Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 15:31 UK

Danny La Rue's flamboyant life

Danny La Rue on The Good Old Days
Danny La Rue was a well-known act on the BBC show The Good Old Days

Danny La Rue, who has died aged 81, spent almost six decades as one of the country's best known drag acts.

During the 60s and 70s, he was one of the highest paid stars on television as well as carving a successful career on the stage and in cabaret.

He was born Daniel Patrick Carroll, the son of a sailor, in Cork on 26 Jul 1927.

His family moved to London when he was nine-years-old but he spent most of the war years in Devon where he was evacuated during the Blitz.

He began work in a fashion store in Exeter, at the age of 15, but then followed his father into the Royal Navy where he first performed in drag at concert parties and gained a taste for the stage.

After leaving the navy, he began a gruelling tour of the country's theatres and variety halls before making his West End debut in the mid 1950s.

Danny La Rue
Danny La Rue was also a big hit outside the UK including in Singapore and Australia

His increasingly glamorous stage appearance enlivened the drab post-war years and he found himself playing to bigger and bigger audiences as his fame grew.

In 1964, he opened his own club in Hanover Square which attracted more than 13,000 members including stars such as Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Elizabeth Taylor.

It was a punishing lifestyle, often performing in a West End theatre each evening before going on to his club in the early hours for yet another turn, as well as a host of television appearances.

One of his biggest West End successes was the cabaret show At the Palace, which ran for two years.

It was seen by 1.2 million people and a record television audience tuned in to watch highlights on screen.

In 1969, he became the first drag act to feature in the Royal Variety Performance, the first of three such appearances.

He also became the first man to appear as a female character in a major musical when he took the role of Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly in a 1982 production which eventually transferred to the West End.

He became a regular in pantomime and in summer shows around the country leading one critic to describe him as "a national monument".

Spectacular frocks

His success was not confined to the UK. He regularly played sell out shows in Singapore and Hong Kong and, at one time, was spending six months of the year on stage in Australia.

Unlike some drag performers, La Rue would often do part of his act in men's clothes although he always appeared more comfortable in the spectacular series of frocks which became his trademark.

Danny La Rue as Charley's Aunt
Danny La Rue's first BBC TV appearance was in the Play of the Month in 1969

And, he could play to any kind of audience without giving offence because he always made it quite clear that he was a man dressed up as a woman.

As he grew older he became less reticent about admitting he was gay and was open about living with his partner and manager Jack Hanson.

He continued working almost to the end with appearances in a biographical revue in Spain at the age of 79.

Danny La Rue always refused to be labelled as a female impersonator, once describing himself as "a comic in a frock".

"Sleazy impersonators get their laughs by having people laugh at women. I love laughter, glitter and glamour," he once told The Stage.

"I suppose I must have been doing something right otherwise I wouldn't have lasted!"

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