As I continue to need distracting whilst I work towards my annual deadline, coming up on iTunes quite regularly are the two songs I have from Gracie Fields. 1,468 to chose from and “The Thing-ummy-bob” and “Wish Me Luck (As You Wave Me Goodbye)” are the ones iTunes has decided to play twice in the last hour.
I can stand a bit of Gracie Fields, based on the wartime connection (when her husband spirited her and her money out of the country) and the general campness that clings to her. But really, I can’t quite see the attraction. She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t act, she was no oil painting, she fell for bastards who treated her like crap and she insisted on being paid in precious dollars when performing “to her people” at the Festival of Britain on a brief visit back from Capri. No, as far as I am concerned, you can keep “Our Gracie” and all her works.
If you’ve never sat down and watched one — and why would you? — then her 1930s films can be summarised as follows: Plutocratic mill owner announces that he is closing the mill/shutting down the hospital/demolishing the sanatorium/being generally wicked in a 1930s way. The workers think things are hopeless, so turn to fellow-but-oddly-better-dressed-worker Gracie for help. She sings a song at them, then goes to see plutocratic mill owner’s son. She convinces him to join her campaign, gets on a train to that London, sees plutocratic mill owner himself, there’s a mysterious gap in the narrative as to what she said or did at this point*, she gets a train back to Grimsfield or Stonyborough or whatever Rochdale is pretending to be in this film, announces that the mill/hospital/sanatorium has been reprieved, links arms with the plutocratic mill owner’s son and sings another song at the assembled crowd.
Every Gracie Fields film is the same, except one, where she wasn’t from Rochdale, she was from Glasgow — but she was unable to maintain the accent so the producers dropped in a line about her being from both Rochdale and Glasgow, thus usefully covering the wandering diphthongs.
This video is an excellent piss-take of the standard ending of a Gracie Field film. The plot: plutocratic mill owner has unilaterally cancelled Sludgetown’s annual Rickets Fair. Sadly missing is an earlier scene, where she turns up in said plutocrat’s office to plead for the fair to go ahead; Josie Lawrence sings a song that starts “You’ll never know/What rickets/Have done for me!” whilst exposing comically bowed legs. You had to be there.
*There’s a possibility that she presented him with the Lancashire speciality of tripe and chips to change his mind. It’s more likely she put out. It was 1930s — they didn’t say.