Sunday, 15 November 2015

Censorship Ain't Wot It Used T'Be

Reading a short book by Frank Norman Why Fings Went West about the London theatrical scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the letter reprinted in its entirety (pp.66-68) from the Lord Chamberlain's Office amused me.  It may seem strange to many that the Lord Chamberlain was able to censor plays from 1737 up until the Theatres Act of 1968.  Frank Norman had an interesting life of real struggle (it's unlikely he would manage to escape from the precariat these days) and was part of that whole Soho scene chronicled by Dan Farson in his highly entertaining books.  Norman was co-author with Jeffrey Bernard of one of the definitive works of that genre Soho Night and Day (I only have the paperback, the hardback is an expensive collector's item).

Incidentally, during the summer we spent a week staying at a cottage in the Devon village of Georgeham.  One morning I went for a wander, as I tend to do, around the village church and churchyard; I came across a gravestone for Negley Farson, which nagged at me, as I was sure I'd heard the name somewhere.  It was only later that I realised that he was Dan Farson's father and had once been a well known author and correspondent.  Apparently Dan inherited his father's alcoholism and both men died in the house at Georgeham.

The Norman book was one of a series called Time Rembered issued in the 1970s by Lemon Tree Press, based in Bedfordbury and named after the still-popular pub nearby.  The press owner Allen Synge sounds like another of those admirable small publishers of the period.

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be was a successful musical with music by Lionel Bart, recently revived - interesting that The Guardian review also mentions the camp interior decorator.

The Licensee
Garrick Theatre.

7th February 1961

Dear Sir,

The Lord Chamberlain has received numerous complaints against the play 'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be', in consequence of which he arranged for an inspection of the Garrick Theatre to be made on 1st February last.

It is reported to his Lordship that numerous unauthorised amendments to the allowed manuscript have been made, and I am to require you to revert to it at once, submitting for approval any alteration which you wish to make before continuing them in use.

In particular I am to draw your attention to the undernoted, none of which would have been allowed had they been submitted, and which I am to ask you to confirm by return of post have been removed from the play.

Act I
Indecent business of Rosie putting her hand up Red Hot's bottom.

The dialogue between Rosie and Bettie.  'You've got a cast iron stomach.' 'You've got to have in our business.'

The interior decorator is not to be played as a homosexual and his remark '...Excuse me dear, red plush, that's very camp, that is,' to be omitted, as is the remark, 'I've strained meself.'

The builder's labourer is not to carry the plank of wood in the erotic place and at the erotic angle that he does, and the Lord Chamberlain wishes to be informed of the manner in which the plank is in future to be carried.

Act II
The reference to the Duchess of Argyll is to be omitted.  Tosher, when examining Red Hot's bag, is not to put his hand on Rose's bottom with finger aligned as he does at the moment.

The remark, 'Don't drink that stuff, it will rot your drawers,' is to be omitted.

Tosher is not to push Rosie backwards against the table when dancing in such a manner that her legs appear through his open legs in a manner indicative of copulation.

Yours faithfully

The Lord Chamberlain's Office,
St James's Palace, SW1

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