I recently received an email from Jeanne Youngson who tells me that she is head of the New York Dracula Society and the International Society for the Study of Ghosts and Apparitions. Jeanne is researching a book on Ghosts in British Theatre and recently discovered that Little Tich (aka Harry Relph) was seen at least once backstage at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, holding the famous boots, which he hated so much.
Jeanne would like to hear from anyone who knows of any other ghostly sightings of Little Tich. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We would all like to read about it here too please!
Brian R F Relf, #001
Little Tich on CD
Little Tich, alias Harry Relph, is probably the most famous person ever to bear our surname and will be no stranger to long-standing members of The International Relf Society. One of the great stars of the Musical Hall around the turn of the 19/20th century, he died in 1928, and so there are few who will have heard his voice – though the little clip of him doing his famous “big boots” dance is better known and still appears on TV occasionally. Now, you can hear Little Tich himself, any time you like – on CD.
I was recently asked to review Little Tich – In Other People’s Shoes produced by Windyridge as Number 9 in their series of Music Hall CD’s. Other titles in the series apparently include early recordings of Dan Leno, Gus Elen, Harry Champion, Billy Williams, Florrie Forde, Marie Lloyd, Mark Sheridan, and George Formby (Snr). From the accompanying literature I learnt that all discs are digitally remastered from original 78 rpm records or phonograph cylinders, produced on high quality CD-R blanks, and come complete with “artist details and discographical information”.
My copy came in the usual CD “Jewel Case” with an attractive cover picture of Little Tich, cheekily posed wearing his famous 28 inch long boots; founder members will remember those boots hanging behind the bar in the Blacksmith’s Arms at Cudham, Kent where we met to form our Society and Harry Relph was born. The CD-R itself looks and feels “high quality” and again is decorated attractively with a poster featuring Little Tich leaning forward at an impossible angle in his boots as well as the title details. On the inside of the Jewel Case, is a short biography of Little Tich and commentary on the recordings; however, the limited space is not well used. Too much is devoted to the Tichborne claimant case from whence Harry took his name, there are a couple of dubious “facts” ( my records show he was the last of 16 children born to his father – not 15 as stated, and I believe he was entertaining long before the age of 16), and, surpisingly, little is mentioned of his fame in the USA (where he performed on Broadway to rave reviews) as well as France and England. Little Tich was not only an international genius of the Music Hall but also a tragic-comic figure with a fascinating life-story which would have been well worth outlining in rather more detail here.
The CD itself played without trouble in my Notebook computer and in my wife’s portable CD player – and should play equally well in any standard CD player. The 19 tracks – a little over 55 minutes total playing time – are arranged roughly in date order of recording; the earliest is dated August 1911(which I believe is only 8 years after the first gramaphone disc was pressed), and the latest was recorded around May 1917. So don’t expect hi-fi sound quality! However, I have a couple of the tracks on audio tape, recorded by the BBC direct from records in their library, and I can assure you that the sound quality on the Windyridge CD is far better. Sure, there are little clicks and scratches, but I suspect that is how they were recorded in those days, and they are in the background mainly and do not hinder clarity. I did not find the scratchy sound distracting; indeed, they add to the authentic atmosphere.
Little Tich was primarily a wonderful comedian; he was not a musician. Contemporary reports indicate that his act was highly visual – although the music and singing was a necessary accompaniment to his dancing and joking. This is reflected in the tracks on this CD. There are no sentimental tear jerkers or patriotic marching songs; what you get instead is a wonderful insight into early 20th century micky taking, contemporary puns, and topical irony – some of it surprisingly risque! Every track contains a significant amount of stand-up comedy as well as the songs themselves. Little Tich’s diction is clear and precise – though the occasional faltering delivery would surely not survive the record producers nowadays – and you sometimes have to be quick to catch his punch line. But I found it easy to close my eyes and picture this great little man strutting his stuff on the stage before me, imagining the Edwardian audience splitting their sides, and great clouds of cigar smoke rolling up from the auditorium into the arc light beams.
Did I enjoy this CD? Yes I did. My copy was kindly supplied free of charge but I would willingly have paid the asking price for it; it’s very good value. I found myself playing it over and over again – each time finding something in it that I had missed before. It is probably not going to take your family history one step further, (though if you are related to Little Tich I would think this is a must for your collection) but if you are interested in the sort of entertainment your ancestors enjoyed – on the stage of the great theatres of London, Paris, and New York as well as others – then I can thoroughly recommend this disc. The content is also a good guide to contemporary humour; what did our ancestors think was funny around 90 years ago? This CD provides a lot of clues – and it’s good fun to listen to.
The CD Little Tich – In Other People’s Shoes – costs £10 including UK postage or $18 including world wide airmail, and is obtainable from:
www.bill78.btinternet.co.uk (This Website doesn’t exist anymore but see below for new Website)
Brian R F Relf, Member #1, President of The International Relf Society
How to Purchase
Music Hall CDs
Little Tich, famous for his “Big Boot” dance, made up for his lack of height with his powers of observation, which he used in a series of sketches of characters, some of which are featured on this CD. Each of his creations was uniquely distinctive, not only in its make-up and costume, but also in his movement and presence. The CD contains 19 tracks, transferred from original 78 rpm recordings which were made between 1911 – 1917.
Harry Relph (1867–1928)
The Gas Inspector, The Twenty Third, The Sale, The Territorial, King Ki Ki , The Dentist, The Toreador, The Zoo Keeper, The Waiter, The Weather, A Risky Thing to do, The Don of the Don Juans, Sweet Simplicity, The Tallyman, The Gamekeeper, The Skylark, The Pirate, Tally-Ho!, The Best Man