Gilbert and Sullivan Archive




7.1 Records

7.1.1 Rattle or Ratchet?

David Duffey wrote: I only possess two recordings of Pirates, the 1929 (Elsie Griffin superb) and 1968 (Donald Adams, the definitive Pirate king, Valerie Masterson, not bad). In all the DOC productions I ever saw, when the Police spring up to capture the Pirates, a large rattle was sounded by the Sergeant. This is quite authentic, as such an instrument was used by some police forces as a warning and distress signal during the c19. There is a loud and clear rattle on the 1968 recording, but on that of 1929 only a very pathetic little whistle is heard, and that is certainly not a police whistle, which has the distinctive sound often nowadays to be heard on old B&W British films. Can anyone with more recordings say whether rattle or whistle is used? David Stone replied: In both the 1950 and 1958 recordings, the rattle was used. The 1921 acoustic recording used neither.

Bruce Miller replied: The correct term for this noisemaker is, I believe, a ratchet and is sometimes used in orchestras and bands for various (usually comic) effects. They can still be purchased through percussion supply houses. And David Duffey retorted: Called rattles in the UK they were used by policeman (as above) in the 19th century, but also by soccer fans in the early and middle 20th century. Peter Meason chimed in: In the UK, the term rattle would be understood to be instrument to which we all refer and used to be used as a powerful sound producer at sports matches over here. Consulting my reference stuff from College days, the instrument is titled the 'cog rattle' and belongs to the sub-family of scraped ideophones. The Oxford companion (Scholes), interestingly says quote:

Rattle: This is of the usual children's pattern and the same as the alarm signal of old watchmen. A small frame bearing strips of wood is revolved so the latter catch in the cogs of a wheel. Examples Beethoven Wellington's Victory, Strauss Till Eulenspiegel.

Ted Rice wrote: I can't remember the reference, but I remember reading somewhere, that "battle-rattles" were used as early as the 16th century to disconcert the enemy, and to boost the home-team's morale. I think there are some examples in the Tower collection.


Page created 30 April 1998