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Whenever the song actually originated in Britain, it was appearing in print in the United States by the turn of the twentieth century. Chubby Parker made several recordings, under the title ‘Nickety, Nackety, Now, Now, Now’, from 1927; and Ridgel’s Fountain Citians recorded their take on ‘The Nick Nack Song’ in 1930. Pete Seeger recorded ‘Risselty-Rosselty’ as the second track of his 1950 album Darling Corey.
The version of ‘Risseldy Rosseldy’ which features in the schoolhouse scene in The Birds largely follows the American set of lyrics, with a few modifications: a different sequence of nonsense terms, with ‘willickey wallackey’ a combination of both ‘willaby wallaby’ and ‘Willy Wallacky’, and ‘rustical quality’ a sensible alternative to ‘retrical quality’; a couple of added verses, as the wife is asked to wash as well as sweep the floor, and for the first time chases a ‘critter’; and more repetition. The tune sung by the schoolchildren is an alternate, American version of a traditional Scottish folk song, ‘Wee Cooper O’Fife’.These changes were the product of scriptwriter Evan Hunter. Asked by Hitchcock to come up with a song for the scene, Hunter turned to his three young sons, who were attending Pound Ridge school in Westchester County, New York. His sons sang the song in class, and Hunter apparently obtained the lyrics via their schoolteacher. As the song was in the public domain, copyright proved no obstacle; but in early 1962, Hunter was called by Hitchcock’s assistant, Peggy Robertson, and told to devise original verses to cover the scene’s duration. Hunter was obliged to join the American Society of Publishers and Composers before his lyrics could be admitted to the big screen. The lyrics of the song as sung by the schoolchildren in The Birds, and a knowledge of the song’s origins as ‘Wee Cooper O’Fife’, add another unsettling layer to a scene full of dramatic tension, peculiarly calm but with an oppressive sense of foreboding.
****REVISED August 28, 2019 - SR****