‘Pride of Our Alley’ – The Life of Dame Gracie Fields to be published in April

Date published: 23 March 2019


September 27 2019 marks 40 years since the death of Dame Gracie Fields. In this anniversary year, a new book is being published in April, charting ‘Our Gracie’s’ life story in its entirety for the very first time.

Presented in two volumes, exhaustively covering Gracie’s entire public and private life and career, Volume 1 covers 1898-1939 and Volume 2 covers 1939-1979 and beyond.

Rising from mill girl to provincial star, West End leading lady to Britain’s darling of the Depression and ultimately Hollywood icon, Gracie Fields conquered every platform of entertainment and rose to become a symbol of the British working classes.

Her no-airs and graces Lancashire persona of ‘Our Gracie’ became a representative figure of solidarity of the masses and she became the epitome of traditional British values and beliefs.

 

Gracie in her prime
Gracie in her prime

 

Fuelled by a wide proliferation in variety, cinema, radio and on records, Gracie rose from humble beginnings above her Grandmother’s fish and chip shop in Rochdale, to become the world's highest paid film star, the first female variety artiste to be awarded the CBE, one of the first million-selling recording artists and the recipient of over 250,000 messages of goodwill and support following a major illness in 1939.

In a career that spanned over seventy years, Dame Fields became a British household name and one of the most popular artistes in the early years of the 20th century. Recognised worldwide by the intimate nickname 'Our Gracie', her image maintained a strong working class identity within her film and recording career, ensuring that by the outbreak of the World War Two, 'Our Gracie' had become a widely recognised metaphor for solidarity and traditional working-class values, presented through comedic and sentimental songs and her persona of an unsophisticated Lancashire mill girl.

However, Gracie had an untold life before her successful career. The young Grace Stansfield cut her teeth in the entertainment business by spending over 14 years in touring reviews, juvenile shows and low-budget comedy productions. During this time, harsh working conditions, lack of funds and contractual disputes shaped the young Grace into the world-famous 'Gracie Fields.'

 

Statue of Dame Gracie Fields unveiled
Statue of Dame Gracie Fields unveiled in September 2016

 

By the time she made her West End debut in 1924 she was already a fully-realised 'star' and by the time she made her first recording in 1928, had already been working in the profession for over fifteen years –in a long upward struggle on the road to stardom.

‘Pride of Our Alley,’ by Gracie super-fan Sebastian Lassandro, tells her incredible story for the first time in minuscule detail, correcting many of the misconceptions, errors and complete factual inaccuracies previously published about Britain’s First Lady of the Music Hall Stage.

Over six years in the writing, Sebastian has spent hundreds of hours researching in public and private archives, trawling through tens of thousands of newspaper cuttings, unpublished diary extracts, private letters, radio broadcasts and personal stories.

Conducting interviews with family, friends and colleagues, these have now been collated and are presented for the first time to tell the complete life story of Britain’s first superstar.

Specific dates, appearances and transcriptions present a near week-by-week account following Gracie from the beginnings of her career, through the peak of her popularity and ultimately to her later years when she spent “half the year as a char lady, the other half as a star lady.”

 

Sebastian Lassandro at Gracie's grave Capri with Jane McDonald for her 'Cruising with' Channel 5 series.
Sebastian Lassandro at Gracie's grave in Capri with Jane McDonald for her 'Cruising with' Channel 5 series

 

For the first time, the record will be set straight about Parliament’s unfounded accusations of her being a Fascist sympathiser and the press’ vehement attacks against her work in 1940, which slandered her nationality and attempted to jade her popularity to the British public. The inclusion of over 40 war letters – with more than 20 newly-discovered – provides a unique and fascinating insight into Gracie's own thoughts behind her “little war job” as an intense three chapters are dedicated to Gracie’s completely untold war-work.

‘Pride of Our Alley’ is the first accurate in-depth study that has been completed on Gracie Fields’ life, with accurate dates, information and masses of previously unpublished material, including extracts from unpublished autobiography notes from 1951, which include a previously unknown family secret from the 1930s with ramifications for all her family, a first-hand account of the death of her second husband and also a diary extract written about her thoughts and worries for the future after marrying for the third time.

The biography also includes over 100 previously unpublished photographs and direct contributions from Dame Vera Lynn, Tommy Steele, Barbara Dickson, Sue Devaney and conductor David Steadman.

A vast amount of research into the Stansfield family tree presents new information about Gracie’s ancestors, and contradicts some of the claims made within Gracie’s own ghosted autobiography. Shipping records, immigration visas, naturalisation papers and birth, marriage and death certificates have all been used to present important, but previously un-researched, genealogical information and biographical details of family and friends close to Gracie. Amazingly, the famous ‘Lancashire Lass’ roots actually come from across the border in Yorkshire!

 

Dame Gracie Fields
Dame Gracie Fields

 

Unpublished diaries, countless letters, flight and shipping records, tour schedules and TV and radio listings have been used to create a comprehensive, near week-by-week, account of Gracie Fields’ professional career.

Between 1928 and 1940, Gracie made nearly 400 recordings and many original recordings remain un-reissued. Over the last decade, Chris Webster of ‘Sounds on CD,’ has scoured collections to find the best copies of the original 78rpm issues for remastering for reissue in a complete chronological series, which will require at least 16 CDs over five sets. 

Extraordinary discoveries have been made of lost unpublished recordings and alternative takes, and even special records never intended for the ears of more than a few dozen people have been unearthed for an imminent chronological release of all of Gracie’s recordings. Work is also being done on the remainder of Gracie’s material.

 

Sebastian Lassandro at London Palladium's 'Wall of Fame' as a representative of Gracie
Sebastian Lassandro at London Palladium's 'Wall of Fame' 
as a representative of Gracie

 

However, to coincide with 'Pride of Our Alley', released on 30 April, a selection of these are being released in “Pride of Our Alley – The CD.”

Sebastian said: “It is mine and Chris’s intention to select tracks which are not the regular old Gracie chestnuts, but which are relevant to Gracie’s story – the story that can be read in “Pride of Our Alley – The Book”. 

“We will be taking the most relevant tracks from Chris’s sets, but then adding to them with specially selected later recordings which will also include rare items from broadcasts not heard publicly since they first went to air.  

“Through the careful use of CEDAR combined with a sound-enhancement system developed especially for this project to bring out the best of Gracie’s glorious soprano voice, the result of Chris’s efforts will be methodically presented, stunning transfers of Gracie as she’s rarely been heard before.”

Using every available source, ‘Pride of Our Alley’ (published by BearManor Media) gives a complete, in-depth and sympathetic portrayal of one of Britain’s best-loved icons of the 20th century and the First Lady of the Music Hall stage – Our Gracie.

 

Pride of Our Alley covers - volumes I and II
Pride of Our Alley covers - volumes I and II

Sebastian first became aware of Gracie Fields in 2005, during research for a high school project on World War Two. After hearing her unusual voice on a compilation CD, he decided to research further into the life of Gracie Fields and discovered the star was born less than twelve miles away from his hometown of Hyde.

With a keen interest and passion to preserve the memory of ‘Our Gracie,’ Sebastian created 'The Dame Gracie Fields Appreciation Society' in 2009.

From 2015, Sebastian spearheaded a campaign with Rochdale Council and Rochdale Rotary Club East to permanently honour Gracie Fields in her hometown, which resulted in the unveiling of eight purple Gracie Fields heritage plaques around the town and a 1.5x life size bronze statue of Gracie Fields outside Rochdale Town Hall.

An English Literature graduate from the University of Manchester, and now a high school English teacher, Sebastian regularly gives talks on Gracie’s life to enthusiastic groups and travels annually to the Isle of Capri to tend to Gracie's gravesite.

He is always looking to hear from Gracie Fields fans worldwide, and can be contacted at: sebastianlassandro@yahoo.co.uk

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