Hazel Ballan was so intrigued by the description of Phyllis in Maurice's article above that she has used her extensive genealogical skills to uncover a few more items about the One and Only:
Phyllis Selina Dixey (1914-1964).
Phyllis and her husband Jack
Image courtesy of Oliver Dixey
Phyllis Selina Dixey was born on 10 February 1914 (GRO: Mar 1914 Croydon 2a 746) at Kingston Road, Merton, Surrey to Ernest and Phyllis Selina Dixey, nee Haycroft/Horsecroft. Her mother was born Phillis Selina Horsecroft (GRO: Dec 1891 Kingston 2a 312) but her marriage, in 1911 (GRO: Sept 1911 Poplar 1c 968), is recorded under the name Haycroft. Phyllis had one older brother Ernest, who was born in 1912, also in the Croydon registration district.
Phyllis's mother was known as Selina who died aged 87 in 1978. Phyllis's father worked away a lot as a ship's steward and later as a train carriage attendant.
Phyllis and her brother were first educated at Fircroft Road Elementary School Tooting before the family moved to Surbiton Surrey.
British Phone listings 1936-40 confirm that a Phyllis Dixey as living at 137 Tolworth Rise Surbiton. Phyllis being listed as a 'third class' incoming passenger aboard the "S.S. Oronsay" arriving on 7 May 1936 from Brisbane Australia, further confirms this information even though her address has been written as 137 Folworth Rye Surbiton Surrey. She was recorded as being aged 22 and her occupation described as a 'theatrical artiste'.
It was while Phyllis was working in Australia that she met her husband Jack Tracy (originally spelt Treacy). Jack was a short man only measuring 5'½+" who was born in Ireland but after the death of his mother was raised in a convent before being sent, at the age of 5, to America. He became a comic and musician.
While courting, Jack would often take Phyllis to eat at the 'Ace of Spades' in Hook and after knowing each other for 18 months, the couple married on 8 December 1937 at Raynes Park Registry Office, with two strangers acting as witnesses. Although Phyllis's mother never really took to Jack and what with Jack's extramarital affairs over the years, they did reach their silver wedding anniversary in 1963, which passed without any celebration.
Their first homes were 10 Fairbourn Road Brixton and Wentworth Court Surbiton (c1941) after which Phyllis and Jack bought 'Strand Lodge' Beaconsfield Road Langley Vale Epsom, a bungalow that stood in 10 acres of land. This home gave Phyllis the privacy she yearned for and it was claimed where she could sunbathe nude in the summer of 1944. They furnished their beautiful home with Persian carpets, Hepplewhite chairs, Hanley lamps and the mirrors and silver that Phyllis favoured. It was here that Phyllis acquired the first of her Pekinese dogs, Josie, who she doted on. It was also here that the only short piece of cine film, shot by cameraman Terry Ashwood, was taken of Phyllis; Phyllis had a liking for cold showers and it was suggested by Ashwood that she should take one in her garden. He said "That is, she went behind a bush and threw a bucket of water over herself. I told her no one would see a thing". Apparently the short film, that lasts only 2-3 minutes, survives somewhere in someone's archives. (Webmasters note:- This may be the British Pathe film clip mentioned above.)
In 1946, after living there for only three years, Phyllis and Jack decided to sell up and moved into a leasehold 2 bed roomed flat north of Hyde Park, 101 Albion Gate, but this was not before they were burgled shortly before doing so. Burglars broke in through the conservatory doors on Thursday 3 April 1947 and stolen Phyllis's mink coat, worth £2,000, that she had reputably bought for her film 'Dual Alibi' plus £500 cash and £500 in securities. She was quoting as saying "You know I am not supposed to wear any clothes on the stage. Maybe the thieves were among my fans."
Several newspapers reported her as being bankrupt in 1959 with debts of £1,312 and assets of only £4. When appearing in the Brighton tax court she told them that she stopped taking it off and become a hotel cook instead so that she wouldn't "be stripped of everything again by the tax man". She also said that they were now living with relatives. It was not until October 1961 that they were successfully discharged from bankruptcy.
Phyllis and Jack eventually went to live and work for Major James Molyneux and his family at Loseley Park near Guildford. Loseley Park became famous for its milk, cream and ice cream and this is where Jack helped out by delivering milk around Guildford. Phyllis was employed to cook lunch for the family but often helped Jack out with his round. Phyllis had every Thursday afternoon off and always went to visit her godfather Uncle Norman, who lived in 'The Retreat' Down Woods opposite Tattenham Corner on the Epsom boarders, to take him to his weekly séance. He was described as being of Indian blood, Parsee by religion and a mystic by nature.
Uncle Norman whose real name was Nusli Whaddia, had once been married to Phyllis's mother's sister Eileen. He had two sons, Ardesir born in 1939 and Norman born in 1944. Norman was later a boarder at Epsom College. It had been Uncle Norman, a wealthy man whose money had been made from textile mills in Bombay, who had paid for Phyllis's first dance classes in the West End when she was young. They had remained very close and it was Uncle Norman, now in his 80's, who invited Phyllis to move in with him, but without Jack, on the pretence of needing someone to look after him. After 22 years of marriage Phyllis and Jack decided that it would be for the best and so on 26 November 1960, after giving away their very few bits of furniture, Phyllis left with her cat Charlie who she had rescued as a stray, to live the rest of her unknowingly short life at "The Retreat".
After telling her husband and Uncle about a small lump she had found in her breast that was not getting any smaller, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 1961 at Surbiton Hospital. Jack stayed in close contact with Phyllis, meeting her in a café in Kingston, during her battle with the cancer that eventually spread throughout her body, despite the best efforts of the doctors of the day.
It was during the last few months of her life that she turned to the comfort of the Catholic Church. She was received into the Church during a visit in Guys Hospital from Father Crispin in April 1964. At the end of that month she returned home to "The Retreat" for the last time. Phyllis Selina Dixey Tracy died at home on Tuesday 2 June 1964 aged 50.
Her husband Jack, who had been working as a steward at Holme Park Golf club Kingston, thanks to a reference from Uncle Norman, purchased her grave V27 in the Catholic section of Epsom cemetery on 16 June 1964 and gave his address as 14 Elmers Ave. Surbiton. Jack remarried several years' later and remained living in Surbiton.
Phyllis's Headstone in April 2009
Image courtesy of Hazel Ballan © 2009
Phyllis's headstone reads (NB. 'Tracy' has been carved with an 'e')
GRATEFUL AND LOVING MEMORY
BY HER HUSBAND JACK TRACEY.
UNCLE NORMAN AND SON NORMAN N. WHADDIA.
DIED 2ND JUNE 1964
AGED 50 YEARS.
- The One and Only Phyllis Dixey by Philip Purser and Jenny Wilkes. Published by Futura Publications
- Various Newspaper Articles both British and American