Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Music Hall - Licensing / indecency


Portrait of Music-hall Proprietor (any time during the year except September, listening to the Lionne Comique Songstress Portrait of the Same on Licensing Day, before the Licensing Committee of the County Council

Punch, October 19, 1889

The annual meeting of the Licensing Committee of the London County Council, under the presidency of Mr. W.B.Yates, was held on Wednesday at Clerkenwell Sessions House, for the purpose of dealing with licenses for music, dancing, and stage-plays within their jurisdiction. There was a crowded court, because it had become known that several of the principal variety theatres were to be objected by a practically new set of people emulating the famous opposition of Mrs. Chant in 1894.
    After dealing with a number of unopposed renewals the cases of the opposed ones came on, the first of which was


    Mr. C.F.Gill applied for a renewal of the music and dancing licence of the Oxford.
    Mr. Baillache, on behalf of the Social Purity Branch of the British Women's Temperance Association, opposed. The objection, he said, was three fold - to the promenades, to drinking in the auditorium, and to some features of the entertainment. His clients objected, among other things, to a song given by Marie Lloyd "I've asked Johnny Jones, and I know now." He understood Miss Marie Lloyd came on dressed as a schoolgirl and sang and danced. The words of the song were these, and he would quote them at length in order that the committee might better appreciate their purport. They ran:-

I don't like boys, they are so rude;
I would no take them if I could.
Well, Johnny Jones, he's not so low;
He'll tell me things what I don't know.


One day a rude boy pulled my hair,
And thought I cried, he didn't care.
He only laughed and went like so (gesture)
So off Iran to 'ma to know -
What's that for, eh? Oh, tell me, 'ma,
If you won't tell me, I'll ask pa.
But 'ma said, "Oh it's nothing; shut your row."
Well I've asked Johnny Jones - see, I know now.

(Laughter.) The second verse ran:-

'Ma says I am a tiresome child,
My questions drive her nearly wild,
I want to know the ins and outs
Of everything I see about.
Here's Sister Flo and her young spark,
They're always sitting in the dark,
When I go in it's "Run and play,"
And so I said to 'ma one day,

The third verse was particularly objectionable:-

'Pa took me up to town one day
To see the shops and sights so gay.
Oh how the ladies made me stare,
They nearly all had yellow hair;


And one of them - oh, what a shame -
She called 'pa "Bertie" - it's not his name,
Then went like this - and winked her eye,
And so I said to 'pa, "Oh, my!"

(Loud laughter.) The last verse was as follows:

Ah, I know something no one knows,
'Ma's making, oh! such pretty clothes,
Too large for dolly they must be,
I'm sure they're much too small for me;
There's little frocks and socks and shoes,
And ribbons red, and pink and blue,
And little bibs as well there are,
And other things - so I asked 'ma'

(Much laughter.) What his clients said was that the suggestions in the third and fourth verses were quite improper. Another song to which they wished to call attention was by Lady Mansel, the effect and purport of which was this: It was the story of an elderly lady who went for a walk in the country in a high wind, and in getting over a stile she caught her foot in the rail and fell head first, and the refrain of the song was, "What I saw I must not tell you now." (Laughter.) Whatever opinion you might have about the propriety or impropriety of "Johnny Jones," he could not help remarking that the standard of decency must be drawn higher than a song such as the second. The next verse was about a young lady who went for a bath at the seaside, and coming back missed her machine and got into a man's machine, and what she saw she says "I must not tell you now." (Laughter.) That was most improper. The third verse was about a girl dancing on the stage in tights, which she suddenly burst, and so the refrain again said, "What I saw I must not tell you now." These were samples of inuendoes to which his clients objected.
    Sir J. Blundell Maple: At the theatres are there no sometimes inuendoes?
    Mr. Baillache said that might be so. It was a matter of taste, but he did not think they need take that into consideration. Coming to the promenades. the objection was that they were largely - he did not say exclusively - used by women who were of doubtful character. Miss Reed was not alone in this matter. He desired that there should be no concealment, and therefore he stated at once that she was supported, and to some extent directed, by the Social Purity Branch of the Women's Temperance Association.
    Miss Carina Reed said she had heard the song "I asked Johnny Jones, and I know now," sung twice at the Oxford and she objected to it. She also heard Lady Mansel's song, and she objected to that. She also objected to some of Knowles's songs as being improper, and to a dance given by two men in January, which she saw four times. One man, disguised as a female, was scantilly dressed, and the attitudes were very bad, They afterwards took off their wigs, and people knew it was not a woman. She also objected to Blanche Leslie's dance the other night, particularly the way she used her skirts. She had been eight times to the Oxford since January and seen the same girls there. She believed they were there when not at the Empire. The promenade was cheaper than at the Empire, so that the girls were not so gaily dressed. She had seem them receive money from men in the promenade. She had often spoken to them, and they told her they took no interest in the performance, and only stayed by a bar drinking. She had seen drunken men there. Witness gave other details as to what she had seen on her various visits.
    Crossed-examined by Mr. Gill: She sometimes went to the Oxford alone, but at other times was accompanied by Mrs. Sheldon Amos, and sometimes by other people who would be called as witnesses. She was visiting other places of amusement at the same time. Four notices of opposition to different halls had been given by individual members of the same association. She did not belong to the Hornsey Distrct Watch Committee.
    Have you ever been turned out of one of the places when you visited them? - I have.
    For accosting men?  - No. The manager chose to turn me out. He said I looked at the men. That was all he complained of.
    I suppose you did not go there again? - I did.
    Do you go to the theatre at all? - Yes.
    Do you approve of ballets? - I think the ballet at the Alhambra is beautiful.
    You do not disapprove of the ballets? - No.
    In further cross-examination, witness said that when she went with Mrs. Sheldon Amos she objected to the use to which the promenade was being put, to the dance of the men, and to the song "Johnny Jones." She put an indecent construction on the verse of the song. The mention of making baby's clothes was objectionable in the way it was put. She thought Lady Mansell's song was indecent. With regard to Mr. Knowles, he said that when a women went into bed she looked it to see if there was a man there, but a man would not, as he would not care though there were twenty women there.
    That you call obscene. - Yes.
    In your experience, do women look under the bed? - I do not know.
    You don't look under the bed? - No. (Laughter)
    But you are not afraid that there might be anybody there, perhaps? - No. (Laughter)

Illustrated Police News, 24 October 1896