The Porchester Hall Drag Balls

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Drag Ball at the Porchester Hall, 1977 | Jane England | The British Council | 14064

Regular Drag Balls were held at London’s Porchester Hall from 1969 to the 1990s. The balls were originally founded by the late Jean Fredericks and then continued by other promoters.

Jean Fredericks studied singing and trombone at the University of Toronto, and played a comic role in the All-Varsity Revue in a sketch based on Carmen, which led to a satirical concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He played drag shows across North America, and in 1960 he moved to England where he concentrated on his drag act doing mock-opera. He released an LP “Recitals are a Drag” in 1964, his first LP, and one year later was featured in the first issue of London Life magazine. In 1969 he and Ron Storme started to organize five or more drag balls a year in London, mainly at the Porchester Hall.

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Jean Fredericks – Recitals are a Drag LP Cover | Public Domain | 14065

The balls attracted around 800 gay men, usually under the cover of drag. Homosexuality had only just been decriminalised, and the Balls presented the first regular occasion for British gay men to meet in large numbers in public. Richard Smith notes in the Guardian obituary for Ron Storme that

One could argue that Porchester Hall was where British gay life finally emerged from the shadows, and where the modern gay club scene began.

Mr Storme was a key figure in the drag scene, running up outfits for drag entertainers and often dragging up for the love of it.

He recalled in Gay Times, one night in the 1960s when he had emerged from the London Hilton’s Starlight Rooms: “I was walking with this guy, and these two burly coppers were on the pavement. They both stepped aside and tipped their helmets as I walked by. And I thought, ‘Yes mate, if you only knew’.”

The Porchester Hall Balls hit their peak during the early 80s and continued at the Porchester until Dennis Gilling ran a couple of SM Drag Balls entitled Feather, Leather, Flesh and Whiplash. These attracted bad publicity and the governors of the Porchester refused to allow the Drag Balls to continue.

Ron Storme, female impersonator and gay activist, born February 2 1926; died October 3 2000.

Jean Fredericks, female impersonator, comedian and gay activist, was born in the US where he attended University where he took up performing and drag, and he moved to London in 1960. His album cover merely states that Mr Jean Fredericks “was born”. The information in the sleeve notes may be exaggerated. There is more information about Jean Fredericks at Queer Music Heritage.

A gender variance

Yvonne Sinclair

Updated 14 August 2016


SP

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4 thoughts on “The Porchester Hall Drag Balls

    • Just spotted this photograph on your site – it was taken by Jane England at the Porchester Hall Drag Ball in November 1976 and a copy was acquired for the British Council collection many years later. This image is one of the many photographs by Jane England to appear in her forthcoming book “Turn and Face the Strange” to be published by Black Dog Publishing in October 2016. Be great if you could credit the photographer!

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