This three-part series about “pioneers of popular entertainment” is presented by Frank Skinner and Suzy Klein, and started off with the precursors of the music hall – “penny gaffes”, “song and supper clubs” and “saloon theatres”, before moving on to the more familiar world of music halls, with particular focus on the comedian Dan Leno and the singer Marie Lloyd. I can remember knowing some of Marie Lloyd’s songs, in particular “Oh Mr Porter”, from an early age, but back then I didn’t get all the innuendo … of which there was a lot!
It was entertaining, and some of the social history aspects of it were genuinely informative – I’d never really stopped before to think what a difference gas lights made to people’s lives – but, like a lot of BBC 4’s historical programmes, it all felt a bit dumbed down. Like that series on dancing which Len Goodman and Lucy Worsley did, a lot of this involved the presenters dressing up and pretending to be the people of the time. That’s fine for a primary school trip, but it’s a bit daft for a BBC documentary shown at 9pm.
Still, it was entertaining enough. I’m just rather disappointed that they didn’t mention ventriloquists, because I had a great-great-great-uncle who was a music hall ventriloquist. Seriously, I did! He’s mentioned on http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com, and there are even a couple of pictures of him on there, so I think he must have been quite well-known in his day!
Anyway, all the dressing up and pretending to be Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd was a bit daft, but, as I said, it was entertaining enough. And the music halls deserve to be remembered. It’s rather a shame that we don’t still have them … and I bet most of us know all the best-known music hall songs, even if we don’t know that they are music hall songs. They’ve lasted, and that says a lot … even if this TV programme didn’t say all that much!