It was this coming weekend back in 1968 that censorship laws in this country changed dramatically with people moving extremely quickly to take full advantage. The American hippy musical “Hair” opened in London, only one day after the abolition of theatre censorship. Basically some of the scenes in the musical were deemed far too outrageous to be shown on a stage in the UK. The show, billed as an American tribal love-rock musical, first opened in New York in December 1967. Many were angered by scenes containing nudity and drug-taking as well as a strong anti-war message at the height of the Vietnam conflict and the desecration of the American flag on stage. The show’s transfer to London’s West End would not have been possible before the new Theatres Act which ended the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of censorship dating back to 1737. Our strict censorship laws were introduced by Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole to silence shows like The Beggars’ Opera which contained biting anti-government satire. However, the new Theatres Act did not give playwrights a completely free hand. Strong language and obscenity would still be liable for criminal prosecution.
So what about the musical “Hair”? Whilst it did contain some blasphemous and sexually explicit language, the scene that has aroused most controversy was where the cast appears on stage in the nude, emerging from beneath a vast sheet. The director of the London production of Hair, Tom O’Horgan, said at the time “I think that the famed nude scene has been greatly over-emphasised. “It has very little importance in the show itself and much of the publicity has obscured the important aspects of the play, which are also perhaps shocking to people because they deal with things as they are. We tell it the way it is.”
As with many things, a bit of controversy in the media never harms ticket sales and the speed in which the production hit the west end following the change in the law helped everyone to either see the show or raise its profile by talking about it.
We will be looking at the story in more depth and playing the top ten of that time.