Music sheet cover
'The Boys that Mind the Shop'
Sung by Vesta Tilley
Printed by Francis, Day and Hunter, written by Edgar Bateman, composed by Bennet Scott
Late 19th to early 20th century
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Vesta Tilley is depicted on this music sheet cover in dapper, close-fitting military uniform, one of the costumes that made her such a successful male impersonator. She was a huge draw on the music hall stage strutting about immaculately dressed as a serviceman, policeman, or man about town, at a time when women weren't seen wearing trousers. 'The Boys That Mind The Shop' was written by the author of music hall songs, Edgar Bateman. It poked gentle fun at one of the Rifle Volunteer battalions, part-time regiments formed in 1859 to supplement the regular forces to defend Britain against invasion or to enforce domestic order. A 19th century 'Dad's Army', they were known as 'Saturday Night Soldiers', which was when they did their training. Tradesmen and professional people alike joined the units, which is why this illustration by H.G. Banks depicts the butcher and draper as a major and captain. The song claimed that they were good shots who got bulls-eyes in rifle shooting and so deserved cheering, not sneering! When they weren't training to mind ' the shop' (Great Britain), a lot of volunteers really were minding shops - in this case a rather military shop which even features a tin of the dangerous dum-dum bullets. By 1908 the Rifle Volunteers were taken over by the Territorial Army, which still exists today.