Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Wilds of London, by James Greenwood, 1874 - An "Anti-Idiotic Entertainment Company."

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SOME time ago it was my melancholy duty to set before the reader an account of a visit paid to a metropolitan music-hall. I gave specimens of the songs that were sung, and, to the best of my ability, portraits of the talented gentlemen who sang them. Since that time the working man, weary of hewing wood for his betters (and with no better prospect than six feet of elm planking as his final share), and of drawing water (going thirsty the while), has courageously demanded a reform of his estate, and with no small degree of success. It is his laudable resolve to have a finger in pies of his construction, an active finger for syrup and plums; the time has passed when he was content to sit patiently in the scullery, waiting for dish scrapings and broken bread from Dives' table. " We will have you to know," says the working man, "that we are intelligent creatures as yourselves, and insist on being treated as such."
    And quite proper too. No one was more delighted than myself to hear the working man express this noble sentiment, and bearing it in mind the other evening as I chanced to be passing that same Grampian Music-hall visited last April, it occurred to me to drop in and see what degree of reform the working man had worked for himself in the way of his means of recreation. The result was that I came away more than ever impressed with the idea that of all companies of modern 

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[-305-] scheming, few would have a better chance of success than an Anti-Idiotic-Entertainment Company.
    And I will tell you why, John Jones. I, too, am a working man-working away with my tiny steel tool and ink-bottle often and often when you are comfortably abed and asleep, John - and therefore I claim the privilege of speaking with you plainly as a brother toiler may. I would advocate an Anti-Idiotic-Entertainment Company as a means of freeing you - us - from the tyranny of ignorant men who monopolise the control of your chief place of amusement, and the evil example of the snobs who make these places their nightly haunt, and who by their empty-pated applause of what is there to be heard and witnessed, delude you into the notion that it is all very fine and desirable. And let me beg of you not to misconstrue my meaning. You are fully able to judge for yourself what suits you, and are little likely to mistake French polish for real mahogany, or Cheap Jack ware for true Sheffield cutlery. But you are shy of speaking out your mind individually. You don't go to a music-hall to make a row you go to enjoy yourself, to take the good with the bad, and float easily with the stream. "What Suits one man's taste may not suit another," say you, out of your good nature, "and though I may dislike such-and-such why, it's quite evident that there are many about me that enjoy it very much. Just listen how they stamp and clap, and jingle their glasses! Why, I should be set down as a meddlesome jackass if I gave vent to what my feelings are on the subject, and after all, what do I know about music?"
    It is just because that you and I, John, know little about music - because we place ourselves, as we are invited to, in the hands of the knowing ones who assume to cater for us that we should be better treated. As for the glass-jingling and hand-clapping, don't you believe in it. Nine times out of ten it emanates not from your fellows, John, but from the meerschaum-pipe-smoking, brandy-and-water-drinking numskulls, who toady [-306-] the chairman, and crave the notice of Piping Jerry Sullivan, whose mail-phaeton, with the silver lamps, now awaits the pleasure of that Horizontal Hyena of Laughter for whose services all the music-hall keepers in London are outbidding each other.
    You have a sound head on your shoulders, John, and allow me to tell you that in your heart of hearts you despise the contemptible fare commonly set before us at the music-hall as thoroughly do I. It is impossible that you can do otherwise. Let us together discuss a few choice morsels from the dainty dish.
    Here comes funny Fred Molloy. At present he is one of the stars of the Grampian company, and you may read his name as such on fifty red and yellow placards in a walk of a mile. In the midst of an uproar of applause, Freddy approaches the footlights in the attire of a Bedlamite, with a set grin on his expressive countenance, and a dab of red paint on his nose, and makes his bow to the audience. All these celebrities have their "points," of which they are extremely jealous. Freddy's point is contained in a little bit of dirty rag with holes in it, and which he makes believe is a pocket-handkerchief, and withdraws from its receptacle with a flourish to blow his nose before he begins to sing. By mistake, however, he thrusts a thumb and fore finger through two holes in the rag, and applying them to his nose, blows on them - a disgusting trick, and one that would earn for him a kick in private society, but which sends the numskulls into hysterical laughter.
    Then he commences to sing. He has no voice - none of these "Hyenas of Laughter" have; so his sole dependence is on the fun contained in the words of his song, and his droll manner of rendering it. Listen!I His ditty is of a servant discovered at the enchantingly ludicrous occupation of chopping mince meat by the individual Freddy represents. Freddy whistles her down the area, and the mince-meat chopper replies, " Don't be a fool, you fool; go away." But he will [-307-] not go away, and annoys the young woman until she promises to meet him next Sunday. And she doesn't meet him, and then he discovers that she is in love with somebody else. That is the whole of the legend, and be sure there is not much in it, and, despite the irresistible way in which Freddy thrusts his tongue out, and bangs his hat about, the song would possibly fall flat were it not for its miraculously funny chorus:
        "And her mince-meat knife went chop, chop, chop,
        Chop, chop, choppetty chop-chop!"
in which the audience are invited and expected to join, Freddy giving them encouragement by a "Now, then-all together," and a stamp of his foot. And join in it they do, the imbecile, as you may hear, John, with the frantic and approved emphasis on the final "chop" as Freddy demands. Just fancy, my friends, a company of rational beings being led by the nose to such idiocy by Funny Freddy Molloy.
    Encore! encore! encore! Here he is again! This time he wears a white apron and sleeves, and announces in Catnach rhyme that his name is Sam and that he keeps a ham and beef shop, and that he used to be in love with a young woman, the daughter of a coal-dealer, but that unfortunately her parent got into difficulties and shut the shop up, and went abroad with his daughter. This was all, and set to a tune such as might be played on a Jew's harp; but the chorus! By Jove! it was better than the mince-meat knife:
        "But now she is gone and left her Sam,
        She has gone to Scringa-patam-atam-atam!"
    What would you think of your eldest son, John, if at Christmas, or any other festive season, when called on, he should favour the company with this sort of thing? Why, he would be laughed out of countenance before he had got through with the second verse.
    Encore! encore! and at least three rummers smashed by the enthusiastic numskulls, and once more Freddy appears. This [-308-] time in private attire, and without the paint on this nose. He is no longer funny; he is moral and instructive, and no longer wipes his nose on a bit of rag, but on the whitest of white handkerchiefs. Pray do not mistake the benign expression of his countenance for a comic expression, and titter, or he will at once frown you down so low that you will remain prostrate through the remainder of the evening.
    His theme is edifying as it is original. Of course, John, you were never before warned against despising a man because of his ragged coat; or enjoined to "love your neighbour as yourself;" or "to do a good turn when you can;" or "to return good for evil." Never since your grandmother's death, or before, were you made aware that "a friend in need is a friend indeed;" or that "wilful waste makes woful want " or that a stitch in time saves nine. It was left to Funny Freddy Molloy, with his nose still streaky of red paint, to raise the eyebrows of his comic-singing visage and smirk cantishly while he impresses you with his teaching. Eugh! Drive us mad with your Patam-atam-atam, excruciate our feelings with your "Mince-meat knife," trundle over our common-sense like Juggernaut in your "Ugly Donkey Cart;" but for the sake of the time when you must - if you have enough of some sort of luck - become an old man, probably used-up and forgotten, and with no more palatable butter for your crusts than your bitter reflections, don't trespass on the beat Mr. Chadband long since made his own.
    Shall we stay any longer, Mr. Jones? We must, just a little while, for the stage is once more occupied. Not by Mr. Molloy this time, thank heaven! but by quite an undistinguished person, and his greeting is not overwhelmingly hearty. But listen to what he is singing, and in a sweet voice too. You are glad we stayed; and so am I, John; it is a treat at any time to hear "Sally in our Alley" well sung. Why don't that fellow leave off tinkling his glass ? Why, because he's one of the numskulls, [-309-] I suppose, John and would much prefer "Slap Bang" to the touching old ballad now being sung. Ah! now you can clap your hands, Mr. Jones, and so can I, and so can all our fellows. You don't know much about music, you say; why, you've shown that you do. "Ay, ay, but them sort of song everybody relishes, you know."
    "Encore! encore!" But the numskulls are silent, and Mr. Chairman announces.
    "Billy Whiggles will sing the next song, ladies and gentlemen!"
    "Come away, John. Billy Whiggles is as like Freddy Molloy as peas in a pod."
    The fact is, John Jones, you have been so entirely giving your attention to what is your due as a working man, that you have quite neglected what are the rights of your leisure. Well, you know the power of your voice now, my friend. All you have to do is to cry "off," and Billy Whiggles is annihilated in a twinkling.