Paper given at the national conference of the Société des Anglicistes de l'Enseignement Supérieur in Paris, 20 mai 2011
Audio file and abstract

MULLEN John (Université Paris-Est Créteil)
The Campaign for “Respectability” in British Music Hall 1900-1920:
a Campaign against Antisocial Behaviour?


Audio file part  one (MP3)
Audio file part two (MP3)

Abstract :

Defending respectability and denouncing vulgarity in early 20th century music hall

In the early twentieth century, the generalized and even obsessive search for “respectability” and the denunciation of “vulgarity” as a significant threat to society can be considered to be a type of campaign against anti-social behaviour, and the century’s distance we have to look upon it now may help us see its ideological nature more clearly.

The campaign for respectability was particularly present in the music-hall, a working-class entertainment trying hard, with some success, to move up-market. The danger of “vulgarity” was ever-present and was a particular worry to upwardly-mobile music-hall managers and stars determined to join the elite of society, to do which impeccable respectability was compulsory.

Our contribution will look at different aspects of this campaign for respectability in the music halls. We will concentrate particularly on the period of the First World War, where the contrast between official repectable morality and real social practice was particularly striking, since enthusiastic support for the war was as much a part of being respectable as avoiding swearing in front of ladies.


John Mullen, maître de conférences à l’Université de Paris-Est Créteil, a fait sa thèse sur le syndicalisme des fonctionnaires en Grande-Bretagne sous les gouvernments Thatcher-Major. Il travaille actuellement sur l’histoire de la musique populaire britannique et prépare un livre sur le music-hall.