Monday, 23 April 2012

A blast from the past - Max Miller and rubber underwear

For reasons too incidental to be worth explaining, I was thinking recently about rubber and latex. Every new generation probably thinks it's the first to have explored a particular social trend, whether generally or specifically in the fetish world. And I came across a piece from Max Miller.

Max Miller was the stage name of Thomas Henry Sargent (1894–1963), a comedian whose career ran from the 1920s to the 1950s. He's probably not as well-remembered now as many others of that era, because he mainly worked in music hall and variety theatres. His material was often considered too risque for radio or film (and, later, for TV) and he had periodic problems with the censor so only a limited amount still exists.

Historical note: in England and Wales, the Lord Chamberlain exercised a censorship function on stage performances at that time and could prohibit performances if he was of the opinion that 'it is fitting for the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace so to do.' This power was only abolished by the Theatres Act 1968.

A sample of Max Miller's material:

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl 
Right in the middle of her forehead; 
And when she was good, she was very, very good, 
And when she was bad she was very, very popular. 

And another:

 I was walking along this narrow mountain pass - so narrow that nobody else could pass you, when I saw a beautiful blonde walking towards me. A beautiful blonde with not a stitch on, yes, not a stitch on, lady. Cor blimey, I didn't know whether to toss myself off or block her passage.

But I'm digressing.

One of the few remaining examples of Miller in full flow comes from a film, Hoots Mon (1939) in which he played the part of a comedian. There's a segment of the film that was in fact part of his stage act at the time. You can see it on YouTube.

And here's a transcript of part of that segment. It starts with him appearing to adjust his underwear while on stage.

Don’t they ride up, this weather? I’ve got new ones on tonight, ladies, new ones. All rubber. Do you wear them, lady? You do, don’t you, ducky! Oh, you want to wear them, they’re very unhealthy. Very unhealthy. Listen, listen. You want to wear them right next to your skin. Right next to your skin, that’s how you wear them. With little tiny holes. You’ve seen them. Yes, you have, you’ve seen them in the shop! I’ve got them on and they’re nice, too. Lovely! ... They’re nice, but oh, you do look funny when you take them off. You look like a golf ball!

So there you go: rubber underwear as a topic of bawdy humour in the 1930s.

On a historical note, rubber did become relatively common in that decade. As one aged contributor to the Experience Project website notes,

'One can hardly imagine any more that there was one a time back in the 1930's where rubber was very much in evidence in every day's life. Little children were made to wear wonderful pure rubber baby pants sometimes up to an advanced age. A soft, smooth rubber sheet was also part of the bed equipment. Girls and women wore pure rubber raincapes and raincoats. Rubber aprons were also much in evidence in every household. Rubber aprons were also available for little girls.'

Rubber 'reducing corsets' had been available for women, at least, since the early 1900s as a slimming aid and did indeed have perforations as Miller describes. They were extremely popular, and there's a page full of advertisements from 1906 onwards on the Corsetiere website.

Finally, for the more than mildly curious, there's a Wikipedia entry on Max Miller and a Max Miller Appreciation Society.

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