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music-halls

music-halls flourished in the second half of the 19th cent., but were under competition before 1914 from picture houses and after 1922 from radio. They have been subjected to deadening Marxist analysis as ‘the dominant form of cultural production in the context of a modernizing capitalist society’ and were indeed socially conditioned, since they provided mass entertainment in the new large industrial towns. They developed from a variety of sources—from the music and acrobatics offered at pleasure gardens like Vauxhall and Ranelagh and from sing-songs at local taverns. The Eagle, in City Road, London (commemorated in ‘Pop goes the weasel’), was an early concert hall and in 1838 the Rotunda in Southwark advertised itself as a music-hall. The first music-halls served food and drink at tables: only gradually was drink eliminated and the audience placed in rows of seats. Since the halls were of doubtful respectability and had frequent brushes with authority, the audience was predominantly working class or lower middle class, though middle-class patrons and even respectable ladies were more in evidence towards the end of the century.

The ‘father of the music-hall’ was Charles Morton, who opened the Canterbury at Lambeth in 1851 and transferred to the Oxford in 1861. By 1875 there were more than 300 music-halls in London and they were well established in the larger provincial towns: indeed, the Star at Bolton in 1832 has some claim to have been the first music-hall. They produced their own stars. Dan Leno's career began in the 1860s almost as soon as he could walk, and he died in 1904 at the age of 43. Marie Lloyd made her début at the Eagle in 1885 with a repertoire that included ‘The boy I love is up in the gallery’. She too burned out and died relatively young in 1922. The careers of Harry Lauder and Gracie Fields were taking off as Leno's came to an end. The final blow to the music-hall tradition came with the spread of television in the 1950s, though The Good Old Days, from Leeds, had a long nostalgic run as a TV programme in the 1970s.

J. A. Cannon

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