RHS Prothero Lecture — Professor Rohan McWilliam, 6 July 2022

The Gaiety Girl and the Matinee Idol

Constructing Celebrity and Sexuality in the West End of London, 1880-1914


Professor Rohan McWilliam

(Anglia Ruskin University)


Wednesday 6 July 2022

5.00pm – Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, University College London, and online

Watch the video of this lecture



In this lecture Professor McWilliam argues that in the later Victorian period the West End of London embodied the shock of the new. It became the world’s leading pleasure district and reshaped British culture in distinctive ways.

Between 1880 and 1914, the West End helped in particular to invent modern ideas not only of sexuality and stardom but glamour itself. New forms such as musical comedy at the Gaiety Theatre on the Strand and Daly’s on Leicester Square constructed images of what was fashionable and up-to-date.

The lecture ranges from music halls and theatres to different kinds of mass culture, including the poster and the picture postcard.


Speaker Biography

Rohan McWilliam is Professor of Modern British History at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, and a former President of the British Association for Victorian Studies. He is at work on a history of the West End of London, the first volume of which was published in 2020: London’s West End: Creating the Pleasure District, 1800-1914 (Oxford University Press).

Rohan has published widely on the histories of  popular politics and popular culture, including his book The Tichborne Claimant: A Victorian Sensation (2007) and articles on topics ranging from Victorian melodrama to the Labour Party in the 1980s.

Rohan is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Victorian Culture and the London Journal as well as the board of the London Record Society.  He is also co-director of the Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University.


RHS Summer Party, 6 July 2022

Please join us after this year’s Prothero Lecture for the Society’s Summer Party, held in the North Cloisters, University College London, from 6.30pm.

This will be our first summer gathering since July 2019 and we look forward very much to welcoming RHS Fellows, members and all lecture attendees to this now restored feature in the Society’s calendar.


About the annual Prothero Lecture

The Royal Historical Society’s Prothero Lecture is the principal named lecture in the Society’s annual events programme.

First delivered in 1969, the Lecture is named for the historian and editor Sir George W. Prothero (1848-1922), Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh and RHS President, 1901-1905. This year’s lecture is given in the same week as the centenary of Prothero’s death (on 10 July 1922).

Previous Prothero Lecturers include: Samuel H. Beer, Joanna Bourke, Linda Colley, Stefan Collini, Natalie Zemon Davis, Olwen Hufton, Sujit Sivasundaram, Quentin Skinner and Keith Thomas. Article versions by these and other Prothero lecturers are available in the Society’s journal, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.


RHS Lecture and Events: Full Programme for 2022 >


HEADER IMAGE: Gaiety Theatre, postcard, 1903, detail, public domain; Summer party image: The Fête Champêtre, Dirck Hals, 1627, Rijksmuseum, public domain.