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Published on Jan 6, 2011
Harry Relph, (July 21, 1867 -- February 10, 1928), known on the stage as 'Little Tich', was an English music hall comedian. He was noted for his various characters, including The Spanish Señora, The Gendarme, and The Tax Collector, but his most popular routine was his Big Boot dance, which involved a pair of 28-inch boots, commonly called "slapshoes" in the days of vaudeville. He was also popular as a pantomime dame; in one season he appeared with Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno also in the cast.
The surviving film of the Big Boot dance, made by Clément-Maurice for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre in 1900, was described by Jacques Tati as "a foundation for everything that has been realised in comedy on the screen".
Relph was born at Cudham, now in the London Borough of Bromley, one of 15 children to the landlord of the Blacksmith's Arms. He made his first stage appearance at the age of twelve at Rosherville Gardens, Gravesend. Relph, only four feet six inches (1.37 m) in height, took his stage name "Little Tich" from the Tichborne claimant, the corpulent Arthur Orton.
He performed internationally, and at the age of 42 was made an officer of the French Academy, for his performances at the Folies Bergère. His final performance was at the London Alhambra Theatre in 1927, with Jack Hylton's Band, and he died at Hendon after a long illness in 1928.
He was a polydactyl, having five fingers and a thumb on each hand, and six toes on both feet. Mementoes of his life are still preserved at the public house in which he was born.
The second of Igor Stravinsky's "Three Pieces for String Quartet" (1914) was inspired by one of Little Tich's performances.
In the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch in Monty Python's Flying Circus a parody of old 20th-century silent film is shown. In this film Michael Palin is dressed like Little Tich in his "Big Boots" sketch, complete with high hat and large shoes.