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09 February 2013

Poppy Cooper (192?–1988) bus conductor, performer

Cooper was working as a bus conductor in Preston, Lancashire in the late 1940s, where he was generally known as a pansy.

On a trip to Morecambe, he was able to catch Forces Showboat – The All-Male Revue at the Alhambra Theatre. "I thought that it was fabulous. The girls were so glamorous and the dresses looked gorgeous. In fact the costumes were a load of tat close to, but the lights were so wonderful in those days." He went backstage to see if there was a chance of a job.
"In those days I had quite a lot of blonde hair with a big quiff, and I reminded them of a queen who had just left because Loren shouted, 'Darling, we've got another Lucretia here – come and varder this one' ". 
Poppy was told to come back tomorrow with a wig and drag, and went down the market to make the needed purchases.

Men in Frocks p17
The going wage was £6 or £7 a week and half of that went on draughty digs where they sometimes had to share four-to-a-bed. However such shows were the only place at that time that a male-bodied person could dress female.

By the mid-1950s, the all-male revues had run their course and no longer attracted audiences.  Poppy popped over to Paris and was employed at Le Carrousel.
"There was more freedom there and you could go out onto the streets in drag if you wanted to, or go out with men to a restaurant after the show. …. French, Belgiums, Germans – they loved the travesti. The English seem different."
Poppy completed her transition to being a woman in the 1970s, and later did a striptease act using the name Tuxedo.

++When she retired from the stage, she set up home in south-west London with a lover who stayed with her till the end.   She passed away in her sleep.
  • Kris Kirk & Ed Heath. Men in Frocks. London: GMP, 1984: 13, 15-7, 19-20, 24, 27,29-31.
  • "Obituary - Poppy Cooper".  Glad Rag, 40, 1988.
  • Paul Baker & Jo Stanley. Hello Sailor!: The Hidden History of Gay Life at Sea. London: Longman, 2003: 37,85.

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