleston on a tabletop,
and his career in entertainment began.
There must have been hundreds of stories just like his.
A little talent, carefully nurtured, could offer a route out of poverty.
When my Uncle Lou was dancing professionally in the 1930s, he was part of the variety business,
the same business where later I learned my trade as an agent,
and it really was a business.
The slick, well-oiled variety industry had its earliest roots in the music halls,
a largely working-class affair where the main aims were to escape
the harsh conditions of urban life by having a laugh and having a drink.
This great enterprise we call the music hall was born in these London streets
100 years before my Uncle Lou first danced on his tabletop.
Music hall grew out of many different forms of entertainment
popular in the 1830s,
like the pleasure gardens
where Britain's increasingly urban population
enjoyed a taste of the countryside
with refreshments and genteel diversions.
The pleasure gardens behind the Eagle Tavern in the City Road
hosted wrestling matches and circus acts
but also boasted a grand concert room.
There's still an Eagle pub on the site today,
celebrated in the nursery rhyme Pop Goes The Weasel.
The Eagle was later described as the father and mother,
the dry and the wetness of the music hall.
Writer and broadcaster Matthew Sweet sets the scene.
So let's assume that you and I decided we were going to The Eagle for the evening.
I've never been, you're a regular. Tell me what I'm going to see.
-All kinds of stuff really.
Entertainers who purport to be from all over the world.
Probably from down the road, but you never know.
The Giraffe Girl with the extended neck,
-Quang Seely, the young Chinese positionist.
A positionist, a contortionist of some kind who would bend his body into remarkable surprising shapes.
Mr Leach, the dwarf equestrian who would jump around on the back
of a horse and who would impersonate figures of the period
while sitting on the back of his horse.
-Well, singers really. Comic songsters.
Older forms of entertainment are dying away or in some ways being policed out of existence.
Things like cockfighting.
The Eagle was certainly famous enough to come to the attention of Charles Dickens,
and if I could read you a quick reference from Sketches by Boz,
"Never was anything half so splendid.
"There was an orchestra for the singers and everybody was eating and drinking as comfortably as possible.
"Just before the concert commenced,
"Mr Samuel Wilkins ordered two glasses of rum and water
"and two slices of lemon, together with a pint of sherry wine for the ladies
"and some sweet caraway seed biscuits."
Sounds really good, that, doesn't it?
So this wasn't a really rough crowd, this wasn't the dregs of society.
No, no, no. There's a lot of mahogany.
The quality of the panelling is emphasised.
Dickens talks about the plate glass here, and that was a big attraction, too.
It had swinging plate glass doors and they were something that people who came here remarked upon.
It was by no means a dive. It was somewhere very luxurious.
What were the audiences like? Who were they?
This area around here is relatively well-to-do.
If you look at Booth's poverty map of London,
there are some wealthy people living around here.
So the catchment area was quite respectable?
Relatively. One of the things that map reveals
is how rich and poor lived cheek by jowl across the city,
and so in that audience you've also got the people from relatively poorer classes.
The people who were working in this newly industrialised world
all need something to do on their days off, on the statutory holidays.
The Factory Act brought this in.
There's time that you can't spend at work so it means that...
-You've got money in your pocket and time off.
-Enter the music hall, go to the pub.
-What are you going to do?
-There's nothing else to do. How wonderful.
The 1830s saw the rise of a "10 hour movement", campaigning for a shorter working day,
and a series of Factory Acts ensured manual labourers
were guaranteed some leisure time for the first time in history.
The pub became the centre of community life,
but the working man wanted to do more than just drink when he got there.
In the tap rooms and saloon bars, informal glee clubs
began to give the punters an opportunity for a singsong.
These developed into song and supper rooms with professional singers
and proceedings regulated by a chairman.
One such was the cider sellers in Covent Garden,
where one of the world's first one-hit wonders, a newspaper compositor from Glasgow
called WG Ross, sang the grisly Ballad Of Sam Hall.
# My name it is Sam Hall, Samuel Hall... #
This is Peter Sellers recreating Ross's performance in 1970.
# My name it is Sam Hall and I hate you, one and all
# You're a crowd of muckers all
# Blast your eyes! #
Sam Hall told the story of a murderous chimney sweep
contemplating his situation the night before he was taken to the gallows at Tyburn.
# I killed a man, they say,
# And in Newgate jail I lay,
# And the final debt must pay
# Blast your eyes! #
Ross was a massive hit
and his success was due to something more than the ability to sing.
He developed an act built around the character of Sam Hall, and it was artfully done.
His soot-blackened features, his swaggering despair,
the use he made of simple props like the rough wooden chair, his cutty pipe,
and, above all, his bloodcurdling delivery,
packed the house every night.
# So it's up the rope I go While you bastards down below
# Say, "Sam, we told you so!"
# Blast your eyes! #
Singers like Ross owed their success to their familiar routine,
developing a recognisable persona with catchphrases
that the audiences would happily hear again and again.
Another early star was Sam Cowell who was drawing crowds
with an act based on the song Villikins And His Dinah,
a similarly morbid tale of a rich man whose daughter drinks a cup of cold poison
when he tries to force her into an arranged marriage.
Cowell was a fixture at a song and supper room called Evans's,
which advertised itself as being for "steady young men who admire a high class of music".
These young men were establishing the idea of a social life, a very modern concept.
The music they loved was also evolving a modern sound and structure,
but its roots were still very traditional.
I join music hall enthusiasts Michael Kilgarriff and Barry Cryer for a bit of a singsong.
The kind of song really was
I think still very much redolent of the folk song kind of tradition.
For instance, Sam Cowell in 1836, he was singing this one, still well remembered.
# 'Tis of a rich merchant I'm going for to tell
# Who had for a fortune an uncommon nice young girl
# Her name it was Dinah, just 16 years old
# With a very large fortune in silver and gold
# Sing too-ra-li, oo-ra-li, oo-ra-li-a! #
# Too-ra-li, oo-ra-li, oo-ra-li-a! #
-A very sad end, that song, isn't it?
Yeah, but they loved it.
Songs about suicide were hysterical
because everybody died young, it wasn't a great tragedy.
-But all the songs told a story.
-They told a narrative. They told a through story.
They would choose a form of popular music
that seemed very contemporary for them
so Viennese styles, for example, often influenced some of the earlier songs.
One of Harry Clifton's most famous songs, Pretty Polly Perkins, is clearly a waltz.
# Oh, she was as beautiful as a butterfly,
# And as proud as a Queen
# Was pretty little Polly Perkins of Paddington Green... #
Wherever that song went, it would be adapted for another kind of audience.
We tend to think of music hall always with a London focus
but, for example, in Newcastle where they were also very fond of their music hall entertainment,
Polly Perkins became Cushie Butterfield, a very different type of woman.
# Oh, she was a big lass and a bonny lass and she likes her beer
# And I call her Cushie Butterfield and I wish she was here! #
What became very clear to the publicans who ran these early tavern concert rooms
was that offering any kind of entertainment would increase the sales of alcohol.
The comic singers were interspersed with everything from classical recitals to grand opera.
The Eagle even had its own opera company, staging the latest works by Rossini and Bellini.
But there was one area that was forbidden to them.
They were not allowed to stage a play.
Since Charles II, London theatres needed a royal patent
to allow them to present legitimate theatre, and the king only handed out two.
In the 1830s, this was the extent of London's Theatreland.
The Royal Opera House here or the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, as it was known in those days,
and just a few yards down the road, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
Only in these two theatres could you put on a play.
The management of these two places obviously guarded their monopoly very vigorously.
I think I'd have done the same if I'd been them.
London's smaller theatres had been loudly complaining about this injustice for years.
Staging readings or incomplete plays,
they risked a visit from the police
every time they tried some new ruse to get around the legislation.
Finally, in 1843, the Theatres Act abolished the patent system.
Any theatre could now apply for a dramatic licence,
-but they would
-be allowed to sell liquor,
and performances would be closely regulated by the Lord Chamberlain.
Without a licence, there were no regulations at all.
Drinking and eating were permitted in the auditorium,
and as long as they steered clear of anything that might constitute a play,
no-one much minded what was on the stage.
The immediate effect of this Act was to divide the sober and respectable audience for theatre
from the more thirsty types who sought their entertainment in the pub tap rooms.
As drink was integral to the success of these venues,
it didn't take them long to choose.
The term "music hall" was first used in 1848,
when The Grapes tavern in Southwark roofed over their coach yard
and called it the Surrey Music Hall.
The name struck a chord.
The music may have had its rough edges,
but what had previously been the domain of an elite
was available at a price that a working-class audience could afford.
And it was a runaway success.
In the 1850s, a major building boom got under way.
In ten years, the number of music and dancing licences issued by the London magistrates
increased nearly five times.
And by the middle of the decade,
nearly 300 premises were in business.
One of these new music halls has survived,
hidden away in an alley in Stepney.
John Wilton bought the pub The Prince of Denmark in 1850,
and built a concert room in the garden behind.
Wilton's was rediscovered and rescued from demolition by John Earl
when he worked for the London County Council planning department in the 1960s.
This type of hall was always behind a pub.
Originally, the first hall behind the building -
it was a little concert room -
was just the width of the pub. It went across the present room.
And the publican, Wilton, bought the adjoining houses one by one,
until he could use all their back gardens to build the hall we're in now.
So you've very kindly invited me to Wilton's Music Hall in its heyday.
And we come in through the door. What do I see?
You'd come into this room, which is much, much bigger than the pub.
It must have been wonderfully unexpected, the sheer size of it.
And you'd find a room with a flat floor, like a concert hall,
and at one end there would be a concert platform.
There's a chairman sitting at a table with his back to the stage,
and he has a dressing mirror in front of him
so that he can see the acts on the stage,
while at the same time being able to address the audience.
In front of him you've got ranks of tables, dining tables.
And then around the hall, beyond the columns,
and forming a horseshoe right the way round,
there would be a promenade in which people didn't sit at all.
Booze was the essential element. That's what kept the place going.
The earlier music halls didn't even charge for admission.
By this time, they were charging a few pence,
but it was pence that you could - you could present a token at the bar.
It was wet money. And you got a drink to that value. That got you started.
So essentially, selling booze was a really profitable business,
if it could build this?
-How was it lit?
It would be lit by gas,
and in the centre would be a giant chandelier - the sun burner.
It had a huge flue above it, a concentric flue.
It was one flue inside another.
The outer flue got hot, and sucked air up the middle one.
-So the air was continually changing.
-Cos everyone was smoking down there?
Everyone was smoking. Cigars and pipes.
And the blaze of the music hall was a great attraction in itself.
And the warmth - the place was heated.
And for poor people in this area,
walking into a warmed room was really something in itself.
A beautifully comfortable place.
The entertainment would have started in the early evening,
and stretched to midnight and beyond.
One continuous programme, covering a wide variety of performers.
Musical recitals would have been mixed with novelty acts, jugglers and conjurors.
But the star turns were always the comic singers.
# Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.
# 'Ullo John, got a new motor?
# 'Ullo John, got a new motor?... #
-much about comedy that's timeless.
What I was doing, even though I was talking about drugs,
and politics, and surrealism, and so on and so forth.
Really, technically speaking, I was the same
as any music hall comedian.
I never actually thought about creating a persona for myself,
but I think I just did it kind of naturally.
When I started performing at the Comedy Store,
I wore a leather jacket and chinos.
And my hair wasn't that short.
But very quickly, I started going on stage, and it was matching.
Cos it was during the kind-of two-tone revival.
I wore this kind of silk suit that I bought in an Oxfam shop.
And something happened.
I think partly because I'd started making money as a comic, I got fat very quickly!
And the suit got really tight.
# Things can't get a lot better... #
One of the things I was very keen on was that kind of cabaret thing.
And that took place in venues where drink was served.
# Ah, cheers, thanks a lot!
# Oh, nice one, yeah
# All right, what you having? #
In the music hall... Of course, the music halls were
in a way that a variety wasn't, that alcohol was central to the music hall.
-Central to the economics!
The clubs that grew out of the alternative comedy movement in the 1980s
are the closest thing we have today
to the atmosphere of the original music halls.
The acts on the stage competed with a very mobile audience,
promenading, eating, drinking
and having a good time amongst themselves.
This is the Banana Comedy Club in Balham, South London,
where I met a professor of stand-up comedy.
Imagine explaining Eric Morecambe to somebody who's never seen him.
It's all in the looks, the connection with the audience.
The further back you go, the harder it is to get what they were doing.
And you get to early performers like WG Ross,
and it's so tantalising.
You have the accounts. You have photos and, in some cases, drawings.
You have music. But we can't know what they were actually like. What we do know
is that they must have been very gripping, magnetic performers.
The success of these performers seems to have relied
on getting a balance between the singing and the patter.
Any form of popular entertainment which is defined by the effect you have on the audience...
anything you can do to involve them is good.
If they join in with the chorus, that's brilliant.
If they go away singing your song, they're advertising your wares, for future shows.
In a way, music hall is the ancestor of both pop music
and stand-up comedy.
And there were some that veered more towards the songs.
The songs were important, and people would sing along while they performed them.
For others, it was about the comedy.
But essentially, they started with comic songs, character songs.
And they would develop a little bit of patter in between.
It's a bit like what happened in the folk clubs in the '70s
with people like Billy Connolly, and Mike Harding, and Jasper Carrott,
in that they started as singers,
and then gradually the talking, the funnies, between the songs,
became more important.
It's a particular kind of performance, where what you're trying to do
is grab hold of an audience. You're playing straight out to them.
And if you don't do it properly, you know, you're going to come unstuck.
Because in the music hall, if you read accounts of audience behaviour, they didn't sit there politely.
Some audiences were less polite than others, though.
# I belong to Glasgow
# Dear old Glasgow town... #
The Glasgow Britannia
was one of the city's most popular halls in its Victorian heyday.
But it closed in 1938, and quietly began to fall apart.
# But when I get a couple of drinks on a Saturday
# Glasgow belongs to me... #
In London, the acts may have been booed and hissed from time to time,
but a Glasgow audience
showed its appreciation in a more tangible form.
Leading the efforts to bring this venerable old hall back to life is Judith Bowers.
I mean, they always talk about a Glasgow audience
as being the toughest audience.
And in fact, they actually say, in Glasgow,
they left no turn un-stoned!
You know. And it's absolutely true. They were wild.
They were really the people that lived and worked in this area.
The poorest of the poor, working in factories, the mills, the shipyards.
And they were coming in here to blow off steam.
One third of the audience were boys aged between 9 and 13.
What were they doing there?
Well, they would come in here for their sport, really.
And they sat in the front of the balcony,
against the proscenium arch there.
And in that area, they left graffiti,
carved into the woodwork at the front.
And we've found things like lots of marbles,
bits of penny whistle, bits of tin whistle.
And we think the reason they liked the front of the balcony
is because it over-hung the apron in front of the stage.
And from there, they could wee over the edge
and hit the comic on the apron.
And of course, the boys that couldn't get into the front of the balcony
would position themselves around the back.
And from there, they could throw horse manure.
You could shove it in your pockets before coming in,
and keep your hands warm. Cos it generates its own heat.
The ladies allegedly used to bring in their own ammunition,
which was also free and readily available.
And that was the fish heads and fish guts from the fish market.
So to survive, the artists themselves -
-it was a battle for survival on the stage.
-It was. You had to be good.
So, in amongst the debris when you came here,
you found all kinds of clues.
We identify where people sat in the building
through what they've left behind.
We've got a few little buttons here.
-These are fly buttons?
-These are fly buttons, yeah.
So people were either having a pee, or doing something...
Or doing something naughty.
And judging by the fact these were all found along with a business card
for Dr Temple, "for diseases peculiar to men"
I'll leave you to make your own mind up!
The connection between theatres and prostitution was an ancient one,
and the music halls were particularly popular
with a better class of predatory young men, known as mashers, on the hunt for prostitutes.
Rather half-hearted efforts were made to curb the trade,
but it thrived nonetheless.
The mashers. Tell us who the mashers were.
-Well, they were more your toffs, you know.
-The toffs did come?
Yeah, the toffs did come here to slum it.
Were the mashers coming for the entertainment,
or for the prostitutes?
Both. Bit of both, I think.
-Prostitutes would ply their wares in and around, inside.
-Then where would they complete the transaction, as it were?
-Probably where they were.
There was plenty of distraction going on for the rest of the audience.
And there were 1,500 people shoved in this small space. So, you know -
you could probably get away with a lot up there and nobody would notice.
And don't forget the fact that smoking
was notoriously bad in this building.
The smoke was so thick the audience complained they couldn't see the act on stage.
# But when I get a couple of drinks on a Saturday,
# Glasgow belongs to me! #
A visit to the Glasgow Britannia was probably
as disreputable an experience as a music hall could provide.
The Victorian reformers deplored the failure of the halls
to achieve their great objective to improve the lower orders.
"We were told," moaned one newspaper,
"that many people who now spend the hours of the night
"in dissolute indulgence at the public houses
"would in time be weaned from their evil doings."
"Those who attended the halls," complained another,
"were like the biblical sinners
"who would rather be drowned than get up and walk into the ark."
But though it seemed an impossible goal,
respectability WAS coming to the music hall.
In Victorian times, this narrow lane just south of the River Thames
was a marshy neighbourhood of slum housing,
criss-crossed by railway lines leading in to the new Waterloo Station.
Right here, under these Eurostar rail tracks, is the site
of probably the most important building in the whole of our story -
the Canterbury Music Hall.
In 1849, The Canterbury was a modest pub with a skittle alley.
It changed hands that year, and its new owner
immediately set about an ambitious programme of improvements.
The word "impresario" was the Italian word to describe people who managed opera companies.
But about this time, the meaning broadened to include anybody
who invested in the music hall or in show business.
The word perfectly describes the man who built the Canterbury,
It was Morton who grasped the potential of the halls like no-one else.
He had seen the runaway business being done in the East End,
but he instinctively recognised the need to package this phenomenon for a wider audience.
He wanted to cleanse music hall of its unsavoury reputation,
and make it safe for the middle classes.
To begin with, he seemed to be following a well-worn path.
This area was not obviously any more appealing
than the East End slums.
But Morton gained a London-wide reputation for the Canterbury
by paying top rates to attract
the very best vocal and comic talents to his hall
in the unlikely setting of Lambeth Marsh.
The location was close enough to the West End
to draw in new audiences.
And once you were inside The Canterbury,
you knew you were in a different kind of establishment.
Morton didn't stint on the decoration.
It was a full-blown visual feast,
with all the lavish ornamentation
we've come to associate with the Victorians.
Rather more functional, but equally impressive,
are the store rooms of the Victoria and Albert Museum in West London.
Cathy, what are you pulling out for us from these treasures?
This is our earliest box on the Canterbury Music Hall.
Morton's great enterprise,
which really kicked everything off because he did so well.
And everybody else wanted to imitate him.
-The great man himself.
-Look at those whiskers!
He's got a kind face, hasn't he?
He began to see the value in a little bit of respectability.
Oh, yes, absolutely, because they weren't very respectable places.
But the very innovative thing that Morton did
was to have evenings for women because he realised that women were excluded.
It certainly worked. So from Ladies' Thursdays,
there were then two ladies evenings until ladies could be there
all the time, as is absolutely right and proper.
-With greater respectability came greater profitability.
And the other thing he did was to have an art gallery there.
I mean, how respectable are we becoming now?
Morton actually had his own collection of paintings
-by ancient and modern masters.
-Were they ancient and modern masters?
-Anybody we've heard of?
-No, they were. Gainsborough. Hogarth.
Whoever bought this programme has annotated it with comments.
-"Good idea," it says.
-And this one says "ugly, especially..."
-"Especially the women."
Morton's idea of picture galleries wasn't tokenism.
-They were a genuine attraction.
Of course, this is only 30 years after the National Gallery opened in London as well.
So Morton is being very grandiose in having his own gallery.
And on the back you will see the Royal Academy over the Water, Canterbury Hall, Westminster Road.
"Suppers, etc, until 12 o'clock." Oh, we've got the menu here.
That's wonderful. "The one shilling supper."
What have we got for dinner tonight, lads?
Cold roast beef, boiled fowl and bacon, haricot mutton, kidneys.
Boiled cod and egg sauce. Eugh! It must have been a heck of a kitchen they were running.
What treasure are we going to find underneath here? What's this?
-Canterbury Hall. Verdi opera, Macbeth, every evening.
-You see, improving.
-Nice and bloodthirsty, though!
-What's this? July 1st, can you read that? 18...
"Not the least remarkable sign of the spread of a taste for music in England
"is to be found in the rapid growth of music halls for the people."
-Here we are, this is a whole...
-"Sprung from the concerts at supper taverns,
"the music halls have provided a purer class of entertainment
"which are nightly resorted to by mechanics and their wives
"and by the middle classes,
"who find provided for them the most excellent programmes
"with artists fully competent to do justice to them."
Morton was making a fortune and his next step was to move into the West End.
The Oxford Music Hall, a larger and grander version of the Canterbury,
opened here on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road in 1861.
Morton's successful business model was quickly copied by others.
This is Weston's in Holborn, operating on very similar lines.
Morton's practice of paying premium rates for the top performers
saw them start to earn sizeable salaries
and we begin to see the birth of a modern star system.
One of the first to benefit from this development was George Leybourne,
better known today by the name of his most famous song,
Chris Beeching has written a biography of George
and also performs a one-man Leybourne tribute act
which includes a more authentic version of the great man's nose.
When he was put under contract with the Canterbury,
George could actually earn £120 a week.
The people in the gallery he was playing to,
-they were earning £20 a year.
The mainstay of Leybourne's act was the satirical portrayal of the upper-class young man about town,
frequently seen slumming it in the audience at the music hall.
# As you may suppose When you look at my clothes
# I'm prince of all nautical swells
# And the fellas I meet... #
They were known colloquially as dudes, mashers and toffs,
or most commonly, swells.
# The fellas look upon me with a jealous eye
# The ladies all adore me as they saunter by
# They titter and they blush Then after me they rush
# For heaviest of heavy seaside swells am I. #
I think he latched onto the upper-class chappies.
-These Piccadilly weepers, right.
-Is that what they're called?
They're called Piccadilly weepers and this is a Piccadilly window.
These had become awfully popular, tremendously popular.
Decked out in a full set of Piccadilly weepers,
it was Champagne Charlie that launched Leybourne into the big-time.
-Did he write Champagne Charlie?
-Yes, he wrote the words.
He was quite clever at playing a naughty double game on songs.
There's the PRFG game. It's private rooms for gentlemen,
which were the rooms hired by the hour.
# The thing I most excel in is the PRFG game
# A noise all night, in bed all day
# And swimming in champagne
# For Champagne Charlie is my name
# Champagne Charlie is my name... #
'He had wonderful long legs as well.
'Women fainted at his legs, the length of his legs.
# Champagne Charlie is my name
# Good for any game at night, boys
# Come and join me... #
According to the song lyric,
Moet was Charlie's favourite brand of bubbly.
And Leybourne was rumoured to be paid by the firm to push their wares
and live a champagne lifestyle offstage as well.
A rivalry developed with another comic singer
known as The Great Vance, who promoted Clicquot in similar terms.
-What we have here is the birth of celebrity endorsement.
-And a brand war. We've got Clicquot versus Moet.
-Vance versus Leybourne.
Now, you're going to have the unenviable task of turning me into a toff.
If I bend this, I'm sure you'll be able to iron it flat afterwards.
-I have a man that sees to that.
-Oh, really? Of course you do.
-Of course. Of course. Put the cravat on.
-Is that Victorian Velcro?
-There we are, Michael.
-There we go. Hope it fits. Nice material.
-Yes, very nice.
-I had a sofa like this. A three-piece suite, actually.
-Really? How lovely. A frock coat.
-This is what the toffs wore, is it?
-I like this.
-It looks splendid.
-And here is your crowning glory, the hat.
-A jaunty angle? Or about there? What do you think?
Look at this. The heaviest of swells.
Fantastic! Look at that. Absolutely fantastic.
Leybourne became a particular target of the highbrow press,
who deplored the direction the music halls were taking.
"A man appears on the platform dressed in outlandish clothes
"and ornamented with whiskers of ferocious length and hideous hue,
"who proceeds to sing verse after verse of pointless twaddle,"
wrote one reviewer.
"The female performers were even more maddening," he added.
# Mother told me that I should
# Do my utmost to be good. #
Mother's Advice was typical of the mildly suggestive material
that played on Victorian fears of moral turpitude.
# Mother said whate'er you do
# Don't let boys climb trees with you
# I'm glad I took my mother's advice
# Mother's advice, mother's advice
# They don't climb trees with me Oh, no
# They help me up and wait below. #
But the most successful women performers developed a very sophisticated humour,
based on the day-to-day preoccupations of their audience.
Drink, marriage, money worries, the seaside holiday, the lodger.
And that great concern in Victorian Britain, their social status.
Bessie Bellwood, one of the most rumbustious of all the music hall styles.
She had a song called What Cheer 'Ria
and the idea was that she had a vegetable stall and she'd had a particularly good week
so she decides to treat herself in the music hall.
Instead of going up into the gallery with her chums,
she splashes out on a seat in the stalls right by the chairman.
It has a very lengthy verse where she explains who she is,
sets the narrative in motion.
# I am a girl what's doing very well in the vegetable line
# And as I'd saved a bob or two I thought I'd cut to shine. #
And then she explains that she goes and buys some toggery,
these here the very clothes that you see,
and with a shilling that she's got from selling her vegetables,
she decides to go and sit in the stalls of the music hall.
And of course her chums see her and they give her the rouse,
something like this.
# What cheer, 'Ria! 'Ria's on the job
# What cheer, 'Ria! Did you speculate a bob?
# 'Ria, she's a toff And she looks immensikoff
# And they all shouted What cheer, 'Ria! #
Her friends now decide they're going to play some tricks.
So they throw an orange down, which lands in some beer,
it shoots up, goes over her dress.
She ends up rushing out.
A man with a false leg stuck his leg out
and she tripped over the false leg so lands smack on her face. Total ignominy.
So she explains in some spoken patter to this song that they went and fetched the chucker out.
And he said, "Come on, 'Ria, you've been kicking up a pretty fuss.
"Come on outside." I said, "Shan't, shan't, shan't!"
Almost like a Barbara Windsor moment.
The moral of the song really is, well, know your place.
She had no place being downstairs.
Even if you've got the money, you don't belong there.
Bessie Bellwood began her career as a rabbit skinner
working in The Cup near Waterloo Station.
This seems to have been an ideal preparation for life on the music hall stage.
She reacted aggressively to insults, real or imagined.
Once, she was arrested in the Tottenham Court Road
for knocking flat a cab man who she felt had slighted her gentleman friend.
Her most notorious talent, though, was for dealing with hecklers.
Jerome K Jerome describes seeing her in action.
"At the end, she gathered herself together for one supreme effort
"and hurled at him an insult so bitter with scorn
"that strongmen drew and held their breath while it passed over them,
"and women hid their faces and shivered.
"Then she folded her arms and stood silent
"and the house, from floor-to-ceiling, rose and cheered her
"until there was no more breath left in its lungs."
-She must have been a hell of a performer.
-She sounds brilliant.
-A woman after your own heart.
-Big-time! Yeah, absolutely.
When you are in a comedy club and they're all drunk
and shouting abuse at you, as a woman,
what comes back to you is previous occurrences
where that's happened to you
and you were helpless and you couldn't do anything.
So that anger sort of wells up again, a bit, and you sort of think,
"How dare they?"
But here I am now, I've got the chance to answer them back.
I'm sure you think you've had it tough with some audiences today,
but you've had the advantage of technology.
In the days of the music hall, no microphone and the whole place was one light.
-They could see them all.
-Is it good to be able to see the heckler?
Well, it's good to the extent that if you can see them,
you can pick on some physical attribute they've got.
-Or lack of attribute.
-Or lack of attributes, that's right.
Erm, on the other hand, as a performer, it's not great generally.
I prefer to not see the audience because when you can see them,
they somehow become more sort of human to you
and you actually want to be able to be nasty to them
if they're nasty to you.
I find it quite hard if you can see them.
And every comedian that I know lives in fear of being destroyed by a heckler.
The thing about audiences is as a group I think they're not a kind group of people.
If you start to falter or look like you're struggling,
they don't buoy you up with their love. They want to kill you.
So, you know, once you're struggling,
you're really in trouble because then, the room drops away,
the atmosphere changes and you can see them all sitting there,
you know, saying, "What are you going to do about it?
"Come on, dance, monkey, dance."
Reading the accounts of the time, it seems to me that the women who succeeded
became known as seriocomics.
In other words, their songs, their patter,
was drawn from life experience.
I think that's the difference between men and women, in some ways,
not just in comedy, but generally.
I think women use their own personal experience much more.
They're much more cooperative with each other, they talk about their troubles,
whereas men feel that they can't tell everyone.
So men will sort of tend to talk about more objective, external things in their life
whereas women will use their own personal experience,
either they've been let down by a bloke or their marriage has gone wrong.
I just think that's a natural way for women to communicate
so the push must have been so much harder to make for them
and I think they must have been absolutely wonderful
and I just really wish I could have met some of them, they sound absolutely great.
In 1861, the year that Morton built the Oxford,
the magnificent Alhambra opened its doors.
# Give my regards to Leicester Square... #
It stood on the site now occupied
by the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square.
Seriocomic singers were not the only female attractions here.
In keeping with its enthusiasm for opera and picture galleries,
the music hall was about to come to the rescue of another great cultural institution.
I met John Earl again on the site where the Alhambra had stood.
One of the most exciting things about this period,
to me at least,
is the fact that music halls became the home of the ballet.
Any music hall that was large enough to have a stage
would mount ballets of some sort, and at the Alhambra,
they were particularly spectacular.
-The ballet had been pretty well ditched by the Royal Opera House...
-..and Her Majesty's.
This is not the elite ballet for the upper classes.
It was called, at the time, "ballet for the million",
and I think that's a very good description.
And ballet for the million meant lovely legs.
Most of the ballets that were performed at this sort of music hall are now forgotten
because they were ephemeral, but that doesn't mean they were rubbish.
-I've put a cutting in here. This is an illustration...
-That is gorgeous.
It's a huge set, for one thing, and a very expert set, too.
We had some of the best scene painters in the world in London.
-We still do.
-We still do, yes. It's the sheer size of that set.
-Huge, huge production.
-And the number of people on the stage.
The music hall had kept the ballet alive.
When the Russian Ballet arrived, they were astonished to find a ballet audience in London.
The music hall seemed able to absorb and adapt any form of entertainment
and produce their own unique version for mass consumption.
In the 1870s, they even became something of a political debating chamber.
The popularity of the music halls at all levels of Victorian society
meant that they offered a real barometer of national opinion
on the important matters of the day.
The tone of the halls was conservative,
with a small C and a large C.
They were working-class Tories, like me.
The leader of the Conservative Party, Benjamin Disraeli,
was enjoying a period of popular support from the working classes
for legislation which restricted the amount of time they could spend at work.
Gladstone's Liberal Party, on the other hand, were distrusted
for trying to restrict the amount of time they could spend in the pub.
The British drinking man hated to be lectured on his refreshments.
Gladstone was seen as a killjoy, and Disraeli became their hero.
Music hall audiences were also fiercely patriotic,
and Disraeli scored again in 1877
when he took a very strong line on Russian imperialism in the Balkans.
The Russian declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire
became known as the Eastern Crisis,
and polarised public opinion for and against British intervention.
In the library of The Garrick Club,
there is a complete set of the theatrical newspaper The Era,
which widely reported these events.
To the great surprise of the establishment,
this debate got an airing on the stage of the music halls.
Historian Michael Diamond has dug out a few cuttings.
In the 1870s, the first great period
of political agitation on the music halls broke out.
Britain must be strong. Disraeli was pro-Turkish,
Gladstone was against the Turks and for the Russians,
and this really whipped up the music halls into a frenzy,
so you got, above all, one of the most famous music hall songs of all,
"We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
"we've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money, too."
# We don't want to fight But by jingo if we do
# We've got the men We've got the ships
# And got the money too
# We've fought the Bear before
# And while we're Britons true
# The Russians shall not have Constantinople. #
The end of that song is a little weak, isn't it?!
It doesn't rhyme, of course, but trying to find a rhyme
for Constantinople is probably a lost cause!
This unleashed a whole succession of songs of this kind
about the Russian bear, the turkey,
the Russian bear wanted to eat the turkey,
the British lion stopped the Russian bear from eating the turkey.
Then you've got the French cock
and the Austrian and German eagles thrown in,
and there's a sort of zoological subsection of music hall song
-which was incredibly popular.
-But politically driven?
And politically driven, and it's worth remembering that, of course,
a lot of the people who went to music halls didn't have the vote,
and at the next election after this furore,
Disraelian Conservatives lost.
The music halls would've liked to have thought
that the politicians were hanging on their every word.
Actually, the class system in the country didn't mean that they took much notice.
By the 1880s, music halls were part of the very fabric of Victorian life,
and if you lived in urban Britain at this time,
you wouldn't have had to walk very far to visit one.
A Parliamentary report in 1888 noted that London had 50 theatres,
35 concert halls, and 473 music halls.
But there was a risk associated with an evening out at the halls - fire.
Morton suffered more than most.
The Oxford went up in flames in February 1868,
and its replacement met the same fate only four years later.
The Alhambra, which he also managed, burnt down in December 1882.
The final straw was the fire at the Theatre Royal in Exeter,
in which 190 people died.
Legislation followed, and over 200 halls were closed down
as they failed to obtain the necessary certificate of suitability.
Those that survived underwent profound changes.
The City Varieties in Leeds is undergoing a major restoration at present,
but it's a good place to see how the new building regulations
altered the experience of visiting a music hall.
Dave Wilmore is a theatre historian working on the project.
If you look at the built record of music halls and theatres
in the 19th century, I think the average life of the theatre,
the expectancy of it, is about 15 years.
That's either because you want to rebuild it and make it bigger
because it's a commercial success, or, more likely, it burns down,
which just tells you how fantastic it is that this is a survivor.
Originally, it was this flat-floored music hall with tables, loose chairs...
-Lots of booze?
-Lots of booze, lots of activity.
-Bar at the back?
Yeah, probably not even licensed to a capacity.
If people turned up, they'd sell a ticket and let them in.
-No health and safety?
-Not really, not at all.
Loose seating was clearly dangerous.
In the event of panic, people run and the loose seats get knocked over.
So you go from a free-for-all
to rows of formal seats as we understand the theatre today?
Indeed, and I suppose if you're wearing your commercial hat,
you can probably get more people in
than having a more laissez-faire seating arrangement
around little circular tables.
Between 1953 and 1983, this theatre was the home of The Good Old Days,
a series which recreated the atmosphere of the music halls.
It was chaired in a very personal style by Leonard Sachs.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, born in Leeds...
..now illustrious London luminary,
Mr Barry Cryer!
# My girl's a Yorkshire girl
# Yorkshire through and through... #
This notion of the chairman,
the Leonard Sachs character in The Good Old Days, was that for real?
Absolutely, there was a chairman.
In the early days he was probably the licensee,
and then at some point later, the licensee becomes less important
and at that point I think the chairman starts to become less of a character,
then you start to find that, with the fixing down of the seating,
the whole feeling of the performance changes.
And we have the changing in lighting conditions in the auditorium.
Here, you would've had the transition from gas, in the early days, to electricity,
and you can control electricity much easier than you can gas.
It does allow you to introduce the concept of blackouts in performance.
Almost overnight, the whole atmosphere of the halls changed.
The brightly-lit room with its loose tables and chairs
was replaced by fixed seating in a darkened auditorium.
The theatre and the music hall,
who had gone their separate ways after the Theatres Act in 1843,
found their paths converging some 40 years later.
But none of these changes had any effect
on the popularity of the entertainment on offer.
The music halls held up a mirror to their audience,
reflecting a comical, sentimental vision of their own working lives.
The Cockney coster became a regular turn in the 1880s.
A costermonger was an itinerant fruit and veg seller,
a romantic working-class stereotype that could be admired by all.
The most successful costers had questionable qualifications as Cockneys.
One of the first was The Great Vance, whose Costermonger Joe
disguised his former profession as a solicitor's clerk.
Or Albert Chevalier, who was dubbed the costers' laureate,
even though he was born on the Royal Crescent in Notting Hill.
A more authentic model was Gus Elen, formerly an egg packer
who had a massive hit with If It Wasn't For The 'Ouses In Between.
It was supposed to be a parody on the '90s middle classes' mania for gardens,
trying to ape the upper classes, I suppose, with their estates,
and this is a song about a Cockney who presumably had a barrow.
He didn't have a garden, he had a backyard.
# If you saw my little backyard "Wot a pretty spot," you'd cry
# It's a picture on a sunny summer day
# With the turnip tops and cabbages wot people doesn't buy
# On a Sunday market I make 'em look all gay
# The neighbours finks I grows 'em And you'd fancy you're in Kent
# Or in Epsom if you gaze into the mews
# It's a wonder as the landlord doesn't want to raise the rent
# Because we've got such nobby distant vie-e-ews
# Oh, it really is a wery pretty garden
ALL SING TOGETHER: # And Chingford to the eastward could be seen
# With a ladder and some glasses
# You could see to 'Ackney Marshes
# If it wasn't for the 'ouses in between. #
-Gus Elen, yes.
-Good lyric, isn't it?
The coster was just one amongst a gallery
of familiar stock characters that appeared on every bill.
Irish and Scottish acts were particularly popular.
We're going to go Roamin' In The Gloamin' by the bonnie banks of Clyde.
Harry Lauder became the most famous Scotsman in the world,
singing his own compositions like Roamin' In The Gloamin'.
# I've seen lots of bonnie lassies Travellin' far and wide
# But my heart is centred now On bonnie Kate McBride... #
Lauder, a former miner, was often criticised in Scotland
as a crude caricature of a Scot,
and the stereotypical tight-fisted Scotsman
may owe a great deal to Lauder's stage act.
# Roamin' in the gloamin'
# On the bonnie banks o' Clyde... #
In his early days, he was just as likely to perform as an Irishman.
English audiences, unfamiliar with the nuances of the accent,
seemed just as happy either way.
# Oh, it's lovely roamin' in the gloamin'! #
You have to start with the stereotype,
with a character that everybody will recognise.
You've only got a very short time, a turn, well...seven minutes?
You can't build up some character from nowhere.
You can't come on and have people think,
"Oh, what might this be meant to represent?"
That's not going to work, so you come on
dressed as a stage Irishman with a shillelagh and a crushed hat
and collapsing corduroy trousers, and they know who you are.
The biggest stars of music hall were by now becoming household names,
better known than the Prime Minister, and usually more popular.
David Drummond, who runs a small shop just off Charing Cross Road,
has a treasure trove of material related to these performers.
This shop really is an Aladdin's cave of music hall ephemera.
Mention almost any performer from the heyday of the halls
and David will have something tucked away to show you.
-What do we know about Little Titch?
-His real name was Harry Relph.
-He was more of a physical comedian?
-Yes, but first of all he was small.
He was most famous for these big boots.
And I have somewhere his date book,
and there is not one free date the entire year.
Oh, that looks like a contract. I'd recognise a contract anywhere!
This is a contract for Little Titch to appear...
-Star comedian, it says.
-Look at the salary.
-£225 per week.
What would that be now?
Little Titch's contemporary Dan Leno, a full nine inches taller,
started his career as a clog dancer
but eventually became the most popular comedian on the halls.
-Her Mother's At The Bottom Of It All.
-There's a world of truth in that!
There's tiny bits of patter in between the verses here.
"Oh, they do beat me, and of course you daren't hit a woman.
"Well, I know I daren't!" That got a big laugh, I bet.
"I don't know what I wanted to get married for..."
-With respect, I think it's the way you perform it!
"My life's one long wretchedness,
"and it's all through a woman with a cold black eye." Wonderful.
Another hugely popular music hall staple
were the male impersonators, female comic singers who dressed as men.
A woman wearing trousers was considered quite shocking at the time,
but, once again, the music halls seemed to get away with it.
-Ah, well, there we are, they've got Vesta Tilley here.
-Wow, look at that.
And there she is as a fine gentleman.
You wouldn't want to cross her, would you?
What you might be interested in,
that is Vesta Tilley's waistcoat.
-It's very frail.
She probably flattened her boobs, didn't she, for the effect?
-She certainly wasn't petite if that fitted her.
Vesta Tilley was real music hall nobility,
the best remembered male impersonator on the halls,
eventually becoming Lady de Frece when her husband was knighted.
But she was already something of a toff in her onstage persona.
If you contrast Vesta Tilley with the male on the music halls,
he is the idol of the young men, in fact, in the audience,
the clerks who have just got enough money together
to come to the West End music hall.
He struts on with an explosive champagne bottle
and songs about being drunk,
and songs about the number of women that he's mashed,
and lots of aggressive masculinity and huge mutton chop whiskers,
and stomping about being, OK, quite sexy, but quite scary.
Whereas Vesta Tilley's young men, you'd want to pet.
They're little boys, doing their best to be like that,
but not really like that, and they're so much more romantic,
and they're so much less threatening.
Music hall audiences loved seeing threat reduced to comic caricature,
but looking back at their portrayal of black people
is quite shocking for us today.
When black American minstrel troops arrived in London in the 1840s,
they became hugely popular.
The music halls appropriated the musical style,
but the songs were performed by white men in blackface make-up.
One of the most obviously appalling things to us
is the way that it was absolutely central
to an enormous amount of Victorian entertainment
that white men blacked their faces and pretended to be black men.
We have all kinds of problems about that, obviously,
but one of our problems is that we cannot imagine what,
to a Victorian audience, it would mean to see somebody with a black face.
There were not many people with black faces around.
In America, it was very different, of course.
In America, the impersonating of black people by white people
was all connected with slavery.
In the music halls, the absolutely ubiquitous black-face act
moves away from being the kind of thing
that the Americans originally brought
to being a kind of broad clowning, so it's a mask.
Then it taps into very deep roots in British culture of folk masking,
of people blacking their faces to burn the ricks,
to dance, to carry out strange antique rituals.
All of those things sit behind it for the British audience, I think.
People knew so little of what the lives were like
of African-Americans on the Southern plantations
that it could not be seen as really attacking them personally.
What I think happens with black-faced minstrelsy
is that there's a mixture of fear in the reception of the music,
that people don't understand what black people are like.
They're very attracted to the music,
and then you find that an instrument
that previously would be seen as a mark of degradation,
like the banjo, goes more and more upmarket
until, by the time we're in the later century,
even the Prince of Wales wants to learn to play the banjo,
and he hires a black banjo player, James Bohee,
to teach him to play the banjo!
By the 1890s, British imperialism,
and confidence in its positive benefits for the world,
was at its height.
The word "Empire" was everywhere,
and Edward Moss, a theatrical impresario from Scotland,
chose it for his new chain of large music hall theatres.
At the same time, another chain was established by Oswald Stoll
from his base in Liverpool.
These two organisations either built new theatres
or took over existing venues
until they had a considerable grip on music hall entertainment in the provinces.
They became known as the syndicates,
and they introduced another seismic change
in the way the music hall operated.
Back in the Garrick library, The Era gives us a good idea
of how the system worked.
To fill their chains of theatres with new acts,
Stoll and Moss built up their own roster of performers
who went from town to town each week.
And instead of one long show across the whole evening,
they discovered they could double their money
by dividing it into two houses.
Of course, that would have to work like clockwork,
and the secret to that lies in these pages here.
The syndicates would publish a list of the acts appearing
at the Empires the following week,
along with travel information, rehearsal times and stage calls
for the two nightly performances.
It was an intricately detailed operation on a massive scale,
ensuring a completely new roster of acts
would appear in each theatre every week.
Any last vestiges the music hall had of its folksy origins,
jolly amateur evenings in the back room of the pub, had gone for ever.
This was now big business and the big boys had taken over.
Using their conglomerate muscle, Stoll and Moss wanted to ensure
their middle-class audience would find nothing vulgar to offend them at their Empires.
But the double entendre had developed for a reason
and it proved almost impossible to stamp out.
Tell us about "Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow", which is a perfectly innocent lyric, isn't it?
No, it's not. It's not really.
Not to the Victorians.
It was innuendo.
She's talking about her cat
and how it comes to school with her each day and sits upon the form
because her cat is her lady's bits
and she wants a bow-wow which is a reference to the man's bits.
# I love my little cat I do
# Its fur is oh so warm
# It comes with me to school each day
# And sits upon the form
# When teacher asks
# Why do you bring
# That little pet of yours?
# I tell her that I bring my cat
# Along with me because
# Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow
# Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow
# I've got a little cat
# And I'm very fond of that
# But I'd rather have a bow-wow-wow. #
Sometimes however the double meaning was very clumsily disguised.
I have brought along a song which in my experience
is just about the dirtiest I've ever come across.
It's all about double entendre. It's called "The Tuner's Opportunity",
cos every middle-class, lower middle-class family had a piano.
So you had your piano tuner.
# Miss Crotchety Quaver was sweet 17
# And a player of infinite skill
# She could play all the day All the evening as well
# Making all the neighbourhood ill
# And to keep her piano in tune
# She would have a good tuner
# Constantly there
# And he'd pull up her instrument
# Three times a week
# Just to keep it In proper repair... #
# And first he tuned it gently
# Then he tuned it strong
# Then he'd touch a short note
# Then he'd pass a long
# Then he'd go with vengeance
# Enough to break the key
# At length he tuned whenever he got
# An opportunity. #
-And that's just the first verse.
-Wonderful. It goes on from there?
It goes on, yes.
It seemed that the more Victorian society
tried to put a lid on sexuality, the more demand built up.
Exotic dancing girls became a regular feature of music hall entertainment.
The Alhambra became as famous for its can-can girls as it had been for its ballet.
It briefly lost its licence when a dancer called Wiry Sal,
"raised her foot higher than her head several times
"towards the audience and was much applauded."
The can-can became a truly global phenomenon.
And in 1891, a young English girl called Lottie Collins
saw a version of it being performed in New York
to a very catchy new song called "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay".
She brought it home with her to London and became an overnight sensation.
# A sweet-tuxedo girl you see
# A queen of swell society
# Just the type you'd like... #
Lottie would begin the first verse very demurely,
then explode into the chorus with her legs kicking,
and skirts swirling, to expose an indecent amount of stocking,
suspender, bare thigh and more.
# Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay... #
The naughty Nineties were in full swing.
The very epitome of naughtiness however was not a chance glimpse
of Lottie's stocking tops,
but the legendary wink of another East Ender, Marie Lloyd.
Marie's career began on the stage of The Eagle when she was 14.
And it was obvious from the outset
that she possessed a great deal of charm and charisma.
Innuendo was not hard to detect in songs like,
"She'd never had her ticket punched before",
which told the story of a country girl arriving at Euston for the first time.
On a similar theme, in "Oh! Mr Porter",
a young woman accidentally catches the wrong train.
But the message is that she has
"gone too far".
# Oh, Mr Porter
# What shall I do?
# I want to go to Birmingham
# They're taking me on to Crewe
# Send me back to London
# As quickly as you can
# Oh, Mr Porter
# What a silly girl I am. #
The rapid spread of the railways across Victorian Britain
offered a rich new vein of sexual metaphor
which was enthusiastically embraced by the music hall songwriters.
The moral crusaders knew it was rude
but how do you outlaw a song about shunting?
These music hall performers, they got these stories told about them,
sometimes they were very rude.
One is that Marie Lloyd sang her song called
"She sits amongst the cabbages and peas",
and she was told she couldn't sing this so she altered it to
"She sits amongst the cabbages and leeks".
And if ever people talk about Marie Lloyd now,
they quote this song, but there never was such a song,
and certainly Marie never sung it.
Now my grandma, who was very much a typical Victorian person,
who was very straight-laced, she loved Marie Lloyd.
And she said, "The thing about Marie Lloyd was her personality.
"She was so warm and she was able to project to the audience."
And she had a lot of vulgar innuendo
but nothing really offensive.
And that was one of the things that Marie was so successful.
Other people probably had better songs
but they didn't have the personality that Marie had.
Marie Lloyd became and probably remains the greatest star
the music hall ever produced.
# Up to the West End right in the Best End... #
But there'd always been a section of Victorian society
who felt she represented the worst sort of vulgarity
and that music halls corrupted the minds of their audience.
In the 1890s, these moral guardians began to make their presence felt.
The National Vigilance Association was formed to encourage
the suppression of criminal vice and public immorality.
And they saw plenty of that in the music halls,
both on the stage and off.
It wasn't just the ballerinas' legs or the can-can girls' garters,
there was a new vogue for living statues, or pose plastique.
This involved a group of figures who would pose stock still on stage
in the attitude of classical statuary or famous paintings.
They almost invariably included a virtually naked female Venus,
if not several.
These disreputable performances were seen to encourage
the public immorality they sought to stamp out.
A prominent voice in the vigilance movement
was a Mrs Laura Ormiston Chant who devoted herself to the cause.
Mrs Ormiston Chant spent the warm summer evenings of 1894
patrolling the five-shilling tier promenade
of the Empire Leicester Square here,
making copious notes of the contact between the sexes.
The promenade bars were the last vestiges
of the old informal nature of the original music halls.
But they had become notorious places where prostitutes plied their trade.
Mrs Ormiston Chant discounted from her survey accompanied ladies,
those without make-up and those who avoided the gaze of gentleman
with whom they were unacquainted.
Once this minority were excluded, it was plain that there were
a great many women who were there for the very worst of reasons.
Her evidence to the licensing authorities
briefly closed down the Empire.
"We have no right to sanction on the stage that which if it were done
"in the street would compel a policeman to lock the offender up.
"The place at night is the habitual resort of prostitutes
"in pursuit of their traffic and that portions of the entertainment
"are most objectionable, obnoxious and against the best interest
"and moral well-being of the community at large."
The theatre was closed until a screen was erected
between the promenade and the auditorium.
A vocal opponent of this was a young Sandhurst cadet
by the name of Winston Churchill.
"Did you see the papers about the riot at the Empire last Saturday?
"It was I who led to the rioters," he boasted to his brother.
He and his colleagues tore down the wooden canvas screens
and he climbed up onto the debris
and addressed the theatre audience on the subject of liberty.
He described it as his true maiden speech.
Churchill may have gone on to greater things
but it was Mrs Ormiston Chant who more accurately reflected the mood of the age.
Respectability was becoming a Victorian obsession
and was the cornerstone of the success of the syndicates.
In Leeds in 1898, the Empire Palace Theatre opened.
It was built by the newly-formed Moss Empire syndicate,
an amalgamation of the Stoll and Moss organisations.
Though they were still very much a provincial operation,
it was a clear sign of their confidence and ambition.
Determined to place music hall at the heart of mainstream city life,
alongside the theatre they built a hotel
and one of the world's first purpose-built shopping malls,
a far cry from the city varieties across the street.
The theatre itself is now a department store,
but Barry Cryer remembers it well.
One of my earliest memories was being taken to the theatre with my mother.
We had the City Varieties,
no decent woman would be seen there.
So we go now and again to the Empire,
number one Moss Empire.
I remember the atmosphere. It was brash and colourful
and noisy and people arriving,
and then you went into the auditorium.
It was just magical.
Then the curtain goes up and it gets even better.
The bands strike up and all that.
And I sat next to my mother in this theatre
watching her twinkling away, loving every minute of it.
It was superb.
The architect who designed every part of this bold development,
from the Grand Theatre to the last square of mosaic in the pavements,
was Frank Matcham.
Matcham was undoubtedly a genius who could thread his way
through the increasingly complex Victorian building regulations
and still produce a stunning, thrilling and magical space.
These arcades earned Leeds the title "the Milan of the North of England".
Moss Empire's progress towards London
was like the stealthy approach of an invading army
who first establish outposts in the suburbs before the final push.
One of these was the Hackney Empire, another Matcham masterpiece.
He was extraordinarily inventive as an architect.
Hackney is a stylistic mash-up of Moorish Indo-Romanesque baroque.
But a Victorian theatre-goer's enjoyment of this opulence
was very much affected by their social class.
Othman Read has worked at the Empire for 20 years.
Where we are in the gallery was generally poor people,
very working-class people. There used to be a sign up here,
"No spitting or swearing. Offenders will be ejected by order."
I mean, that gives you some idea of the sort of people
-who they expected in the gallery.
-But they had their own entrance?
Absolutely. Their entrance was at the rear of the theatre. It was only them who could come in through it.
So who came in the front of the theatre?
The front was reserved solely for the dress circle
and the front stalls, the armchairs.
Back of the stalls area was actually a separate entrance called the pit
where you'd have people selling goods and services, no doubt!
Goods and services?!
Which were easily accessible to gentlemen in the front rows...
Say no more.
..without having to leave to go to another floor to be seen amongst,
clearly amongst, a lower class of people.
How long it did it take to build this magnificent edifice?
At the turn of the century, 36 weeks from scratch.
That is without the modern technology we'd have now.
By today's standards, you couldn't paint it in that time.
You couldn't paint it in 36 weeks?!
There's very little you'd get done in 36 weeks now.
It was absolutely state-of-the-art when it was built.
-It was one of the first cantilevered balconies.
Pre-stressed concrete balconies, no pillars,
which is where the incredible sight lines come from
because you have unobstructed views from every floor.
A couple of years ago, we had Madness doing a reunion gig in here.
You had about 300 guys, reliving their youth, in their mid 30s,
jumping up and down and you could see it literally flex.
-This is down in the dress circle?
-This is the dress circle.
It must have been flexing by about four inches up and down.
-The whole of it.
If you really want to understand
why Frank Matcham was the greatest theatre architect that ever lived,
you only have to sit here where I'm sitting,
the worst seat in the house, I have got a fabulous view of everything.
And yet, in all Matcham's theatres, as far as one can tell,
there were never problems with the sound.
I think there's a lot more science actually applied to it than he's given credit for.
The stage itself acts as a speaker.
The shape of the auditorium acts as a cone, if you like.
How did he know that stuff? I'd rather like to test that.
Would you mind going on the stage and asking me a question very quietly?
And I'll see if I can hear it from back here.
-Absolutely. It would be a pleasure.
-OK, thank you.
Don't do any of my material now!
-Can you hear me?
I can hear you.
Othman, the two domes on either side of the proscenium,
what are they made of?
It is all plasterwork, all of it is Rococo plasterwork.
What's amazing is there's no echo,
there's no reverb, so there's incredible crystal clarity.
I can hear every syllable. Amazing.
The Hackney Empire was the technological wonder of the age,
one of the first theatres to be built with a projection box
to show the new bioscope movies.
The bioscope had begun as a fairground attraction
but was now a feature of every music hall bill,
an ominous development that would have far-reaching consequences.
In 1912, at the Palace Theatre, Oswald Stoll received
his ultimate accolade when he was invited to arrange
the Royal Music Hall Performance by Command of His Majesty.
Stoll wanted to make it a night to remember
and decorated the theatre with three million roses,
most of them clustered around the royal box
which looked like a florist shop.
The event was staged in front of George V
and a smattering of other related minor European royalty.
On a hot July night, the King himself, for the very first time,
came to see the stars of the music hall on their home turf.
His father, Edward VII, loved dressing up for a party
and often invited music hall stars to perform at his private soiree.
But by coming to the theatre himself,
his son was publicly acknowledging that music hall was finally
and undeniably respectable.
142 artists were specially chosen to appear on this stage.
It was a balanced bill representing all facets of the music hall.
There was one pointed omission...
This newly-won respectability was too precious to be put at risk
by the legendary wink.
She staged a rival performance the same evening at the London Pavilion.
"By order of the British public", said the poster.
But she needn't have worried. Back up the road at the Palace,
things weren't going at all according to plan.
The theatre was packed with specially-invited bigwigs
and there was none of the usual rapport with the performers
on which the music hall stars relied.
A young comedienne called Fanny Fields
nervously told the audience that,
"I'm suffering just as much as you are."
In a strange twist, this high-water mark of music hall fortunes
also seemed to emphasise how little this performance had in common
with the original spirit of its birth.
Having achieved the common admiration of the King
and the costermonger, the music hall may have gained in status
but it had lost any connection with its roots.
In 1914, when the First World War broke out,
the minor royals who attended the Command performance
found themselves on opposite sides of the barbed wire.
The troops dug trenches whilst singing the music hall's greatest hits.
But back in Blighty, the war closed many of the halls for the duration.
The male impersonators were hugely popular,
turning out in military uniform.
Vesta Tilley earned the nickname, Britain's best recruiting sergeant,
and distributed chocolate to the Tommies.
But songs like "Good luck to the girl who loves a soldier"
expressed a very different sentiment
to the jingo songs of 40 years earlier.
And when the war was over, the halls, like everything else, had changed.
In 1919, the King visited Frank Matcham's magnificent London Coliseum,
the grandest theatre in Moss Empire's chain,
but it was to attend the Royal Variety Performance.
Variety, the sanitised child of the music hall
had quietly replaced its unruly parent.
There were other competitors for the punters' pennies.
Stars could now be heard on the gramophone,
radio was just around the corner
and most significantly, cinema had hit the big-time.
We're at the back of the balcony at the Britannia Glasgow
and this is a projection booth
which was just hacked into the back of the building
so they could project the great novelty
of the bioscope moving pictures onto the stage.
What began as a minor attraction at the bottom of the bill
had become the headlining act.
And at some point in these inter-war years,
people began to refer to the music hall in the past tense.
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