(A Dialogue of To-morrow.)

Punch, April 03, 1907


The scene is the barrack-room of the Tuneful Tenth. The War Office, after much vacillation, has at last made up its mind that singing shall become a recognised branch of the military curriculum and an inspection is to be held this very morning. Scattered about the room are warriors anxiously practising chest-notes. Others have retired to corners apart, to study that handy little brochure, “Songs Heard are Sweet” by “Major-General,” without which at this time no soldier moves.

Private Smith (meditatively). Do—re—mi—fa! Do—re—mi! Do—re—mi—fa—sol—la—si—do!

Private Brown. In good voice to-day, Smithy?

Private Smith. A trifle roopy, I fear, Brown. And you?

Private Brown. A little weak in the upper register. I wish this ’ere inspection was over, and that’s a fact.

Private Smith. Same here. He’s a terror, is the Colonel, if anything goes wrong. Had me on the carpet last time, and walked into me something horrid. Said if I couldn’t take a high C better than that, I’d better chuck the army and go into musical comedy.

Private Brown. Gave me cells once, he did, because I missed a beat in my duet with Sergeant Nightingale.

Private Walker (continuing an anecdote). So he says to me, “Here, you,” he says, “what do you think you’re doing, I wonder? Sounds like a man without a roof to his mouth calling Brussels-sprouts in a Whitechapel slum. You ain’t out with your barrow now,” he says. So next time——

Private Webster. Who’s this bloke who’s inspecting us to-day anyhow? Crusoe, or something.

Private Smith. Caruso they called him. A very decent singer, so I ’ear, though not an Army man.

Private Brown. Wonderful how these civilians pick it up nowadays. Do—re—mi! Do—re—!

Private Webster. It’s this stomach-breathing what does me. “Don’t breathe with your chest, my man,” says the bloke. “Blimey,” I says to him, “what do you take me for? A bounding acrobat?”

Private Wilkinson. Hayden Coffin and I——

Private Walker. Well, of course, I couldn’t say anything at the time, him being a Colonel and what not, but what I’d have liked to have said was that I’d forgotten more about tempo di waltz than he’d ever learned. I should have liked to have said to him, “Colonel De Rezske, you fancy you know a lot about voice production, I don’t think. You ain’t fit to be ‘confused noise without’ in a music-hall sketch.”

Private Smith. Si—do! Do! Do! La—si—do!

Private Brown. What I say is, I wish they’d let us choose our own songs. Stands to reason a chap knows what suits his own voice. You’ve ’eard me sing “What ho! What ho!! What ho!!!” Well, I don’t want to seem to boast, but a man once told me it beat anything Harry Randall could have done. But turn me out into a parade-ground, and ask me to give you “Tristan’s Farewell”——

Private Smith. Do!

Private Wilkinson. People who have heard me and Kennerley Rumford——

Private Smith. Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-AH!

Private Gregson (suddenly). Oi’ll—er—sing thee saw-ongs ovarraby——

Private Webster. And the worst of it is you can’t hear yourself speak in here nowadays. Used to be a time when—— But now, what with blokes doing their scales, and other blokes letting off upper G’s, and other blokes——

Private Smith. Ah-AH!

Private Webster (morosely). Wish they’d let me exchange into a parrot-’ouse!

[Scene closes.



Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 132 of Punch.


Editor’s notes:
Hayden Coffin: English singing actor (1862–1935); handsome and talented star of late Victorian and Edwardian musical comedies from 1885 to 1911, later character actor on stage and screen. Wikipedia article.
De Rezske: either tenor Jean de Reszke or his bass brother Édouard, both international opera stars.
Thomas William “Harry” Randall (1857–1932), star of English music hall and pantomime. Short biography at IMDb.
Robert Henry Kennerley Rumford (1870–1957), English baritone singer of oratorio and popular concerts. Wikipedia article.