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Byng Ballads: The Story of Douglas Byng

Episode 2: The Cabaret Boys

Duration: 15 minutes

First broadcast: on BBC Radio 4 FMLatest broadcast: on BBC Radio 4 LW

Julian Clary plays camp cabaret star, drag artiste and the finest of panto dames, Douglas Byng - who makes a ghostly comeback to entertain his friends at the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton.

In today's episode, Byng tells of his first professional engagement as a member of a concert party in Hastings , remembers working at London's Gaiety Theatre during the First World War, and has a thing or two to say about theatrical 'digs'!

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. Show less

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