PRIDE OF OUR ALLEY: THE LIFE OF DAME GRACIE FIELDS, VOLUME I: 1898-1939 (SOFTCOVER EDITION) by Sebastian Lassandro
“What has Gracie Fields got to do with anything?”
—Alan Bennett, The History Boys
In this new in-depth biography of the Queen of Hearts of her generation, discover in great detail the answer to Alan Bennett’s question.
From humble beginnings above a fish and chip shop in Rochdale to the beautiful Isle of Capri, follow the complete story of the Queen of the British Music Halls and her seven-decade career. Discover how a mill girl from a Northern English industrial town conquered stage, screen and radio and became Hollywood’s highest paid film star of the 1930s.
With hundreds of previously unpublished stories, facts, photographs and interviews, Pride of Our Alley tells the story of Our Gracie Fields for the first time in its honest, factual entirety.
Sebastian Lassandro first heard the music of Gracie Fields when a school student. Over ten years later, he is a now a recognised and renowned expert on his subject and tender of the eternal flame of “Our Gracie.”
HOMAGE TO GRACIE
Congratulations to Sebastian Lassandro for his astonishing labour of dedicated love in the production of his two volume, roughly 1000 page, biography of Gracie Fields. Gracie Fields is responsible for my only entry in the Observer newspaper 'Sayings of the Week' column. That was courtesy of Steve Race who, in his Gracie Fields obituary, quoted from my appreciation in New Society: "From Chip Shop to Capri' is the English equivalent of the American dream, From Log Cabin to White House."
Such a five word summation would not suit Sebastian Lassandro. He claims his is the first telling of the tale in 'its honest, factual entirety' and few would pick an argument with him. This is as much a life-journal as a life-story. It follows Gracie Fields' unfolding life in the closest possible detail, inclusive of potted biographies of relatives and close friends. It does so sometimes on a day by day basis. It is an exhaustive - some might substitute an 'ng' for the 've' in that adjective- compendium of information. Those seeking, for example, the exact map reference for where the good ship 'Gracie Fields' lies on the Channel sea-bed, having been sunk in action at Dunkirk, need look no further.
This elaborate attention to detail is unfailing. It is not a dispassionate account, for Sebastian Lassandro idolises 'our Gracie'. He tends to rely heavily on her own self-image of the down to earth, hard-working, charitably generous performer. According to Lord Baden-Powell, 'a scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties' and that could have been her motto, including her trademark, ear-splitting whistle. This interpretation certainly has a genuine ring, but there were darker moments. This text does include hints of marital discord and family disputes- Gracie Fields kept changing her will to keep step with such fallings out- but the tenor is normally subdued and even.
All in all, we are very much in Sebastian Lassandro's debt. This is an essential coverage of the life and work of one of Britain's all-time greats. Indisputably, it will serve as an indispensable work of reference of this significant figure in the history of British entertainment. One task remains. Of its type this kind of vast chronological narrative is not able to pause, step back and take stock and offer a concise analysis of what really constituted so phenomenal a success. Gracie Fields is, arguably, the best all-around performer Britain has known. The competition is sparse, compared with, say, the United States, where what the American historian F.J. Turner called 'vital entertainers' frequently emerged from the blazing crucible of a new and expanding nation. They say in cricket an all-rounder to be great must be top-ranking in either batting or bowling. British all-around entertainers, whilst pleasing, have tended to be a trifle lightweight, proficient in two or three skills without being first-rate in one, what, in cricket, are termed rather dismissively as 'bits and pieces players'. Not so Gracie FIelds. She was world-class in four, possibly five, singing/talking modes, a scarcely credible range of talent. Moreover, she enjoyed an unparalleled rapport with her audiences. This enviable combine of gifts makes the case for her standing alone in the tale of British light entertainment.
It has been said of Gracie Fields that she could love everybody but not somebody. This shrewd comment, indicative of an artist destined to enjoy public adulation but not unvaryingly private contentment, is an additional element in the potent chemistry of this magnificent star.
What Sebastian Lassandro has given us is the quarry, for which he is to be rightfully acclaimed. Now what we need is someone to carve, so to speak, the statue from that prodigious quarry, along the lines of a monograph, perhaps of no more than a couple of hundred pages, which vividly encapsulates the powerful impact of this extraordinary artist.