A few years ago, with time in hand, decided to take a look at the Lord Chamberlains documents, The Censor, from the 1940’s to see what there was in some of the acts I had seen live on stage in our local variety hall.
In those days the scripts for comedy sketches and acts had to be cleared with the Censor. Also, if the local police were not too busy a plain clothes constable might be in the audience making notes to see if there had been any deviation from what had been authorised.
Max Miller, then a major celebrity and comedian with a reputation for ad-libbing and near the knuckle humour turned this to his advantage sometimes by telling the audience that he was going to disappoint them because that big bloke at the back was checking on his performance.
Then he went on to advise them of the jokes cut in such a way that little was left to the imagination, which both pleased the audience and made any prosecution liable to difficulties if the case appeared in court. The publicity gained would mean full houses for months afterwards.
He was not alone and part of the game between the performers, their audience and The Law was to see how far it could be taken. There was a lot of subtlety and play on words that is now lost to us.
The script of one show turned up which raised memories. It was called “Soldiers in Skirts” and my parents went to see it having been told it was made up of females who had served either in the armed forces or in entertainment for the troops.
In fact they had been taken in because it was a series of rabid drag acts, all male, mostly excruciating. While verbally “clean” the extremes of dress and kind of stage business left nothing to the imagination. Despite many complaints the Censors left it untouched.
A drag act is one thing, but over two noisy screeching hours of it without relief quite another. My parents were not happy and nor were a lot of other people. I have never wanted to see another drag act again.
However, amongst the performers were the comedians Morecambe and Wise, before they took those names. In all the many programmes about them etc. this is one show that seems to be missing. It is not difficult to understand why.
It is always interesting to see what else is missing. A key feature of the Censorship was a rigorous and detailed control over anything suggestive of sex of any kind. But in scripts after 1945 despite the horrors of the death camps and The Holocaust, anti-Jewish jokes, a staple of many routines, were passed without note or comment.
How odd it seems now, careful highly educated men picking their way through pages and pages of drivel to strike this out and that and all the while when on stage whatever was said was one thing but the way it was said and the stage business was quite another.
It wasn’t as though this was anything new. Marie Lloyd apparently thirty odd years before had demonstrated in court when up on a charge for being off script that there was more than one way to put a song over. The normally staid “Come into the garden Maude” could be gentile or downright ripe with a few winks and gestures.
But the world has changed and while it is said that political correctness etc. has gone too far in curbing ordinary banter etc. at the same time it is becoming impossible to avoid the sex.
It has now becoming almost compulsory irrespective of having much to do with either the plot or telling the story. Despite all the theoretical freedom, it seems that a great deal of contemporary media entertainment is now far more restricted, narrower in scope and the real humour lost.
Tell you a story……………..