Reporter: Anne Grimshaw
There was a disappointing turn out for the Sudbury Society’s talk on music hall by Bryan Thurlow on 2 December. This was surprising as Bryan has been very popular at previous Sudbury Society meetings for he is full of enthusiasm for his subject. He sang extracts from the popular songs of the time and gave potted biographies of many artistes who names are still familiar, Marie Lloyd probably being the best known. Her appeal was that her acts were somewhat risqué but it was more in the interpretation of the words than the actual words themselves which made her saucy reputation.
Vesta Tilley too caused quite a stir for she showed her legs in public (shock! horror!) but she was most famous as a male impersonator at a time when women did not wear trousers and certainly not in public! (What a turnaround now – virtually all the women in the audience were wearing trousers except those of us who had complied with the event’s publicity inviting the audience to come in costume or at least wear a big hat – the ladies, anyway. But why did not the gentlemen sport fancy waistcoats, blazers, boaters or top hats?)
But I digress, another Vesta (both named after Vesta matches – shining lights?) was Vesta Victoria. One of her songs was Now I have to call him father:
He used to come and court his little Mary Anne
I used to think that he was my young man,
But Mother caught his eye and they got married on the sly
Now I ‘ave to call him Father!
Then there was Dan Leno, Little Tich, Harry Lauder, George Robey, Charlie Chaplin and Jessie Matthews and dozens of others some of who became stars of the silver screen or radio personalities or straight actors.
Bryan set the scene of the late 19th and early 20th century: many people lived in drab houses, had miserable jobs, hard difficult work, not much opportunity for fun and laughter but the theatre with its colour, light, music and entertainment was a welcome escape for many. And even if you didn’t have such a miserable life, an evening at the music hall was simply fun: joining in a chorus of My Old Man Says Follow the Van or Burlington Bertie (as we did) and watching a pretty girl dancing or laughing at a comedian’s jokes or marvelling at acrobats and jugglers – the music hall was ‘of its time’.
The evening included nibbles and drinks and birthday cake (mine). All these music hall stars were from another era that was way, way back, long before my time. But they weren’t – many of them were still around when I was growing up – as I was reminded when I ate a piece of birthday cake…