Fans’ Memories of ‘Our Gracie’ …

 

Unknown-1 copyMark Gorton has contacted us about his mother, Marjorie Gorton, a Women Police Officer assigned to welcome Gracie to Blackburn in 1949.

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Carl Olson contacts us from Canada about his Aunt Irene.

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Bill Leaver

Maggy Harley’s memories of her godfather Bill Leaver, a baker from Redmands on Yorkshire Street, Rochdale, and friend to Gracie. 

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tuvuyhbb copy 3Rosalyn Wilder shares her memories of Gracie at the London Palladium for her 1964 and 1979 Royal Variety performances …… and we finally hear the truth about Gracie being a ‘surprise’ guest!

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Renee and GracieIan Harris has kindly allowed us to share his parent’s, Renee and Peter Harris‘ memories of visiting Gracie in Capri in 1961, along with a link to a wonderful and funny ‘home movie’ of the occasion.

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Tristran has provided us with valuable information about Gracie’s visit to Rochdale in 1943 where she was presented with a key by ‘Gracie’s Twins’ [one of which was Tristran’s grandfather]

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Paula Marsh contacted us asking if we had any information about her grandfather Jimmy Marsh who once played piano for Gracie.

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Dolly and Gracie

Jane Compton’s memories of Gracie visiting the Platignum Pens factory where her Aunty Dolly worked.

(With a wonderful ‘new’ photo of Gracie)

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Unknown copyMark wrote:

Here are a couple of images that might be of interest you. Firstly, my mum, Marjorie Gorton, now 92, as a WPC welcoming Gracie Fields to Blackburn. Second, the autograph my mum secured – on a page torn from her police notebook. (On the back are included details of an incident that presumably never went to court !).

 

We asked if Marjorie would mind writing a few words about meeting Gracie, and although the memory of the day isn’t strong, Marjorie’s love of Gracie shines through.

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Marjorie, top left

Marjorie writes …….

I don’t remember very much about Gracie Field’s visit to Blackburn, but it was a happy occasion.  The aftermath of war was austerity, and the goodwill generated by the performance of ‘our’ Gracie in King George’s Hall was truly uplifting.  She wasn’t a Hollywood beauty like Hedy Lamarr or Joan Bennett, nor was she a drama queen like Garbo or Dietrich, but she seemed to be close by and accessible – the lass who lived next door in the village, or the girl who lived in the next street in town.  I remember when I was about twelve years old arranging, with friends, our bonfire celebrations, and it was agreed that we should invite Gracie Fields to join us.  It was a foregone conclusion that she would accept, but unfortunately, we couldn’t find a farmer willing to lend us a field for the event, so, like a damp squib, it fizzled out. 

Marjorie Gorton, a true 'Silver'Surfer' at 92.

Marjorie Gorton, a true ‘Silver’Surfer’ at 92.

She was a star in the true sense of the word.  So many young servicemen went to war singing, whistling or just hearing “Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye”.  Did you know that Churchill urged her to go to America to earn dollars rather than stay here where she would earn pounds?  At the time it was rumoured that she was fleeing to a safer place, even though she toured with ENSA and entertained the troops overseas.  A remarkable woman. 

Thank you Marjorie, we love to hear stories about ‘Our Gracie’


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We received this short email and a photo from Carl Olsen

‘I have a photo of Gracie Fields with my aunt at the Massey Harris combine tractor factory on King Street, West Toronto, Ont, Canada during the war time’

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Carl knows no more details than this, so of course Seb had to do some ‘investigating’, and this is what he’s come up with …

Gracie gave two charity concerts in Toronto on February the 18th and 19th 1942, in between the concerts Gracie visited two factories – Massey Harris and John Inglis, where she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Carl’s Aunt, Irene Bouteland a machine gun (not for personal use we assume!). (By heck, he’s good that Seb!)

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‘Popular Gracie Fields, cheery bright and full of fun ‘dropped in’ on the employees of the Massey Harris and John Inglis companies yesterday, and at both places she was literally swamped by her hundreds of admirers. At the Inglis plant she tried out a Bren gun. Here she is seen with Irene Boutel one of the Massey Harris employees as she favoured the ‘gang’ with one of her familiar songs’.


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Bill Leaver

Bill’s in the middle, I don’t know who the other people are, but they look really chuffed to have Gracie talk to them – Maggy

10858430_736775249747312_4120816731176070258_nMy godfather, Bill Leaver, was a close friend of Gracie. Originally from Brierfield, he was a baker at Redmands on Yorkshire Street. During the war he became very popular as he had a supply of butter and eggs! Anyway, he made a cake for Gracie and that’s how he met her. After he retired he would go on Mediterranean cruises and if he was in Capri, he would pop in and see her. Of course any of his friends were welcome to come and took him up on the opportunity – Maggy Harley

Gracie in the green dress on the far left. She didn’t need to be in the middle of things, she wanted to ‘look after’ visitors, and make it special for them.


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Rosalyn Wilder shares her memories of Gracie at the London Palladium for her 1964 and 1979 Royal Variety performances …… and we finally hear the truth about Gracie being a ‘surprise’ guest!

I spent 20 years working with a man called Robert Nesbitt who directed hundreds of shows at the London Palladium, including many Royal Variety Performances.  The picture was taken at the Monday morning rehearsal of the finale line-up of the 1964 show including Gracie Fields. I sat in the stalls and chatted to her, and she was wearing a rather ancient looking mink coat!  She had arrived early and because of the amount of people involved we had to keep her waiting. She waved to me and asked me to go and talk to her. I apologised for the delay and she said “Oh, don’t worry, I’m perfectly OK. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind a good plate of fish and chips!” We sat and chatted about this and that. She was charming and easy to talk to and it was a pleasure to have her there. 

That is a chorus boy next to Gracie on her left, then Kathy Kirby – on Gracie’s left is ME! A loooong time ago! Then Cliff Richard. Millicent Martin is peeking out from behind David Jacobs.

I was also there at the 1978 performance where she appeared as a surprise guest, and yes it was a total surprise! We worked like mad so nobody knew about her.

tuvuyhbb copy 3Going back to her surprise appearance in1978. She was ‘smuggled’ into the theatre with the Aza’s and then Mr Nesbitt went on stage and said there was going to be a surprise guest warning everybody not to say anything. He said he had to bring her on so she would know what to do when the actual performance happened. The press were removed from the auditorium with a variety of excuses which, in those days, they accepted! There was a gasp when she walked on to the stage but nobody blew the secret and when she did appear it was as if nobody knew a thing – all credit to all of the people who had been present earlier in the day. 


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Ian Harris has kindly allowed us to share his parent’s memories of visiting Gracie in Capri in 1961. Renee and Peter Harris were distantly related to Gracie, and can be seen explaining the connection to Gracie (who finally ‘get’s it’ !) in the short holiday movie that Ian has added to Youtube

Renee and Gracie

Renee and Gracie

Peter and Gracie

Peter and Gracie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs (c) Peter Harris 1961, used by the kind permission of Peter Harris’s estate.

The family connection with Gracie Fields is a tortuous one, but the key to it is Archie Pitt’s daughter Irene married Grandma Jenny’s cousin, Louis Ross (Lou Ross), who was also part of Gracie’s musical entourage.

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“Some dull patches but also some classic snippets within. Dad keeping a cigarette alight while swimming is a non-PC classic, as are some of his comments about old men and their floosies. On Capri, mum and dad visit Gracie Fields, as shown right at the end of this Part One” – Ian Harris


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We have been asked by Tristram whether we have any information on a forces concert that Gracie gave on her return from the states; at which Gracie was presented with an inscribed brass key, presented by twin soldiers who were dubbed by the press ‘Gracie’s twins’.

Well Seb has again been able to help out with photos and a recording, and in return Tristram has sent us a transcription of his grandfathers diary for the day in question, for indeed, Tristram’s grandfather was one of those twins. We can’t thank him enough for sharing this with us, to have the story behind a photo we have long known is golden.

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Leonard & Douglas Smith [Douglas next to Gracie].

Leonard & Douglas Smith [Douglas next to Gracie].

Ever since I found out that my granddad and his brother met the great Gracie fields I have been a fan and have tried to find out as much about her as I could, also trying to find more out about their meeting with her. 
I even named my daughter Gracie, and we call her ‘Our Gracie’.
The memoirs have been a great insight for me on what my granddad and his brother did during the war, and though their whole life. It has been a fascination to me from 1922 right up to their deaths and I suppose they are my heroes.
I hope you enjoy and thank you
Tris
August 13th 1943

Gracie Fields had been in America for a long time on tour and, despite her popularity, some of the press was getting at her for staying over there such a long time, 2 years I think. Her first concert in this country since returning was a ‘forces concert’ to be held in Rochdale, her home town, in a large gymnasium lavishly decorated for the occasion. The great hall was full of hundreds of soldiers. As it happened Leonard and I was standing on the steps outside when Gracie arrived, she looked stunning in her long dress with red and white circles. She was supposed to walk between the two white ropes forming a gang way to meet the welcoming party and the press. Gracie had other ideas. Before she entered the doors she ducked under the ropes and basically said to me “get me out of here” “where do you want to go” I said. I was gob smacked! “Anywhere will do” she said, “I just want to get away”. After a short hesitation we guided her quickly down some steps to a small grimy basement gym with litter and beer bottles lying around. Here we sat on dusty old benches chatting to the famous Gracie Fields. She talked about her home and her brother and just general conversation. At one point she said “you must tell me if my belly wobbles when I sing” we tried to reassure her but she insisted “oh it does I know it does” she was great.

Eventually her pianist, Basil Dean, who had remained with the main party, sent her a message that it was time for her to sing. Sing she did, beautifully; unfortunately her second song was not appropriate, referring to the war in the Far East, to Japanese bombing ect. She must have forgotten that she was back in the European war zone. It was not well received at all and at the end of the song the hall went dead quiet. Gracie was shattered and burst into tears. When she recovered she was very brave and said she would sing the Lord’s Prayer, it was beautiful and just the right choice to bring her closer to her audience. She followed this with some of her old favourites and finally managed to win her audience round. After her performance Leonard and I had to presents her with a large brass key made in the R.E.M.E workshops, she said quietly to me “is this the toilet key? Where’s the bobbin?”

Later with us she was in tears again when someone mentioned her choice of songs. We had to keep re-assuring her. Somehow the press got to hear about our ‘contribution’ to the concert and we were christened Gracie’s twins. Arising from this escapade a reporter for the news chronicle interviewed mother at home, of course she told them how wonderful we were and we were in the national papers. Everyone wanted to shake our hands.

Full version of the photo

Full version of the photo

This was during Rochdale’s Wakes Week. Gracie played her first concert the night before in Ashton-under-Lyne then went to this concert in Rochdale the following day to kick off her 30+ date tour.

Starting the show, Gracie announced: 
I’m so happy to see you all again, it’s always so good to be back in my hometown of Rochdale. I had a little, er, practice last night on one of the camps around here because I didn’t want to practice on you this time. The last time I practiced on you straight away, so I said ‘I’ll have a practice first before I come in here, just a little ‘un see?’


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Paula Marsh contacted us via our Facebook page ‘The Dame Gracie Fields Appreciation Society’ asking if we had any information about her grandfather Jimmy Marsh. All Paula had been told was that Jimmy once played piano for Gracie. Well, thanks to Seb, (the younger member of our team with a filing cabinet for a brain), we were able to come up with quite a bit.

1385984_10151742904784366_816975894_nJimmy was a guest on one of Gracie’s 1947 ‘Working Parties’, (her first radio series in Britain after the war). The series saw Gracie entertaining with songs and comedy links at different venues around the country, as well as showcasing the talents of local people, featuring everything from Male Voice Choirs, trumpet players, am dram groups, comedians and instrumentalists. Jimmy played ‘A Transcription of Popular Melodies’ during her Rochdale Working Party.

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Only a couple of the 12 shows are known to survive in their entirety, whilst bits and pieces from the remaining shows survive…  but, luckily for Paula, the Rochdale show is COMPLETE.

Seb has also come up with a photo of Jimmy  with Gracie, and here’s Paula’s father holding the photo of his father (who sadly died when he was only 13 years of age).

…….. and what do you know, here’s a recording of Jimmy Marsh’s musical moment with ‘Our Gracie’.

Jimmy Marsh – Rochdale Working Party ▶ custom player

A message from Paula  …….

Thank you, thank you, thank you. That will mean so much to my dad. I can’t wait to hear my granddad for the very first time x


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A beautiful ‘new’ picture of Gracie with Aunty Dolly, thank you so much to Jane Compton for sharing it with us.Dolly and GracieJane writes – Apparently, Aunty Dolly had a cousin who worked at Platignum Pens and told her when to be there to see Gracie.  Aunty Dolly was my grandmother’s sister and one of my favourite relatives.  When I was a child, she took me to see many shows and films, and inspired me to be a fan of great entertainers which, for her included Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and, of course, Gracie Fields.  I now have all her programmes and autograph books and think of her every time I’m in the theatre as the lights go down.I think she would have been very excited at the thought of this photo going on a website linking her forever to Gracie.