AFED #26: A Little of What You Fancy (UK, 1968); Dir. Robert D. Webb

Early one crisp Saturday morning last spring I found myself standing in front of a supermarket in Candem, the former site of the once-renowned Bedford Music Hall. I was spending the day revisiting locations featured in The London Nobody Knows, an obscure 1968 documentary in which James Mason travelled around pointing out obscure Victorian landmarks in the capital.

Sadly, while Candem has held on to some of its old charm better than many parts of London, there was nothing to see. The Bedford, by then semi-derelict, was torn down a couple of years after it was filmed. Its fate was typical of many of the old music halls and the working class variety shows which had all but completed their slow and lingering death by the onset of the sixties.

The London Nobody Knows wasn't the only film to sentimentalise this vanishing culture. In the same year came A Little of What You Fancy, a kind of potted history of the music hall complete with re-enactments and renditions of many of the popular songs.

It opens with an unnamed host (in fact actor Mark Eden) wandering silently around the vacated Wilton's Music Hall to a soundtrack of the old songs. After an interlude for a rendition of old standard 'The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery' by sixties pop starlet Helen Shapiro, we begin in earnest as a clip-toned narrator gives a condensed account of the tradition.

Although most of the original music halls had gone the spirit of their Victorian pomp had been revived for the long-running revue at the Players Theatre. The film includes both a segment from a live show - compered by a young Barry Cryer - but also specially shot recreations. A medley by the Players performers which goes from rousing to cringeworthy and back again comprises the last fifteen minutes.

Of the thousands of act who trod the boards of the theatres even those who were once household names mean almost nothing to us now. A handful, such as Marie Lloyd and George Leybourne (aka 'Champagne Charlie') still linger in the collective memory, but the appeal of some acts seems obscure and unfathomable based on the archive footage that's used.

The whimsical nostalgia for a lost world is perfectly in tune with the sentiments of the music and it's milked for ever drop. Still, being also a product of Swinging London the makers couldn't resist a trip down Carnaby Street, as Mark Eden struts along evoking the spirit of the swells and mashers (the old term for male drag artists) to a soundtrack of 'Percy From Pimlico'.

Amongst experts there's a view that A Little of What You Fancy is a somewhat rose-tinted take on what was quite a bawdy, raucous form of entertainment. I can quite believe it, but there's such obvious affection for the subject matter it's difficult not to enjoy the film if you have an interest in cultural history, both the time it's evoking and that when it was made.


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