Clive Hooley has given us quite a treat: an Elsie Carlisle song recorded 73 years ago that was not previously on the Internet and is on no vinyl album or CD that I have ever seen. It is a wartime tune on the flip side of the album with the famous “Hut Sut Song.” Copyrighted in 1941, “She Had Those Dark and Dreamy Eyes” appears to have its roots in older sea shanties, and recurs in a truly filthy form in the doggerel of WWII airmen.1
Elsie Carlisle recorded “Joseph, Joseph” and “Change Partners” in November, 1938, and then had to stop work entirely for many weeks due to ill health. While her malady is unknown, her absence was noticed, with the Daily Mail describing her has having been “seriously ill”:
A week earlier, the Gloucestershire Echo had described her condition as “critical.” Whatever the affliction, Elsie did recover, and she went back to recording, broadcasting, and performing publicly in February. In an interview with a reporter, she attributed the causes of her illness to the stress of her professional obligations.
From the Newcastle [New South Wales, Australia] Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Tuesday, February 21, 1939:
“CROONING IS TOUGH WORK”
Elsie Carlisle Tells of Trials
LONDON, February 5.
Elsie Carlisle, most famous crooner in Britain, told the “Sunday Chronicle” yesterday how the strenuous life of a singer had brought about her critical illness. Before she gives a 12-minute broadcast, it has to be rehearsed for 12 hours.
A crooner’s life is spent rushing from place to place, from publishers to agents, from agents to the B.B.C., and then back again. Not long ago Miss Carlisle appeared in a nightly show in Hull, after which she caught the train back to London to give a commercial broadcast in the morning. She travelled back to Hull on the same day for her performance at night.
“To find programmes for the broadcast,” Miss Carlisle said, “I first have to go to publishers and song writers to pick out the songs. Having made the final selection, I rehearse first with my pianist, and then with the band. Then we are all set for the broadcast.
“Knowing that you are broadcasting to millions of people makes you very nervous. It’s tough work, and the tension is terrific, but I love it. I am off for a holiday now, but I shall be working again in a month.”
[From the Barrier Miner (New South Wales, Australia), Thursday, 31 October, 1935.]
CROONER HAS BUSY LIFE
No Time To Marry; Sleeps 6 Hours
Miss Elsie Carlisle, ace woman crooner, has no time for introspection, no time to marry, no time to sleep more than six hours a night, no time, even, to weed out her cupboards which burst with clothes she does not like.
“I give money to acquaintances who want to borrow,” she says, “Then they don’t come back. I have no time to see them again.”
That is why she “made” that song, “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day.” She understands, writes Corinne Irwin, in the London “Daily Express.”
Elsie Carlisle has that “something” in her voice and personality which reaches across the footlights to people of all ages and kinds. She cannot tell you what it is. It was born in her, and has increased with the experience of years.
As a tousled, golden-headed child of 12 she faced her first audience in a Manchester theatre.
“I was an instant success,” she told me. “I knew then they were mine; I was theirs. I belong to the public until they tire of me. When they do I shall know it at once. I shall quit.”
Most women’s resources could not stand this constant usurpation by the public of their private lives. Elsie Carlisle has risen from a sick bed with a temperature of 104 degrees to sing to her faithful public.
She is the complete trouper in its finest traditional meaning. Her background is the theatre; her home is its dressing room.
“I record at ten; rehearse for a show in the afternoon; give my act at the first house here; rush to the B.B.C. for a twenty-minute broadcast; rush back for my numbers in the second house; go home, take off my stage make-up, change into an ordinary evening gown, and sing at a party which does not begin until after midnight,” she said.
“I am so exhausted sometimes I scarcely know what to do with myself. I have to buy my clothes as I pass a shop; just when I see something I fancy in the window. Half the time when I get the dress home I do not like it. I buy some material, then I have no time for fittings.”
Luminous brown eyes gleamed with amusement.
“I am always losing hats. It is a habit of mine to take my hat off when I am talking to people. But I never pick them up again. Elsie Carlisle’s hats are strewn all over England.”
She added vehemently, “Anybody who thinks that the more money you have, the more fun, is mistaken. Not so long ago I sang for the joy of it. Now I have to make it a business.”
“I have three secretaries, two pianists, a chauffeur, a stage manager, a business manager, six times as many frocks as I had before, and two dozen stage costumes. All these have to be paid for.
Since I cannot afford the luxury of relaxation, I at least demand luxury in my surroundings. I like a comfortable bed, a shower that works, as well as a comfortable bath. I want to eat what and where I like.”
Peter Wallace drew my attention to a tribute to Elsie Carlisle published in the January 1978 issue of The Golden Years, a few months after her death. He writes: “Bert Read, who worked closely with Elsie both in the Ambrose Orchestra and as an accompanist, paid a warm tribute. Bert had tried, unsuccessfully, to make contact with Elsie”:
There will undoubtedly be a host of tributes to my old pal Elsie Carlisle – but if your readers can bear with one more, here it is. I wonder how many people knew what a warm-hearted and generous person she really was? She was ever-ready with a hand-out, and didn’t seem to mind when she knew she was being taken for a sucker; and I never knew her to refuse any request to appear at Charity concerts – which meant giving up many of her Sundays when, like others in the profession, she could have well done with a hard-earned rest.
It was my privilege, apart from being in the Ambrose Orchestra when she and Sam became great radio favorites, to accompany Elsie on a number of these charity performances – and she would give as much of herself as she would for a Palladium performance.
Off-stage she was a joy to be with; always cheerful, cracking gags, and telling very funny stories in a superb Mancunian accent. A great party-giver and a charming hostess she was at home in any company. Yet secretly, she was undoubtedly a far from happy woman, never having fully recovered from a romance that had soured some years before I met her. Such a wonderful person deserved to have a good marriage, but it would appear that didn’t eventuate – at least, not within the limits of my knowledge. I am very, very disappointed that my efforts to trace Elsie proved fruitless; but I shall always retain the warmest memories of a fine artiste and a gentle, compassionate, woman. R.I.P.