‘Goodbye Dolly Gray’ magic lantern slides

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Some of my favourite Victorian magic lantern slides are illustrated song sets ….. popular songs of the day that could be projected onto a screen, so that the audience could sing along. They were made in the 1880/90s, much earlier than the cinema lyrics slides discussed in my recent post.

They were produced in sets with pictures that told the story and came with a printed sheet of the words. Most were produced by Bamforth’s (of Holmfirth, in Yorkshire) and, as you can see from this wonderful example, they were made by photographing actors on a set with a painted back-drop. The slides were then beautifully hand tinted ….. but that’s another story. Such sets are now quite rare, complete ones even more so as, over the years, a slide or two would have been broken and thrown away, usually one that’s crucial to the story!

It’s very rewarding to project a set like this and play the music and for the audience to join in the song.

Goodbye Dolly Gray is still a well-known song today. It is generally believed to be from the First World War but was actually written in 1898 at the time of the Boer War. The story is of a soldier saying goodbye to his girl, before he leaves for South Africa. Virtually every recording of it has an up-beat tempo and comprises one verse and the chorus. It wasn’t until I saw these slides that I realised that the ending isn’t a happy one and that there must, therefore, be more verses. I needed a recording of the full song to use in my magic lantern shows and discovered that only one exists, made in 1901 by a Canadian tenor, Harry McDonough.

The chorus is shown on one of the slides and the first and second verses are as follows:

I have come to say goodbye, Dolly Gray

It’s no use to ask me why, Dolly Gray

There’s a murmur in the air, you can hear it everywhere

It is the time to do and dare, Dolly Gray

Don’t you hear the tramp of feet, Dolly Gray

Sounding through the village street, Dolly Gray

‘Tis the tramp of soldiers’ true in their uniforms so blue

I must say goodbye to you, Dolly Gray

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Hear the rolling of the drums, Dolly Gray

Back from war the regiment comes, Dolly Gray

On your lovely face so fair, I can see a look of fear

For your soldier boy’s not there, Dolly Gray

For the one you love so well, Dolly Gray

In the midst of battle fell, Dolly Gray

With his face toward the foe, as he died he murmured low

“I must say goodbye and go, Dolly Gray”

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The slide at the top of this post is Dolly saying goodbye and the bottom one uses a vignette to show us her thoughts on hearing the news. It can be a very moving performance.

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