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In Plain Sight

Our In Plain Sight research was led by Academic Librarian and Associate Producer, Tristan Hooper. With the help of two fantastic research volunteers, Grace and Jacob, they delved into the local archives to unlock the history of Bradford's pageants and LGBTQIA+ history.  

Bradford Pageant 1931

Bradford Pageant 1931

In Plain Sight: A Story of Gwen Lally was inspired by Lally and the work she did in pageantry. Whilst Lally worked in West Yorkshire with the Women's Institute, she never staged a pageant here. 

However, Bradford did have a pageant of their own in 1931. From 13 to 18 July, Bradford celebrated its history in Peel Park supporting the area's woollen industries. Research at the Bradford Local Studies Archive shows that there were fifteen communities collectively producing the pageant, including the Horse Commitee, Historical Commitee and Ampitheatre Commitee to name but a few. 

Historical pageants were an opportunity for whole communities to come together. Volunteers would be drawn on for everything from costume design and creation to acting in the pageant itself. The community feel extended to the audience as well; to encourage people from across West Yorkshire to attend pageant, rail fares were half-price to get into the city! 

Male Impersonators -

The Pioneering Drag Kings

Gwen Lally was famous for dressing as a man, and, when she was an actor, for appearing onstage only once in a skirt. This information led our researchers to explore Male Impersonators; the original drag kings. 

Some of the excellent male impersonators that we discovered were Vesta Tilley and Hetty King. Jacob Caton-Rose took the lead on this research using the British Newspaper Archive blog:

The Sketch, 26 June 1912, describes Miss Vesta Tilley as the 'Best-Dressed Man on the Halls'The daughter of ‘the manager of a music-hall in Gloucester,’ Vesta Tilley (born 13 May 1864) ‘naturally came very early into contact with theatrical people.

The Sketch describes Tilley's early forays into impersonation:

One night, after [her father] had gone out, she got one of his coats and hats and dressed herself up and began singing like some male performer she had heard. In the middle of her entertainment to herself her father returned. When he saw her he was struck with a new idea. ‘How would you like to sing dressed as a boy?’ ‘I should love it,’ she replied.


Vesta Tilley

Source: The Newspaper Archive Blog, Celebrating Vesta Tilley and Other Incredible Male Impersonators, accessed 6 January 2023

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