Sometimes you get a book out and you can’t put it down. You can honestly say you have learnt something different to what you expected. This is the case with the life story of Lttle Titch by Mary Titch and Richard Findlater
Now with a father with a love of Music Hall and Variety theatre, I know who Little Tich was. He’s the guy with the big boots. But as the book points out, there was much more to him than that. Born Harry Relph in 1867, he grew up in the Blacksmiths Arms, Cudham in Kent. He was special right from the start. He was born with an extra finger on each hand . Surgery was not an option and actually the deformity of these fingers made it difficult for him to do things. However, it did not stop him learning to play the Picco and the Cello. The Picco, I hear you ask. Well I had to look it up.
The Picco Pipe was made popular in London’s Covent Garden by a 25-year-old blind Sardinian. It is like a head of a recorder that only has two holes. You could see how this might be easier for a young Harry to master. It was soon clear that people wanted to see this young performer, probably for the wrong reasons. They wanted to see this child with five fingers and a thumb on each hand and they wanted to see the Seventy Two year old who had fathered this boy. People like gossip and scandal.
Harry soon showed he had a talent to make people laugh. He could pass as a child when he was in his late teens and there are stories about him being caught travelling half fare on public transport long after he should. But rather than be embarrassed about his height he used it to his advantage in his developing stage act. He started to use the name Little Titchborne and the reason is perhaps the most unusual in the book.
The Tichbourne case would have been well-known to people when Harry Relph was young. Rodger Tichbourne, heir to the Tichbourne family forne went missing, belived dead, in a shipwreck in 1854 .On the death of his father in 1862, he would have become the 11th Baronet, Lord Tichbourne. Presumed dead, the title passed to his younger reckless brother Alfred. His mother, Lady Tichbourne, refused to belive Rodger was dead and after hearing rumors he has survived and gone to Australia, she placed advertisements there to try to find his whereabouts. This lead to a butcher called Thomas Castro coming to England and claiming he was in fact Rodger Tichbourne. Lady Tichbourne was delighted and took him in to the family, but not everyone was convinced. Although some said there was some resemblance, The man who returned was a very large build unlike the slim handsome man who had left England on the ship. Of course, time can be cruel, but so can the public. In the 1860’s, people might comment on someone who was over weight as being a bit Tichbourne. And this leads us back to Harry Relph or Little Tich. As well as being short, he was also quite round! This is why he used the name Little Tichbourne: The Small Fat man. It became shortened to Little Tich. Over time, people forgot about the connection with Tichbourne and being fat. Today we talk of a small person being a Tich or something small as Tichy. And that’s all thanks to Little Tich.
So what of Thomas Castro. It was later thought that he was in fact an English butcher called Arthur Orton who had gone to Australia. There was always doubt and DNA testing that might unlock the secret was not available then. A legal case had a jury reject the claim and give a verdict that he was Arthur Orton and not Lord Tichbourne. Orton was to die in poverty. In an Unusual twist, the family allowed a card to be placed on the coffin at his funeral with the name “Sir Rodger Charles Doughty Tichbourne” Perhaps they were hedging their bets.
Little Tich had a long and glorious career in show business. He performed his Boots routine long after it was painful for him to do so. A 1911 biography about him was ghost written by Sax Rohmer of Fu Man Chu fame. He also wrote a song called ” The Gas Inspector” A recording by Little Tich survives on a 78 and can be heard on YouTube.
Here is a short film showing the extraordinary performance of Little Tich.