Its Inmates Absurd: The Velvet Underground at the University of Kent 1971

This is a guest blog from our volunteer Peter Stanfield, Emeritus Professor of Film at the University of Kent. Peter has been studying our editions of the University of Kent’s student newspaper ‘InCant’ to build our knowledge of the bands and artists playing on the University Campus in the 1960s and 1970s. If you have any memories of this gig – please do let us know! Email


Its Inmates Absurd: The Velvet Underground at the University of Kent 1971

“After about the first two years we got talking. . .”

– Maureen Tucker on rehearsing with the Velvet Underground

As a live proposition, The Velvet Underground, sans Lou Reed, existed for an improbable 2 ½ years, which included two tours of Europe in 1971 and 1972. In England, Autumn 1971, most of their gigs were on the burgeoning university and college circuit. On November 4, they made an appearance at the University of Kent. The big recent attractions on campus had been The Who, Eliot Dining Hall, May 1970 and in March 1971, in the Sports Hall, Led Zeppelin. More generally, student entertainment was provided by middle-ranking progressive rock bands – Mick Abrahams, Colosseum, Blodwyn Pig and local heroes Caravan. Kent alumni Spirogyra were an ever present feature. In all likelihood, the bookers thought the Velvet Underground would fit right into this scene. For their drummer, Maureen Tucker, the VU were always the exception to such trends.

Image of Maureen Tucker, holding drum sticks, playing the drums for the Velvet Underground.

Image of Maureen Tucker playing in the Velvet Underground at the University of Kent, InCant Student Newspaper, 17th March 1971

The Velvets performed in the Rutherford Dining Hall to a positive response, if the reviewer for the student paper InCant was any indicator. He or she considered them to be a ‘genuine rock and roll band in the American sense, as opposed to the likes of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath’. The reviewer delighted in their choice of covers ­ – Dixie Cups’ ‘Chapel of Love’ and standards ‘Turn On Your Love Light’ and ‘Spare Change’. Lou Reed songs ‘Sweet Nuthin’, ‘Sister Ray’, ‘After Hours’ and, the ‘beautifully corny’ (!?!), ‘White Light/White Heat’ were highlights, with the latter described as ‘funky’ by Doug Yule. InCant’s critic agreed.

Black and white image of an article from InCant student newspaper about a Velvet Underground gig showing two photographs of performers and text descriptions

Review of Velvet Underground gig, InCant Student Newspaper, November 17th 1971.

The interview with the only original member of the band, Maureen Tucker, is a peach. Asked about the shifts in the line-up, she said:

It’s been such a gradual change that to me anyway there’s been no apparent effect. After about the first two years we got talking . . . it was a mutual agreement that we were kind of getting sick of going on stage playing 30 minute songs. It’s just not original after a while, so Lou (Reed) started writing more four minute songs, rock and roll songs. Now it’s even more regular rock and roll than it ever was.


What happened to Nico? She wanted to go off on her own and be a big star

Image of a text article from InCant newspaper about a performance by the band, Velvet Underground

News item on the Velvet Underground concert, InCant student newspaper, Nov 17th 1971

Like most of the events held by the Student’s Union, The Velvet Underground gig lost money; the organisers putting lack of interest, it was suggested, down to the fact the band’s line-up had changed. On that basis they had tried to cancel but were unable to break the contract. Steeleye Span proved to be a bigger draw.

Black and white image of a performer singing at a microphone playing a guitar. He is wearing jeans, a white mickey mouse t-shirt and a thin scarf or tie around his neck.

Image from news article in InCant student newspaper, Issue No 70, 17th November 1971, p6

Back in April 1971, student Helen Chastel had provided InCant with a review of Loaded, soon to be released in the UK. It is one the best summaries of the VU I’ve read.

Proposition: for consistent and versatile genius in rock the Velvet Underground (or V.U.s to the cognoscenti) are equalled only to Dylan and the Stones. Don’t ask questions if you dispute it, write your own review. If you deny it, you are a Quintessence or Andy Williams fan and not worth bothering with.

Helen clearly didn’t think they belonged with the progressive mediocrities. She was a total fan, she’d bought her copy of Loaded in Washington last Christmas while on an exchange to the States and she knew someone who knew Lou Reed – ‘virtuoso extraordinaire, ex-child prodigy, now repudiator of drugs and hippies, mythical recluse . . . Sainthood is all in the mind.’

How many recognise themselves in the line ‘The deep sleep of a suburban upbringing can be shattered by sudden exposure to such a group’? Faced with VU & Nico, Helen ‘saw darkness of which I knew nothing, saw an extreme weariness, people born to die. Eliot (her college at Kent) life became petty, its inmates absurd.’ Reed, she wrote, had a ‘clear and cliché-less view of modern city life’, White Light/White Heat extended even further ‘into a chaos of light, blood, heat and noise . . . The third album is a surfacing, a return to verbal precision’. . . Lou Reed, Saint of the City. Helen Chastel, Saint of VU fans. . .

Image of a text article from a student newspaper titled "Velvet Underground", by Helen Chastel

Review of the Velvet Underground album ‘Loaded’ by Helen Chastel, published in InCant, the University of Kent Student Newspaper, issue No 62, 17th February 1971, p6.

On that same tour of British Universities, the VU entertained Warwick University’s student cohort. Genesis P-Orridge’s COMUS providing support (they also played at Kent in May 1972). Ad and review from the Warwick Boar student paper.

Image of an advert for gigs in Warwick

Gig advertisement for Warwick University

‘The Velvet Underground from whom great things were expected . . .’ Like at Kent, attendance fell below expectations.

Image of an article reviewing 'Ents' at Warwick University including two photographs and a text description of the gigs

Review of ‘Ents’ at Warwick University including the Velvet Underground


For Peter’s original blog see the following link:

Archive Volunteer opportunity – bands and live music at the University of Kent

Do you have an interest in folk, jazz and prog rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s?

Did you know that in the early days of the University, we had some amazing visiting bands play on campus! Some of them were big concerts such as Led Zeppelin in the Sports Hall in March 1971, followed by The Kinks in 1973.

Page of a newspaper showing an article titled The Kinks Rock on about a Kinks concert on the University of Kent campus in 1973

Article on The Kinks concert, March 1973, InCant (student newspaper)

Other bands played in Elliot or Rutherford Dining Hall, like The Yardbirds in Eliot Dining Hall in 1967, while The Gulbenkian also hosted some major artists, such as jazz legend Stan Tracey in 1970.  Some gigs were smaller, more intimate affairs, often featuring jazz and folk artists in one of the College Junior Common Rooms.

Canterbury was also an important part of the development of ‘Prog Rock’ (Progressive rock – a genre of rock music associated with experimentation and instrumentation), with the emergence of the Canterbury Scene. Many prog rock bands played on campus including Soft Machine, Caravan, and Hatfield and the North.

Two psychedelic looking figures with distorted faces, with the words Caravan and Juicy Lucy above the, and Keynes Fallout in the bottom left corner.

Poster for Caravan and Juicy Lucy – playing at the Keynes Fallourt concert. (Poster in the University Archives)

There is all this to learn and more in the archives at the University!  In preparation for celebrating the 60th anniversary of the University, we would like to offer a student volunteer placement in 2024 to help us with research in the archives into the bands and live music performances that took place on campus. This will involve looking at contemporary issues of the student newspaper and other sources to log dates, times and places for bands such as Manfred Mann, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span.

Do get in touch if you are interested in working with us on this fantastic project.



Dan Thompson – zines and artist books collection

We’ve recently been very lucky to receive a fantastic collection of almost 300 zines and artist books from artist, maker and collector, Dan Thompson.

Dan lives in Ramsgate and runs a studio out of Marine Studios in Margate. He works nationwide on projects centred around people and places. Below is his story about this fantastic collection. You can browse the collection here:

A photograph of 8 publications, their covers facing the viewer.

A selection of Dan’s publications in the collection, 997-2022 (DTC/ART/01)

“I’m a collector. I have collected since I was a child (my mum is a collector, too, with a love of the 1920s and 1930s – my dad had collections of stamps and of cigarette cards – and my uncle was an antique dealer). I have collections connected to the First and Second World Wars, to the printing industry, of studio pottery, of 7” soul singles.

But sometimes, collections creep up on you.

A photograph of 3 issues of Gay Christian zine, each photocopied on to pink paper.

Gay Christian zine, 1983-1984, found by Dan Thompson discarded at the British Juggling Convention, Ramsgate in 2022 (DTC/ZIN/02)

Back in the 1990s, I worked with a number of bands – and knew many more – who were on the fringes of Britpop.

Britpop retrospectives always feature two iconic magazine covers, Select with an image of Brett Anderson from Suede and Vanity Fair with a photo of Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit under a Union Jack duvet.

But the bands that originally made up the scene were better represented in Fantasy Y Fronts, a thick photocopied zine made by two fans, Mel and Sal. (There were lots of zines around back then, and the best ones were made by women.) Who remembers S*M*A*S*H, These Animal Men, Tiny Monroe, Thurman, Compulsion, Mantaray and co? I do, and they’re all in here.

I used to correspond with Fantasy Y Fronts, in the days when you had to write and post a letter. Finding the best bands, and being part of the scene, took time and commitment.

I kept a couple of copies of Fantasy Y Fronts as a souvenir of that time (I wish I’d kept the correspondence, too), and they’re the foundation this collection is built on.

Photographs of the covers of two issues of Fantasy Y-Fronts zine, balck and white photocopies with images of bands alongside text and logos.

Two copies of Fantasy Y-Fronts in the collection, 1994 (DTC/MUS/02)


Added to them are thirty years of things I never consciously collected.

It includes more music zines, including a small collection given to me a few years ago by the manager of Welsh band 60 Ft Dolls. There are political zines and pamphlets, including copies of Occupied Times from the Occupy movement that echo 1960s publications like International Times.

There are things made by artists I’ve known and worked with, like Charles Tolfree and Alice Angus. I’ve curated exhibitions and programmed events across England, so these come in geographical clusters: Brighton and Worthing, where I lived, then Margate, and Stoke-on-Trent where I have worked since 2014.

A photograph of 7 issues of Happy Hood zine, their covers facing the viewer.

Happy Hood zine by Laura Graham and Paige Taylor, 2017-2018 (DTC/PLA/04/01)

There are publications like Happy Hood, halfway between a zine and a local magazine, produced by my friend Laura Graham in Northampton.

There are all sorts of things, from all sorts of places, in all sorts of formats. There’s poetry and photography, and creative writing and cartoons.

A photograph of the cover of GirlFrenzy zinie, blue cover with a drawn image of a woman playing a guitar

GirlFrenzy zine, 1998 (DTC/MUS/11)

It’s a mismatched collection because I never set out to collect zines. These are souvenirs of projects, reminders of places I’ve been, gifts or exchanges with people I know – a collection of moments in time. They all originally belonged to other loose collections but a few years ago, I realised that if I took those collections apart (Britpop, or Things About London, or …) the constituent parts made a new collection, of what could be loosely termed artist’s books, zines, and small press publications.



A photograph of the cover of a zine, featuring a portrait of an older man.

Cummerbundery (Vol 1): The collected tweets of Brandon Cummerbund, 2010 (DTC/ART/08/06)


As an artist, I like this reshuffling of knowledge, this reframing of things in different ways. And that’s why I am pleased to be handing the collection, well over a hundred assorted items, to the University of Kent’s Special Collections, where it will be a cornerstone of their growing collection of zines and artist’s books. Because it’s a pack of cards that can be shuffled many ways, and I look forward to seeing who shuffles it and what they turn up.”


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 (



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, 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:


Double, Oliver. Alternative Comedy : 1979 and the Reinvention of British Stand-Up, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central,

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 (


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


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