The Downfall of the Music Hall

The Music Hall tradition was one borne out of a need for cheap entertainment for the masses.

The huge demand for entertainment for the lower classes led to dozens of Music Halls being built at a rapid pace during the 19th Century.

For decades these buildings were packed to the rafters with eager punters, all happy to pay the small entrance fee required for an evening’s entertainment.

When the Great War engulfed the world in 1914, the Music Halls played a key role of recruiting young men into the armed forces. Factory workers, farm hands and students alike all frequented the Music Halls; these young men would become invaluable to the war effort. Importantly, the music hall was a place where men and women socialised. This sexually charged atmosphere, a precursor to the night clubs and bars of the modern world, would have made songs such as ‘We Don’t Want to Lose You, but We Think You Ought to Go‘ and ‘Now You’ve Got the Khaki On‘ all the more persuasive.

As much as the Music Hall tradition aided both War efforts, by the time the Second World War had finished, interest had more or less died out for them. There was now a new competitor to the live performers of Music Hall that threatened to change the face of consumer entertainment forever.

The first cinemas were opened in Britain in the years preceding World War I. At that time the films were silent, with musical accompaniment provided by a pianist. Due to the limitations of the technology, the showings would only last for around half an hour, so the Music Hall industry could rest easy. In the years during the two World Wars, the Music Halls played a key role in keeping the British people’s minds distracted from the grim realities of War.

Although there was a significant anti-war movement brewing within the United Kingdom, this sentiment rarely, if ever, made it’s way into the Music Halls and for good reason. Managers of Music Halls were responsible for the content that they allowed on their stage – if any performers on their stage were thought to be eschewing an anti-war or pacifist message, then they would run the risk of being shut down by government censors. So for 25 years, the Music Halls of Great Britain were a place for people to escape to. When they paid their their entrance fee and stepped into the space, they could leave their troubles behind and enter a world of relentless cheer and positivity.

This respite was short-lived though, the forties brought a string of American-made hits that made use of fully recorded dialogue. These large scale productions, such as The Wizard of Oz and Gone with The Wind, were full-theatrical length and, most of all, immersive, allowing the viewer to completely forget about their lives in a way that Music Hall simply couldn’t compete with. Attendance to traditional Music Halls began to drop and by the time television entered people’s homes, the performers that had graced those stages were either retired or working on the silver screen.

The Music Halls that had survived the bombs of the Blitz and had provided the country with decades of rambunctious entertainment, were either left to ruins or converted into night clubs or cinemas. However, there were a few that survived…