Make-up: A Glamorous History (second episode) – BBC 2


  I am so impressed with this series!   I thought it was just going to be, well, lipstick, powder and paint, but the episode on the Georgians was great and so too was this episode on the Victorians.  I couldn’t help thinking how some of the Victorian ideas on appearance were still influencing children’s books written in the mid-20th century, which I was reading as a kid in the early 1980s.  As Lisa Eldridge pointed out, Victorian ideas on being able to judge someone’s personality based on how they looked verged on the bonkers – but, in Enid Blyton adventure and mystery books, you always know that anyone with a thick neck or “eyes set too closely together” will turn out to be a baddie!   And, at the Chalet School, wearing more than the slightest hint of make-up is a sign that you are a Very Bad Girl, and yet you’re supposed to look attractive at all times.  As Lisa said, that works OK if you’re naturally stunning, but it really doesn’t for the rest of us!  I do not have the nerve to go anywhere without make-up on.

All sorts of other things also made their way into this – from the Contagious Diseases Act, to people having issues with red hair because of Scottish and Irish nationalism, to soldiers being expected to have huge moustaches because it was thought that Indian men with lots of facial hair looked uber-virile and that British men should try to get the same look.

It started with fairly standard stuff about Victorians not being keen on the idea of make-up because it was associated with being on the stage, and also because the later Victorians were obsessed with the idea that cleanliness was next to godliness and thought that a clean face meant a bare face.  But it went beyond that, to talk about how it was felt that, if you covered your face with make-up, you might be trying to hide something … like the fact that your face was ravaged by syphilis, and from there it got on to the Contagious Diseases Act, and how women were so frightened of being dragged in for those horrific speculum examinations that they were afraid to wear make-up in case it led to their being mistaken for prostitutes.   Very interesting point.  And it also talked about the general attitudes towards women, and how a lot of make-up looked as if you were putting yourself out there rather than fading into the background.

There was also some talk about phrenology, which always makes me think of Mr Rochester doing his “feeling your bumps” thing, and the general idea of being able to judge people by their appearance.  It didn’t go into eugenics in too much detail, but it did touch on the idea.  And it also mentioned the idea of TB being seen as making people look attractive – bright eyes, rosy cheeks, etc – and compared it to the heroin chic idea of the 1990s.  It was just fascinating how the programme developed.

There was also some talk about hair.  There are still some rules about facial hair in the Armed Services, aren’t there?  Anyway, we heard about how, after the Crimean War, soldiers were banned from shaving above their top lips, and this was in force until 1916 … and how this was because Indian men with luxuriant beards and moustaches were thought to look very manly.  I have to say that I am not a fan of men having either beards or moustaches, although I know that some people wear them for religious reasons, but each to their own!

And then the issue of red hair.  I thought that prejudice against people with red hair was to do with religion, because Judas was supposed to have had red hair, and the Spanish Inquisition associated red hair with being Jewish, but the programme made the point that it was also associated with Scotland and Ireland – and presumably, by extension, with ideas of Irish and Scottish nationalism.  If Nicola Sturgeon was watching, she was probably quite chuffed to hear that!   Interesting idea.  I don’t really know why, but everyone has this image of Jacobites as having bright red hair.  You can even buy Jacobite tam o’shanters with a load of false red hair attached, which is utterly ridiculous: the Old Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie both wore white powdered wigs, and had brownish hair!    Scotland and Ireland do both have far higher percentages of people with red hair than England does, though.

All this from talking about make-up!   This series really is good.  It’s a shame that there’s only one episode left.


How the Victorians Built Britain (Blackpool!!) – Channel 5


There’s a song by The Beautiful South which goes “Blackpool help me out, Scarborough see me through”.  There’s no football, there’s no tennis, National Trust tea rooms are closing, theatres and cinemas are closed, Tesco are no longer opening 24 hours (and they included an important reminder in their e-mail about how this is a very difficult time for their staff, and saying a few extra “thank you”s would be much appreciated) and Coronation Street‘s going down to three episodes a week.  No toilet roll is one thing, but no sport and no National Trust scones … this is serious. However, we still have the seaside.  And, if you’re not going out at the moment, there are some lovely videos on You Tube showing scenes of Blackpool through the ages.  But to get back to this programme, which was on before all this really started …

The other episodes in this series were about things like trains and bridges and ships, which are very nice, especially if you’re technologically-minded (which I’m not) … but this one was about Blackpool, which was far more exciting. The Victorians democratised the seaside. If you watched the ITV version of Sanditon (if you didn’t, don’t bother, because it really wasn’t worth it), you will have seen lots of posh Georgians (some minus their swimwear) frolicking about on the beach, but not an ordinary working person anywhere in sight. It was the Victorians who turned the seaside into a place for everyone – and it was great fun watching Michael Buerk discover how such incredibly important institutions as Blackpool’s piers, the Illuminations, the Winter Gardens, the Tower and Empress Ballrooms, the Tower itself, the trams, and, last but not least, Blackpool rock, came into existence.

First up, a lot of it had to do with the railways. Well, there were charabancs as well, but they were more for day trips. And then there were wakes weeks – which were still going strong when I was a kid, but sadly seem to be dying off now. So, off everyone went to Blackpool, for some nice healthy sea air! And, back in the 1860s, when the first two piers were built we had a bit of class … well, not class conflict, but there were class issues. To this day, the North Pier’s the “posh” pier. There was a really nice tea room there for a while, but it closed down 😦 . However, it does still have a sun lounge where you can listen to music, and deckchairs to lounge on. The Central Pier (the South Pier came much later) is the fun pier, though … and also the, shall we say, “less posh” pier. That’s where there are rides and stalls. And it’s where you get the best chips. They don’t sell chips on the North Pier.

And, also up at the north end, is the Imperial Hotel, for those who don’t want to stay at one of the less expensive hotels. Very nice. I went there for a posh afternoon tea as a birthday treat, once. And the Victorians had a sort of Turkish bath set-up there, which was forgotten about for years but has now been rediscovered. It looks amazing!

Anyway, hopefully we’re past the seaside class conflict stuff now. Blackpool is for everyone! But sometimes it’s cold and wet, so you may prefer to go indoors – and they didn’t have all those arcade machines in Victorian times, so they opened the Winter Gardens. And it gets dark at night, when it’s not high summer, so, in 1879, the Illuminations started. Yep, 1879!  “Blackpool’s artificial sunshine.” Making excellent use of electricity!  Six years later, the trams, the first electric tramway in the British Isles, opened. How clever were the Victorians? They’d never have got into all this mess over HS2, I’m telling you. Furthermore, they didn’t go around mithering that everything you were eating was bad for you. Victorians liked sugar. So they invented rock.

So, by the early 1890s, you could head there on the train, ride around by tram, go on the beach, walk along the pier, go in a Turkish bath if you were too snotty to join the crowds down by the sea, eat lots of rock, look at the Illuminations, and go in the Winter Gardens. But the symbol of Blackpool is the Tower. Even now, at my advanced age, I get excited when the Tower first comes into view as I head along the M55. When it opened, in 1894, it was the tallest man-made structure in the British Empire. High-rise buildings were not a thing in the 1890s! How amazing for people to be able to go up the top of Blackpool Tower and look all around them. And it’s perfectly safe, even in nasty storms like the ones we’re getting at the moment. The Victorians built things to last!

Then, rather amusingly, there followed what Michael called “the Battle of the Ballrooms”, as the Tower Ballroom and the Winter Gardens’ Empress Ballroom vied to outdo each other. They’re both amazing. So ornate and glamorous. I’d love to dance in both of them, although, if I had to choose, I’d go for the Tower Ballroom. No offence, Winter Gardens.  They look as if they should be in some grand royal palace somewhere … but they’re in Blackpool, for us.

And that’s Blackpool. If you want glamour, you can have glamour. If you want chips on the pier, you can have chips on the pier. However down I’m feeling, Blackpool always cheers me up – and I am so chuffed that Channel 5 devoted an hour’s TV to talking about how the Victorians invented the modern seaside resort.  Yes, trains and bridges and ships are very important, but, hey, where we would be without our seaside resorts 🙂 ?  Loved every minute of this!