The buses in Brighton are named after people with a connection to the area and I’d often seen one named after Daisy and Violet Hilton, who I’d assumed probably had something to do with the hotelier family. I had visions of a pair of benevolent old ladies who probably lived in some of the fancy houses in Hove. Then I forgot all about them until I read an article about the acts who inspired American Horror Story: Freak Show and saw the names again- they were one of the most famous pairs of conjoined twins in history. And then… I forgot about them again. Until I came across this gem in the teeny tiny local branch library. I may have squealed with delight.
The book tells the story of the twins from their illegitimate birth to a Brighton barmaid who was so horrified by what she gave birth to, she sold the girls to the midwife who then promptly used the girls to make money as they became one of the biggest vaudeville acts in America, via travelling freak shows and circuses in Australia. Others exploited the girls until early adulthood, when they took control of their lives and bank accounts- although to some predictably disastrous results.
There are lots of wonderful photographs of the twins in the book- from their infancy in Brighton to their wild halcyon days as the toast of the entertainment industry and stills from Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks (where the twins starred alongside other veterans of the great American sideshows. But there’s also a photo in there of the twins (who are frequently referred to as ‘the girls’) working a shift in a supermarket at the end of their lives.
It’s certainly a well-researched book, although the author sometimes dangerously veers toward sentimental, which I always find slightly irritating in a work of non-fiction. However, I did enjoy reading about places the twins had visited on their return visit to Brighton, when they played four sell-out shows in the Hipperdrome, which I used to work about 100 yards away from.
Overall, I did enjoy the book and I do think they deserve more recognition in their home town.