'So this is fame'! Margot Fonteyn in China

Today sees the unveiling by the blog’s colleague Ronald Hutton of an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the flat in London’s Covent Garden where Margot Fonteyn lived when Prima Ballerina of Sadler’s Wells Ballet.

The blog knows her better as Peggy Hookham, who lived in Tianjin, and then Shanghai, between 1927 and 1933. Peggy was 8 when she arrived in China when her father began working there for British American Tobacco, and she was 14 when her mother brought her back to Britain to help her pursue a career in ballet.

Peggy Hookham in Romer-Peeler School performance, The China Press, 31 May 1931

Peggy Hookham in Romer-Peeler School performance, The China Press, 31 May 1931

In Shanghai she studied at the Romer-Peeler School, and with Carol Bateman, whose career later included an unexpected stint teaching dance in a Japanese internment camp in Hong Kong. The Russian refugee community at Shanghai included dancers and musicians as well. Amongst these was, former Bolshoi performer George Goncharov, with whom Peggy and another young Shanghai dancer, June Bear, later better known as June Brae, also took lessons.

If you nose through the newspapers, you can spot Peggy Hookham in action in various amateur shows in Shanghai in the early 1930s. Here she is in February 1931 in a low-quality scan from The China Press.

We were delighted to be able to copy a set of family photographs which included Peggy and her family in Tianjin, Shanghai and in Hong Kong, where her father’s work took him for several months at one time. But as well as images like these below of Peggy with an unidentified Chinese girl, or with her parents, including this nice portrait of mother and daughter, we also seem to have what is surely one of her earliest reviews.

Peggy Hookham, with an unidentified Chinese girl, Tientsin, c.1928. Hh-s010.

Peggy Hookham, with an unidentified Chinese girl, Tientsin, c.1928. Hh-s010.

Hilda and Peggy Hookham, Shanghai, July 1931

Hilda and Peggy Hookham, Shanghai, July 1931, Hh-s175

This comes in the form of a name card, from a Mrs W.T.L. Way, which indicates that they are ‘At Home’ — receiving guests — weekly at 5 o’clock on Thursdays:

Dear Mrs Hookham / Do bring Peggy along on Monday next at 4.30 as I am asking other children if she could do her pretty dance  I should be glad. I’ve a gramophone – if you can bring Records / Kind regards Lily Way

Invitation from Mr & Mrs W.T.L. Way

Invitation from Mr & Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tianjin, Hh-s261

William T.L. Way was a local British businessman, stalwart several-times Chairman of the Tientsin Club, member of the Country and Race Club, and freemason. He had arrived in the city in 1887, and like his wife, Elizabeth Alice, known as Lily, was the child of a Master Mariner. Off Peggy went, it seems, for in pencil on the card her mother (we assume) then wrote: ‘So this is fame!!!  The Ways are an one of the oldest families in Tientsin, their house backs onto the Astor House, & faces the Bund.  It is one of the first houses built in Tientsin.’, and then there follows the review: ‘Peg went & did her dance very nicely.’ And that of course is precisely what she carried on doing.

Invitation from Mr and Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tientsin. Hh-s260.

Invitation from Mr and Mrs W.T.L. Way, Tianjin. Hh-s260.

 

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