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28 November 2007

Douglas Bing (1893 - 1987) The first drag show on television

Douglas Byng was born in Nottingham. His father was managing director of the Midland Counties Bank. He started in show-biz as a theatrical costumier in London. His first professional engagement was in Hastings in 1914 as part of the Periodicals Concert Party. He appeared at the London Gaity in 1917, and from 1922-4 toured with the Revue 'Crystal'.

In 1921 he did his first dame role in Aladdin. He was well known in the 1920s for his female impersonations in cabaret and pantomime. He was regarded as more sophisticated than other impersonators of the time. His big breakthrough came with Noel Coward's 1925 review On With the Dance where he played a drag double act with Ernest Thesiger. He was a top-ranking star of London cabaret in the 1930s, and played in 26 Christmas pantomimes, usually in a dame part, before retiring.

He was the first drag act to have a starring show on BBC television -- in March and April 1938. His act was distinctive in that he played several different personalities including Minnie the messy old mermaid and Boadicea.

During the Second World War he was billed as 'Bawdy but British', the bawdiness being double-entrendres in the lyrics of his songs.

However he achieved his greatest fame in the mufti role of Martin in the stage play and later film of Hotel Paradiso, 1966. Many of his songs were originally banned on BBC radio.

His stage career lasted 72 years. He retired to Brighton where he died at the age of 94.

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