Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“The pleasure of the many cannot be made subservient to the prudery of the few”: or, “Wear as little as you can.”

Part of a series: a few things I ran across in Colindale yesterday.

Ban on Bare Legs?

Dancer Shocks Patrons of Royal Opera House


“Perfectly Proper,” Says Producer

The appearance of a bare-legged dancer in a song-scena at the Covent Garden Opera House, London, has so shocked the patrons of the Royal Opera House dances that the directors have decided that her costume must be “instantly modified,” or the production in which she appears will be banned.

In “While the Sahara Sleeps” there is a scene between the sheik and his Arabian dancing girl, who appears dressed in silver tinsel and with bare legs.

The protest against her dress was conveyed to the producers in a letter from Captain J. Russel Pickering, on behalf of the directors.

“We think the costume of the slave is distinctly indecorous,” says the letter, “and severe criticism has been levelled at us by our patrons. Bare legs on the ballroom floor do not, in our opinion, accord with the tradition of the Royal Opera House, and we must insist, unless the costume is instantly modified, on the banning of the scene altogether.”

“Frankly we are bewildered at the ultimatum,” said Mr. Lawrence Wright, the producer of the scena, to a Daily Herald representative yesterday. “The scena contains nothing that would not be considered perfectly proper at any vicarage tea party, and, besides, bare legs are the vogue at all the smartest fancy dress balls nowadays.”

Mr. Wright added that he was prepared to submit the matter to the theatre licensing authorities, and abide by their decision.

Daily Herald, 30 October 1926, p. 3

The story continued, and you'll be pleased to know it had a happy ending.


Objection that Came from Killjoys

The banning by the Covent Garden Opera House authorities of the bare leg slave girl costume in the song scena, “While the Sahara Sleeps,” has been lifted, and the scena will again be produced in the ballroom of the opera house this evening. It had been taken off in consequence of the ban.

Capt. J. Russell Pickering, general manager of the lessees of Covent Garden Opera House, confessed to the Daily Herald last night that he acted hastily in setting up the ban.

“The real objection to the costume,” he said, “I found came from killjoy sources with which it would not be desirable to be associated.”

“After all, in these days, the pleasure of the many cannot be made subservient to the prudery of the few, and the sheik scene in Mr. Laurence Wright’s scena is not obscene.”

It is understood that had the ban not been lifted, it was intended to produce the scena elsewhere.

Daily Herald, 5 November 1926, p. 9

And this, though not inspired directly by indecorous operatic dancing, seems not entirely unrelated. (There was something of a mania for swimming the Channel in that era, hence the reference in the first line.)


Short Skirts the Secret of Channel Swims


Discard Collars and Wear Knickerbockers

“That women have been so successful in swimming the Channel is partly due to the fact that they have trained themselves to stand the cold better than men.”

This was the dictum of Professor Leonard Hill in a lecture on dress to an audience of women at the Institute of Hygiene, London, yesterday. He said a useful little lot of advice was, “Wear as little as you can.”

“I have no objection,” he added “to the low necks and bare or silk stockinged legs which women have gone in for, so long as they are reasonable.”

“Pneumonia blouses are all nonsense. No girl has ever caught pneumonia through wearing a low blouse. It hardens her and helps her to resist such diseases.”

“Silk stockings and short skirts are good things, especially artificial silk stockings, which allow ultra-violet rays to penetrate to the skin. Artificial silk is better than natural silk, because you can get sunburnt through it.”


“Men were more coddled than women. It would be a great advantage if men got rid of their collars and took to open necks. Things were drifting that way. If men would go about in knickerbockers or running shorts it would be to their good.”

“With modern methods of education and constant exposure women seemed to be becoming the hardier sex. They were already coddling boys, and one day we might all be ruled by women.”

Daily Herald, 18 November 1926, p. 1.

Doctor Prof. Hill's call for men to adopt the collarless knickerbocker look fell, as far as I know, on deaf ears.

Which is, all in all, probably a good thing.

1 comment:

mikeovswinton said...

That would be Professor Hill. Wonder how he'd do in academia today?