31 August 2007 | trimmerb1234
Excellent informative and entertaining documentary
Victorian Music Hall has a small band of devoted knowledgeable followers (note the earlier reviews) and this documentary bridges the gap between them and those whose knowledge extends no further than BBC TV's long running pseudo-recreation: "The Good Old Days". It is a good blend of the historic and informative as well providing entertaining recreations although it has a rather similar sanitised aura. The documentary itself has become historic as it shows what remnants of the original halls then remained in 1968.
The 1944 British (Ealing Studios) film "Champagne Charlie" - a partly fictional entertaining biography of the leading music hall performer of the mid 19th Century George Leybourne - is far closer to the spirit of the times. Spirits, wines and beer sold in vast quantities fuelled the halls. But above all it was the entertainers who pulled in the customers.
For reasons presumably of good taste, a point not addressed in the documentary was the risqué nature of many of the songs. "The Galloping Major" was an old music hall song which lingered on into the 1960s and 1970's familiar to both adults and children - or rather the tune and the chorus were familiar. However to see it performed on stage with all the verses complete with gestures is a very startling revelation. Music Halls were not respectable places - the often lewd or suggestive songs, the heavy consumption of alcohol - and the presence of unaccompanied women made them a target for morality campaigners. One such managed to have screens erected to shield the sight of these ladies from the male patrons. A group of young army officers tore the screen down in protest - one of the officers being Winston Churchill.
As the late jazz musician and writer Benny Green pointed out, music hall had some illustrious supporters - Rudyard Kipling confessed to being both an enthusiastic attendee as well as being inspired by some of the songs. George Bernard Shaw, a similar enthusiast, reviewed some of the top acts, treating them with respect as serious artists.
Many of the performers were women but the halls were generally a man's world - they were hardly a place for the respectable woman but they brought together an immense range of people - from, up in the gallery, the 13 year old costermonger and his "wife" of a similar age to assorted gents, swells and mashers in the stalls - and the likes of Bernard Shaw and Kipling. Their true recreation is perhaps only possible in the imagination.