London

Camden museum celebrates Jewish people in showbusiness

The contribution of Jewish immigrants to British popular culture is being celebrated in a new exhibition in London.

The likes of Amy Winehouse, Mike Leigh, Matt Lucas and Sacha Baron Cohen are among the more recent stars being celebrated at the Jewish Museum in Camden.

From years gone by Marc Bolan, Sid James, Alma Cogan and Brian Epstein are also featured.

Those with memories that go back further may recall singer Frankie Vaughan, with his trademark top hat and cane, and actor Leslie Howard, who played the part of Professor Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion and the title role in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Then there are writers such as Jack Rosenthal and Harold Pinter and business brains Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne, and Oscar Deutsch, founder of the Odeon cinemas.

The roll call goes on - for Jewish names have played a significant role in shaping the world of showbusiness, from theatre and film to television and pop music.

The tradition goes back more than a century, to stars of the rough and ready East End halls of the Victorian era and comes forward to the present, embracing the ways we enjoy our content delivered - silver screen, small screen, hand-held device.

The exhibition, Entertaining the Nation, will tell the story of household names from the present and past, using extracts from shows, films and performances.

Vintage photographs and posters are featured alongside props and costumes, including T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan's gold suit and one of Dire Strait's star Mark Knopfler's handmade guitars.

'Surprises to discover'

Performers and writers not widely known to be Jewish are also included, says museum director Rickie Burman.

"The world of entertainment provided opportunities," she notes, citing the comedian Bud Flanagan as an example.

Flanagan, who formed a famous double act with Chesney Allen and was part of the group which became known as The Crazy Gang, was born Chaim Reuben Weintrop, the son of Polish immigrants who had settled in Whitechapel in the 19th Century.

Image caption Pink Panther star Peter Sellers was descended from a Jewish boxer

Similarly, Goon Show stalwart Peter Sellers, later to become a big Hollywood star, was descended from a Jewish champion boxer, Daniel Mendoza.

Many of the great British film comedies of the 20th Century were also sired by Jewish talent. Brothers Gerald and Ralph Thomas were responsible for directing the entire canon of Carry On and Doctor films.

"The sheer numbers of Jewish people involved is one thing," Ms Burman says.

"And there are lots of surprises to discover in these stories of our favourite stars. Frankie Vaughan for instance, took his name from his grandmother telling him he was her 'number vorn boy'."

"A lot of it is in the detail, and what a tremendous story it is."

The exhibition marks another stage in the documentation of the social history of Jewish people across London, following the museum's relaunch last year after a £10m redevelopment.

It will make a wider cultural point in exploring the importance of immigration and diversity as a source of cultural creativity in Britain.

A supporting programme of events, including film seasons, comedy nights, plays and talks, is also planned.

Entertaining the Nation: Stars of Music, Stage and Screen is at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town to 8 January 2012

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