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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 August, 2004, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
The many faces of Madame Tussauds
By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Madame Tussauds in London has unveiled its latest hands-on exhibit - Brad Pitt with a strokeable chest and squeezable bottom. It is the latest evolution in the attraction's 200-year history.

Madame Tussauds visitor (right) with figures of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston
Visitors are invited to get to grips with the wax Brad Pitt
When Marilyn Monroe's waxwork figure was installed in Madame Tussauds in 1973, few did not recognise the figure clad in gold lame and fur.

Her rendition of I'm Through With Love from the film Some Like It Hot was piped out of speakers while a movie camera wheeled towards her in an early attempt to spice up the exhibits.

"Corny?" asked The Times. "Yes, and very effective."

More than 30 years on, celebrities have taken over from politicians and royalty as the main attractions, and increasingly flashy interactive experiences are used to attract increasingly savvy and cynical visitors.

Share your memories of Madame Tussauds

From Brad's strokeable silicon chest and a raunchy Kylie Minogue to Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell spitting out scathing put-downs to singing tourists, the displays have become much more advanced and risque in recent years.

"The exhibition has always changed - it will always go on changing," according to Michael Tussaud, the great-great-great grandson of the exhibition's founder.

Madame Tussauds in 1895
Visitors previously kept a more demure distance from the figures
"When it stops changing, it will then become the Victoria and Albert Museum and be dull. We must have change."

Mr Tussaud, 60, a lawyer, is not involved with the attraction - but his father and uncle were both wax modellers there.

Mr Tussaud remembers being impressed by the royal exhibits in the 1940s and 50s and says personalities have always been there - but without such a strong pop culture in the past.

"To the people who went there who didn't have any televisions in those days, it was very exciting to see the kings and queens and princes and princesses, which were in those days the equivalent of the pop singers today," he says.

"So it was frightfully exciting because they could actually go and see the young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

"They could go and see pictures of them, which they couldn't readily do - they could only see occasional black and white things in newspapers."

Figures including George Bush, Saddam Hussein and Tony Blair in Madame Tussauds
The most prominent international figures are still there
It would seem serious to today's visitors, he says: "But that wouldn't have made people less attracted to it."

Madame Tussauds has been one of London's most popular destinations since it settled in the capital in 1835.

Marie Grosholz, who married Francois Tussaud, learnt the art of wax modelling early and created a figure of French author and philosopher Voltaire when she was just 16.

After moulding the heads of guillotine victims during the French revolution, she toured the UK for 33 years before setting up a permanent home on Baker Street.

The attraction's simple formula had been set. It was the most famous figures of the day which was - for years - royalty, politicians and war heroes.

There was also the gruesome parade of killers that was dubbed the Chamber of Horrors by Punch magazine in 1846.

Heads in Madame Tussauds
We think we're a bit more edgy these days, certainly a lot more sexy
Diane Moon
Madame Tussauds
But by the 1960s, as youth culture took over, the line-up of historical figures, minor royals, foreign statesmen and outdated politicians began to become boring.

"Part of the present fascination of Tussaud's is its incredible dowdiness," The Times wrote in 1966.

Pop singers, TV stars and movie idols arrived - but it was not until after the millennium that the most radical revamp started.

"We started to change Madame Tussauds quite dramatically about two years ago," spokeswoman Diane Moon says.

"We did a big piece of research with potential customers and the unanimous feedback was 'you need to be more interactive, we don't want to see politicians or men in suits any more.

"'We want pop stars, we want film stars, we want the hot celebrities.'"

Marilyn Monroe head for Madame Tussauds in Las Vegas
Madame Tussauds now has attractions around the world
So out went Princess Anne and the Earl and Countess of Wessex, and Iain Duncan Smith was not automatically immortalised in wax when he became leader of the opposition.

And rather than looking at the Queen from behind a rope, visitors are now marched up to her figure by faux royal guardsmen for an audience with Her Majesty.

"We think we're a bit more edgy these days, certainly a lot more sexy," Ms Moon says.

"But when you do look back, I think Madame Tussaud was very tuned in to what was sexy in her time - so I don't think we're behaving that differently."

What are your memories of Madame Tussaud through the years. Does it deserve its place as one of London's top tourist destinations? Share your thoughts using the form below.

I visited Madame Tussauds in the summer of 1989. It was packed. And it was amazing. The Chamber of Horrors with the electric chair was great as was the "conservatory" with Crocodile dundee. What was even more impressive though was Rock Circus. The show was astounding and the animatronics were spellbinding. I visited Rock Circus in 2000, 11 years later, and it's a pale shadow of its former glory. Terribly sad.
James Lewis, Wales

I took my family to visit Madame Tussaud on Saturday 14 August. It was overcrowded, it was too small inside and people were pushing each other around. Sometimes it was hard to stand and watch a particular figure as people kept pushing and I had to hold on to my bag in case there were pickpockets around.

I did not have a proper look at all the figures because of the crowd and some I even missed looking at as I could not even get near them. Considering how expensive it is I don't think it is worth going if you are pushed and shoved around by arrogant visitors.
Georgette Moynihan, Rainham, Essex, UK

I went as a child in the 80s and remember being amazed by the little Victorian minature machines which moved when you put money in them. The waxworks were unexciting.

I wouldn't bother going again, it's expensive and dull, unlike the V&A which is free and contains thousands of amazing objects crafted by the most skilled craftsmen from all over the world and reflects our global history, not mindless celebrity money-grabbing throwaway culture.
Weasel Girl, London

I went to Madame Tussaud's about five years ago. Whilst I enjoyed the experience and had my picture taken with 'Pierce Brosnan', of late I have cautioned friends visiting London against going there as I believe it is way overpriced for what it is. They need to cut back on the gimmicks if that is what causes prices to be so high and make it affordable to all. 22 at peak times is a ridiculous price, and I think that 10 would be much more achievable to allow all to visit.
Samantha, London, UK

I have "fond" memories of visiting Madame Tussauds in the mid 80's and being scared to death by the Doctor Who exhibit! They had Daleks which when triggered by someone walking past shouted "exterminate" and other such Dalekky things. Terrifying and fantastic.
Victoria, Loughborough, UK

I visited with three children and my partner yesterday and we found it overpriced for the time spent there. Also many of the figures are obviously rush jobs to capitalise on the current trends, looking nothing like the person they are supposed to represent. These used to be painstakingly produced over months - the new ones look like they were knocked together in an afternoon.

The staff were on the whole disinterested and sullen, bar one very helpful and friendly lady. The new and supposedly 'terrifying' Chamber Live attraction was laughed at by my 10-year-old daughter, who found it cheesy beyond redemption. Best part of the day? The 'Journey to Infinity' show in what used to be the separate London Planetarium. Apart from that, Tussauds looks tired and cheap.

My first visit to Madame Tussaud's in London was back in 1956. I have never forgotten the Chamber of Horrors as it really upset me - I was 11 years old. The exhibit was a man left to die in a very small cage which was hung up on the wall (supposedly outside a castle or medieval building). I couldn't believe that anyone could do something like that to another human being, let alone imagining what it must have been like to be left to die like that.
Jeannie Warnock, Brome Village, Canada

I was 11 for my first visit my most vivid memory is the garotting tableau in the Chamber of Horrors. 20 years later and the same tableau is there today but smaller than I remember. Some of the figures of pop stars and famous people are clumsily done, but others are perfect and it is still one of the premier attractions in London.
Tracey Ruck, London, UK

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