Frank 'n' Suze are no match for Eric 'n' Ernie

At this time of the year, we are often assailed by nostalgic looks back at the festive TV of yesteryear.

Friday, 4th December 2015, 10:08 am
Frank Skinner and Suzy Klein take to the stage as Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd in What a Performance! Pioneers of Popular Entertainment

Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery – all hailed as exemplars of a golden age of sidesplitting Christmas comedy.

At some stage during these televisual trips down memory lane, some talking head or other will inevitably claim that Eric and Ernie, or Barker and Corbett, were the last examples of music hall, without really explaining why that was, or what ‘music hall’ means.

Well, with three weeks until Christmas – or the ‘big day’, as it seems to be known these days – comedian Frank Skinner and Radio3 presenter Suzy Klein have arrived with What a Performance! Pioneers of Popular Entertainment (BBC4, 9pm).

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These two traced the history of music hall, from its start in the rowdy, bawdy penny gaffs and supper rooms of the early 19th century to the stuccoed and gaslit music halls of Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno.

The first part of this tale was fascinating, with stories of rowdy behaviour, and the turns in danger of being beaten up round the back if they failed to satisfy the audience.

We also heard that Leno’s early act was “a catalogue of domestic violence, really aggressive songs about beating each other up at home”.

However, the second part saw our part-time historians trying out costumes and doing a turn as the massive music hall stars of the turn of the century –Lloyd and Leno.

Beyond amusing themselves, it was hard to see what this added to our knowledge of the era.

Skinner had already met Tony Lidington, a Leno aficionado and impersonator, who did a much better job of giving us an idea of Leno’s talent than Skinner himself.

So why bother? It was like the producers lost confidence in the facts of the tale, and decided we had to see the ‘names’ gurning on the stage.

Next week, the show looks at the variety shows of the Edwardian era.

In the meantime, Eric’n’Ern are a much better substitute for the music hall legends than Frank’n’Suze.