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Old Time Variety: An Illustrated History [Paperback]

Richard Baker
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Nov 2013
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 risque, 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.

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Old Time Variety: An Illustrated History + Britain Had Talent: A History of Variety Theatre
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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Pen & Sword Books Ltd (2 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783400668
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783400669
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 557,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.

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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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1 of 1 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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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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When the book arrived we were surprised to see it was written in french. Luckily we gave it to someone who it would benefit.
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3.0 out of 5 stars DISSAPOINTING 6 July 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
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5.0 out of 5 stars top rate 18 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this book is exactly what I wanted.so pleased I saw it advertised.. intend to check out any more books by Richard baker
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