We are delighted to have the lovely Elin Gregory with us today as she celebrates the release of her new book Eleventh Hour.
Very Lovely Ladies
by Elin Gregory
The male protagonist who cross dresses is a standard trope in fiction. Shakespeare’s comedies abound with them – and make perfect sense in an age when female roles were played by young men – and they can be found in books by Terry Pratchett, Tamora Pierce and even Georgette Heyer had a bash at it in The Masqueraders. History abounds with examples as well, from the real Mulan, to Mary Read, pirate, or Captain James Barry, military surgeon, though females dressing as males far outweigh the opposite.
Unfortunately, the act of wearing a different gender’s clothing has often been seen as subversive – one of the most serious allegations against Joan of Arc was that she wore male clothing – or as ridiculous as in Monty Python’s Lumberjack Song. The one place where it was accepted without question was the stage. In the 1920s impersonators tended not to be as broadly drawn as modern drag queens. There was an understanding that the audience would accept the performer as they presented unless or until the performer let them into the secret. And it must be said that some of the performers were completely gorgeous. Here, for instance is American Harry S Franklyn in a typically sultry pose.
Vesta Tilley made a very good living with her classy male impersonations. Here she is dressed as Burlington Bertie, man about town.
Another star with incredible staying power was Jimmy Slater, an English singer and comedian, who had a wildly popular act from before the Great War right through to the post WW2 demise of music hall.
Here he is dressed to kill at about the time he performed in the Splinters revue of 1928.
Jimmy’s revues boasted a huge costume budget – one fairly small revue of the 1930s actually advertised that they would show over five thousand pounds worth of costume – several years wages for the average working man. After retiring from the stage he continued his connections with performance by starting a costume hire firm for people who wanted to feel fabulous. He died in 1998, aged 100.
But did spies ever cross-dress?
Well, of course they did? Women generally aren’t seen as a threat and women who aren’t particularly attractive aren’t even noticed as long as what they are doing makes sense for where they are. The 18th century Chevalier D’Eon exploited this in his espionage work for the French serving as a maid in the household of a foreign diplomat.
In 1861, General Nathaniel Lyon assumed female attire, dressing as an elderly farmer’s wife in order to spy on the enemy during the American Civil War.
One wonders how convincing the disguise could be with those luxurious whiskers.
In 1941 Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke didn’t have whiskers but still caused an international incident when arrested in neutral Madrid in a tailored outfit of female clothing that fitted him to perfection from hat to shoes. He proved to have a spare set in his suitcase, plus a list of contacts and a roll of the superfine lavatory paper commonly used to make tracings and send notes, because while robust it could be rolled up into the very small carrier pigeon message tubes. Clarke insisted that he was merely researching how women are treated but the police didn’t buy it so Churchill had to arrange for Clarke’s removal to the safety of Gibraltar. At no time does he seem to have been reprimanded for his pretence but was pilloried for the heinous crime of being found out.
Precedent established, it seemed fine to combine the attributes of the cross dressing spy with the expert female impersonators in the character of Miles. Well but not flashily dressed, attractive but not eye-catching, Miles as Millie can move through the streets of London unobserved.
The Eleventh Hour
Publisher ~ Manifold Press
Published ~ 1st August 2016
Genre ~ Historical M/M Romance
Borrowed from the Secret Intelligence Service cipher department to assist Briers Allerdale - a field agent returning to 1920s London with news of a dangerous anarchist plot - Miles Siward moves into a 'couples only' boarding house, posing as Allerdale’s 'wife'. Miles relishes the opportunity to allow his alter ego, Millie, to spread her wings but if Miles wants the other agent’s respect he can never betray how much he enjoys being Millie nor how attractive he finds Allerdale.
Pursuing a ruthless enemy who wants to throw Europe back into the horrors of the Great War, Briers and Miles are helped and hindered by nosy landladies, water board officials, suave gentlemen representing foreign powers and their own increasing attraction to each other.
Will they catch their quarry? Will they find love? Could they hope for both?
The clock is ticking.
Meet Elin Gregory
Elin Gregory lives in South Wales and works in a museum in a castle built on the edge of a Roman Fort! She reckons that's a pretty cool job.
Elin usually writes on historical subjects, and enjoys weaving the weird and wonderful facts she comes across in her research into her plots. She likes her heroes hard as nails but capable of tenderness when circumstances allow. Often they are in danger, frequently they have to make hard choices, but happy endings are always assured.
Current works in progress include one set during the Great War, another in WW2, one set in the Dark Ages and a series of contemporary romances set in a small town on the Welsh border.