Who was Alphonso?
Alphonso Spagoni is the mythical toreador who stole the heart of Billy Merson’s fiancée while he had gone to ‘buy some nuts and a programme’ at the bullring. He is the subject of Merson’s most enduring song “The Spaniard that Blighted my Life”.
Possibly he was inspired by Bizet’s opera ‘Carmen’, in which the soldier Don Jose loses his fiery lover Carmen to the glamorous matador Escamillo. Enrico Caruso, the Italian tenor had played Don Jose at Covent Garden in 1904 and sang there regularly for a decade. The music hall fraternity were not above sending up opera. Wilkie Bard had great success with the song ‘I Want to Sing in Opera’ (1910). It contained the immortal line ‘Signor Caruso told me I ought to do so’ and audiences loved it.
At exactly this time Merson had been cast as ‘Idle Jack’ in ‘Dick Whittington’ at the Theatre Royal, Brighton. He wanted ‘something dashing, Spanish and semi-operatic’ for his duet with the principal girl, Beatrice Allen, and decided to write something himself. He suddenly got an idea for the song, jotted down the words, hummed the melody – and the rest is history.
Originally written for the pantomime as ‘If I Catch Alphonso Tonight’, he later turned it into a solo number ‘The Spaniard that Blighted my Life’. It was a phenomenal success in the halls and took his earnings from £6 to £125 a week. Many others have performed it since – and continue to do so.