Does Anyone know Algy?

I only bought the card because I loved the expression on the cat’s face – and I was intrigued by the strap-line. My hunch was right, it turns out that ‘Algy’, or rather ‘ the Piccadilly Johnny with the little glass eye’ was a 1907 music hall hit by Vesta Tilley. More on her in a moment – first of all here’s the full card and the lyrics to the song:

1907 postcard showing a drawing of a cat in dandy'ish clothes. Underneath the text states He's very well known is Algy - which is a line from a popurlar music hall song of that time.
Postcard stamped Oct 1907
The set of boys I chum with are the best-known set down town
And in that set a noted chap is young Algernon Brown
He's just come into heaps of coin, he doesn't know what he's worth
And all the ladies say that he is the nicest boy on earth.
Chorus: 
He's very well known is Algy, to the ladies on the stage
Such a jolly good chap is Algy, just now he's all the rage
And a jolly good favourite Algy, with the barmaids at the 'Cri'
He's very well known is Algy,
As the Piccadilly Johnny with the little glass eye. 
He'll drive a girl to Richmond as some other Johnnies do
He buys perhaps a diamond ring, a watch and bracelet too
Girls say they'll never leave him, and they keep their word and don't
And while his cash holds out, you bet your Sunday hat they won't. 
Chorus
He goes to all the Theatres, where he knows the Coryphées
He takes them out to supper, also buys them large bouquets
They call him “Algy Darling” to his face, the usual way
But when they chat behind the scenes poor Algy's called a 'Jay.' 
Chorus 
still photo from Act 1 of the original production of the play (1895) shows Algernon Moncrieff (left, played by Allan Aynesworth) refusing to return Mr Jack Worthing's (Sir George Alexander) cigarette case

Algy (short for Algernon) was originally a nickname, derived from  the French aux gernons “having a moustache”, although in Victorian times it was also a ‘proper’ name. If you have heard it at all, then most likely in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ – where, I think it is safe to assume, it was meant to be satirical.

The still photo from Act 1 of the original production of the play (1895) shows Algernon Moncrieff (left, played by Allan Aynesworth) refusing to return Mr Jack Worthing’s (Sir George Alexander) cigarette case until the latter explains the inscription therein.

And here’s the first verse and Chorus sung by Vesta Tilley

Vesta was quite a performer – one of the best-known, most successful, (highest-earning by the 1890s) male impersonators of the music hall age. ‘Music Hall’, as opposed to ‘Variety’ Entertainment is a whole subject of its own – by all means delve into it! A little intro to its history can be found on the Brick Lane Music Hall site.

publicity photo of Vesta Tilley dressed as a 'toff'.

Vesta Tilley (real name Matilda Alice Victoria Powles, married name Lady de Frece) first played in male attire aged 5 (in 1869). Before she was 14, she was playing in two different London music halls each evening. From then until her retirement in 1920 (because she became Lady de Frece), she performed as a principal boy in pantomime (a very British Christmas entertainment – if you’ve never seen one, you should!), and she head-lined music hall (later variety) bills (typically playing a dandy, ‘toff’ or ‘fop’) in London, across the UK and in the United States.

Tilley performed this particular song (one of her many hits) at a Royal Command Performance (now the Royal Variety Performance) in 1912, where, it is said, she scandalised Queen Mary because she was wearing trousers.

Her life story was commemorated in the 1957 film After the Ball.

cover for sheet music of 'Algy' - a song by Vesta Tilley - early 20th century
Image from New York Public Library Digital – cover of sheet music

So my passion for collecting (not quite) random cards has taken me down another interesting area/era. Hope you enjoyed this bit of ‘armless’ fun.

6 thoughts on “Does Anyone know Algy?

  1. I LOVE the cat !

    Thank you WibiWonders !

    Had never known that Algernon started out as a satirical name…. you live & learn …

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