Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
May’s talk was a one-man ‘show’ by music hall memory man, Bryan Thurlow. He began with a reminder of TV’s The Good Olde Days from Leeds City Varieties – remember the Master of Ceremonies, Leonard Sachs? That was followed by a superfluity of sensational songsters whose repartee and recitation, and whose perfection of performances… (Oh, shut up and get on with it!)
With a white rose in his buttonhole, and a crisp wing collar setting off his smart black suit, the dapper Bryan reminded us of comic songs such as “When father papered the parlour”, the morbid “Father’s grave” (that was being dug up to lay a sewer pipe…) to the decidedly weird “Do shrimps make good mothers?” (You can imagine why those songs have lost their popularity!) But other songs have stayed the course and become part of the nation’s heritage: “Daisy, Daisy”, “Tipperary” and “The Boy I love”.
There were naughty songs, sentimental songs, songs about food and drink (and against drink), tongue-twisters and war songs… Trapeze acts, jugglers, performing dogs and budgerigars and, of course, the tantalising, titillating, terpsichorean temptresses whose performances of the can-can in Wilton’s Music Hall, London, brought the house down when it opened in 1859.
One of the most popular artistes was Vesta Tilley whose impersonations of men – shock! horror! she was wearingtrousers… – provided a risqué ripple through the largely male audience.
Most well known of all was Marie Lloyd, another ribald comedienne and singer whose private life was almost a colourful as her stage persona.
Of course, there were those who did not approve of such goings-on: Methodism and temperance combined in the formidable force of women wielding banners protesting against all this ‘sin’. They succeeded in closing one theatre but it quickly re-opened – as a Methodism mission!
But will music hall ever have a real revival? Probably not – it was so much of its time – we aren’t shocked at the sight of a lady’s ankle these days…