FOR THIS week’s Flashback, we are sharing one of the columns written by the late historian and photographer Robert Brown for The Gazette in July 2005.

A LIVELY and fun-filled evening of nostalgia and comedy is to take place at Basingstoke’s Haymarket Theatre in a “Summertime Music Hall”.

The show, being held in aid of the local branch of Age Concern on July 30 [in 2005], will relive the Edwardian variety theatre acts of a century ago when the likes of Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno entertained crowds all over the country.

British music hall originated from the “smoking concert” or “free and easy” shows at public houses in the early Victorian days. These informal concerts attracted mainly amateur or semi-professional entertainers, but their performances became more professional as they progressed. From such humble beginnings the great British music hall traditions began to develop.

The first music hall building to be erected for these special acts was the Star, in Bolton, in 1840.

Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, the shows spread across the country and were even seen by royalty.

Among the artistes who became famous for their acts was Marie Lloyd (real name Matilda Alice Victoria Wood), who was born in 1870. She was the eldest of 11 children and appeared on stage at the age of 15. Her witty but cheeky songs brought her fame and popularity. Her most famous songs were Oh! Mr Porter and My Old Man Said Follow The Van. She died aged 52 in 1923.

Another stalwart of that period was comedian George Robey (1869-1954) who first appeared on the stage in 1891.

Dubbed the “Prime Minister of Mirth”, he always went on stage with a hooked stick and had thickly-painted eyebrows.

Albert Chevalier (1861-1923) was an actor in his young days but he became a singer and song-writer in his later years. He turned to music hall entertainment in 1891.

From 1911 there was a decline in music hall. The death of comedian Dan Leno in 1904, aged 43, was a great loss. He was acclaimed as the finest entertainer in his field and his demise marked the beginning of the end of that era of variety.

The introduction of cinemas, and radio and television sealed music hall’s fate. But the memories of those years lingered on to the extent that entertainers would recreate variety shows.

Between 1953 and 1983, the BBC produced a whole series of such shows. Compered by Leonard Sachs, The Good Old Days had stars such as Ken Dodd, John Inman and Danny La Rue entertaining large crowds at the City Varieties theatre in Leeds, which was a genuine music hall building.

Local people took part in a similar show at our Haymarket Theatre in 1966. Basingstoke Male Voice Choir, Oakridge Ladies Singers, the Kelvin Players, popular local vocalist Anne Jeffreys – who arrived in the town in 1948 and joined the operatic society – and other entertainers performed to a packed house.

Basingstoke Gazette: Basingstoke Male Voice in 2016Basingstoke Male Voice in 2016

The joy of the music halls was the cheerful atmosphere with which both entertainers and audience filled the theatre. This was achieved by the jokes, the energetic stunts of jugglers and other artistes and the amusing songs with which the audience always joined in. Yes, they were certainly the good old days!

A former regular columnist for The Gazette, Robert Brown wrote eight books on Basingstoke history. He passed away on March 25, 2019.