A Word You Could Say on TV in 1955

Via Terry Teachout, I found this clip of Noël Coward’s 1955 TV special “Together With Music” (with Mary Martin). The thing that surprised me was that he was able to sing the word “sluts” on national U.S. TV in the ’50s — a word you couldn’t even say in the movies at the time. It turns out the sponsor and the network wanted him to rewrite the song, but he refused, saying that he had been an arbiter of good taste all his life and that he was the perfect judge of what was and was not vulgar: “Look at that,” he said, pointing at a line of Ford cars that had been brought onto the stage to advertise the sponsor’s product, “that’s vulgar.”

I don’t know how the song went over with ’50s audiences, not because of the naughty (for the time) word but because it was written in the ’40s as a parody of a Latin dance craze that had pretty much dried up by 1955. But I find it interesting that censorship on ’50s television — particualrly live TV from New York — was not as strict as it became in the late ’50s and the ’60s. Broadcast TV censorship in the U.S. seems to go through ups and downs, rather than always rising or always falling.

One verse he did change, of his own volition, was a topical verse from the original ’40s version:

She said with most refreshing candour
That she thought Carmen Miranda
Was subversive propaganda
And should rapidly be shot,
And that she didn’t care a jot
If people quoted her or not.

(“Candour” and “Miranda” rhyme because he’s English and doesn’t pronounce the final “r.”)

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