Response to Susan Press email

Our response to extracts from Cllr Susan Press’s recent email to all Labour members

Please note, the email in full can be viewed here:

EMAIL EXTRACT: We took our decision not because we are ‘moral guardians’ or because we wanted to ban burlesque per se but because we felt that sexual entertainment of this kind was not appropriate in a community-owned building and because we knew opinion in the community was  sharply divided and that for many – particularly women – burlesque represents the  sexual objectification of women in an unacceptable way.


1)    Burlesque is not legally defined as “sexual entertainment”. The Sexual Entertainment (Policing and Crime Act 2009) defines Sexual Entertainment as follows:

“Any live performance or live display of nudity* which is of such a nature that, ignoring financial gain, must be reasonably assumed to be solely or prinicipally for the means of sexually stimulating  any member of the audience.

(*Display of nudity means - in the case of a woman, exposure of her nipples, pubic area, genitals or anus, in the case of a man, exposure of his pubic area, genitals or anus).

Burlesque Performers in the UK (and at Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival particularly) do not expose nipples, pubic areas, genitals or their anuses.

- The following are not classified as Sexual Entertainment:

any event which occurs not more than 11 occasions over 12 months less than once a month, and lasts less than 24 hours (as would be the case of the Festival on all three points)  

As such, Burlesque cannot be described as “sexual entertainment”, nor is it licensed as such. Burlesque is defined as “theatre” under a standard Public Entertainment License. To clarify, this license is already in place at Hebden Bridge Picture House.

2)      On what basis was the assessment made that opinion was “sharply divided” in our community? We have seen little evidence of this? Certainly there is evidence of strong support for the Festival’s request to use the Picture House as a venue: over 800 signatures collected in 4 days. Since Cllr Press sites Hebweb as one place where she has suffered “abuse”, perhaps it is worth considering the responses there: of the comments, 2/3 of individuals post in support of the Festival, the remaining third is split farly evenly between those might be considered “neutral” or ambivalent and those write in support of HBPH Committee’s decision. What’s more, the most recent information from the Town Clerk is that there have been 23 letters of complaint against the decision and NONE in favour.

3)      “Objectifying” how? Where is the evidence for this?

4)      “Unacceptable” to whom? How is this defined?

EMAIL EXTRACT: The decision was supported not only by Labour councillors but the Leader of the Liberal Democrats Coun Tony Hodgins and Friends Of The Picture House. 


5)      This isn’t accurate. In fact, this statement was today released by the Friends of Hebden Bridge Picture House in an email to all members:

Burlesque Festival decision
As many of you may already know, the Hebden Royd Picture House Committee tuned down an application by the organisers of the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival to stage an event at
the Picture House in May next year. As at every meeting of the Management Committee, we had two representatives from the Friends committee present. We do not hold voting rights on the Management Committee, so we could not vote on this matter. However, our representatives participated in the discussion and debate which preceded the vote held by the councillors.

We would like to have consulted with you, the members of the FOPH, on how we should have represented your views on this matter to the councillors, but unfortunately our Management Committee representatives only received the agenda on the Friday before the Monday meeting, which we felt was too late to have adequate time to consult with you. Therefore, in the time available, we had a quick internal discussion amongst the
committee members. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was division, with some supportive of the application, some ambivalent, and some in favour of refusal. Our representatives at the Management Committee meeting reported this division to the councillors.

We are disappointed that we did not have the opportunity to gather your views on this matter before the Management Committee meeting that took the decision, but the
debate over that decision in particular and the booking policy of the Picture House in general goes on. There is a full council meeting of Hebden Royd Town Council on Wednesday 10^th July at 7.30pm in Hebden Bridge Town Hall where we expect the refusal to book the Burlesque Festival event will be discussed, alongside the booking policy of the
Picture House. This is likely to be a widely debated issue and could have a significant impact on future bookings and use of the Picture House. Whatever your views on this issue it would be great if you could spare the time to attend that meeting and help ensure voices of Friends
of the Picture House are heard.

EMAIL EXTRACT: We know we have to formulate clear policy in the future and to that end I’ve drafted another item setting out plans for a Sub Committee to work on the licensing and legalities to avoid such difficulties in the future.


6)      We would be interested to know how the Committee felt able to make a decision on the Burlesque Festival when the admission here is that there is not a clear policy in place. Since it has been proven that key stakeholders were not consulted (primarily the users of the Picture House as seen above) and that no policy was in place, how did the Committee come to this decision? What procedures were adhered to ensure that due process has been taken?

Furthermore, if the Council intend to take steps to attempt to change the licensing required to stage Burlesque in the Town, we would firstly refer them to point 1) above and secondly to the case of Camden Council who in 2009 attempted to do just that. And failed.

EMAIL EXTRACT: a  very vocal group whose first action on being understandably upset about  the decision was not to ask us to reconsider but to go straight to the press and launch a media campaign – which has now ended up on the pages of the Daily Telegraph.


7)      This is not accurate. In fact on the day we received the letter from the Hebden Bridge Picture House Committee (28 June 2013) we sent the following email to the Manager of the Picture House, copying in the Town Clerk:

Dear Rebecca,

We wanted to thank you or putting our proposal to The Picture House Committee.  

We are extremely disappointed with the response, especially since we feel we provided a strong argument for staging an event at The Picture House. Our feeling is that the rejection is based more on the personal opinions of certain members of the committee rather than on fact or a measured consideration of the strong support and demand for Burlesque in the town and the detailed report we compiled.  

The suggestion that the art form is demeaning to women is offensive and shows a complete misunderstanding of what happens at the Burlesque show. What's more it is further evidence that the report we submitted was not considered fully, since these points were addressed in some detail, and included statistics such as the fact that over 80% of ticket buyers were indeed women.

How frustrating that it is down to a Committee of people who have probably never seen a Burlesque show to make judgements on whether it is "suitable" to be staged in a venue funded by local rate payers, many of whom will be attending events at next year's Festival. We attended Daniel Kitson at the Picture House on Wednesday evening as part of the Arts Festival.  We are sure that some people may well be offended by some of his material, yet doubt there was any objection to the event being staged in the venue.

In a month when National Trust properties are staging Burlesque shows, the Committee's decision seems outmoded, out of touch and - frankly - discriminatory. 

Please pass on our feedback to the Committee. 

Kind Regards

Heidi Waddington and Lizzy Goodman

Producers, Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival


We then sent a copy to Hebweb – a local community online forum which was posted on Hebweb’s homepage. The local press picked up on the story from Hebweb and it was featured on the front page of the Hebden Bridge Times.

The Festival have not had any direct contact with the Daily Telegraph who – it is our understanding – lifted the story straight from the Hebden Bridge Times.


We trust this addresses some of the inaccuracies in Cllr Press’s letter to Labour Members.


Heidi Waddington and Lizzy Goodman

Producers, Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival