14th March 1885. Pooh-Bah.

The impresario Richard D’Oyle-Carte was to build the Savoy Hotel, London, next to the theatre on profits mainly from the Mikado.

Theatre Poster, Edinburgh 1885.

Theatre Poster, Edinburgh 1885.

The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu, which opened Today in 1885 true to form was a satire on British politics and institutions this time in the disguise of an exotic setting in Japan. 

So just as the operetta Patience satirised Aestheticism, the Mikado whilst criticizing Government and Institutions in a foreign guise was helped in the task by the current fashion of all things Japanese which itself inspired much of the cult of the Aesthete. through its art.


Photo of Japanese village taken by W.S. Gilbert.

The Japanese culture was much in the news at the time stemming from the 1885 Japanese Exhibition in Knightsbridge, London. W.S.Gilbert was to visit the Exhibition which ran from January 1885 to June 1887. and acquired some of the staff to teach the actors about the culture.

Japan once a closed country was opened to world trade in the 1850’s and 1860’s and the visit to the country by the designer Christopher Dresser helped to develop a British, Anglo-Japanese art-style perceived as an untouched medieval culture.

It was the era of Liberty’s Store in London which was selling eastern house-ware, of carpets, ceramics and furniture and tallied with the new Walter Pater inspired philosophy of beauty ‘arts for arts’ sake and taken up by William Morris in his designs.

These nostalgically replicated medieval design overlain with Japanese flora, fans and flowing dress, inspired no doubt by Dresser who was also a botanist.

In the 1907 on a state visit by the Japanese Crown Prince the Government banned all Savoy performances of the Mikado for six weeks, thinking it might offend, but as usual with these attempts at second-guessing, it backfired as the Prince said he had wanted to see it.

Of the Mikado, satirising government and institutions under the guise of Japanese exoticism, the writer, G.K. Chesterton said ‘not one joke would fit the Japanese’.

However The Mikado was the most popular of G&S’s operettas running for 672 performances, the second longest run for any musical theatre, and soon 150 Companies were putting on performances.

In popular culture two references in the operetta are used today: To be a Pooh-Bah is to hold many titles, typical of politicians, and the song, ‘I’ve got a little List’, speaks for itself.

Ref: wikipedia.org/the_mikado/Poster Pic Image.

Ref: wikipedia.org/japanese_village_knightsbridge/Pic Image.




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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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