This film is part of Free

E. H. Williams' Merrie Men

Fascinating fragments of a typical Victorian seaside entertainment

Performance 1899 3 mins Silent


EH Williams' Merrie Men were a large troupe of seaside entertainers working in the popular Welsh resort at Rhyl. The two fragments afford us a unique glimpse of such an act in progress, with a comic schoolroom sketch and a soft-shoe shuffle courtesy of dancers Jimmy Charters and Fred Egan, accompanied by a large band.

The blacked-up 'minstrel' act is understandably considered offensive today, but at this time few if any watching would see any insult. The popularity of the American minstrel act in Britain since the mid-19th century was much to do with black American music and would follow a set pattern, with a 'walkaround' of the whole troupe doing a cakewalk; the 'olio' - a variety section featuring the interlocutor and the 'endmen', who flanked the other performers and whose function was to keep up a comic patter during the show - and a final act, usually a drama.