Friday, November 11, 2011

The Symbol of the "Naughty Nineties"

Fire engines raced to the scene.  The young Prince of Wales and his friend, the Duke of Sutherland, were on one one of them.  They enjoyed the scene immensely as the horses were made to go faster and faster through the busy London streets of 1865.

Unfortunately, they couldn't save The Eldorado, a music-hall and restaurant.  Nineteen years later, a new music-hall replaced the old theatre.  Designed by Thomas Verity, an acclaimed theatre designer, the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square was to become one of the most famous music-halls.  It had a grand opening with Chilperic by Florimund Horne. It was also the site of the opening of the Lumiere Cinematrographe in 1896.

The music-hall was especially noted for its ballets.  Such eminent ballerinas as Adeline Genee appeared there.  Madame Katti Lanner, an Austrian dancer, ran a dance troupe.  The management even travelled to St.Petersburg to acquire new talent.

Unfortunately, the ballet stars were usually members of variety shows.  For example, one evening's entertainment included a juggler, a trapeze-swinging poodle and a contortionist.  This was not the only problem encountered by the girls who appeared in the ballet.  In those days,  actresses and girls in the ballet often had a bad reputation.  They were regarded as "easy game" by the young men of the town.  One MP, a Mr Winterbotham, later complained that dancers often became prostitutes.

The promenade at the back of the dress circle in the theatre was apparently notorious and the reason why the Empire Theatre was considered "the symbol of the Naughty Nineties". Prostitutes and courtesans strolled here hoping to attract the attention of the young aristocrats and dandies.  Winston Churchill wrote that "they also from time to time refreshed themselves with alcoholic liqueurs".  These scenes would result in a great scandal - the subject of my next post.


Richard Hannay said...

There was a superb documentary on Music Halls a few weeks ago on BBC4 here in the UK, including how a lot of songs had a very smutty double entendre - 'daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow' being one of the worst!

Viola said...

I'd like to see the documentary. The lyricists and singers certainly got away with a lot. I thought that Marie Lloyd handled questions about her lyrics very deftly! I'll stay with 'The Boy I Love Is Up In The Gallery', I think.