Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Unknown

Interview of Davies, Tom by Jones, Merfyn on 1st December 1973.
The interview forms part of Swansea University�s South Wales Miners� Library collection.

1 audio file (33 min. 20 sec.)

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Transcription

Davies, Tom: …Like the ordinary children but I did possess a lovely voice.

Jones, Merfyn: How did you develop your voice though?

Davies, Tom: I’ll tell you now. I left school at fourteen years of age and I had a lovely voice, and really nicer than Vera Lynn, nicer than that. And I could knock the top notes wonderful. And now my eldest brothers, one brother died when he was seventeen, and another brother died when he was thirty three. Well I was left with my sisters then see, and 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, oh let me try it on, let me try it on. Oh, I wasn’t happy until I tried it on. So now I left school at fourteen years of age, so I went to Glyncorrwg Co-op to work, and then war broke out, I left school in May and war broke out in August 4th I think, the First World War.

Jones, Merfyn: What was your job in the Co-op?

Davies, Tom: Oh selling in the shop you know, in the drapery department because I was interested in drapery like.

Jones, Merfyn: Who were the customers?

Davies, Tom: Oh Glyncorrwg people, all of them knew me. Well they know me now because they make an awful fuss when I go up there. If I go up to Glyncorrwg I’m not home here until about four o’clock in the morning. Men going to the Abbey bring me home, you know we have a late drinking session then. Well anyhow as I’m telling you now and war broke out on August the 4th, and then I read in the paper, in The Western Mail, wanted Dancers, Singers, Jugglers, any artist of any description to join the Entertainment Corp. So I told Dad, Dad, I’m going to write away now to London, I said, and the address was in the War Office somewhere, some room so and so and all that you know. And my father said, don’t be so silly, he said. Yes I am, I said. So I went then, I wrote to London and they said, how did they manage to tell me, oh yes, I wrote to London and then I had a letter back saying would I come for an audition.

Jones, Merfyn: What did you write off to say you wanted to do?

Davies, Tom: To entertain. And I had good, I was a very high kicker, and there wasn’t a lot of high kickers about in those days, nor female impersonators. So up I went and I gave them three auditions, dancing and singing and I had to make up, so now I, they said, we’ll write to you, they said, we’ll write to you. And I said, oh, right you are then I said. So I come home and Dad said, oh that’s all you’ll hear about it, he said, but indeed on the following Monday I had a letter to come to London, and to report at the Westminster Hall, and when I got there, and they had a railway voucher and everything you know, it didn’t cost me a penny. And I said to Dad, it will only be in this country Dad, I said. And when I got up there I was put into this John Tiller. You know the Tiller girls, he trained them. And so he said, Mr Davies you’ll have to have a bit of polish, he said. Your dancing is, but he put the polish on. And I used to, my sensation was, what took me into the Folies Bergère, that two girls would come in and hold a tray behind my head, and I would kick that tray one hundred times, see.

Jones, Merfyn: Where did you learn to dance in the first place, because it is not…

Davies, Tom: With John Tiller.

Jones, Merfyn: No, but before that, before you went for the audition and so on? You were already…

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, but it was only just a little bit of high kicking you know, and tap dancing, and I was interested in ballet, but he told me to leave ballet there because I would have to go on a course of that, and you know it's a thing which takes years to make you really, like Nurefev now see.

Jones, Merfyn: And had you done any entertaining at all before you went to London?

Davies, Tom: Yes, but in cinemas like, now in Maesteg there was a Doonas a big cinema, and the silent films and in between the silent films they would have a turn. So, and rag-time was all the go you know, and ragtime was everything and that's where I started to have such interest in it.

Jones, Merfyn: You danced yourself in Maesteg before…

Davies, Tom: Yes, and singing you know.

Jones, Merfyn: How much would they pay you for that?

Davies, Tom: Oh well, then, they would pay you two guineas for a turn. Well that was a lot of money then, see. So then I …

Jones, Merfyn: Did you work anywhere else in that area, in Maesteg?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, I went round Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend, everywhere, and the Rhondda.

Jones, Merfyn: When you were still in school or when you were working?

Davies, Tom: Oh, just after I left school see. So that when I went to London, I wasn’t doing any of that then, so I went to John Tiller through the army, and they said, Come on they said, you have got to have more polish on your dancing than what you have got now. So indeed he polished me up, and he used to teach me how to do the splits and high kicking, and that’s where he told me to introduce the tray you know, and I would kick it one hundred times in every performance. It took me into the Folies Bergère see, because they don’t take rubbish in the Folies Bergère.

Jones, Merfyn: When you were working before you left home, in this period when you were still living here, or living in Blaengwynfi, what audiences, you said you worked in Neath and …

Davies, Tom: Oh Clubs.

Jones, Merfyn: What kind of clubs {unclear} ?

Davies, Tom: British Legion Clubs, see, the ordinary drinking clubs you know. And it is a very funny thing …

Jones, Merfyn: What was your act then?

Davies, Tom: Oh just, I'd cut out the dancing, because I was getting on a bit you know, 54, 58 …

Jones, Merfyn: No I don’t mean recently now, I mean before you left for London?

Davies, Tom: Oh just singing you know, ragtime songs, and a little bit of dancing and tap dancing and then …

Jones, Merfyn: You weren’t impersonating at the stage were you?

Davies, Tom: No, no, see. So now I went to London, and I was introduced to John Tiller and he said, you’ll have your training session with me, and I had to find digs then in London, and I had to go every day to John Tiller’s School of Dancing.

Jones, Merfyn: What did your father think of all this, as a minister?

Davies, Tom: Oh well, I didn’t show to him that it was the stage, I said a little concert, you see. And I said, I’ll be in England, Dad, when I was leaving home now, and I had this voucher to go to London, and he said to my sister, oh what an awful boy he is, I don’t know what to do with him. And he said, come on now Tom, he said, you write and say where you are. Oh yes. And, so I got to London now, and after doing the training I come home then for two or three days just to see my Dad, and I said, I’m going to do concerts now, I said, up on the South Coast, I said, but I’ll be in this country. But indeed, when I got up there, and I had finished my training with Tiller now see, and I, what do you call, joined Lena Ashwell’s Concert Party to go to France. So when I got there I didn’t like her type of concert, you know, it was all serious stuff, and I had learnt to, you know, work a bit of patter in my show like, to give me a spell in dancing, see, all these crafty bits you learn, and anyway I was sent then on what they call devastated areas you know, in France, and I went to different headquarters to give shows you see.

Jones, Merfyn: You were in the army weren’t you?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, yes, but I didn’t have a uniform, no, no uniform. But whatever clothes you wanted, they always supplied it, see.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you get the pay of an ordinary soldier or …

Davies, Tom: Yes, and then you had pay then, what they called the professional allowance, see, and after having the professional allowance then, I didn’t use that, I made that out to the Co-operative Building Society in London, and I had, oh I had, oh, I could give my father two thousand when I got home. That's like twelve thousand today see. So anyway…

Jones, Merfyn: Did your father know what you were doing? What kind of …

Davies, Tom: No, no. He knew I was making up like a girl like, see, but he didn’t know that I had become such a star like, see. And of course it was in the Folies Bergère that they paid the money like see.

Jones, Merfyn: When did you start female impersonating?

Davies, Tom: Fourteen years of age.

Jones, Merfyn: You started as soon as you went to the army, did you?

Davies, Tom: As soon as I went to London, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: Did someone decide that's what you should do or did you …

Davies, Tom: No, I wanted to do it see, and female impersonators were very rare in those days, see.

Jones, Merfyn: Had you seen any working?

Davies, Tom: Oh, I had seen one, who was it now. George Robey, he made a very poor woman, good artist but a very poor woman, and Bert Ellmore, I’ve seen him working.

Jones, Merfyn: Where?

Davies, Tom: In London, and he then came to Paris and the Coliseum. But that's like the Metropolitan, the Theatre in London you know, you'd have third rate and you'd have good artists like, see, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: So your father didn’t try to stop you {unclear} ?

Davies, Tom: Oh no, no.

Jones, Merfyn: Were you brought up in a very, I mean your father was a minister, it must have been a fairly religious household, and the Baptists they were very strict on ...

Davies, Tom: Very strict, yes. He was, but he never, no, because, now I {used to} take a drink eleven years of age with the lady next door, I used to fetch beer for her. My neighbour, and, I always used to arrange with my sister you know, to keep the side-door locked, because then I knew Dad hadn’t gone to bed, because he'd smell beer on me, see. And then, if the door was open I knew Dad had gone to bed then, see.

Jones, Merfyn: Was Blaengwynfi then, what kind of place was it?

Davies, Tom: Oh, it was a gold mine. You couldn’t have a house, you couldn’t have apartments, you couldn’t have lodgings, oh, it was filled with Irish people.

Jones, Merfyn: Irish people?

Davies, Tom: Yes, you know, they had all come in there, like, I think they had come from Merthyr way really, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: Was there a very distinct split you know, between the pub and the Chapel, between people who went to one rather than the other?

Davies, Tom: Oh no, my father was well respected in Blaengwynfi. Now I remember a friend of mine now, Councillor Colliers, you have seen him sitting by me, well his uncle was living in Blaengwynfi then, and he'd see my father coming down the hill, passed the pub as they were all coming out, ten o’clock, you know. And he used to say to them, now boys, he said, Mr Davies is coming up by the hill, he said, guard your language until he has gone passed. And fair play you wouldn’t hear a swear word. And my father used to tell them, he was very broadminded my father you know, and he would say, well, he’d say, boys, he’d say, you deserve a drink after being down the colliery, he said, but, he said, I ask you to do one thing, look after number one. What’s number one, Mr Davies? Your home, watch your home is right, and watch that there's food in the house for the children, he said, then have a drink, he said. But don’t neglect your llittle home for drink, he’d say. Oh he was very broadminded, everybody loved him for his broadmindedness, you know.

Jones, Merfyn: How large was the congregation, do you remember going to Chapel?

Davies, Tom: Yes, my father is the only Baptist Minister that was baptising people and the last baptism he had was in Caersalem, Abergwynfi, and he baptised sixty eight persons. And those people came regular, it wasn’t just a splash in the pan, but after they'd been baptised they came regular to the chapel.

Jones, Merfyn: What was the name of the chapel?

Davies, Tom: Caersalem.

Jones, Merfyn: Caersalem. That was his Chapel, and did you live in ...

Davies, Tom: Blaengwynfi, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: No, but did you live, there was a special house, in the Manse?

Davies, Tom: Oh no, no.

Jones, Merfyn: No manse?

Davies, Tom: Dad had this house and he bought it like, and we lived in that house then. But there was no like Manse with the Chapel, mind, see.

Jones, Merfyn: Was it a large house, was it larger than the ordinary collier’s house, or was it very much the same?

Davies, Tom: Oh four bedrooms up and four down. You know, sort of house like that, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: But the majority of the congregation would have been miners I suppose, would they?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, well, all mixed like see, yes. Teachers, miners and then, different, some you know going to secondary school like you know, oh yes.

Jones, Merfyn: In which language did he preach?

Davies, Tom: Preferable Welsh. But he would sometimes then preach in English.

Jones, Merfyn: Was the congregation completely Welsh or would there have been a section of it only?

Davies, Tom: Oh mostly Welsh, mostly.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you have to, you know, did you attend Chapel yourself then?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: What did that mean, three times on Sunday or …

Davies, Tom: Yes, perhaps sometimes, now after burying mother do you see, perhaps my sister would go to Chapel on the Sunday morning, and then she'd come home, I'd prepare the dinner, because I was a good cook then. And then, I'd, what you call, and she'd, I wouldn’t be going to Sunday School, but then we'd go together to the evening service together, do you see. And the Chapel used to be packed in those days, not like they are today. Very few today, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: So there was no contradiction as it were, between the pub and the chapel, you could come …?

Davies, Tom: Oh dad didn’t know that I went to the pub you see, because I never went near a pub in Blaengwynfi. But when I wanted a night out it was down to Maesteg or Aberavon or Neath see, yes, I never showed dad that I was a drinking man.

Jones, Merfyn: How old would you have been then, when you went, say, to Maesteg for a night out?

Davies, Tom: Night out, oh about, let me see now. Oh I’d be drawing on 48, 50, see. But then I, what do you call, after I left the army then, I went to Malta, to John Bull’s Music Hall.

Jones, Merfyn: Which war is this now?

Davies, Tom: The Second War.

Jones, Merfyn: To go back to France for a second. You went to France in 1914.

Davies, Tom: 1914.

Jones, Merfyn: And you were there for …

Davies, Tom: So now, I had to go to the Entertainment Corps which was at Deauville Sur Mer, Deauville on Sea, so I went there, and the man said, are you sixteen? Yes I said. Shall I send home for my birth certificate. Oh no, don’t want to bother to do that, he said. Oh I wasn’t sixteen, but I wasn't, fourteen I was. Now if he knew that, he'd have sent me home, see. Because it is in the book, I don’t know if you read it. And so he said, You haven’t got a surname, he said, for the stage name, he said. Well I never have, it's only Peggy I said, always. Because they know me in all the pubs and the clubs in London as Peggy, I said. You’ve got to have a surname, he said. What do you want? Oh, don’t put Davies, I said, because that's too ordinary, why not Deauville. He said, Deauville is a very popular place, he said, so then I went as Peggy Deauville from 1914 on.

Jones, Merfyn: You had worked in London previously?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, yes, see. But just under the name of Peggy, see.

Jones, Merfyn: And in what kind of acts?

Davies, Tom: Female impersonating and singing, and then cheeky jokes, you know. And all that sort of thing, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: And in France you toured around, you said you did devastated areas?

Davies, Tom: Yes, devastated areas, and then back to Deauville after.

Jones, Merfyn: What were the audiences, you know, did you go right up to the front?

Davies, Tom: Yes, quite near, and oh, marvellous, wonderful audiences, wonderful audience.

Jones, Merfyn: What kind of size were they?

Davies, Tom: Oh well they would be about, it is all according, whether we had headquarters, or out in the, what they called the devastated areas, like see. Perhaps they'd rig up a stage in an old waiting room you know, in Arras now, see. I gave a show in Arras, and many men remember me at Arras, in the booking office had been made like a stage you know. And then I used to have, I did different shows in Dieppe, and then when you were coming to places like that, well in Treauville after, I was in the Casino Municipal. See, well, all those places that I used to do shows.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you ever have to work in the open-air?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, outside Paris in Saint Cloud, and there was a big place there, all steps and what do you call. In that photo, that’s my photograph amongst the troops you know. That was taken inside Cloud, that was an open-air show on a Sunday afternoon. But there were so many places you know, like, running French shows, well the troops weren’t interested because they didn’t understand French see, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: But it must have been, you know, the soldiers wanted, if they'd been at the front for a long time, they wanted to be entertained …

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, oh, yes, and they'd be the most appreciative audiences. And I remember one time being asked to go, in a place called Saint Pol, P-o-l, Saint Pol. And there was, what do you call there, an hospital there, you know, and it was the first hospital from the line. And I was told that I would have to give a show in one of the wards. Well the men were in such agony and groaning and pain, I said to the, I went to see the fellow that was running our show there and I said, I can never go in sir, it is breaking my heart to see them, I said, and they really didn’t want, you know, they were too ill like, see they had been wounded and you didn’t know what shape they were in you know, because everyone was covered to a blanket up to here like, see. So I said, Oh don’t send me there again, I can never do it. It’s funny isn’t it. I was too sensitive a nature I should think, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: When you joined the army as an entertainer, did you go simply because you wanted to get away from home, or to become theatrical, or did you …

Davies, Tom: Oh no, to become theatrical, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: You didn’t, did you actually want to join the army, because of the First World War, and the …

Davies, Tom: Excuse me. Um, yes you see…

Jones, Merfyn: When you did join the First World War, or when you joined the army, what was your attitude towards the war itself, because there was some anti-war people, especially amongst the…

Davies, Tom: Oh I wasn’t anti-war. If I had had to go into the lines with the troops you know, well I could, because I did have to do three months when I joined up, three months as a soldier, otherwise I couldn’t have applied for the Entertainment Corps you see. And they sent me to Dublin. Oh, and I was most, it was in the Royal Irish Horse, you come and see {unclear} by here look, Private T. Davies, Royal Irish Horse Artillery, see. And I was known then as The Soldiers Sweetheart, see. And I had to do three months as a soldier.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you enjoy that or …

Davies, Tom: No, because I was terrified of horses. Oh, I was terrified, oh dear, dear. And they said, number four, they said, Pull your horse up. Oh I had no shape at all see. Oh.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you have training with firearms?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, I had training with the Lewis gun. And it is a long thing like that you know, and the man, the sergeant that was teaching me about this Lewis Gun was a Welshman, and I said, Oh hell, I said, I said, oh dear, dear. This man, oh, I said. And I said to him, I said to him in Welsh you know, o dere, I said, in English it means, oh come on I said, I'm not, I said. Look, he said, the Germans are passing, and you've got to shoot them. Oh don’t bother now, I said, let’s talk and enjoy ourselves. And he used to laugh, he used to say, Well, soldiers penny a box, he used to say.

Jones, Merfyn: When you were at home, did you take part with other boys in games, and you know, rugby and …

Davies, Tom: No, because in the street I lived there wasn’t hardly any boys. And they used to, I always had girls playing with me. And it would be scotch and skipping, I never played football or cricket or anything, see. And oh dear, dear, well.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you ever take part in Eisteddfodau and the {unclear}

Davies, Tom: Oh no, no. I thought myself I wasn’t intelligent enough for that, and you know, like it was like very Welsh in those days, you know.

Jones, Merfyn: How about singing, did you sing in local concerts?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, but you wouldn’t sing ragtime in an Eisteddfod, ha ha ha.

Jones, Merfyn: Where did you learn ragtime, where did you pick it up?

Davies, Tom: My sister was a good pianist see, and any ragtime songs you know that came out, I'd always pick it up, oh yes.

Jones, Merfyn: But you didn’t go in for the ordinary sort of singing, you didn’t sing ,,,

Davies, Tom: Like something like from musical comedy or something, oh no, nothing serious, no, no. I used to sing a song and oh it was a big favourite with the troops, Sergeant Brown keep an eye on Tommy for me, Co's he may go wrong on the contin-nound, when he reaches gay Paree, He’ll learn to parlez-vous you know, and they often do, so when the nice girl he sees, but {he sighs} Keep an eye on my, how does it go now. But if my boy Tommy wants to parlez-vous, let him come home and parlez-vous with me. And then they sent me to Plymouth, and it's a big naval place then you know, it was a big naval depot and I was in this place in a show, and oh the things they were shouting, oh, you know most vulgar. And 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 like. And I had these two big ostrich feather fans, and I had learned to manipulate them you know, and like you know, that they wouldn’t see anything, and I could hear them saying, Jock, they’d say, how would you like her in the bunk tonight, and all that sort of thing you know. And I remember I was with Lew Stone, and he and I had a sketch which was very popular, and so now, there was a bedroom scene you see, so he’d pull me round and he’d throw me back on the bed, you see, and I'd fall in the most suggestive way like you know, with this beautiful nightdress and all that on you know, and he'd go to the front of the stage, and it was all-male audience mind, and he would go up to the stage and say, What can I do, I love this woman, I love this woman, what can I do. And a voice at the back shouted, Oh for heaven’s sake, he said, get into bed with her he said, get stuck into her and let’s get on with the show. We had to pull the curtain down, I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t go on for laughing. Oh very funny experiences like that you know, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: How many female impersonators would there be on an act on an evening? Just one usually would there?

Davies, Tom: Not more than two.

Jones, Merfyn: Was it a very popular part of the act, of the whole show?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, yes. Because there were many who wouldn’t believe that I was male you know. Because I was so dainty, and a funny thing whatever frock came from London I didn’t have to have it altered at all. And I had a small waist, how much do you think my waist was? Twenty two inches, yes, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: But you didn’t wear a uniform, when you changed now after the act, what kind of clothes did you wear?

Davies, Tom: Oh they had like a green, it wasn’t khaki, it was greenish uniform like you know, trousers and tunic, then you had to buy your own tie and collar and things like that see.

Jones, Merfyn: Did you enjoy that life?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes.

Jones, Merfyn: In the army now?

Davies, Tom: Yes, I enjoyed it, marvellous, yes, wonderful.

Jones, Merfyn: And when the war finished, did you spend the whole war in France or, {unclear} you said you’d been to Plymouth?

Davies, Tom: Oh yes, well, that was before I got to Paris see, when I was doing a little bit from the London shows like, see. So I went to Plymouth to give this show, oh dear, dear, well, they were worse than Malta, and especially as it was an all-male audience you know, oh the things they used to shout, filth wasn’t it.

Jones, Merfyn: What about Paris, you went to Paris during the First World War? What kind of city was it during the war?

Davies, Tom: Oh wonderful, wonderful, different to what it is today, wonderful. And I never thought that the Folies Bergère would take me, but they jumped at me.

Jones, Merfyn: When was that?

Davies, Tom: After, between the First World War, and, finished in 1918, it must have been in 1930, ’35.

Jones, Merfyn: After the First World War then, what did you do? After the war was over, did you come back here or …

Davies, Tom: Oh yes. Oh no, I joined Bud Flanagan for six years, see. I was in the Victoria Palace with him and the Palladium, yes.

Jones, Merfyn: That was immediately after the war.

Davies, Tom: Yes.

Jones, Merfyn: Ah, I see …