Little Englanders: Britain in the Edwardian Era by Alwyn Turner - review by Piers Brendon

Piers Brendon

Freak Shows, Peepshows & Sunday School

Little Englanders: Britain in the Edwardian Era


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Alwyn Turner has achieved the remarkable feat of shedding new light on the Edwardian era. Books galore have been devoted to the period between the Boer War and the First World War, but this is the first to examine it through the prism of popular culture, as reflected in an encyclopaedic range of contemporary newspapers and journals. The result is a rush of fresh images, like those generated by the Mutoscope, a penny-in-the-slot machine introduced to Britain in 1897 which displayed a rapid sequence of photographs conveying motion and revealing, say, What the Butler Saw. Such peepshows were saucy rather than pornographic, but that did not stop moralists from condemning the Mutoscope as ‘the gateway to perdition’. It became a craze. Along with other forms of mass entertainment which Turner covers, it provides an insight into the attitudes of the man on the Edwardian omnibus, who was generally less interested in the British Empire than in the Empire, Leicester Square. 

The tale of the music hall is an illuminating one. Growing out of tavern entertainments for working-class Victorian males, it was raucous at best, violent at worst, with some establishments chaining bottles to trays to prevent their use as weapons. Song and dance routines were its staple, often combined with

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