I’ll Tell Tilly On The Telephone
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In Britain in 1907, the telephone was still something of a novelty for most people, but here a young swain, too shy to tell his girl he loves her to her face, feels able to tell her via the newfangled device. This was one of Fred Godfrey’s first big hits, one of several in his breakout year of 1907 partnering with lyricist Harry Castling, a relationship that lasted almost until Castling’s death in 1933.
I’ll Tell Tilly On The Telephone was introduced by Dora Lyric and sung by her in numerous halls, including the Hippodrome, Hull (July 1907) and the Palace, Stoke Newington (September 1907) — “A turn much to the liking of the audience is that provided by Miss Dora Lyric. Miss Lyric sings two songs, [‘Ill Tell Tilly On The Telephone’ and one other],and the choruses of both of these are most enthusiastically and vociferously taken up by the members of the audience, most of whom seem to be already well acquainted with this lady’s songs” (The Era, 14 September 1907, p. 24). One trade paper reported:
Dora Lyric also sang the song at an all-star benefit for popular theatre manager Nelson Francis at the Empress Theatre of Varieties, Brixton Hill, London, November 1907. The Empress, Brixton, incidentally, was one of the many music halls that had to deal with restrictions imposed by the authorities from time to time on smoking and drinking, to the displeasure of “ordinary Londoners” out for an evening’s entertainment, as this note from a year before Tilly was heard on its stage relates:
Seems to me a place like that could be a goer today! But the governing bodies are still at it.
I’ll Tell Tilly On the Telephone was also sung by Marie Ashton in pantomime Babes In The Wood, Theatre Royal, Glasgow (December 1907); by Miss Mayme Cannon at the Canterbury, London (August 1907), where Harry Lauder was top of the bill; by Daisy Dormer in “Mr. Fred W. Wyndham’s gorgeous Glasgow annual” (December 1907); by Mimi Fisher in pantomime The Fair One With The Golden Locks, Theatre Royal, York (December 1907); by Meg Hamylton in pantomime Cinderella, Royal Court, Liverpool (February 1908); by Constance Hyam in pantomime Aladdin, Grand, Leeds (December 1907), and by Jessie Wilton in pantomime Aladdin, Royal Hippodrome, Belfast (December 1907).
Perhaps attesting to its transatlantic appeal, the song was also borrowed for a British jibe at American politics: “So irritable, we understand, has Senator [Benjamin] Tillman grown under the charges made against him by President [Theodore] Roosevelt, that the popular song among those who have to apprise the Senator of the march of events is ‘Ill Tell Tilly On The Telephone’” (“By the Way,” Globe and Traveller, 13 January 1909, p. 1).
The same anonymous columnist evidently had a thing for the song, having written a few months earlier: “In regard to the North Shropshire election, we read that ‘at Tilly, a few miles out of Wem, Tariff Reform speakers had to beat a retreat followed by volleys of stones.’ Afterwards, we understand, one of them was heard singing that deservedly popular melody ‘Ill Tell Tilly On The Telephone’” (“By the Way,” Globe and Traveller, 9 May 1908, p. 1).
Black Diamond Band, in medley (Zonophone X-40203, 1908?)
Frank Drummond (Columbia D-130, 1908)
Stanley Kirkby (Edison Bell 10294, 1907)
Walter Miller (Zonophone X-42661, 1908?)