Friday Film (27)

It’s worth remembering, I think, that a good deal of what is past and gone is not quite as far back in time as its irrecoverability makes us feel that it is. For example, I myself think of the Second World War as at some little remove in history; yet, when I was born, it had been over for less than 18 years — which means that my arrival on the scene was separated from ‘VJ Day’ by a period no greater than that which separates you and I today from the first UK broadcasts of The Sopranos, say, or from Charles Kennedy becoming leader of the Liberal Demorats. (No, that’s not a typo.)

Similarly with the now extinct tradition of popular ‘music hall’. To us in this era of so-called ‘streaming media’, anything resembling the ‘variety theatre’ has an almost absurdly antique quality. Yet when I was first old enough to become aware of the outside world and my own irrelevance to it, it was very obvious that a form of entertainment that was universally known and widely enjoyed had vanished only a little while before I came along. To my grandparents (only three of whom I was able to meet), the world of music hall was something familiar from first-hand experience (my maternal grandfather was born in 1900) — while to my actual parents it seems to have been known mostly because of the way its stars and its conventions remained a part of radio, film and TV throughout the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

Former Irving Theatre, Seacombe, in 2010

Of course, there were other, more solid reminders of this defunct entertainment tradition: here and there around Wallasey and Birkenhead I could see disused or re-purposed theatre buildings that spoke of popular forms which had passed away. Protruding like the stumps of broken and rotting teeth were, inter alia, the former Irving Theatre (intermittently a music hall, before cinema and then bingo took over), and the Argyle Theatre (whose stage and auditorium had actually been destroyed by a German bomb, but whose wrecked shell (and functioning pub!) remained there until at least the 1970s… Continue reading