University of Cambridge > > Centre for Animal Welfare & Anthrozoology Seminars > The Performing Animals Controversy in Early Twentieth-Century Britain: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

The Performing Animals Controversy in Early Twentieth-Century Britain: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

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I will examine how the performing animals controversy grew up after the First World War. Using it as a case study for aspects of British life in the early 1920s, it is possible to investigate the behaviour of pressure groups, the press, politicians and trade associations. The advertising material promoting animal acts is also a visual source of interest in its own right, and alongside this material there began to appear the posters and leaflets of protesters. Adding emotion to the public debate on this issue were the comments of eminent literary figures such as Thomas Hardy and George Bernard Shaw. Meanwhile, to counter criticism, shortcomings in the treatment of performing animals were often attributed to the ‘alien enemy’, Germany having been the main pre-war source of trained animal acts. To what extent was this simple prejudice?

The controversy itself occasioned extensive parliamentary select committee investigations and reports in 1921 and 1922, leading to new legislation in 1925. After 1925 the controversy declined but did not disappear. It helped to affect the nature of public entertainment in Britain, as the music hall, variety theatre and circus faced increasing competition from new attractions such as the wireless and cinema. Witnesses called before the committee revealed much of conditions in the entertainments industry of the time. The inquiry into performing animals also gave emphasis to lasting areas of concern about the accommodation and transport of animals.

This talk is part of the Centre for Animal Welfare & Anthrozoology Seminars series.

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