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.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The dangers of not checking which blogger account you are signed in as eh? If you could delete the above, much appreciated.

    £85 quid to look at people who look don't look quite how they look in real life. What Credit Crunch?
    Do you think the prices are so exorbitant because so many good things are free - all the major museums and galleries - that they need to ensure the visitors they do get pay through the nose for it?
    I've never been and based on those prices, certainly never will.

  3. I agree, absolutely, except with the suspicion - hope - clutched straw - that irony may play some part in the tourists' enjoyment.

    Without wishing to get all anthropological, I think the faculty of recognition is a mysterious and powerful force in mass consciousness. A huge part of mainstream comedy - *The Office*, *Little Britain*, Catherine Tate - consists of nothing else. Some familiar personality or type is summoned up, impersonated, more or less perfectly. People laugh and clap and marvel. No content, significance, comment or other resonance is required.

  4. I took a visiting Japanese friend and his mother to Madame Tussaud's a few months ago (at their request, I hasten to add). I couldn't quite believe (a) how expensive it was and (b) how ridiculously busy it was once we finally got inside. It was virtually impossible to get near the more A-list waxworks. At least I now know I need never go there again!

  5. I cannot comment. I am truly rendered speechless by the news that it costs twenty five of our very own pounds to enter the place.

  6. I think for some reason it's still on a mental list of things tourists have in their head that they have to see so they can tick it off along with St. Paul's, The Abbey, Changing of The Guards etc.

    That, and a lot of them don't know how much 25 quid is in their native money.

    Many's the time I've had an American tourist come up to me in a pub near closing time to ask where they can go to get a drink after 11pm. I knew but I wasn't telling, Londoners have to have their secrets from outsiders.

  7. While everyone remains obsessed with Celebrity it is destined to remain popular. My sister came over from Australia last year and said she wanted to got to MT. I told her she was mad, but they thoroughly enjoyed it.

    The kids came back to our house and were uploading their photos with David and Kylie. I guess if you had visited as an eight year-old with a digital camera and a Facebook/Bebo/MySpace/Whatever account you might have enjoyed it more.

  8. My first trip to Madama Tussaud's aged about 12 left me totally spellbound. I thought it was amazing. Two years later, I still felt the same way.

    I went again about five years ago and I couldn't believe how bad some of the figures are. I'm sure they used to be really lifelike, but not these.

    There are still some in there from 30 years ago, though I note no Twiggy, Elton or Ella Fitzgerald anymore, no Marje Proops or Agatha Christie. Now it has German TV stars and international figures you've never, ever heard of.

    I was so disappointed. Another childhood memory soiled.

  9. I've never been to MT's and to be honest it doesn't appeal. But I do have a couple of comments on the price:

    1) This year the country was flooded with vouchers for Merlin Group attractions (Tussauds, Alton Towers, London Eye, Legoland Windsor, all the Sea Life centres, London/York dungeons, Warwick Castle - a good long list). You'd be a mug to pay full price, when there's a two-for-one voucher on the back of a packet of crisps.

    2) There's also the Merlin Group annual pass. That pays for itself within a couple of visits to those places. Some number of the Tussauds visitors are going to be people who got a pass to visit, say, the Eye and the Dungeons, then thought they might as well visit Tussauds since it's now free.

    That being said, the news media keep Tussauds alive, by doing an article every time someone gets 'immortalised in wax'. Earned or not, MT's has the reputation of being the best waxworks museum in the world. To be fair, I bet it's better that 'Louis Tussaud's' in Blackpool

  10. I must admit this all hit home to me last easter sunday when we came into town for lunch only to see a large queue for the london dungeon. My non-conformist roots must have been showing as I'm not sure death and horror arethe ideal viewing on a easter sunday dinner time.
    I think MT is popular because tourists still have swinging london view oft the place and expect to see madonna and co on every corner.

    One tip for tourist just hang around oxford circus/ top shop or near by when I worked round there you saw one reseasonably famous celeb every lunchtime

  11. I went to MT a long time ago and don't really remember much about it. I know that there are now Tussauds museums cropping up in other cities around the world but for some reason I'd always considered the London one was superior to them all and had the most lifelike waxworks - probably because I know it's still very popular with tourists. But tourists will pay to see anything really.Once you've handed over the admission money then it doesn't matter if you're disappointed, there will be a fresh busload right behind you.
    Mind you, if you look at the cover of Sgt Pepper you get a good indication of how "lifelike" the waxworks are.

  12. I often wonder what tourists make of London. The galleries, museums, historical sites and the Thames are great, but the sideline stuff like Madame Tussauds - with the exception of the London Eye - looks rubbish. I took some friends with children to the London Dungeon a couple of years ago and was shocked at the tattiness of the place.

  13. There's an MT in Washington DC now, for some reason. It's only $10 to get in, too.


  14. And the tourists buy all that union jack tat from the street stalls too. Desperate.