I can remember watching ‘The Good Old Days’ on my grandparents’ back and white TV, later upgraded to colour. This was a programme of popular songs from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, screened in front of a live audience, who arrived dressed up in Edwardian clothes and were encouraged to join in.
Joining in the singing was part of the old music hall tradition, a tradition that started in the public houses of the 1850s. Around this time landlords – always on the look-out for ways to sell more drinks – started to notice that on the evenings when certain singers came into the pub more drinkers would choose that evening to come in as well, so that they got a drink and a bit of entertainment at the same time. In time, landlords would set aside the saloon bar for the entertainers and audience, or open up a separate ‘singing room.’ As the entertainment became more and more popular, enterprising landlords built a ‘hall for music’ on the side of their pubs, with the name soon changing to ‘music hall.’ Some of the singers, such as Marie Lloyd, became house-hold names.
The main feature of a music hall was that it was an adjunct to a public house, and that drinking was actively encouraged throughout. In music halls the landlord stopping the singing and shouting ‘Order! order!‘ was not an instruction to behave, but an instruction to go and buy another drink or there’d be no more singing that night. (Other theatres didn’t allow alcohol in the auditorium, which probably explains some of the popularity of the music halls).
The Leeds City Varieties Music Hall, built as an adjunct to the White Swan Inn in 1865, was a typical example of a successful music hall. Like other venues though, its survival was threatened by the arrival of television and the popularity of home entertainment. This particular hall was saved by the decision of the BBC to film ‘The Good Old Days‘ there. The programme was so popular that it ran from 1953 to 1983. Lovingly restored it is still a popular venue for variety acts.
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