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“My father was a Native American of the Sioux Nation and my mother was Irish. We lived in Carson City in the mid-west but they both worked in a travelling circus performing in Wild West shows which many Native American Indians did at the time. My father was an Indian Chief and my mother was part of the dance troupe. My Indian name was ‘Red Hawk’. My mother began to be concerned about my education growing up in the circus though and as her father had a farm in Sussex they decided to come to England and send me to school here.
They must have saved up some money because I was educated at a very exclusive public boarding school in Sussex, and afterwards I went to Keele University to study Law. Lord Salmon who later became Lord Chief Justice was one of my tutors there. I was very interested in the Law but I knew was always more drawn to artistic pursuits; perhaps I got that from my parents.
When I left university in the early sixties, I thought I might try to become an actor, but then my partner Julian took me to some clubs that had drag artists performing, and so I started doing that instead. I made my own dresses which were very elaborate, often pink or purple, and I’d wear a huge wig of course, and I would dance and sing all the popular musical songs in various clubs in London. I liked good quality drag; it was all very artistic.
There was such a magic about the sixties. I loved it; it was all very exciting. The drag shows were extremely popular, but you had to be careful as there was still a lot of prejudice back then. I would perform in gay venues of course but you couldn’t be too open about it as there was often police outside the nightclubs and many of the owners would have to go out after they shut in the evening and give them money to stay quiet.
After one show in Earl’s Court I was walking down the street to get a taxi with my outfit still on and suddenly this plain clothes policeman came up and arrested me for ‘Importuning’ - which is how they described picking up men in those days. Eventually the case went to court and my brief suggested that I wear the same clothes I was wearing when I was arrested. It took me two hours to get dressed up but I did, and so I walked into court like a cake decoration. The prosecution argued that I was suffering from a ‘Sexual Perversion,’ to which I replied - Well I’m afraid I’ve never understood the word suffering. To which there was a ripple of laughter round the court.
The judge then asked me if I had anything I wished to say and I said - Look at me. My hair is dyed, I wear makeup, how could I ever hope to pick anyone up looking the way I do? Perhaps my very appearance is a form of importuning, otherwise I am not guilty as charged. After that he threw the whole case out.
I stayed in that world for many years. I saw many wonderful acts and met some very interesting people. I met Quentin Crisp once who was an inspiration to me and something of a gay icon in those days. He grew up in the thirties so you can imagine how difficult it must have been for him then. When he died at ninety years old the newspaper headline read, 'The Queen is dead.' Some were not so nice though. There was one club in Holborn called The Rehearsal where a lot of famous old actors used to go. After one performance a guy in a black suit came up to me and said - I like you; come with me and I’ll make you a millionaire. He then sat down and started tapping the table trying to get me to go and sit with him. I told my partner Julian what he had said and he told me it was Reggie Kray. I didn’t know who they were at the time, but I do now of course, so I’m very glad I never accepted that particular offer.”
Terry, Clapham, London.
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