Peggy Spencer (1920-2016)

Frank and Peggy Spencer are famous internationally for their dance expertise and choreography, believing that everyone should learn to dance. They lived in Penge at 12 Percy Road and the Royston Ballroom became well known all over the world as a centre of dance excellence. Their formation dancing team was an essential part of BBC TV’s Come Dancing for forty years. Peggy choreographed for the Beatles and taught Rudolph Nureyev the tango for the film Valentino. Both were awarded MBEs in 1977.

Helena Anderson, daughter of Frank and Peggy Spencer, provides this celebratory memory of her mother:

Peggy Spencer MBE

Born on the 24th September 1920 – to an Irish Mother and Cockney Father, she was christened Margaret Ann Hull – but always called Peggy by her Father. Jim Hull was a master carpenter, and Maggie, her mother, came to England after the 1916 uprising, to work in service as a Cook.

Peggy was born and educated in Bromley, in Kent, and studied the piano, playing to quite a high standard. Her Father hoped she would make the piano her career. However, she developed an interest in politics, and local government, and began to study to become a politician. She was employed as personal secretary to Herbert Morrison.

1939 brought the Second World War, and made further study impossible.

She married Jack Spencer in 1940 and had two children, Helena and Michael. The marriage was not a success and they were eventually divorced. Peggy’s love of dancing began during the dark days of the war, when she joined forces with her sister-in-law to teach youngsters to dance. These lessons kept them occupied and interested when times were difficult. From this unusual start, Peggy’s career grew and her future in dance was assured, when she married Jack’s brother, Frank Spencer. Dancing became her career, her life and her love.

Frank and Peggy Spencer became one of the most successful dancing partnerships in the world. They both believed in ‘Dance for All’ and practised this theory in their Dancing School in Penge, South East London, where they taught for 50 years to all levels of dancers, from absolute beginners to top professionals.

They believed very much in team work, and in young people achieving their potential as dancers, and they formed and trained the most successful Formation Dancing Teams in the world.

Resulting in the presentation of eight Carl Alan Awards (the equivalent of the Oscars) and the award of the M.B.E. for their service to the dancing world.

Peggy’s voice – and her experience in the dancing world, lead to many jobs for the B.B.C. commentating for 27 years in all types of dancing programmes and working with people such as Brian Johnson – David Jacobs – Peter West – Terry Wogan – Angela Rippon and Judith Chalmers, to name a few.

She and Frank appeared with their formation teams representing the South of England on Come Dancing for 50 years, which was one of the longest running TV programmes of all time.

Other highlights of a distinguished career included appearing at Buckingham Palace to entertain the Royal Household Staff at their annual Ball on two occasions, and appearing at the Royal Command Performance twice.

She was also the subject of Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise, and Michael Aspel’s This Is Your Life.

She organised and introduced the cabaret for Sir Elton John’s 50th and subsequent birthday parties. She also had the honour of being invited to the Palace in Monaco, to teach the royal children to dance. This was a two year contract, which resulted in attending Princess Caroline’s Coming of Age party, where she danced the opening waltz with her father Prince Albert.

She spent many hours assisting with the production and training and choreography of T.V. shows, which involved dancing. These included working with people such as Sir Cliff Richard – Adam Faith – Pet Shop Boys – Blue Peter Team (on 13 occasions) Bruce Forsyth – Brian Rix – Judith Chalmers – The Two Ronnies – Mike and Bernie Winters – The Beatles (Magical Mystery Tour) Harry Secombe – Terry Wogan – Cilla Black and Rudolf Nureyev on Valentino. She also worked on other shows such as In at the Deep End, and Aspects of Love with Roger Moore.

Peggy has also been constantly involved with her professional colleagues in other aspects of the dance world, like Malcolm Goddard, Gillian Lynne and June Rycroft, showing her love of Ballet and all forms of dance. She has been responsible for the creation of Technique and Syllabus for Dance Exercise, Disco/Freestyle Dance and Rock ’n Roll, to enable dance teachers world wide to become qualified to teach in their own countries. To this end, she has travelled the world, adjudicating and testing and qualifying – and spreading the British style of Dancing.

She has been given the highest honour of her profession by being appointed Chairman of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, then President, and she was delegate to the CCPR (Central Council of Physical Recreation) particularly when they were campaigning for dance sport to be included in the Olympics.

During the Society’s centenary year, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Lorna Lee, who said “no one can be more fitting to collect a lifetime achievement award than this recipient …her charm and communication skills, together with her enormous knowledge of the profession have made her one of the most prominent personalities of dance sport. She has touched the lives of hundreds of students and professionals who have progressed into successful careers as a result of her guidance.

In her late 70’s she decided to semi-retire, after her dancing school was demolished to make way for housing. She went to live in Norfolk to be near her daughter, and where she had spent many happy holidays.

Of course, the idea of retirement did not quite happen, and Peggy still at the age of almost 86 believed that dancing was for everyone, and to that end, she started a beginners class at Terrington, and taught at a Tea Dance in Gaywood. She believed that dancing is the best form of exercise and also a great social asset, giving people the ability to mix at all levels, and giving them a greater awareness of music and coordination. It is a very rewarding hobby. She also brought dance orchestras, like Ross Mitchell to King’s Lynn so that people could have the pleasure of dancing to live music once more, in the atmosphere of the Corn Exchange.

When some of the members of the Tea Dance asked whether she could form them into a Senior Formation Team, she gladly accepted the challenge. This team, whose combined age was 1,100 years thoroughly enjoyed their training and also performing to local community groups, in cabaret shows and even appeared on prime time television.

She helped the local Excel 2000 group with workshops and seminars, teaching exercise to music, especially for the disabled or housebound.

She also gave many talks to local groups about her lifetime’s work, and was in great demand as an “after lunch speaker”.

She was approached by the King’s Lynn Osteoporosis Support Group to be their President, which she gladly accepted, and she helped to raise the profile of the illness within the community and to raise funds for scanning equipment badly needed.

During 2001-2002 she was asked to be Deputy Mayoress of King’s Lynn. She carried out many functions during the year, which she thoroughly enjoyed, especially visiting all the schools in the area, showing the children the treasures and regalia of the Office of Mayor.

She has helped several local amateur dramatic groups and other societies with dancing training and choreography.

She travelled to London and Blackpool fulfilling engagements until she was in her late 80’s and was still teaching at the age of 91, full of vitality and love of life, until ill health gradually slowed her down. She was cared for by her daughter until she slipped away on the 25th May 2016, aged 95 wearing a sparkly top, and listening to her favourite Ross Mitchell waltzes. She always put her love of life and people down to her dancing.

                                                                                                                                                     Helena Anderson

Helena has sent us the link to Peggy’s wonderful memorial service at the actor’s church:

On Penge Day, 2016, at Designer Drapes shop on the high street, there was a tribute display of artefacts connected with Peggy.

Helena was able to attend as guest of honour.

A Peggy Spencer Archive will be established in the Bishopsgate Institute from April, 2018. This will be open to visitors and entrance will be free of charge. Later this year a bronze pavement plaque will be installed on Penge high street in Peggy’s memory.