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BBC Documentaries: Season 2009

2009x91 Amazing Gracie: The Gracie Fields Story

  • 2009-11-23T21:00:00Z on BBC
  • 60 mins
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • Documentary, Special Interest

A look at the legacy of actress, singer and comedienne Gracie Fields who, during her lifetime, was a national institution. Through interviews and some previously unseen archive footage, the programme explores the extraordinary singing voice, comic genius and unique talent that made her arguably the greatest female entertainer Britain has ever produced.

'Our Gracie' was one of the world's first megastars: not so much a person as an event. The secret of her popularity lay in her relationship with her audience, as she goaded them into enjoyment, fed them the kind of cheek that passes for affection and appealed to a shared contempt for pretension.

Her films were sentimental and reassuring, but they also tapped into real social anxieties and reflected the spirit of a troubled pre-war decade. When the press began its lengthy campaign of vilification against her, after she moved to America during World War Two to prevent her Italian husband from being interned, the public, by and large, remained loyal. From her triumphant return to the London stage in the late 1940s until her death some 30 years later, she continued to maintain her place in the nation's heart.

Fields, although still a huge star in many people's living memory, encapsulates the spirit of a bygone age. It is too easy to say we don't make them like that anymore; the truth is, we no longer want to. Our national institutions are built on shakier foundations these days and the sheer uncomplicated pleasure that she delivered for the best part of a century seems a world away. This documentary reminds us of what we have lost.