As one of the richest sources of diversion for the people of Britain between the end of the First World War and the 1960s, the variety theatre emerged from the embers of music hall, a vulgar and rumbustious entertainment that had held the working classes in thrall since the 1840s. Music hall bosses decided they would do better business if a man going to theatres on his own could take his wife and children with him, knowing they would see or hear nothing that would scandalise them. So, variety, a gentler, less red-blooded entertainment was gradually established.
At the top of the profession were Gracie Fields, a peerless singer and comedienne, and Max Miller, a comic who was renowned for being risqué, but who, in fact, never cracked a dirty joke. They were supported by acts that matched the word ‘variety’: ventriloquists, drag artists, animal acts, acrobats, jugglers, magicians and many more. But the variety theatre was constantly under threat, first from revue, then radio, the cinema, girlie shows, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and finally television.
By the end of the 1950s, the variety business seemed to have given up, but the recent and extraordinary popularity of talent shows on television has proved the public appetite is still there. Variety could be about to start all over again.
This is a subject that is finally beginning to excite a degree of scholarly activity and Baker’s extensive research, although not his interpretation of the evidence, should inspire a more rigorous revaluation of this influential... [read full review]Theatre Notebook, Vol 66, 2012
There are other books on the history of Variety and Richard's hardback book is destined to be up there with the best of them as one of the definitive works of reference.
read full review]"They'll Never Be Another" Issue 2 Vol 13
This is one of those books which is a treasure trove of information and a privilege to own. Richard Anthony Baker certainly provides value for money when he delves deep in to the history... [read full review]Old Theatres 38
Could there be anyone as knowledgeable as Richard Anthony Baker about century of light entertainment from about 1870 to 1970 when non-legit urban theatres ruled in profusion? In pursuit of his meritorious and definitive 2005... [read full review]The Call Boy, Summer 2011, Eric Midwinter
Old Time Variety is an illustrated history of good old-fashioned entertainment from names like Tessie O'Shea, George Formby and the early days of Bruce Forsyth. Your guide is BBC veteran Richard Anthony Baker with... [read full review]Yours, June 2011
For baby-boomers, like me, this book will be a trip down memory lane, because more than half of the performers cited by Baker (not the Richard Baker who used to read the news) were still... [read full review]Books Monthly June
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About Richard Baker
During 30 years at the BBC, Richard Anthony Baker wrote and presented music hall and variety programmes for Radios Two and Three. For Radio Five Live, he devised the world’s first obituaries programme, Brief Lives, producing its first 300 editions. In 1990, he published a slim biography of Marie Lloyd to be followed in 2005 by a definitive history of music hall, British Music Hall: an Illustrated History. He contributes regularly to The Stage and the British Music Hall Society’s magazine, The Call Boy.
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