Although we have always been a firm supporter of boundary-pushing arts, did you know that the Royal Albert Hall has at times banned the entire genre of rock and pop music, poetry events, the sport of boxing, bottoms, the Women’s Social and Political Union and elephants?
Find out more about our illegal history:
The Hall may have a long association with amateur and professional boxing, but for the first 47 years of our history all boxing events were banned.
Although there were several applications to bring boxing events here as early as 1893, no one was sure whether this particular sport was allowed to be staged under the Hall’s constitution, plus, allegedly, the King himself had voiced disapproval against ‘the introduction of professional pugilists into the Hall’.
It was not until 11-12 December 1918 that the first proper tournament took place, between Soldiers and Sailors of His Majesty’s Forces – The British Empire vs. The American Services.
The Hall ultimately played a significant role in the fight for the female vote, as the venue for almost 30 of the most memorable speeches, meetings, events and acts promoting the suffrage movement between 1908 and 1918.
However, in 1913 the Royal Albert Hall management banned Emmeline Pankhurst, her daughters, and the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) from the building.
By this time, the suffragettes of the WSPU were becoming increasingly militant in their protests, inside the Hall and across the country. With more extreme actions being encouraged at every meeting held in our building, the WSPU became first political group to be banned by the Hall’s trustees.
The party was allowed back into the building on 16 March 1918, to host a Celebration of the Women Suffrage Victory meeting, as women began to be given the vote.
In 1929, Chelsea Arts Club Ball organisers requested permission to bring a live elephant into the Hall as part of the decorations for that year’s theme, Noah’s Ark. Mr Troup, the Hall’s own architect, calculated that the floor of the auditorium could not take the weight of a fully grown elephant. A new standing order was made that no living animals be permitted on the floor, and the Chelsea Arts Club had to make do with papier-mâché substitutes thereafter.
Chelsea Arts Club Ball, 31 December 1958
Despite the ‘large animal ban’, there have been many instances of smaller animals appearing at the Hall in recent years. For example, until 2010 a fountain filled of goldfish would be constructed in the centre of the arena during the BBC Proms season. Most recently, Salty the Dog appeared on stage at the CBeebies Prom on 27 July 2014. However, to this day, the elephant ban has not been contested again.
In 1966, the Hall council decided to ban all events dedicated to poetry, after one particularly chaotic evening at the New Moon Carnival of Poetry in The Round.
Without a running order to follow or a compere to control events, the poets and performers, as well as audience members, harassed and heckled each other with loudhailers. During the event, a 10 gallon drum of paraffin oil and thirty homemade torches soaked in paraffin were found in the basement. The police were called to evict the show, and subsequently poetry events were banned for 18 years.
The Royal Albert Hall’s ban on poetry events stuck until the Poetry International 1984 on 21 April 1984, which showcased poets including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Adrian Henri and Benjamin Zephaniah – an altogether much more sedate affair.
Yoko Ono’s Film No. 4 (known as ‘Bottoms’) was famously banned by the Hall’s management and UK film censors in 1967.
The 80-minute piece, which consists of nothing but close-up shots of 365 bottoms walking away from the camera, was meant to encourage a dialogue for world peace, but instead was widely condemned for its perceived profanity.
Fifty years later, with Ms. Ono’s permission, the Royal Albert Hall lifted this ban to screen the film in its entirety for the first time on 3 May 2017, as part of our counterculture season Summer of Love: Revisited.
1972: Rock & Pop
Considering the breadth and range of rock and pop events that take place every year at the Royal Albert Hall, and the impressive roster of artists we have welcomed onto our stage it is a surprise to find out that our management attempted to indefinitely ban rock and pop concerts at the height of the pop revolution in March 1972!
Having welcomed in the world’s biggest bands and artists, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix during the 1960s, the Royal Albert Hall started the next decade with a very unloving attitude towards the rock and pop genre.
In 1971, only one of the 23 pop concerts held at the venue passed without disorder, vandalism, rioting, injury or destruction. With curtains torn, door and chairs broken, property stolen and extensive damage caused to boxes by people dancing, bands caused tens of thousands of pounds of damage to the Hall in this year.
In March 1972, having already banned The Nice, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Mott The Hoople, Frank Zappa, The Funkadelic, The Who and James Brown over the last couple of years, we tried to enforce a complete ban on rock and pop performances:
The ban turned out to be short-lived and thankfully it wasn’t long before the ban was repealed.