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Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency

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Lucy Worsley Lucy Worsley | 13:00 UK time, Monday, 5 September 2011

A ballroom, pretty dresses, couples twirling round the floor to the swelling music of the Waltz. What could be more genteel?

Well, as I discovered in my new series Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency, the waltz was the Regency equivalent of dirty dancing.

Lucy Worsley in front of group wearing Regency dress

When it first appeared in the 1810s, this new dance from Germany caused a scandal.
Obviously, when I was offered a dancing lesson, I couldn't wait to have a go.

Equipped with a red Regency dress and a pair of dancing pumps, I got myself to the Royal Pump Rooms of Leamington Spa.

The Pump Rooms were used for Regency parties and balls, but are actually named for the pump there that produces some rather nasty-tasting spa water.

This water's supposedly health-giving properties lay behind Leamington Spa's spectacular growth as a tourist resort in the Regency period.

At the Pump Rooms I met the dance historian Robin Benie.

He told me how the country dances of the eighteenth century involved men and women standing in long lines, each person forming a couple briefly, in turn with all the other members of the set.

In the waltz, by contrast, you remain clasped in the arms of just one partner throughout, perhaps taking the opportunity for private conversation.

The Times newspaper condemned the new dance for its 'voluptuous intertwining of the limbs'.

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Historian Robin Benie gives Lucy Worsley a lesson in waltzing

Waltzing also played a sad part in the unstable Lady Caroline Lamb's tempestuous relationship with the poet Lord Byron.

Lady Caroline was one of Lord Byron's many groupies, and for a while he indulged her in a scandalous affair.

He made her swear never to waltz, as it made him so jealous to see her in the arms of another man. (He couldn't waltz himself because he had a bad foot.)

After their break-up, though, they ran into each other at a ball, and she said to him that 'she supposed she might waltz now'.

Yes, he said, she could dance with anybody she liked.

Poor Caroline was devastated by this evidence that their relationship was really over.

She immediately got hold of a knife, cut herself, and blood went all over her gown.

I myself managed to get through my waltz lesson without bloodshed and can now twirl very nicely indeed.

And I really enjoyed my afternoon as a Regency Rihanna.

Lucy Worsley is the presenter of Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency.

Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency continues on BBC Four at 9pm on Monday 5th September.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great programme ! Great music, never heard Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk and Jethro Tull in such opulent surroundings ! Look forward to the next episode !!

  • Comment number 2.

    Jethro Tull AND a great programme too?! - life is complete!

  • Comment number 3.

    Where is all the music used in the programme listed? I love it, and recognise most of it - but occasionally I can't recognise it - and it is driving me mad!

  • Comment number 4.

    Echo stevendavey, never heard so much music I like / possess used as background on a TV programme before. Great programme too, Lucy Worsley is a star, very entertaining.
    Also echo pete-suffolk - I want to know too. Just watched part 3 (recorded) and couldn't recognise one piece, I know it but can't remember what it is!

  • Comment number 5.

    Pretty dresses , swirling and dancing does it for me as of course does Lucy. xxx

  • Comment number 6.

    You people actually like the music larded into this and similar programmes? I find it - and this particular episode had some rather bad examples to show exactly why - irrelevant, intrusive and distracting. Take for example the segment on Sir John Soane's house: what was that all about? What relevance did the music have? What did it add to the informational content of the programme? How did it help tell the story? I'd genuinely like to understand the thought processes underlying what seems to me to be an increasing blight on factual programmes.

    And I wouldn't mind knowing whether the presenter, whose words have to compete with it for our attention, feels the same way about it as the producers.

  • Comment number 7.

    Like many others I was amazed and amused by the amount of prog rock on the programme. I heard Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Stranglers, and the cherry on the cake was the intro to an old Jethro Tull track from 1972 (Locomotive Breath).

    And Lucy appears this evening on National Treasures Live and what do we hear but a snippet from Floyd's 'Meddle' album (One Of These Days).

    She looks too young to be a fan of 70s rock. Must be the producer who is.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am really enjoying this programme and Lucy Worsley is just a wonderful presenter. I have studied this particular period and it is sheer pleasure to watch it. As for the music, it didn't really irritate me. Thank you BBC for these and other similar programmes.

  • Comment number 9.

    I completely agree with Patrick Wallace.

    The excessive music completely overwhelmed the fascinating content of the programme - I was close to turning it off by the time we got to Soane's house.

    Much as I like most of the music itself, what possible relationship do the Stranglers or the Doors have to early 19th century Britain?

    I am increasingly irritated by BBC4's lazy Friday night obsession with music programming, and it looks like this is now leaking over the rest of the schedule!

  • Comment number 10.

    Excellent programme, Lucy is, of course, wonderful. As is the music. Pink Floyd is often heard as TV background music but rarely tracks from Saucerful of Secrets and UmmaGumma. I think that the music is intelligently used as it either is incorporated for it's mood or its title which reflects the scenes we are viewing so it's a definite bonus as far as I'm concerned. I would still love the programme if it used music from the period concerned but how much more engaging to opt for a different track!

  • Comment number 11.

    Isn't she lovely --our Lucy ? She's such a good sport, gets really involved. I love her enthusiasm, which she conveys so well to her viewers. Has there ever been a presenter who got down and dirty with her subject so much,--NO.I guess some snobs will not appreciate her style. If this approach widens the appeal for larger audiences--so be it.

  • Comment number 12.

    I like her style and approach. It's a pity the music gets in her way. And I'm sorry, but I just can't agree that the mood of the music reflected the scene of, e.g., Sir John Soane's house - why would it need to be reflected in music anyway? As for the title of the music being relevant to the context, what earthly use is that if you don't recognise it anyway - or even if you did: "Here's a segment about
    Stubbs - let's have Father Ted singing My Lovely Horse over the top of it!"? I don't think so.

  • Comment number 13.

    Generally liked the program but i noticed a glaring innacuracy. Birmingham and manchester did indeed have no MP's until the great reform act but Liverpool did have 2 MP's during part of the middle ages and continually from 1545 onwards.

  • Comment number 14.

    What an informative and well presented programe. Thourghly enjoyed it. The presenter Lucy is perfect for the programe,

  • Comment number 15.

    Still hoping to get some comment from the producers about the rationale for the choice of music, its placing and volume....................


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