Missing Voices from the British Chinese Community

Research and Curation Group Blog Series Number 3:

The third in our blog series from members of the Research and Curation Group features the research and selection of items by Christopher De Coulon Berthoud.  Christopher was interested in looking at the content of Special Collections and Archives to see not just what could be found in the collection, but what was missing. 

 

I noted the exhibition’s mention of the Chinese chip shop owner, but the absence of any interviews or depictions of them, although the website for the original exhibition does address this issue. Reflecting on a wider absence of the British Chinese community’s voice in British culture, I chose a selection of British newspaper cartoons spanning a 60-year period.

In the 1930s Chinese restaurants were a rarity in Britain, and located mainly in London. The Good Food Guide 1955 listed only single examples of Chinese eating-places in Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester. A decade later as many as thirty-one per cent of British people who ate out had visited Chinese restaurants.

All of the cartoons selected caricatured Chinese people as restaurant owners or waiters, and it is interesting to note that while the stereotypes employed remain quite similar, the sense of racial animus becomes more marked over time as the size of the immigrant population increased. A Joseph Lee cartoon from 1936 published in the Evening News titled “Honourable diner eatee up chop-sticks” (Ref: JL0644) suggests the butt of the joke is the British diner unused to an unfamiliar cuisine. Later, an example from 1992 demonstrates no such finesse while employing a crude racist stereotype of dog-eating Chinese people. (Tom Johnston cartoon published in The Sun newspaper, 11th November 1992 Ref No 38714).

The cartoons illustrate what would become commonplace in the depiction of Chinese diaspora as a community, often problematically ‘other’ from British culture, using the restaurant as shorthand for a whole group.

The selection gives us an opportunity to note the role of the cartoonist as someone who both reflects, but also moulds and guides public opinion.

Christopher de Coulon Berthoud

 

Click on the links to see images of the cartoons in the British Cartoon Archive catalogue. 

 Nay, lad. No hard feelings about pud championship… [London, 1970][Stan McMurtry], Ref No: 17686]

A response to the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest,’ which took place in Leeds in 1970 and was won by Mr. Tin Sung Chan, a chef from a local Chinese restaurant, over a field of British contestants.

Although a generous reading of the cartoon suggests that the council member’s depiction as bad losers makes them the object of ridicule, it remains an illustration of the catch-22 situation facing immigrant communities. The stylized racial caricature presents the immigrant simultaneously as someone incapable of assimilation while also being penalised for doing so too successfully.

Colour washed image of the interior of a Chinese restaurant in which a male customer is sitting next to a female customer and flicking an object using his chopsticks so that it hits the head of the Chinese waiter who is walking away from him

Flicking bamboo shoots at the waiters is a damn childish way of retaliating for the Hong Kong riots. [London, 1967] Ronald Carl Giles, Ref No: CG/1/1/2/700

Flicking bamboo shoots at the waiters is a damn childish way of retaliating for the Hong Kong riots. [London, 1967] – [Ronald Carl Giles, Ref No: CG/1/1/2/700] 

and

As a protest against China’s record in Darfur I shall not be using the chopsticks [London, 2008] – [Matt (Pritchett; Matthew), Ref No: 90084] 

This pair of cartoons, created four decades apart but remarkably similar in content, illustrate a refusal to recognize migrant groups as really British. The identification of a diaspora population with the perceived political faults of China weaponizes the trope of divided loyalty, a recurring theme in xenophobic discourse.

 

Worse news, Prime Minister… they’ve just eaten Chris Patten! [London, 1992] – [Tom Johnston, Ref No 38714]

Perhaps the most crudely racist of all these cartoons comes from 1992 in the lead up to the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China. This cartoon unashamedly draws on one of the oldest racist clichés weaponized against Chinese people in a cartoon commenting on an accusation by an Australian diplomat that the British Governor’s missing dog had been eaten.

Nautical Playbills and The Sea Around Us

Research and Curation Group Blog Series Number 2:

Elizabeth Grimshaw writes the second in our blog series from members of the Research and Curation Group. Elizabeth tells us about her selection of items for the Reflections on the Great British Fish & Chips exhibition, which included some playbills from our theatre collections, and a book by Rachel Carson. 

I had the pleasure of digitizing Dickens playbills while completing my Master of Arts in Victorian literature at the University of Kent, and was so pleased to work with the Research & Curation group to revisit some of these incredible archival resources.

This fantastic 19th century playbill should call to mind two very different songs: the classic anthem Rule Britannia, and the Beatles hit For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.

Historic document, a playbill, for a performance of The Waterman in 1829

Playbill – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For the Benefit of Mr Braham. “The Waterman”
Reference: POS/LDN DRU/0599532

In 1829, Britannia indisputably ruled the waves. Not only across an Empire through the might of the Royal Navy, but also here her cultural capital takes centre stage. The Waterman is an opera based on the annual race on the Thames that began in 1721, providing entertainment and sport for the ever growing London population. After this play was performed, vocalists in naval uniform, aboard a realistic Man of War, sang nautical tunes, blending fiction and reality at the height of England’s global powers. Invoking the mythical sea king Neptune for this feast aligns with the divine power of the Crown that would change drastically in the years to come. Britannia used to rule from shore to shore, with the sun never setting on the empire. Rule, Britannia! has been sung since 1740, but today should be modified to include and celebrate former colonies in its patriotic performances. The Beatles drew inspiration from a similarly busy playbill to write the lyrics for their hit 1967 song, taking these types of 19th-century entertainments into the 20th century.

Black and White plate from Rachel Carson's book The Sea Around Us

Plate illustration Part 3: Man and the Sea About Him, in Rachel Carson “The Sea Around Us”
Classmark: GC 21

I wanted to end with Rachel Carson’s landmark 1951 environmental text, The Sea Around Us. Her work emphasizes not one country’s mastery over the ocean, but places humanity within an ecosystem we all must support and share. Environmental degradation endangers all living creatures, from the depths of the sea, to the ever changing landscape of tidal pools, to the communities who are reliant on these shoals for survival. This classic work is a timely reminder of how precious the planet is that we all share. The sea supports us, connects us, and sustains us, but can only do so if we care for it. We can take Carson’s text as a guide to connecting with others and protecting the vulnerable, especially as the climate crisis escalates.

Elizabeth Grimshaw, University of Buckingham 

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part three)

Welcome to the third and final part of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re stepping into the modern age with pantomime and stand-up comedy; what more could you want on this glorious Thursday?

Pantomime: celebrity, pop culture and the power of music in storytelling

Just as melodrama and popular Victorian entertainments use music in conjunction with other theatrical effects, so pantomime develops the use of music with visual storytelling even further. At Kent, our pantomime material can be found in the incredible David Drummond Pantomime Collection alongside lots of material in our previously mentioned Melville and Pettingell archives.

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre's 1899/1900 Pantomime 'Jack and the Beanstalk' with photograph of star Miss Mabel Nelson

Programme for Drury Lane Theatre’s 1899/1900 Pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Pantomime’s links with music go all the way back to its origins in the 16th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ Italian entertainment with stock characters; when the stories initially began to appear on the British stage in the 18th century performances would have no speech at all – just music. (This was in part due to theatre licensing regulations restricting the use of speech in performances, overturned by the Theatres Act in 1843.) Fast forward to the 19th century and pantomime became an incredibly lavish affair for many theatres, particularly for London’s Drury Lane theatre which became known for its elaborate, expensive performances which lasted as long as five hours!

Cover for sheet music of 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera' with five illustrations

Cover for sheet music of ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Sheet music from 'Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera'

Sheet music from ‘Beauty and the Beast: A Chamber Opera’ (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Music, of course, is one of the most consistently integral parts of the pantomime genre, from libretti (which you could often buy as a souvenir of the performance) to audience participation. Many songs used in pantomime are familiar to their audiences and often have lyrics rewritten for a particular show. Sometimes theatregoers are encouraged to sing along and participate, with the music helping to give pantomimes a very two-way performance between its stars and the audience.

Poster for the pantomime 'Sleeping Beauty' at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the Manchester Palace theatre starring comedians Morecambe and Wise (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime 'Aladdin' at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Poster for the pantomime ‘Aladdin’ at the London Palladium theatre, starring Danny La Rue (David Drummond Pantomime Collection)

Today, we generally associate pantomime with famous stars – but did you know this, too, has musical links? In the 19th century music hall stars began to join pantomime performances – partly to bring in new, younger audiences and partly to add some celebrity glamour to the show! This trend has continued through the 20th century and up to today, with debates about whether this ‘ruins’ pantomime ever-present.

The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive: the next evolution of music hall and challenges for archivists

We couldn’t finish a tour of all things musical without stopping in at the 20th/21st century wonder that is our British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (known as BSUCA for short because we all love an acronym). Created in 2015 and funded through the University’s Beacon projects to celebrate Kent’s 50th birthday, six years later BSUCA contains over 30 different collections and it’s still growing.

What’s particularly brilliant about BSUCA is that for an archive about what initially appears to be a fairly niche subject, it packs one heck of a research punch. Topics it covers include the history of performance, artists and venues, Thatcher’s Britain and the miner’s strike, protest, counter-culture, publishing, audience interaction, celebrity and much more. So – are you surprised that it’s also a great source for all things musical? You shouldn’t be!

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective

Flyer advertising the Alternative Cabaret collective (Andy de la Tour Collection, BSUCA/AT/3)

Stand-up comedy as a genre has its roots in both popular performance and variety. Tony Allen’s stand-up comedy developed in part during his time with the Rough Theatre group, whose plays included rewritten gags from music hall shows. The Alternative Cabaret collective (which included Tony Allen, Alexei Sayle, Jim Barclay and Andy de la Tour) performed shows that lasted several hours and included musicians and comedians working together. The links between music hall and stand-up don’t end there: CAST New Variety, a left-wing theatre company founded by Roland and Claire Muldoon, was also responsible for helping to save the Hackney Empire music hall in late 1986 by using it for gigs.

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled 'Reds under the bed', 1985 (

Poster for CAST New Variety night entitled ‘Reds under the bed’, 1985 (Linda Smith Collection, BSUCA/LS/3/1/1)

When the 1980s Comic Strip group began performing, academic Olly Double notes that several publications compared their gigs as doing to comedy what punk did for the music world (2020, pp.32 – 33). This comparison is further strengthened by the fact that they released an LP:

The Comic Strip poster, 1980

Poster, 1980. Originally a venue, The Comic Strip collective quickly embarked on a national tour, released an LP and produced TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…” (Arnold Brown Collection, BSUCA/AB/2/1)

All of this music inevitably leads us to questions about how we look after such material. Caring for music archives is a lot of fun but it can be tricky! Fortunately preserving most paper-based material such as song sheets and play scripts is a relatively straightforward process (acid free boxes + stable temperature and humidity = happy collections). However, audiovisual material (LPs, videos, CDs, cassette tapes) is generally incredibly sensitive to environmental changes not to mention the rapid development of technology that renders media obsolete relatively quickly. So for us, managing audiovisual material is one of our key priorities at the moment; it involves knowing what material we have and in which formats and then working to prioritise items most at risk. You can read more about how we transfer collections from audiovisual to digital here.

One thing is certain though: these days music is just a big a part of our culture as it’s ever been, whether we listen to the radio, stream music online, or enjoy it as part of live performance. And as long as it continues to be such a large influence on our lives, we’ll continue to collect material on how it’s used in popular culture!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Pantomime:

Anderson, Gillian B. “Synchronized Music: The Influence of Pantomime on Moving Pictures.” Music and the Moving Image, vol. 8, no. 3, 2015, pp. 3–39. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/musimoviimag.8.3.0003. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Mitchell, G. (2017). ‘Mod Movement in Quality Street Clothes’: British Popular Music and Pantomime, 1955–75. New Theatre Quarterly, 33(3), 254-276. doi:10.1017/S0266464X17000306

‘The Story of Pantomime’ at the V&A Museum: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-story-of-pantomime

BSUCA:

Double, Oliver. Alternative Comedy : 1979 and the Reinvention of British Stand-Up, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/kentuk/detail.action?docID=6120964.

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part two)

Welcome to part two of our mini series exploring all things musical in Special Collections & Archives – just in time for Kent’s Summer Music Week! Today we’re delving into all things Boucicault and Melville and having a look at some of the amazing art held in the British Cartoon Archive…

Theatre collections part two: Boucicault’s brilliant box-office hits

Ah, Boucicault. The great thing about theatre people is that their history is just as interesting as their works, and the Victorian playwright’s life really is no exception. Bankruptcy? Tick! Extravagant legal battles over copyright of his works? Tick! Affairs and scandal? Tick!

Title page of a Penny Pictorial edition of Dion Boucicault's play The Colleen Bawn, showing the famous drowning scene

Title page of a Penny Pictorial copy of the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, undated (PETT BND 126.33)

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of 'The Colleen Bawn' by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play.

Front cover of a Penny Pictorial Play Book of ‘The Colleen Bawn’ by Dion Boucicault, featuring a colour illustration of a scene from the play (BOUC/PHO/0648577)

Drama aside (if that’s possible), Boucicault was arguably one of the most popular writers in the nineteenth century. His plays were immensely popular, in part because they nearly always contained a visual spectacle designed to draw audiences to the box office. In an age before movies and TV, it was a pretty thrilling thing to see – for example – someone nearly drowning in a cave, almost being run over by a train, or a burning house – on stage literally in front of your eyes. But what is possibly less well known about Boucicault is how he was one of the first playwrights to incorporate music specifically written for his works in the theatre; in The Colleen Bawn, not only does the music play alongside dialogue but it actually changes with each line. The music itself was so popular that it was still being loaned out over twenty years after the play was first staged in 1860.

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play "The Colleen Bawn" by Dion Boucicault, c.1861, featuring the famous drowning scene

Cover for sheet music accompanying the play “The Colleen Bawn” by Dion Boucicault, c.1861          (CALB/COL/MUS/LDN ADL/F190364)

Boucicault’s use of music in his melodramas also massively helped ease critics into greater support for orchestras on the ‘proper’ theatre stage, showing that drama could extend beyond well-written words into a more complete theatre experience.

The British Cartoon Archive: more than just politics

Our British Cartoon Archive is best known for its vast collection of social and political cartoons across the 19th and 20th centuries, so it’s hardly a surprise to discover that music pops up fairly regularly as well. A quick search on our catalogue for ‘music’ returns 146 results! Sometimes music and entertainment is a beautiful hark back to previous times, like in this David Low cartoon from 1954 where the current political situation is reimagined as a music hall variety night:

Cartoon by David Low comparing the current political situation to a night of music hall entertainment

“Music-hall situation” by David Low in The Manchester Guardian (28 May 1954, LSE4654)

 

Occasionally nursery rhymes become mischievously reimagined for contemporary comment, such as in Leslie Illingworth’s retelling of ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’:

Cartoon by Leslie Illingworth showing Harold Macmillan as a shepherd in a field of sheep, with one black sheep leaping off to the side

“He’s a poor little lamb who has lost his way, Baa! Baa! Baa!
The little black sheep who has gone astray, Baa! Baa! Baa!
Gentleman Tory off on a spree, D—-d from here to eternity,
Lord have mercy on such as he, Baa! Baa! Baa!
With acknowledgments and apologies to the Whiffenpoof song, published by the Magna Music Co. Ltd.” (Leslie Illingworth, 21 March 1962 for the Daily Mail, ILW3486)

The most regular culprits are – of course – the early 20th century cartoonist W.K. Haselden and the wonderful Carl Giles. For Haselden, whose work in the Daily Mirror tended to look at societal changes as well as political events and wars, the inclusion of music is hardly a leap. Famous for his sketches of actors in Punch and repeated forays into women’s fashion and roles in society, music is another way in which Haselden pokes fun at everyday people and trends:

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the different types of music that would entertain railway commuters

“Music for the Railway travellers” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 04 October 1907 and 20 September 1911 (WH0614)

Cartoon by W.K. Haselden showing the excesses of combining musical performance with food

“Music at meals: Meals at music – a parallel” by W.K. Haselden, published in the Daily Mirror on 17 March 1914 and 19 February 1918 (WH0895)

In Carl Giles’ world music is somewhat of a nuisance, especially when it comes to small children attempting to avoid piano lessons:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing the many different places toffees can be hidden to distract from piano lessons

“IN THE GILES FAMILY there is a theory among the children that the more toffee they get on the piano the quicker they get their music lessons over – you press one note and they all go down together. I offer this simple sweets-are-now-off-the-ration guide to parents who, during the more or less sweet-free years, may have forgotten the trouble spots.” (Carl Giles, 7 February 1953 for the Daily Express, GA0825)

Music is also a huge source of mischief in Carl Giles’ land, as seen by this 1959 cartoon:

Cartoon by Carl Giles showing a group of soldiers being told off for inserting a mischievous page of music into the official performance

“It is reported that during band practice for the forthcoming visit by Chancellor Adenauer you did wilfully insert one page of ‘Colonel Bogey’ into the band’s music for ‘Deutschland Uber Alles’.” – Carl Giles for the Sunday Express, 15 November 1959 (GA1601)

As you are probably aware, our British Cartoon Archive is such a vast, wide-ranging collection that it’s definitely worth an hour of your time exploring all things musical via the online catalogue. Have fun!

Theatre collections part three: enter the Melvilles stage right

One of the many SC&A hills I am prepared to die on is this: the Melville family, whose complete archives we hold, is criminally underrated in the theatre history world and more people should know about them and love their work. A dynasty of thespians (you can find a brief Twitter-friendly summary of them here), the Melvilles managed several important theatres (including the Theatre Royal Brighton, the Lyceum and the Prince’s / Shaftesbury in London) at the turn of the 19th /  early 20th century. But their love of all things drama extended far beyond managing as they wrote and acted in plays as well.

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

Image containing sepia-toned photographs of the Melville family

The Melvilles are probably best known for their Bad Woman plays, popular in the early 20th century. The Bad Woman plays are interesting in several ways: they became well known during a time when melodrama as a genre was beginning to wane in theatres, but they also spoke to concerns in early Edwardian society – particularly the role of women during the suffrage movement, when demands for equal rights and pay were becoming ever louder.

Black and white postcard photograph publicising 'The Bad Girl of the Family' by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play

Black and white postcard photograph publicising ‘The Bad Girl of the Family’ by Frederick Melville, and showing a scene from the play, c.1909 (MEL/PUBMA/123: 0699937e)

The Melvilles tapped into these concerns and used the melodrama genre to address middle and lower-working class fears about ‘New Women’ disrupting society. As a genre, melodramas always play out social issues on stage before resolving them neatly and the Bad Woman plays did just this, creating unruly female leads who eventually gave up their misbehaving antics to settle down. Music played a huge role in the melodramatic genre; it became integral to the performance, making speech and gestures more extravagant and heightening emotion and meaning throughout.

Music from the Dion Boucicault play 'The Octoroon', adapted by the Melville family

Music from the Dion Boucicault play ‘The Octoroon’, adapted by the Melville family (MEL 70)

Alongside the Bad Woman plays the Melvilles worked extensively on a huge range of popular stories, rewriting them for their audiences. We have over 240 play texts from the Melvilles in our archives (view a list of titles here) and many of them contain the original scores for the performances. These plays ranged from pantomimes to contemporary stories, such as First World War dramas (‘The Female Hun’ notably includes sheet music for the German ‘Hymn of Hate’). The amount of music in the Melville archive is also documented through an entire section of the archive catalogue.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

Boucicault collections:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Melvilles:

Mayer, D. (2004). Encountering melodrama. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 145-163). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.009

Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part one)

June is finally here! The sun is out (well, mostly), lockdown restrictions are starting to lift a bit here in the UK and – most importantly – it’s time for one of our favourite University events of the year: Summer Music Week. Kent’s brilliant Music department annually hosts a series of concerts to celebrate the end of the academic year, and in these strangest of times we need music more than ever.

We’ve collaborated with Kent’s music programme many times before and our links are incredibly strong – there are so many forms of music in our collections! So to celebrate this year’s concerts, we thought we’d put together a brief chronology of some of the musical highlights in our stores…

Pre-1700s collection: Psalms, prayers and printed hymns

Our Pre-1700s collection is a real treasure trove of items, ranging from some of the most important printed books in the literary canon (looking at you, Johnson’s First Folio) to travel narratives, histories and much more. A big part of the Pre-1700s collection is comprised of religious texts and sermons; fantastic for anyone interested in the many debates around the role of the Church and the development of Protestantism in England.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible (C 549 BIB, Pre-1700s collection)

What’s particularly great about our Pre-1700s texts though is the insight they give into how everyday people practiced religion and interacted with the Bible, particularly after it was translated into English. Our 1580s Bible is such a great example of this; not only does it have marginalia dating from 200 years after its publication, but if you look in the back of the book there are musical scores to hymns sung in Church at the time!

John Crow’s Ballad and Song collection: oral history in print

Much of our Pre-1700s collection is comprised of books collected by the academic John Crow (read more about him here). Crow was a scholar particularly interested in a) the Renaissance world, b) Shakespeare’s legacy and c) ballad and song books, which for the purposes of this blog we’re going to refer to as an early form of sea-shanty TikTok.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection

The ballad and song books contain many publications of the Percy Society (active 1840 – 1852), which published and reprinted rare poems and songs, and the Ballad Society (founded 1868) which had similar aims but focused on publishing folklore. Ballads were a big part of English popular storytelling for generations; they were often printed on cheap paper, sold on street corners and passed around in pubs – but few of them survive due to their ephemeral nature. The Percy Society and Ballad Society aimed to change this by printing them in more formal book editions (made of better quality materials so likely to survive longer). The ballad and song books we look after are a fantastic resource for anyone interested in folk music, exploring how histories were passed around between oral and written formats, and much more.

Theatre collections part one: the Pettingell playscripts

Spoiler alert: a great deal of the music we hold can be found in our extensive theatre collections – so much so that they appear three different times in this blog alone, and that’s only because we’d run out of space otherwise! It’s pretty much impossible to separate music from theatre, particularly during live performance’s rise to fame during the nineteenth century – orchestras could be found in nearly every venue. Music was used to create atmosphere, to heighten emotion, to change scenes and – of course – during songs and dances on stage. Amongst critics there were continual questions asked about music’s role in the theatres, it being seen by some to cheapen ‘proper’ drama.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth, complete with am illustration of Macbeth holding two daggers. from the Pettingell collection.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth from the Pettingell collection (PETT S.124)

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault's play 'The Octoroon', from the Pettingell collection. The printed text is crossed out and handwritten revisions are included on the next page.

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault’s play ‘The Octoroon’, from the Pettingell collection (PETT PAR 21)

One of the main gems of our theatre collections is without a doubt the Pettingell collection, which comprises of over 4000 plays collected by comedian Arthur Williams and later bought by actor Frank Pettingell. Williams attended many of the plays he collected and as a result a great number of the scripts, which you could generally buy cheaply as a kind of souvenir, are uniquely annotated by their owner with information such as cast lists and additional pages added in. The Pettingell collection also contains more than 300 pantomime libretti, which we’ll talk about more below. It’s a great collection if you’re new to the world of Victorian theatre as you can really get a sense of the range of plays produced during this era – from histories to popular folk stories to adaptations of famous literary works, not to mention unique genres such as melodrama.

Music hall: early celebrities, the world before Spotify and popular music in action

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

My colleague Clair has written brilliantly before about music hall, but it’s pretty difficult to talk all things musical in the collections without mentioning some of our wonderful material that belonged to the British Music Hall Society’s resident archivist and historian Max Tyler. For the uninitiated, music hall (not musical(s) – pronunciation is key here) was a form of entertainment especially popular in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era in Britain – around 1890 – 1910. It was where many forms of Victorian popular culture developed, and is largely responsible for the variety shows of the mid-late 20th century. Music hall’s popularity was due in part to the industrial revolution – people moved to newly urban centres looking for work, which in turn created a demand for popular entertainment venues.

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Whilst the specifics of each music hall performance would vary, a few things would look similar at each venue: every event would have a chairman, to oversee and host the evening, and often a pianist to accompany performers. Admission was generally cheap (sometimes free, if you bought drinks) and caused licensers endless headaches about what constituted a proper venue! All kinds of performance would occur during a music hall night, from songs and ‘specialty’ acts such as dance, clowns and other physical entertainers, to condensed versions of plays (just don’t tell Boucicault about that…; see next post). Sometimes a single act would cross all different types of performance.

Cover for sheet music to 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Cover for sheet music to ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

As our extensive collection of music in the Max Tyler Archive demonstrates, it was possible to purchase illustrated song sheets of many popular music hall hits for home performance – albeit these tended to be the sanitised versions, for more genteel audiences, rather than the more popular bawdy songs! According to theatre historian Jacky Bratton, the abundance of song sheets that survive today gives us a slightly skewed view of what was actually performed in music halls, as it just wasn’t possible to record specialty acts or perhaps even adapted plays in the same manner.

Work on the amazing Max Tyler Music Hall collection is still ongoing, but you can browse our listings of Max’s incredible research files on our archive catalogue here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

John Crow Ballad and Song collection: the University of Oxford have an amazing resource via the Bodelian Library – Broadside Ballads online.

Pettingell playscripts:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Music hall:

Bratton, J. (2004). The music hall. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 164-182). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.010