Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 28, 1869 --- A Warning from the Lord Chamberlain

Lord Sydney, the Lord Chamberlain, who licenses and oversees public performances, sends a letter of warning to the managers of all London theatres and music halls regarding "the impropriety of costume of the ladies in the pantomimes, burlesques, etc." 

The increasing popularity of decolletage coupled with the introduction of some more provocative dances from the continent had given cause for concern for Her Majesty's official censor. While wishing to leave the matter to the discretion of the managers themselves, he feels he must comment at this time as "this evil has been gradually on the increase [and] has been taken up by the press and public opinion."  It has become so outrageous that, Lord Sydney suggested, "Many who have hitherto frequented the theatres ... now profess themselves unwilling to permit the ladies of their families to sanction by their presence such questionable exhibitions." The critic for The Illustrated London News applauds the move, condemning the current trend of "sensation-effects" aimed at "the grosser appetites of the lowest class of spectators."

Lord Sydney actually solicited suggestions and observations from the West End.  One actress wrote his Lordship that the costumes worn by many of the ladies in the stalls were far more risque than those worn on the stage.  Tomahawk, one of the more radical papers, mocked "My excellent fussy old friend" for trying to regulate the proper limits of female dress, "lest he should be embarrassed at the forthcoming entertainments of the Court by finding the "upper boundary" somewhat transgressed. 

Lord Sydney's warning was all but ignored.  A successor concluded that the effort had been "attended with ridicule and consequently, failure."

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