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21 February 2024

Peggy Deauville (1899 -? ) performer

 Tom’s father, Benjamin Davies, was the minister at Caersalem Baptist Chapel in the coal-ming village of Abergwynfi, Naeth Port Talbot, South Wales, and was a prominent figure in the local temperance movement. However by age eleven, young Tom was drinking beer with a next-door neighbour. He was also transvesting. 

“I was awfully interested in ladies clothes, and always dressing up as a woman, before I left school really. So now, and if my sisters had anything new, a hat, a coat, or a dress … I wasn’t happy until I tried it on.” 

He avoided the cricket and football that the boys played, and preferred hopscotch and skipping with the girls.

At age 14 he left school and found work in the drapery department of Glyncorrwg Co-operative Stores where he enjoyed working with fabrics and fashion. After war was declared in August 1914, Tom saw a newspaper advertisement for performers to join the army entertainment corps. He was auditioned in London and accepted. After several months at the dancing school run by John Tiller (famed for the Tiller Girls) – his natural singing voice was good enough to be professional – he was assigned to a YMCA-funded concert party led by the actress and suffragette Lena Ashwell, which performed in France close to the Western Front doing as many as forty concerts in a fortnight. Tom found Ashwell’s format too serious for his taste and wanted something less formal and where he could talk to the audience.  He transferred to other troups. He worked in Dieppe, Deauville and Paris. He also performed in the hospital on Saint-Pol-sur-Mer, the first hospital from the front line where many of the patients were badly injured soldiers, some groaning in pain. The act was basically what would be found in any music hall with risqué songs. Tom performed en femme

“I’d come out in this beautiful sequin gown you know, and then I used to take my gown off, and I had sequin briefs and a sequin bra, and I was naked then but for my tights.  And I had these two big ostrich feather fans, and I had learned to manipulate them … they wouldn’t see anything, and I could hear them saying, Jock, how would you like her in the bunk tonight …. There were many who wouldn’t believe I was male, you know, because I was so dainty.” 

By now Tom’s nom d’étage was Peggy Deauville.

After the Armistice Peggy stayed on in Paris, working in the Folies Bergères for five years and the Casino de Paris for two. The act featured impersonations of well-known women of the period such as the nurse Edith Cavell, Jane Renoir and the actress Gaby Deslys. The French press was fascinated in that Peggy was a woman off-stage also, and as such she travelled around France. 

Tom/Peggy worked in Germany for a while, and after returning to Britain worked with Bud Flanagan - a fellow performer from the war years - at the Victoria Palace and the London Palladium, and then four years in Malta with the John Bull Music Hall Company.

By 1939 Tom was back in south Wales and working again at the Glyncorrwg Co-operative. However with the outbreak of the next war, he returned to army revue shows.

After 1945 Peggy mainly performed at British Legion and working men’s clubs. Peggy assisted Roger Baker with his research for Baker’s 1968 book, and performed in the London show associated with the book.

Tom remained a regular church-goer, and never drank on Sundays.

  • Roger Baker. Drag: A History of Female Impersonation on the Stage. A Triton Book, 1968: 173.
  • Cliff John. “What a Man is Peggy Deauville”. Neath Guardian, 29 January 1970:7.
  • Roger Baker, Peter Burton & Richard Smith. Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing Arts. Cassell, 1994: 191-2.
  • Daryl Leeworthy. A Little Gay History of Wales. University of Wales Press, 2019: 24-7.

All quotes from Leeworthy.

New York's Radio City Rockettes were an offshoot from the Tiller Girls.

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