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Douglas Byng

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Biography

b. 17 March 1893, Nottingham, England, d. 24 August 1987, Brighton, Sussex, England. An actor and singer in musical comedy, revue, pantomime, and cabaret, Byng worked as a dressmaker and designer of theatrical costumes before beginning his long and distinguished career in showbusiness. After touring in concert parties, and playing in various West End musical productions such as Theodore & Co. and Yes, Uncle! (both 1917) and A Night Out (1920), in 1924 he made the first of more than 50 appearances as a Dame in pantomime at the New Oxford Theatre. Byng’s Dame was sophisticated and elegant (‘I played the housekeeper-never the cook’), and wore glittering gowns - not at all like the often down trodden, humble creatures who were often portrayed in that role in the traditional Christmas shows. His stylish performances came to the notice of impresario Charles B. Cochran, who starred him, often in female parts, in several of his glossy revues, such as On With The Dance (1925), Still Dancing! (1925), One Dam Thing After Another (1927), This Year Of Grace! (1928), Cochran’s Revue Of 1926 (1926), Wake Up And Dream! (1929), and Cochran’s 1930 Revue (1930). Byng’s other London credits included How D’You Do? (1933), Hi-Diddle-Diddle (1934, in which Byng introduced Cole Porter’s ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ to London audiences), Stop-Go! (1935), Maritza (1938), Strike Up The Music (1941), Fine And Dandy (1942), Flying Colours (1943), The Shephard Show (1946), Sauce Piquante (1950), The Bells Of St. Martin’s (1952), The Love Doctor (1959), and House Of Cards (1963). His highly acclaimed and lucrative cabaret act in the 30s and early 40s, at ritzy venues such as the Café de Paris and Monseigneur Restaurant, was considered rather risqué, and he was reported to the authorities on more than one occasion, and banned for a time by the BBC. Noël Coward described his songs, which included items such as ‘I’m Doris The Goddess Of Wind’ and ‘I’m Millie A Messy Old Mermaid’, as ‘the most refined vulgarity in London’. When the entertainment scene changed forever after World War II, he took to straight acting in plays such as Lady Windermere’s Fan and Hotel Paradiso. He retired from the stage in the late 60s, and resided in Brighton until he was in his 90s, when he went to live in the actors’ retirement home, Denville Hall, in Northwood. In 1986, somewhat reluctantly, he teamed up briefly with the legendary variety entertainer Billy Milton for a nostalgic revue, Those Thirties Memories. Among subsequent efforts to keep his memory alive was Phillip Leather’s one-man show, Just A Bit Of Stuff And Nonsense.

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Born:

17 March 1893 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Engl

Genre
Years Active:

'20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

Contemporaries