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Old Time Variety: An Illustrated History [Kindle Edition]

Richard Baker
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 theater emerged from the embers of music hall, a vulgar and rambunctious 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 theaters on his own could take his wife and children with him, knowing they would see or hear nothing that would scandalize 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 theater 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.

Product Description


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 popular entertainment. - Theatre Notebook

About the Author

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2181 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Remember When (12 July 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00DN5U84W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #67,419 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top of the Bill 17 Nov. 2011
"Old Time Variety: an Illustrated History" written in 2011 by Richard Anthony Baker is a delightful companion book to his 2005 "British Music Hall: an Illustrated History." Mr Baker's "Variety" covers the period of popular performance in the UK that followed "Music Hall." Reading Baker's smartly-crafted reminiscences about the famous (Gracie Fields, The Crazy Gang, Doris & Elsie Waters, Robb Wilton, George Formby, Tessie O'Shea, Max Miller, Will Hay, Max Wall and Old Mother Riley) and the less-remembered---about a hundred of them---kept me up well past bedtime two night in a row. And if some of the variety stars are unfamiliar to you, you feel you know them a bit after you've read Baker's descriptions of their acts and his gossipy reports of their eccentric behaviors---most of which are amusing, some poignant, a few naughty, none snide or cruel. It seems Richard Anthony Baker has interviewed everyone who trod the boards of British variety theatres because, according to the dust cover, he wrote and produced BBC radio programs for 30 years and currently writes columns for British publications including Stage, Call Boy and Music Hall Studies. Chances are no other "insider" is going to offer you such rare tidbits about the personal lives of so many variety performers or their stage, radio, television and film successes. The book is well-designed, easy to read, and each biographical entry is introduced with a "facts" block (real name, birth & death dates and places, spouses and children---even how much money they left in their wills! In short, I loved this book!
Carry On Baker!

Frank Cullen
co-author: Vaudeville, Old & New: an Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (2007) and The Porridge Sisters Mysteries (2010 & 2011). Co-Founder of the American Vaudeville Museum.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is - or was - the spice of Life! 13 Dec. 2012
By Tin Tactoo VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Baker has done a wonderful job as the research into this book must have taken a fair bit to get together and it shows. It goes back to an era, sadly no longer with us, when people were gifted or dare I say it, talented, to be able to perform and this book gives a wonderful insight into years gone by as compared to todays' offerings: I dread when I read that somebody 'had decided to try comedy' (AGGHHHH!!!!!) and the end result is usually somebody dressed in somebody else's clothes as they never seem to fit where they should, badly in need of a shave and the men are just as bad, muttering away, wandering about on a stage/beer crate and after about twenty minutes a smile might, just might come on your face and you only hang on in there with it in case you get to hear a new swear word - entertainment?....nar... This book is full of detail and brings a world no longer with us for us to look into and feel a warm glow afterwards. Bravo, Richard.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Memories of Variety 17 May 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Other readers may rate it higher and I do think it does rate more than three stars without warranting four. It is a pleasant enough read concentrating on bigger stars without much about the supporting acts that really made 'Variety' tick. There is no mention of the influx of American talent which provided many of the headline acts, and some supporting ones too in the latter days of variety. I still recommend the book to anyone interested in the variety stage.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read. 19 Jan. 2015
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just a very interesting view of a lady whose husband was a victim of post war depression, and killed himself. This had a great impact on the rest of Alison's life; her relationship with her son and her anxiety that she had to be self sufficient. Her views about the people she knew seems to change like the weather! Although she protests modesty, she is always anxious for recognition and praise for what she has done. A complex character, interesting because of her observations of life in inter-war years, the Second World War, post war deprivations(all history to me) then the late 50s (when I was reading Little Grey Rabbit) and into the 60s and 70s (that I remember very well). Fascinating on lots of levels.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Our Gracie to WIlson, Keppel and Betty... 13 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A companion to the same author's Music Hall: An Illustrated History, which I have enjoyed for some time now, this book covers the fascinating period between the end of Music Hall and the arrival of Bingo clubs, with biographies of the stars and some lesser lights. A slightly odd feature is the inclusion in the summary attached to each section of the amount of their estates when said stars took their final curtain, but it does throw light on the lives and careers.

A very welcome addition to my personal library.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun 3 Dec. 2011
By perria
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Was great fun to read and discover some of our lost entertainment heritage. Didn't know so much live veriety entertainment has been lost.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Old Time Variety. 2 Mar. 2014
By Gerry
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wanted to look up this subject, and with interest. Found a comprehensively written book, covering my needs with both depth of reading, and a degree of humour. Will be useful to refer to in the future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good reference for old variety acts 24 Feb. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a good reference book if you are interested in variety act of the past although I felt they had missed out some big names from the early twentieth century
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