Music Hall - Cultural Influences of Music Hall: Literature, Drama, Screen, and Later Music

Cultural Influences of Music Hall: Literature, Drama, Screen, and Later Music

The music hall has been evoked in many films, plays, TV series and books.

  • About half of the film Those Were The Days (1934) is set in a music hall. It was based on a farce by Pinero and features the music hall acts of Lily Morris, Harry Bedford, the gymnasts Gaston & Andre, G.H. Elliott, Sam Curtis and Frank Boston & Betty.
  • A music hall with a 'memory man' act provides a pivotal plot device in the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock thriller The 39 Steps.
  • The Arthur Askey comedy film I Thank You (1941) features old-time music hall star Lily Morris as an ex-music hall artiste now ennobled as "Lady Randall". In the last scene of the film, however, she reverts to type and gives a rendition of "Waiting at the Church" at an impromptu concert at Aldwych tube station organised by Askey and his side-kick Richard "Stinker" Murdoch.
  • The Victorian era of music hall was celebrated by the 1944 film, Champagne Charlie.
  • Charlie Chaplin's 1952 film Limelight, set in 1914 London, evokes the music hall world of Chaplin's youth where he performed as comedian before he achieved worldwide celebrity as a film star in America. The film depicts the last performance of a washed-up music hall clown called Calvero at The Empire theatre, Leicester Square. The film premiered at the Empire Cinema, which was built on the same site as the Empire theatre.
  • The Good Old Days (1953 to 1983) was a popular BBC television light entertainment programme recorded live at the Leeds City Varieties which recreated an authentic atmosphere of the Victorian–Edwardian music hall with songs and sketches of the era performed by present-day performers in the style of the original artistes. The audience dressed in period costume and joined in the singing, especially the singing of Down at the Old Bull and Bush which closed the show. The show was compered by Leonard Sachs who introduced the acts. In the course of its run it featured about 2000 artists. The show was first broadcast on 20 July 1953. The Good Old Days was inspired by the success of the Ridgeway's Late Joys at the Players' Theatre Club in London: a private members' club that ran fortnightly programmes of variety acts in London's West End.
  • John Osborne's play The Entertainer (1957) portrays the life and work of a failing third-rate music hall stage performer who tries to keep his career going even as his personal life falls apart. The story is set at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956, against the backdrop of the dying music hall tradition, and has been seen as symbolic of Britain's general post-war decline, its loss of its Empire, its power, and its cultural confidence and identity. It was made into a film in 1960 starring Laurence Olivier in the title role of Archie Rice.
  • In Grip of the Strangler (1958), set in Victorian London, the raunchy can-can dancers and loose women of the sleazy "Judas Hole" music hall are terrorised by the Haymarket Strangler, played by Boris Karloff.
  • J. B. Priestley's 1965 novel Lost Empires also evokes the world of Edwardian music hall just before the start of World War I; the title is a reference to the Empire theatres (as well as foreshadowing the decline of the British Empire itself). It was recently adapted as a television miniseries, shown in both the UK and in the U.S. as a PBS presentation. Priestley's 1929 novel The Good Companions, set in the same period, follows the lives of the members of a "concert party" or touring Pierrot troupe.
  • The parodic film Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), based on the stage musical Oh, What a Lovely War! (1963) by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop, featured the music hall turns and songs that had provided support for the British war effort in World War I.
  • The popular British television series Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–1975) and its spin-off Thomas & Sarah (1979) each dealt frequently with the world of the Edwardian music hall, sometimes through references to actual Edwardian era performers such as Vesta Tilley or to characters on the show attending performances, and other times through the experiences of the popular character Sarah Moffat, who left domestic service several times and often ended up going on stage to support herself when she did.
  • Between 1978 and 1984 BBC television broadcast two series of programmes called The Old Boy Network. These featured a star (usually a Music Hall performer, but also some younger turns like Eric Sykes) performing some of their best known routines while giving a slide show of their life story. Artistes featured included Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Sandy Powell, and Chesney Allen.
  • The modern Players' Theatre Club provides a brief impression of contemporary music hall in the film The Fourth Angel, where Jeremy Irons' character creates an alibi by visiting a show.
  • Sarah Waters's book Tipping the Velvet (1998) revolves around the world of music halls in the late Victorian era, and in particular around two fictional "mashers" (drag kings) named Kitty Butler and Nan King.
  • Music hall had a profound influence on The Beatles through Paul McCartney, who is himself the son of a music hall performer (Jim McCartney, who led Jim Mac's Jazz Band). Many of McCartney's songs are indistinguishable from music hall except in their instrumentation. "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "Honey Pie" are two fine examples, as are "Your Mother Should Know" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer".
  • Herman's Hermits, led by Peter Noone, also incorporated music hall into their repertoire, scoring a major hit with their cover of the Harry Champion music hall standard, "I'm Henery the Eighth, I Am", in 1965 (but Noone's version included only the chorus, not the many verses of the original).
  • In James Joyce's short story The Boarding House, Mrs. Mooney's boarding-house in Hardwicke Street accommodates "occasionally (...) artistes from the music halls". The Sunday night "reunions" with Jack Mooney in the drawing-room create a certain atmosphere.
  • In Vivian Stanshall and Ki Longfellow-Stanshall's musical, Stinkfoot, a Comic Opera, the lead performer is an ageing music hall artiste named Soliquisto.
  • Legendary soul singer Michael Jackson openly admitted his admiration for music hall performers such as Charlie Chaplin.
  • British rockers Queen incorporated music hall styles into many of their songs, most notably 1974's "Killer Queen".
  • Garry Bushell's punk pathetique band, The Gonads, did rock versions of music hall songs. Many punk pathetique acts were indebted to the music hall tradition.
  • The Theatre of the absurd was heavily influenced by music hall in its use of comedy, as well as avant-garde cultural forms (such as surrealism) being a more obvious influence.
  • The spirit of the music hall lives on in the form of pensioner rapper, Ida Barr who mashes up music hall and rap. Based on a real artiste, the act is performed by Christopher Green.

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