Don’t Dilly Dally on the Research

You may remember reading about the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection in our #musichallvareityday blog post. Today we’re going to delve a little deeper in to one part of this rich and impressive collection – the research files!

It goes without saying that Max was a great fan of music hall, and he was known by many for his specialist knowledge of the subject. But Max was also a diligent organiser and an avid researcher of music hall, and this is reflected in the research files within this collection.

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Whilst working as the British Music Hall Society’s historian and archivist he would receive many queries from people all over the world. Max would always go the extra mile when responding to these queries, often carrying out a substantial amount of research on the enquirer’s behalf. He seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details, and his knowledge of obscure music hall songs was second to none. The outcomes of this research, alongside his own research for the various articles, publications and presentations he produced, was compiled into these files.

There are 183 files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals, horse racing and trains. The majority of the contents is photocopied sheet music and songsheets, but they also contain biographies, published articles and newspaper cuttings, copies of photographs, print outs from the internet, and email correspondence, alongside some original examples of ephemera, songsheets and postcards.

So, what do we have here…?

Within the collection there are:

  • 115 files on specific performers, covering such well-known artists as Vesta Tilley, Gus Elen, Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno. Male performers make up almost 65% of this sub-series of files, whilst only 32% focus on female performers. There are also 3 files about double-acts and one about a performance group (The Co-Optimists).
  • 12 files on specific subjects, including racing, the Salvation Army, football, railways, the genealogy of music hall, and ballooning!
  • 5 files about specific theatres, which includes the Musical Comedy and Gaiety Theatre (London), the Palace and Middlesex music halls, The Windmill (London), and two about the Players Theatre (London).
  • 4 files about historic events; the Suffragette movement, the Jameson Raid, the Anglo-Zulu war, and the Princess Alice Paddle Steamer Disaster
  • 3 files about a specific show or production, two about the stage show ‘Trilby’, and one about the BBC radio show ‘Palace of Varieties’.
  • And 1 file about a historic figure (it’s Queen Victoria)

There are also 43 files on less specific topics, such as ‘Songwriters’ and ‘Artistes’, collations of print outs and requests from research institutions like the Bodleian Library, or alphabetised folders containing collated resources and songs.

The most frequent words to appear in the catalogue records of the research files in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

Some highlights…

Now, files full of photocopies of published songsheets may not sound too exciting, however there are some real gems amongst the collection…

A songsheet for the song ‘Lambeth Walk’ which includes dance moves on the back

MWT/RES/166 – Lambeth Walk Songsheet, from ‘Me and My Girl’, with Lupino Lane, George Graves and Teddie St Denis, music by Noel Gay.

 

Photograph of the performer Chris Beeching looking very dapper in character as Champagne Charlie, for a production of a show performed at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2013.

MWT/RES/067 – Black and white photograph of Christopher Beeching dressed as Champagne Charlie for a 2013 production directed by Glyn Idris Jones. Photograph credited to Dan Savident.

Sheet music for a song about our local seaside town Margate, called ‘Merry Margate’.Check out an audio rendition here, performed by our very own Dan Harding from the Kent music department!

MWT/RES/167 – Photocopy of sheet music and lyrics for ‘Merry Margate’, written and composed by Lloyd G. Williams.

A souvenir folio from the first production of ‘Trilby’ on the stage in London, 30th Ocotber, 1895. Includes a cast list and photographic plates of the cast members in costume.

MWT/RES/008 – Small folio souvenier programme of Paul M. Potter’s ‘Trilby’, performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 30th October, 1895

That’s not to say all of the material within this collection is joyous and full of whimsy. The music hall tradition reflected societal norms of the day, and whilst many songs were intended to be satirical or comical, they did sometimes include racial stereotyping, blackface, stories of domestic abuse and/or offensive and outdated language. Whilst this can be upsetting and shocking to see, and to process and catalogue, it is important that we accurately record these terms and depictions in the interest of historical accuracy. Removing this material, censoring, or replacing these terms with modern equivalents, would risk falsifying the historical record and would in itself be problematic.

This collection has the potential to support some very interesting research projects. There is material here that could be used to research topics such as the representation of People of Colour in theatre, male and female impersonation around the turn of the century, or perhaps how humour was used to tell stories of poverty and depravation.

We’ve recently completed the cataloguing of the files, all of which you can now review on our online catalogue. If you’re interested in seeing anything in the files, just get in touch with us at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk!

A little of what you fancy..!

To celebrate the inaugural #musichallvarietyday on Saturday 16th May, 2020, we thought we’d tell you a bit about one of our magnificent theatre collections, the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection!

In June 2018 Special Collections & Archives were lucky enough to receive the personal music hall memorabilia collection of Max Tyler.

Who was Max Tyler?

Max was the historian and archivist of the British Music Hall Society. A retired bank manager, Max looked after the society’s theatrical memorabilia and was an expert in the field, particularly in the subject of seaside entertainment and obscure music hall tunes!

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Photographs of Max Tyler. Left and right images courtesy of Alison Young, middle image from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection.

Max was often invited to speak at events all across the UK and frequently wrote articles for publications such as The Call Boy and The Stage, and was the editor of the journal Music Hall Studies. According to the Music Hall Studies website, it was Max’s belief that “if there were no other source relating to British social history for a long period around the turn of the nineteenth century, a study of music hall song would provide everything researchers were seeking”.

Max had been in talks with us for many years about his personal collection of music hall memorabilia and research, with him ultimately bequeathing it to the University. Sadly, Max passed away on 5th January 2018 after being in poor health for some time. In his obituary in The Call Boy, Roy Hudd said of Max, “Max Tyler, an old fashioned gentleman and an old fashioned gentle man”.

After his death we worked closely with the British Music Hall Society to transfer the collection to our archive.

Music Hall? What’s that!?

Music hall was an incredibly popular form of entertainment from the mid-19th through to the early 20th century. Originating in bars and public houses, it was a heady mixture of popular songs, comedy and variety entertainment.

Oxford Music Hall, 1875

From around 1850 specialist music halls began springing up all across the country as the genre became more and more popular. The patrons would smoke, eat and drink whilst enjoying the humorous (and often cheeky) performances from that night’s entertainers. These entertainers were the celebrities of the day, with the most successful ones, such as Marie Lloyd, performing both nationally and internationally. The songs they sang were often a comment on the working class social issues of the time, such as money troubles, overcrowded living, unfaithful or nagging spouses, and sometimes even true love!

As the 20th century progressed and World War loomed, music hall popularity dwindled. Then came radio, cinema, and later, television, firmly putting an end to its ubiquitous popularity.

The collection

The Max Tyler Music Hall Collection is chock-full of music hall material, spanning from the late 19th century through to the early 21st century. It includes original and copies of Music Hall song sheets, sheet music and scripts for musical comedies, music hall programmes, playbills, 20th century music hall and vaudeville magazines and periodicals, music hall audio recordings on cassette, CD, shellac discs, and reel-to-reel tapes, published books on music hall, and music hall performers, Max’s research notes, and even Max’s very own stage blazer and hat!

Max’s striped blazer and straw boater hat, from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

We couldn’t possibly fit information about everything in the collection in to one blog post, so for today’s post we will focus on a couple of the larger elements of the collection.

Songsheets

There are at least 1500 songsheets in the Max Tyler collection. With elaborately illustrated covers, and whimsical titles such as “I wasn’t so drunk as all that” and “La-Didily-Idily-Umti-Umti-Ay!” these songsheets are an incredible glimpse in to the working classes of the day (albeit a satirised, playful one!) Performers such as T.E. Dunville, Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd and Gus Elen, amongst many others, are represented, as well as prolific composers such as Joseph Tabrar, Arthur Lloyd and George Le Brunn.

Just a few of the 1500+ songsheets in the collection.

Programmes

The collection boasts beautifully illustrated late 19th and early 20th century programmes from variety theatres of the day, through to bold and photographic programmes of the later 20th century. It includes examples from provincial towns as well as the larger cities. This part of the collection is incredibly complimentary to our other theatre collections, which you can find out more about on our website!

A selection of the earlier programmes available in the collection.

Research Notes

Max was a diligent organiser and avid researcher of music hall, the benefits of which can be seen in his collection. He would always go the extra mile when researching on behalf of the society or members of the public and seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details. There are over a hundred files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals and trains; it if it was a theme in music hall then Max was bound to have researched it in some way!

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Book collection

There are just under 550 books in Max’s collection. Again, the topics of these books vary from the specific to the peripheral when it comes to music hall. There are titles written by or about music hall performers, encyclopaedias and compendiums of music hall songs, stars and theatres, through to historical and literary texts.

Books in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

We are currently working on organising and cataloguing the collection. Material which has been catalogued can be found here if you’re looking for archival material, or here if you’re looking for items from Max’s book collection.

If you are interested in researching or simply viewing any material from this stunning collection, please do get in touch with us via specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.

Loving Lyly: talk on 25 Feb

We may have gone a little quiet about our annual Special Collections & Archives and Cathedral Library lecture series, but rest assured, we have been thinking on it!

The second lecture of the series will be given by UoK’s very own Dr. Andy Kesson, who is also a guest lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe. Andy’s research focusses upon literature, performance and cultural theory, particularly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He will be talking about one of Canterbury’s early modern playwrights, in a lecture entitled:

Loving Lyly; or, why does Canterbury not celebrate its most successful writer, John Lyly?

The talk will take place on Monday 25 February in the AV Suite at the Cathedral Lodge, within Canterbury Cathedral precincts. Refreshments will be available from 6pm, and the talk will start at 6.30. All are very welcome to join us, from within the University or as a member of the public.

The first lecture in our 2012/2013 season was given in November by Dr James Baker, who spoke about his research into the literary creation of Dr Syntax by Thomas Rowlandson and George Coombe. The British Cartoon Archive has recently acquired a major collection relating to this nineteenth century cultural icon. If you haven’t been able to see our Dr. Syntax exhibition yet, do come up to the Templeman Library Gallery before the 18 March to take a look.

The third and final lecture in this season will be delivered by Dr. Helen Brooks, who will be using the University’s extensive theatre collections to investigate Theatres of War, prior to the start of major research coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

We do hope to see you there.