From Sid James to Amy Winehouse: Entertaining the Nation at the Jewish Museum

By Ben Miller | 26 May 2011 | Updated: 25 May 2011
A photo of a young female singer
© Getty Images
Exhibition: Entertaining the Nation - Stars of Music, Stage and Screen, Jewish Museum, London, until January 8 2012

As you enter the Jewish Museum’s rambunctious Entertaining the Nation, the sound of Joe Loss’s Begin the Beguine, a 1939 hit for the big band leader, heads a soundtrack which visits Fleetwood Mac, Jamiroquai, Elastica, The Clash and Amy Winehouse.

The high-profile show is the largest at the museum since its £10 million reopening last year, and the musical choices alone sum up the diversity of its cast.

A black and white photo of a detective in a coat, hat and gloves
Peter Sellers in characteristic crime-busting mode
© Getty Images
From the dirty cackle of Sid James to the tracksuit-wearing Slough chavs dreamed up by Sacha Baron Cohen and the success of Odeon cinema founder Oscar Deutsch, Jews have figured prominently in the cultural soul of Britain.

The museum sprinkles the stardust across a glamorous gauntlet of clips, costumes, props, photographs and posters.

A section tellingly titled More English than the English, reveals how some of the films produced by those great institutions of British cinema, Ealing and Gainsborough Studios, were produced by Jewish auters like Alexander Korda, Emeric Pressburger and Michael Balcon.

Even that most loved of all Carry on Stars, Sid James, was born Solomon Joel Cohen in South Africa. 

It all makes for an eye-opening show that also seeks to spread the wider story of the part immigration and diversity have played in keeping us amused and enthralled, exploring shifting media representations and public attitudes to minorities.

That most of us don't even think about religion when encountering these stars is probably the most telling point of ths exhibition. The underlying message of multiculturalism is an important one for this celebration of chutzpah to hang its hat on.
  • Open 10am-5pm (2pm Friday). Admission £3.50-£7.50 (free for under-5s, family ticket £18).
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