- Murder, Mayhem and Music Hall: The Dark Side of Victorian Londonby Barry Anthony
Barry Anthony has two well-received studies of music hall stars, Charlie Chaplin and Dan Leno, commended by reviewers as "meticulously researched" and "an important addition to music hall history" (as quoted from historian Max Tyler on the book jacket). If Murder, Mayhem and Music Hall: The Dark Side of Victorian Londonqualifies for the first commendation it stops short of the second. The music hall of the title exploits its alliterative and associational resonance in the manner of a newspaper headline. But the book has little to say about music hall as a potent presence in Victorian popular culture or, more specifically, in the Strand, London's answer to the boulevard, a setting that provides a loose thematic link and an entrée to the "dark side" of the city. Several murders are recounted and mayhem is lived, staged, and suffered throughout in what is termed "an age of epic iniquity" (38). Anthony provides a colorful gallery of louche theatricals, private eyes and pornographers, con men and transvestites, lords and showgirls, a cast "worthy of reexamination as extreme representatives of a disruptive counter-culture that history has largely seen fit to overlook" (12).
The scene is set with Jack Sheppard, "the Strand's own patron sinner" (28). Sheppard's flamboyant eighteenth-century career as a street criminal ending on the gallows made him a folk hero of romantic literature and the stage, considered provocative enough for the Lord Chancellor to ban his name from play titles. This is the opening face-off between vice and virtue, between respectability and what Anthony terms "the cherished freedom to behave badly" (45). The Strand was a frontier zone between the two, physically and symbolically manifest in the confrontation between Exeter Hall—the four thousand capacity citadel of temperance evangelicals on one side of the street—and the Coal Hole and Cyder Cellars on the other. These were the notorious song and supper rooms (antecedents of music hall) serving drink and bawdy entertainments where journalist entrepreneur "Lord Chief Baron" Renton Nicholson conducted his salacious mock trials of celebrity misdemeanors. Prostitutes come next, working virtually every public and social space, examined here in co-dependency less with pimps and madams than with those who furnished and protected their hired finery, the ex-pro valet "Old Stock" and the front line worker "Fancy Goods." Parading the line between prostitution and exhibitionism are the archetype transvestite pair, Boulton and Park, on the street, on stage, and in court. Next up is the choreographed mayhem of Lottie Collins and "Ta ra ra boom-de-ay," the sensational stage dance whose popular revisionist street lyrics went viral: "Lottie Collins has no drawers/Will you kindly lend [End Page 360]her yours" (Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candlefordintro. H. J. Massingham [Nonpareil Books, 2009], 509).
A popular song title launches a further chapter, "Looking for Mugs in the Strand," detailing the various so-called ear bighters on the street hassling for loans and handouts, together with bigger predators in the many gambling clubs and fraudulent theatrical agencies. Anthony revisits the career and case book of the best known nonfiction private investigator of the era, Claude Moser, and tracks a more deviant sleuth, Charles Le Grand, amid intense speculation on his likely candidacy as Jack the Ripper. There is an account of the murder of matinee idol William Terriss by a jealous minor actor outside the Adelphi Theatre and the book concludes with a tour of Holywell Street and its pornographic book shops. On the dark side of the Strand, Holywell was obliterated by extensive redevelopment at the beginning of the new century when the song "Let's All Go Down the Strand" (1909) celebrated a brightly lit, newly wholesome resort for the modern leisure crowd.
A historian of Victorian film, Anthony includes a chapter on the early viewing machines—the mutascope and kinetoscope—whose exhibition parlors dotted London's main...