Waxworks

I commend you to David Mitchell’s column in the Observer today about the waxwork Hitler at Madame Tussaud’s in London which is causing controversy because people will insist on getting photographed next to it doing mock Heil Hitler salutes.

Some people found this offensive and complained saying they were the grandchildren of survivors of the concentration camps and shouldn’t be subjected to “an unequivocal demonstration of antisemitism and bigotry.”

As DM points out, while they unfortunately find it offensive, they are not recognising that the tourists are making fun of Hitler. Us Brits have a long history of laughing at the squitty mono-testicled, moustacheod dictator and it’s in keeping with tradition to ridicule his waxwork at will.

DM writes “The couple (complainants) actually photographed two young tourists heil-Hitlering next to the waxwork and one of them is doing the moustache with her other hand. I’m pretty sure that neo-Nazis don’t do the moustache. They certainly didn’t do the moustache at Nuremberg rallies.”

But wouldn’t it have been great if they had? I mean, could they really have kept straight faces? Wouldn’t the assembled devotees have turned to look at each other and burst out into great fits of giggles?

Anyway, in response to the complaint Madame Tussauds issued this statement, written just about as badly as it could be (also satisfactorily ripped to shreds by DM) – “ We proactively encourage our visitors to interact with the waxworks should they so choose.”

That was news to me. Things have changed since my last visit.

When we visited Tussauds in London with the kids years ago I’m sure there were “don’t touch” notices everywhere.

Otherwise I would have grasped Darcey Bussell’s delicate outstretched fingers and aped her “both arms out, one leg up, en point” balletic stance. (Can you tell I was never packed off to ballet lessons?)

Darcey Bussell waxwork was gorgeous. Total female beauty and incredibly finely toned muscled legs. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I walked around it exclaiming “Look how tiny her waist is! Honestly, Look. It’s really tiny. 18Inches or something..” Epitome of female beauty if ever there was one. Then in real life she proved herself to be such a good sport that she took part in French and Saunders show. Sickening, really.

If interacting had been allowed, I would have stood next to Joan Collins to demonstrate how tiny my head was compared to her massive made-up and coiffed cranium and how gargantuan my child-bearing hips compared to hers. David Bowe’s hips were even smaller – about the width of my upper arm. David Attenborough, who I have met, was exactly right in height but had formality about him, a stiffness, that he doesn’t have in real life. That would probably be the wax, then, I hear you thinking.  Well ok, you might have a point.

It was all about height, really. “Wow, the Queen’s quite small.” “Oh look at tiny Tom Cruise!”

Call me old-fashioned but I don’t really think interacting with the waxworks is a good idea. Margaret Thatcher’s effigy wouldn’t last long, that’s for sure – neither would Kylie Minogue’s for very different reasons – and it would be just to gruesome to see tourists in the Chamber of Horrors climbing into the bath with George Smith’s submerged “bride in the bath” to give a cheesy grin for murder-obsessed granny back in Melbourne.

The whole thing about waxworks being family attractions has puzzled me a bit since I was mildly traumatised, in a not-understanding-at-all kind of way by the little museum of waxworks they used to have in Blackpool.

I was five years old, with a shiny short bob, a smart camel coat, brilliant white ankle socks and Clark’s sandals and on holiday with my nan and my dad while mum stayed at home with my baby brother.

It was mostly about donkey rides on the sand as far as I was concerned. Oh and they took me to see Lonnie Donnegan instead of Cliff Richard – some kind of heinous crime which my mother, a big Cliff and Elvis fan, never forgave or forgot.

“You passed up the chance to see Cliff Richard?” she kept asking my dad, randomly, for months and even years afterwards. It would always come up on Christmas afternoon “Yes well, you can’t talk. After all, you took our Jan to see Lonnie Donegan instead of Cliff Richard.”

But I know for certain that they took me to the waxworks museum – I think it was run by a Tussaud, Louis probably, who was Madame’s great-grandson.

I don’t remember anything about it except that the waxworks were, for the most part, very waxy and pale indeed and rather unreal in a really creepy, chilling kind of way and the exhibition included a small but effective Chamber of Horrors. I was also at an age where I wouldn’t have recognised anyone except perhaps Mrs Woodentop or Valerie Singleton.

To give nan and dad some credit, they may have formed a human shield so that I couldn’t see the worst of it but what I did see has stayed with me; people whose skin was thick with festering rashes languishing sick with plague (I actually typed plaque then but you don’t die of plaque unless it builds up to six inches thick and impedes swallowing) and others plastered with terrible sores and carbuncles.

“Nan. What’s the matter with those people?”

“I don’t know,” she’d reply vaguely.

“They don’t look very well, do they?” she replied in the same tone she used when talking about Mrs Hopkins down the road who was bad and under the doctor.

I think that was the place where I glimpsed my first syphilitic chancre. When we had sex lessons at school and they showed colour photographs of people with venereal diseases (you can tell my school sex lessons were mostly about avoidance through fear) I recognised those weird open sore from years before at the Blackpool waxworks exhibition.

So I supposed that weird waxworks exhibition was educational in its way, although very dark – and definitely not the kind of waxworks you’d want to interact with.

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About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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17 Responses to Waxworks

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Fab post.
    Must follow up by reading DM’s piece.
    I don’t like waxworks very much at all and struggle to understand why the queues for Tussaud’s wind for miles from the entrance while the far superior Planetarium next door close down for lack of visitors.
    And your sex education sounds far superior to mine. We just did some stuff about rabbits. It was mystifying.

  2. janh1 says:

    I enjoyed David Mitchell’s piece. Right on form.
    Do you mean the Planetarium’s closed??!!! It was an amazing experience and when we went, it was a joint ticket, so must have been run by the Tussauds people.

  3. IsobelandCat says:

    Yes that’s right. It’s been closed for some years now. I’ve forgotten who owns it, but it’s some mega company with fingers in lots of pies.

  4. JW says:

    Hello Jan!

    Thanks for a great read. A cracking blog.

    Some of the waxwork dummies are shockingly bad. I don’t mean Hitler bad but lifelike bad.
    Please don’t think wrong of me I did interact with one of the figures at Blackpool.
    One Samuel L. Jackson.
    We both stared at the camera in a contest to see who was the coolest. After a stand-off I moved off with a hangdog expression; it’s impossible to outcool SLJ.

  5. valzone says:

    Super read Jan, I enjoyed this. Its been years since I went to Madam Tussauds, the school, used to take us, if not, my mother, who by the way, pronounced Tussaud as Toosow….sorry, that’s the best I can do, pronunciation wise.

  6. janh1 says:

    C’est le vrai Francais, Val, peut-etre? J’ai no real idea, as you can tell. Surprised at the school taking you to Tussauds unless it was part of the curriculum for GSCE Hello and Heat Studies? 😉

  7. IsobelandCat says:

    Ahem. The ‘u’ should be very short, almost as though you are about to whistle, and the au is as in bateau etc.
    Yes, I was a French teacher in a previous life. 🙂

  8. Reading the piece, I can just imagine David Mitchell saying it.

    Racking my brains here but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a waxwork museum. I don’t feel I’m missing anything though….

    • janh1 says:

      Well, no, not from reading my blog anyway… 🙂 Never miss a chance to go to the Pencil Museum in Keswick, though. That *is* interesting!

      • Sophiescott196 says:

        Now I’ve been there – but it was probably in the late 80’s and I don’t remember it being terribly interesting. This may have been because I was young and foolish, or because it was very early in its development 😀

  9. Waxist says:

    Enjoyed so much the circular journey you took us on from Hitler to cancerous sores. Your revisiting of the effect of waxworks on our child minds, where there is always the possibility that they might be real or we might be similarly entombed, is chilling.
    David Mitchell is a joy, thank you, but how I would like to see a waxworks of the people commenting on his bit of fun. The long, miserable, self-righteous faces, hands poised over the hate button of their keyboards, the frozen gnashing and wailing, those long, cold fingers pointing accusingly. And so we are back to cankerous sores.
    How about the Glowster Museum of Cycling, all speed burs of wax and the past heroes of pedalling melting, melting into the distance? Manly Flare with Occasional Brain?

    • janh1 says:

      Manly Flare with Occasional Brain? Waxing lyrical there, I think! 🙂

      Yes DM’s detractors are a po-faced humourless bunch. But they do love to broadcast their opinions.

      Waxworks are inherently spooky and wonderful horror material – even without the traumatic childhood memories. Remember House of Wax with Vincent Price? Yikes!

  10. valzone says:

    Hi Jan, the school used to take us to all sorts places on school trips, but we are talking 6o’s here. I imagine they couldn’t think of any other way to keep us occupied, our headmistress used to call it a ‘Charabanc trip’…that tells you how old she was, even then 🙂

  11. janh1 says:

    Your school sounds like more fun than mine. I was at school in the 60’s and 70’s too but we had no school trips apart from a geology field trip to the Cairngorms near Pitlochry when I was 16, during which I had a fabulous unrequited crush on a boy called Howard. I can’t remember anything else about it at all.

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