Sydney drag in the 80s: Maggie Burns & Co. / THEM

I’ve been experimenting with transferring some VHS video taken of fabulous drag shows I went to in the 80s to my PC and then ultimately to Youtube. This is a regular and normal thing for many people but for someone like JudgeG who has little patience and tends to punch the screen a lot, it can be quite frustrating.

I’ve picked out three clips to upload. If you were there in the 80s in Oxford Street and Newtown, this will be wonderful nostalgia for you. We’re talking over 20 years ago here! I had my favourite drag ‘troupes’ that I would follow. Sometimes I’d go and see them 4 or 5 nights a week. I’d follow THEM, for example, from Balmain to Chippendale to Newtown to Oxford Street. And often it was on school (work) nights.

In this first clip, you’ll see the opening of possibly my favourite drag show ever – ‘Games’. It was the best show ever put on by the legenday Maggie Burns (now retired in Adelaide) & Co ever put on at Patchs. It’s also a special memory for me because it reminds me of the disastrous off again/on again relationship I was having at the time. We both loved the show and bought all the records featured in it.

Next up is the finale of a show by ‘THEM’. THEM stands for Terror, Horror, Excitement and Mystery. The name was based on a 50s movie – or the trailer for it anyway. Interestingly with THEM, sometime after this footage was shot, I ended up working behind the scenes for them as their stage manager at the Newtown Hotel. Had you visited the Newtown Hotel on Thursday night when this show was playing and I was working, just before the start of this song, you would have seen Tallulah (who comes on last in this clip) having her clothes ripped off by me at the edge of the stage (no time to get to the dressing room due to the quick change) and then me helping her to quickly put on her finale costume and shoving a tissue down her cleavage!

I worked for several shows in that capacity in the 80s. Skye Brooks & Co, At Home with Rose & Tallulah and I was Production Co-ordinator for Dot & Fanny’s Tonight Show. But maybe I’ll tell you more about all of that another time.

Anyway, here is ‘Primitive Desire’, the finale of THEM’s ‘Twisted’ show. Filmed at the Newtown Hotel..

Finally, I’ve chosen a ‘spot number’ from the amazing Tallulah Bright who sadly passed away from the big ‘A’ many years ago. Tallulah delighted and tormented me in equal measures. She could be the kindest person and the most vicious and cruel – often in the same night. I was such a fan I just put up with it. Ah, the things we did in the 80s.

This footage is also from Patchs, Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney which later became DCM and is now…oh hell, I don’t know and don’t really care!

For those that were there, hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. For those that are experiencing these performance for the first time, I hope you get a little sense of Sydney drag in the 80s – the scene, unfortunately, has never been as good as it was in the 80s. Hell, there’s barely a ‘scene’ at all thesedays (thanks for nothing Clover)!

—–Update—–

Oh what the hell, it’s my blog and I’ll flood it if I want to….here is another clip! This time it’s Jay-Jay’s talk spot at the end of THEM’s ‘Twisted’ show. In this clip you’ll also hear the voice of David Hiscock, the extraordinary DJ who worked at the Newtown Hotel for two decades. David died suddenly of a heart attack on Saturday morning. He was an amazing guy and it was a privilege to work as part of a team with him in the 80s (more on that another time).

Trivia: note that Jay-Jay refers to ‘The Imperial’ in Erskineville. The hotel made famous by Priscilla – Queen of the Desert had not even opened yet!

Both JudgeG and the evil boyf of the time are mentioned in this clip. Enough said!

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12 Comments

  1. I have loved Penny for some years now, but have just discovered Stefanie Powers. Can you tell me where and how I can see more of her performances? There’s only a few clips on youtube…

    • No I am not aware of a single place on the internet that has a lot of Stefanie Powers/Stephanie Grey clips. You Tube searches are obviously the best thing to try. New stuff goes up all the time.

  2. If you have any information about a drag queen living in Sydney in the 80’s going by the name of Stella (birth name John Seivers) I would be so appreciative if you could contact me. I am looking for his daughter, my cousin who I have never met. I realise putting this message up here is a total long shot, but then again, you never know,

    • No I’m sorry, I don’t remember a “Stella” at all. 

  3. DOES ANY ONE HAVE THE SONG LISTS FOR THE SHOW BY SKYE BROOKS &CO THAT RAN AT THE IMPERIAL. LOADS OF VOICE OVERS AND SHIRLEY BASSEY ERA SONGS?

    • There were a number of shows that Skye did at the imperial – Crossed Wires, Glenda – A Child of the Sixties, Greatest Hits Vol. 2, Not another Fucking Fairytale…and a lot of mixed stuff in the first/earlier shows each night. Stuff from Media Mania, Carmen, Carmen in America etc. While I can’t claim to have the tracklistings for these shows, was there something specific that you were trying to find out/look for?

      • Oh gosh, it’s a bit of a fog. I t was a mixed medley with voice overs I remember it had ‘ this is my life’ ( shirley bassey ? i think) amongst other similiar era songs comparing their lives. I think from memory, Tallulah was in the show and maybe rose leaf.

      • You’re talking, I think, about “Media Mania” which was debuted at the Town Hall Hotel in Balmain. Various bits of it made it into shows like “Greatest Hits Vol. 2” I don’t have a script or a tape of “Media Mania” – I originally had 2 audio cassettes of it – one was lost when my big was nicked one night at the Unicorn Hotel in Darlinghurst. The other one I foolishly lent to Skye because she had (unbelievably) lost all copies of “Media Mania”. Of course, once you “lend” something to Skye, it’s never seen nor heard of again. So that’s sad….a little bit of audio drag history lost forever.

    • There were a lot of tracks from Doug Mulray’s “What a Rude Album”

  4. So young man now that i know and love who you are its coffee time…

    Andrew Stevens and I are wating .. ha ha ha

  5. Who am I? Ah, I was your biggest fan in the mid 80s along with my height-challenged boyf at the time. Such times we had…and all those photos I took of all the shows…memories, like the corners of my mind…. Anyway, good to see Penny is alive ‘n’ kickin’.

  6. Ok who are you ? and why are you putting clips up without asking us first ? Courtest guys !!! Penny Clifford.


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