Wearside Echoes: Daredevil fun in Sunderland

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A DIVER who flirted with death for a living proved a huge favourite with Wearside fun-seekers during the summer of 1930. Today we find out more.

FRANK C. Gadsby - better known as Dare-Devil Peggy – was hailed as a man “who faced death more times than any living person.”

Plunging from dizzy heights enveloped in flames was just an every-day job for the one-legged showman, who thrilled crowds up and down the country with his act.

And in August 1930 it was the turn of Wearsiders to enjoy his dare-devil antics when, according to a local newspaper, he performed some “truly sensational dives.”

“He plunges into a tank as nonchalantly as a man preparing his car for an afternoon run,” the Weekly Record told its readers.

Gadsby, who had been taking risks since his days as a child performer, remained very modest about his bravery, however, admitting in an interview with the paper:

“It makes little difference to me from what height I dive, as diving is second nature to me.

“Of course it is risky, but then there are risks in all walks of life and I am prepared to take my share. I have a living to earn.”

Gadsby was given the nickname Dare-Devil Peggy after losing his leg in a childhood accident, when he dislocated his hip joint at the age of four.

He refused to let the injury stop his career in show business, however, performing as a dancer and boxer before finding fame as a high diving dare-devil.

Gadsby’s act involved diving 100ft from a special mast into a water tank or the sea, with the final dive being made while wrapped in a burning sack.

His antics even landed him a role in the film Smuggled Contraband, which was shot on location at Lizard Head in Cornwall – the scene of his closest brush with death.

“Part of my performance was to dive from a high cliff apparently into the sea,” he told the Weekly Record reporter.

“In reality, I dived into a net 60ft below the top of the cliff. Unfortunately, the net broke and I narrowly escaped being hurled onto the rocks below, a distance of 300ft.”

Gadsby later toured with his one-handed son Leslie, nicknamed Dare-Devil Leslie, who also performed high dives for a living.

The pair were a popular attraction at Skegness during the 1930s, where they jumped from a high board set up on the pier, measuring 80-100ft, into the sea.

“What has been my most thrilling experience? Well, that is a rather difficult question to answer when my life consists of a thrill almost every day,” Gadsby said.

* Do you remember seeing Dare-Devil Peggy perform? Write to Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER.