The Halls flourished in the 19th Century, but had their origins in the taverns of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Minstrels plied their trade egged on by drunken crowds. As time passed, the notoriety of the Music Hall acts and camaraderie produced grew. Entrepreneurial businessman tapped into this commerciality and had purpose-built status symbol theatres to provide a ‘home’ for acts and punters. With names like The Apollo giving gravitas approaching Olympian ideals, so the owners basked in wealth and glory.
The Music Hall became the mass populist entertainment for the population. Every town had one, where everyone could be entertained by variety acts showing off the performers’ skills. The acts varied from singers, joke-tellers, comics, acrobats, to dancers. They all aimed to entertain. They enabled audiences to share a symbiotic relationship with one another; became recruitment officers for the Army; inspired War Poets; showed short films; and they and the halls reflected both the ideals and foibles of their era.
By using Raymond Williams’ structures of feeling as its cornerstone, the article will give a brief history of the halls, whilst providing analysis into how they grew into mass populist entertainment that represented British culture. Case studies of famous artistes are given, plus an insight into how Music Hall segued into radio, film and television.
Keywords: Music Hall; British; populist; entertainment; Victorian; cinema; low art