Turned Out Nice Again, By Louis Barfe

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The Independent Culture

This tells "The Story of British Light Entertainment", from its origins in Victorian music hall all the way to the Saturday-night TV spectacular, and the recent reinvention of the talent show. I thought I was going to love it at first – there are fascinating accounts of the early variety acts, such as the trick-cyclist who stayed upright on a stationary bicycle for two hours and 39 minutes, and the magician Chung Ling Soo, who died on stage when his bullet-catching trick went wrong.

The evolution of music hall into radio shows such as It's That Man Again, and of these shows into television variety, pop programmes, satire, stand-up, sitcoms and chatshows is entertainingly told: Barfe's description of a Parkinson show in 1980, with Roy Castle, Kenny Everett and Richard Burton, when Sammy Davis Jr wandered on unexpectedly and sang a song, made me wish I'd seen it, and reminds one of how good live light entertainment can be. But there is too much emphasis on the behind-the-scenes stuff, the hierarchies, management structures, procedures, and budgets. No doubt these things are relevant to the end product of light entertainment, but they're not entertaining in themselves.

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