LGBTQ+ History: The Hotel Roger Dee

Alf Le Flohic June 29, 2022

A gay couple opening a hotel near Brighton is so commonplace these days it’s almost a cliché. In 1972, however, few people had seen the likes of the Hotel Roger Dee before…

Roger Deacon was born in London in 1937, and swiftly developed a passion for entertaining. His energy and powerful singing voice made him popular with the crowds.

He soon formed a successful cabaret partnership with Douglas White, aka Duggie Dean, and ‘deacon and dean’ played the Moss Empires theatre circuit up and down the country.

“I recall their stint at the Brighton Hippodrome,” says Roger’s brother David Deacon. “They had a fist fight behind the building, whilst exclaiming to each other Not on the face! Not on the face!”

David also said: “Duggie never came out. Clearly, though, they were a couple.”

They both went solo in the mid-1960s, and ‘Roger Dee’ was born.

Deacon and Dean – collection of author

All change

Whilst on holiday with his new wife in Great Yarmouth, David Fuller saw Roger Dee perform. Roger and David hit it off and in 1967 David moved to London to be with him.

Roger remained popular with the public, though not always with other artists as his brother recalls, his impersonation of “a histrionic Shirley Bassey, arms flailing in a roll of lino up to his armpits. When he was MC for a show in which Bassey was top of the bill, she wanted him to drop the routine. He kept it in.”

David Fuller got work backstage in London theatres and in 1970 he was the dresser for female impersonator Danny La Rue at the Palace Theatre.

David Fuller courtesy Paula Milligan / Danny La Rue at The Palace collection of author

Roger also worked aboard the ocean liner QE2, becoming a fixture on the late-night cabaret slot. There’s a story he hosted a radio show interviewing celebrities on board, and got into a scuffle with John Wayne who asked, “Who is this commie faggot?”; and another of him being turned away from a restaurant for not wearing a tie and returning with an upright vacuum cleaner in a bow tie demanding they both be served. They were.

David was working the QE2 when his mother died, and he decided he wanted to stay in the UK. Despite having just released an album of his songs Roger Dee Live, Roger was also ready for a change of scene. So, in late 1972, he and David opened the Hotel Roger Dee in Angmering.

The hotel years

David managed the hotel while the camp and comedic cabaret at the weekends was provided by Roger in a white catsuit.

It was run as a fun place to be with each room named after one of the Seven Dwarfs. “I remember the Easter Bonnet parade. All the guests, visitors and friends paraded outside the front in the most elaborate hats and costumes. It caused quite a stir”, says local resident Penny Thurlow.

Roger was a proud libertarian, so it seemed natural to him to run the hotel for a gay clientele. With partial decriminalisation of sex between men having only taken place in 1967, it must have been one of the earliest hotels in the country to be explicitly advertised as gay.

David Fuller bar – courtesy of Paula Milligan

David Deacon stayed at the hotel a few times: “Guests were mostly men on their own and sometimes one or two couples, gay and lesbian. There was ample floor space for dancing, a small platform in the bay window that acted as a stage and housed the disco turntable. Guests danced flamboyantly on tables on Saturday night after closing time.

“The bar was the centre. There was much earnest talk there. The hotel was a refuge, some guests had travelled a long way to reach the place. What I recall of conversations there with a doctor, a councillor, a Salvation Army member, and a lorry driver, was their fear of ridicule, exposure, and for their work.

“Prejudice and discrimination were rife at the time. I recall sitting on the loo and leaning forward to read the newspaper and a stone crashed through the window behind me. Had I been sitting up it could have killed me.”

Dogs but no gays

In April 1975, Roger told Gay News that Worthing Council refused to let him say “gay people welcome” on their accommodation list. When Roger approached the English Tourist Board, they claimed it was an issue of symbols; “We have a dog symbol, but we certainly don’t have one for homosexuals.”

So Roger phoned round some local hotels to see whether he and his boyfriend could book a double room. The Metropole Hotel in Brighton told him “For your sort, only two singles.” The Beach Hotel in Littlehampton also declined – “We don’t encourage this sort of thing.”


In August of that year, a trial period of ‘hets’ being allowed to use the bar swiftly ended when Roger found himself with a ‘a black eye, broken teeth and a severe cut on his face’.

Advert for the hotel from Gay News issue 82, Nov 1975.

Eventually the business took a toll on their relationship. Within a year the hotel had closed and Roger and David went their separate ways.

Moving on

Roger travelled the world for a few years, eventually settling in France. His final creation was the clown Rafistol, who would busk the streets earning money for food and wine before returning to his caravan.

David moved to Blackpool and befriended the owners of the Seafield Hotel, Piero and Harry, and went to work for them. In 1987 David died of AIDS, as did Piero and Harry. All three are buried together.

Ill health eventually drove Roger back to the UK. He died from hepatitis complications in 1988. The Theatre Royal Stratford East has a seat dedicated to his memory.

The courage of Roger and David to create a fun space for gay men and women to be themselves in the early 1970s, marks them out as trailblazers. The hotel is still there although it’s a private residence. If those walls could talk…

Thanks to David Deacon and Paula Milligan for their invaluable assistance. 

Alf Le Flohic –

Featured image courtesy of David Deacon