However much the authorities try to shut it out, sex always finds its way back into the world of entertainment. It might pop up in the form of nudity or suggestion, or just reside in the imagination of the audience. Sometimes, it’s even the real thing. And then there’s pornography…
Owner Mrs Henderson and manager Vivian Van Damm revived the English theatre’s flagging popularity with ‘Revudeville’ in 1932. Based on the Parisian shows at the Folies Bergere, noted for their nudity, the Windmill girls were the first in Britain to perform scenes of a ‘naturistic’ variety – i. e. semi-naked. To get past the Theatres Act of 1843, which gave the authorities the power to ban plays on the grounds of immorality, and at a time when only married couples saw each other without clothes, the Windmill had to take heed of the Lord Chamberlain’s warning: ‘If it moves, it’s rude.’ As the cast of girls and boys danced and sang, the spotlight was dimmed and subtly placed on nude girls who had to remain still and represent tasteful classical figures from paintings or sculpture, using props, such as scarves or fruit, to conceal pubic hair. Artistes were not allowed to smile on stage and they had to have the right foot thrust forward so that nothing could be seen in what was called’the fork’. The fan dancers were the only nudes who could move as they were constantly covered by their giant feather boas. These laws were only dropped in 1968.
The Hays Code
Sexual representation in 1930s America attracted strong opposition in the form of the Hays Code (also known as the Production Code). These government guidelines, enforced from 1934 to 1967, were intended to restore and retain family values in American motion pictures and to protect the country from, among other things, sexual deviance in its various forms – as the code recognized them:
II. Sex The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.