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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Madame Tussauds and the inexplicable nature of tourism

Back in the 50s, when there was only one channel of TV and we were easily impressed, I was taken to Madame Tussauds near Baker Street. I was a bit frightened by the Chamber of Horrors. Actually, I was frightened by the idea of the Chamber of Horrors. I'm not sure I even went in. Even to my eight-year-old eyes Madame Tussauds was a tacky proposition. The notion of a good waxworks had limited appeal. The idea that in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world there was a particularly poor one was inexplicable even then. If ever there was a tourist attraction that should have shrivelled and died, that should have been rendered risible by the march of time and the advance of technology, it's Madame Tussauds. And yet, every time I go past there I am amazed that it continues to draw huge numbers. People from all over the world, where they presumably have their own museum of bad likenesses of their own celebrities, continue to flock to its door.

This is even more amazing when you consider that a ticket for an adult is £25. The blow of this is presumably softened slightly when you learn that a child is a mere £21. If it still seems a bit steep to you, then you can take a family for a bargain £85. Couple of cokes and the tube fares and you've spent £100.

Wandering around London you often run into tourists wearing that over-tired, faintly disappointed expression of visitors all over the world. It's the look that says "where am I again?" and "when can I go and buy something that I could have bought in my own high street but for slightly more money?" These people are already at the end of their tethers. How a visit to this mausoleum on the Marleybone Road does not push them over the edge is a puzzle. How Madame Tussauds was not burned down long ago by mobs of angry visitors who have paid out thousands of pounds per tour party to gawp at a few rotten wax figures I am at a loss to know. How it continues to get the traffic in 2008 is genuinely amazing. Could it be that quite a few of those twenty-five pounds go to the tour companies who deliver the people to its doors? Are people enjoying themselves in an ironic way, like visitors to Graceland? If it didn't cost so much I might go in and find out.