I’ll Tell Tilly On The Telephone



Harry Castling & Fred Godfrey — London: Francis, Day & Hunter, 1907.

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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, [‘I’ll 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:

The chorus song is probably the shortest road to popularity of any branch of the variety art. A tuneful song, with a lilting refrain, and an artiste capable of impressing it upon an audience so forcibly as to induce every hearer to repeat it in the hall, and on the way home, never lack support. This is a fact quickly apparent when Miss Dora Lyric makes her appearance at the Middlesex in a gorgeous gown with trailing skirt. She sings “I’ll Tell Tilly On The Telephone,” descriptive of a bashful youngster who preferred to propose over the wire. (Musical Hall and Theatre Review, 23 August 1907, p. 125)

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:

The eighth year of the existence of the elegant palace of variety at the foot of Brixton Hill was ushered in on Friday...when the occasion was marked by the presence of a crowded audience, and by the attendance at the invitation of the directors, of many people prominent in variety circles. The Empress, it may be recalled, was the first of the new suburban halls to feel the pinch of the teetotal policy of the London County Council, and determined attempts were made without avail to change the intolerant attitude of London’s governing body. The hall was for some time run under the Lord Chamberlain’s licence, during which period a drink permit was held, but smoking was forbidden. Eventually the music hall licence was taken up, along with the drink restriction, the scent of the fragrant weed was restored, and the hall has since enjoyed a career of unvarying prosperity. (The Era, 7 July 1906, p. 22)

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 ‘I’ll 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 ‘I’ll 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?)