I Had My Bit of Cake
In today's episode, Byng explains how he began playing risqué female characters, and became the darling of 'the smart set' at London's Café de Paris.
Douglas Byng (1893 - 1987) was a female impersonator and the most famous cabaret star of his day. Billed as "Bawdy but British", his professional career lasted for over 70 years. This short series traces the journey of the cross-dressing glamour queen from privileged childhood in the 1890s, through concert parties in Hastings, to his emergence as the darling of the society set, entertaining royalty and London's 'Bright Young Things' at the Café de Paris in the 1920s and 30s.
Douglas Byng has been dubbed 'the highest priest of camp'. He blazed a trail for others to follow, treading a fine line between sophisticated urbanity and risqué innuendo which presaged more contemporary, boundary-bending comedians such as Kenneth Williams, Danny La Rue, Barry Humphries and...our own Julian Clary.
Byng's debonair appearances in revue were described by Noel Coward as "the most refined vulgarity in London"!
After the Second World War, Douglas Byng became a familiar stage and film actor and much-loved pantomime dame. His saucy recordings of self-penned songs led to occasional bans by the BBC, but his popularity never diminished.
He wrote his autobiography (As You Were - published in 1970) in retirement in Brighton, and this book provides the material for the series.
With Julian Clary as Douglas Byng.
Compiled by Tony Lidington.
Pianist: Martin Seager.
Producer/Director: David Blount
A Pier Production for BBC Radio 4.
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