Dames: A Very Peculiar British Custom

Great Britain, The Arts

Of all the things that take some explaining about British culture, one of the most complex and difficult is the traditional acceptance of drag. For as long as I can remember, men have dressed as women on national television, and have hosted family and kiddie TV shows. What’s always been unique about this strand of comedy is that it’s really smutty, but because it works on two levels, both for kids and adults, it has always been accepted.

There’s now some take-up of the tradition in the US, but here it remains quite ingrained in our entertainment, from Arthur Lucan’s ‘Old Mother Riley’ through Monty Python’s ‘pepper pot’ ladies, to Matt Lucas and David Walliams, dames have always been with us.

Partly this is a comic tradition that began in music-halls, continuing through pantomimes and into children’s comedies, so that old Norman Wisdom films or Carry On films invariably featured characters in drag being seduced. Hinge & Bracket went further, specialising only in Victorian parlour songs played fairly straight, and went from appearing in a much dirtier version of their act in pubs to the Royal Opera House and to TV series and shows of their own. Here’s a commercial featuring them, complete with double-entendre end-line (of course).

6 comments on “Dames: A Very Peculiar British Custom”

  1. pheeny says:

    I never saw Hinge and Bracket as a drag act – they were more characterful than that

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    I have always felt drag acts required a delicate balance to be successful. Many are so over the top, or so under realized, as to be next to uncomfortable. Acts such as these can quickly become tedious.
    I thought Robin Williams in Mrs Doubtfire did her very well. Humor being a delicate balance of timing, subject, and delivery. Sometimes less is more and sustains itself longer.

  3. admin says:

    Good drag acts always had strong roles; Both Marc Fleming and Mrs Shufflewick had very distinctly drawn characters. I used to see them performing as a teenager with my Dad.

  4. agatha hamilton says:

    Goodness yes! The lugubrious Mrs. Shufflewick! And what about Norman Evans, adjusting his bosom comfortably on the yard wall, and Les Dawson in the Cissie and Ada sketches?

  5. Peter Arcane says:

    What no mention of Stanley Baxter, and at this time of year. Shame on you!! 😉

  6. Jo W says:

    What was your Dad doing,performing with Marc Fleming and Mrs.Shufflewick???

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