Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at Young V&A
Imagine Gallery, Adventure, Case 10

Theatre Costume

early 20th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

These boots were part of a costume worn by one stage star in an impersonation of another. The wearer was comedy actor Lupino Lane (born Henry Lupino 1892-1959), a skilled dancer best known for his role in the 1937 musical comedy Me and My Girl. He was imitating music hall artiste, Harry Relph (1867-1928), who used the stage name Little Tich. Relph became one of the highest paid performers of his day and a celebrity in Britain and Europe. As a child he performed comic routines in public houses but moved on to appear in music halls, calling himself 'Little Tichborne' after a notorious legal case. In 1866 the missing heir to the estate of Sir James Tichborne had mysteriously re-appeared but was subsequently revealed as a imposter. Relph borrowed the name as a a joke: the 'Tichborne Claimant' was enormously fat while Relph was 1.4m tall. When shortened to Tich his stage name gave the English language a new word for a small person.

Little Tich's size enabled him to create the most famous of his stage routines. He was not the first to perform a Big Boot dance; other artistes had used elongated 'flap shoes' in dances that derived from the clog dancing popular in the 19th century. Like clogs the 'flaps' had wooden soles, allowing the performers to beat out a rhythm by slapping their feet heavily on the floor. Tich developed the dances into a comic tour de force which would have been impossible for a tall performer and which even the agile Lupino Lane would not have been able to reproduce exactly. Tich wore 71cm boots, equivalent to half his height and 18cm longer than Lane's. The flaps balanced him while he leaned forward at 45 degrees to pick up a hat or a walking cane, keeping his legs completely straight. He was able to perform the splits by sliding his feet sideways and could balance on the square toes of the boots and walk as if on stilts. He was also an accomplished juggler, and would balance a battered top hat on his chin by its brim, make it somersault and catch it on his chin or on a boot. Sadly, Tich came to dislike the dance that made him so famous and eventually refused to perform it. But thanks to the flaps he became an instantly recognisable figure and an influence on other performers. Charlie Chaplin saw Little Tich at the Folies Bergère and was inspired by Tich's costume of big boots, baggy trousers, hat and walking cane to create his own Little Tramp character.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.
(Some alternative part names are also shown below)
  • Theatre Costume
  • Shoes
  • Theatre Costume
  • Shoes
Materials and techniques
Calf leather uppers with wooden soles and heels
Brief description
Pair of 'Flap' shoes worn by Lupino Lane in an impersonation of music hall artiste, Little Tich (born Harry Relph, 1867-1928), early 20th century
Physical description
Pair of 'Flap' shoes worn by Lupino Lane in an impersonation of music hall artiste, Little Tich
Dimensions
  • Maximum height height: 130mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Width across sole width: 100mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Length of sole length: 540mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
Gallery label
Twinkle toes Struggling to reach something? With these shoes, the performer Lupino Lane could become much taller by balancing up on his tiptoes, or lean very far forwards without falling over. Voilà! Pair of flap shoes Unknown maker About 1920 UK Given by the Scouts Association Museum no. S.535-1979 [Young V&A, Imagine Gallery, Adventure, short object label](01/07/2023)
Credit line
Given by the Scouts Association
Object history
The boots were part of a costume worn by comedy actor Lupino Lane (born Henry Lupino, 1892-1959) in an impersonation of music hall artiste, Little Tich (the stage name of Harry Relph,1867-1928). The show in which they were worn has yet to be identified.
Summary
These boots were part of a costume worn by one stage star in an impersonation of another. The wearer was comedy actor Lupino Lane (born Henry Lupino 1892-1959), a skilled dancer best known for his role in the 1937 musical comedy Me and My Girl. He was imitating music hall artiste, Harry Relph (1867-1928), who used the stage name Little Tich. Relph became one of the highest paid performers of his day and a celebrity in Britain and Europe. As a child he performed comic routines in public houses but moved on to appear in music halls, calling himself 'Little Tichborne' after a notorious legal case. In 1866 the missing heir to the estate of Sir James Tichborne had mysteriously re-appeared but was subsequently revealed as a imposter. Relph borrowed the name as a a joke: the 'Tichborne Claimant' was enormously fat while Relph was 1.4m tall. When shortened to Tich his stage name gave the English language a new word for a small person.

Little Tich's size enabled him to create the most famous of his stage routines. He was not the first to perform a Big Boot dance; other artistes had used elongated 'flap shoes' in dances that derived from the clog dancing popular in the 19th century. Like clogs the 'flaps' had wooden soles, allowing the performers to beat out a rhythm by slapping their feet heavily on the floor. Tich developed the dances into a comic tour de force which would have been impossible for a tall performer and which even the agile Lupino Lane would not have been able to reproduce exactly. Tich wore 71cm boots, equivalent to half his height and 18cm longer than Lane's. The flaps balanced him while he leaned forward at 45 degrees to pick up a hat or a walking cane, keeping his legs completely straight. He was able to perform the splits by sliding his feet sideways and could balance on the square toes of the boots and walk as if on stilts. He was also an accomplished juggler, and would balance a battered top hat on his chin by its brim, make it somersault and catch it on his chin or on a boot. Sadly, Tich came to dislike the dance that made him so famous and eventually refused to perform it. But thanks to the flaps he became an instantly recognisable figure and an influence on other performers. Charlie Chaplin saw Little Tich at the Folies Bergère and was inspired by Tich's costume of big boots, baggy trousers, hat and walking cane to create his own Little Tramp character.
Collection
Accession number
S.535&A-1979

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Record createdOctober 3, 2008
Record URL
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