Gracie Fields on the 50s festive stage

Gracie Fields and her husband Boris Alperovici looking at their Christmas cards in their suite at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool on Christmas Eve 1955, the day before her two sell-out Opera House performances

Gracie Fields and her husband Boris Alperovici looking at their Christmas cards in their suite at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool on Christmas Eve 1955, the day before her two sell-out Opera House performances

0
Have your say

Live, in concert, on Christmas night?

Theatres opened routinely on Christmas Day. If it fell on a Sunday they would book a special concert.

One of Britain’s favourite stars, Gracie Fields, filled not just one but two houses for her Christmas Day concerts at the Blackpool Opera House in 1955 for impresario Harold Fielding.

A Gazette reviewer wrote: “Time has mellowed Gracie but it has not touched the incomparable artistry that can switch from slapstick to sentiment, pertness to pathos, at the flick of a wrist. She remains one of the few, one of the very few, great artists of the theatre in our time.”

It was her fourth “anniversary” of sorts as Gracie had proposed to her third husband, Boris Alperovici, on Christmas Day 1951 at a party held for friends and family in Capri, and they were married on February 18, 1952 in the Church of St Stefano in Capri in a service which, unlike the generous length of her Fylde coast performances, lasted a little over five minutes.

Showbusiness historian Barry Band says: “When she came for her festive appearance, the Rochdale-born singer stayed at the Imperial Hotel with Boris and spoke of the joy of spending Christmas in her native Lancashire.

“Gracie topped show bills in Blackpool in five different decades, starting at the old Palace Theatre in 1923 in her first husband Archie Pitt’s long-running “Mr Tower of London” revue.

“All Gracie’s major 1920s revues were seen in Blackpool but the shows that made her such a strong local favourite were her Grand Theatre variety appearances in the 1930s. There were 14 weeks of these sold-out shows from 1932 to 1938.”

The level of acclaim given “Our Gracie” in those days is seen in some vivid Gazette reviews.

For example, in 1932: “How they stamped for more after she had played on their emotions, bringing them to the brink of tears .... and casting them back again to laughter with a gesture, a lift of the hand ... the mocking nightingale with the impudence of the suburban sparrow. A great artist.”

Barry says: “She was the natural successor to the two great female artists of the early part of the century, Vesta Tilley and Marie Lloyd.

After that Grand Theatre series, Gracie was not seen again in Blackpool until May 1949. In her typical down-to-earth style she arrived at the old Central Station at teatime on a Saturday, carrying her own bag. The station tannoy blared out a ‘welcome back’ greeting.”

Her 1949 concerts at the Opera House were the first of nine two-concert engagements at the big theatre over the next 16 years.

In June 1959, her repertoire included the song “Little Old Lady.” She broke off and laughed: “Fancy me, singing about myself!”

She was 61, grey and matronly, but without any forced glitter - she was always the first to admit that she had never actually been glamorous - Gracie was still selling out in advance.

Her last Blackpool concerts were in September, 1965, more than 50 years after her first - anonymous - visit to the old Palace Theatre as part of a juvenile troupe.

Gracie Fields, DBE, died at her home in Capri in 1979.

n Don’t miss our two part Memory Lane special on Barry Band’s new book, The ABC, in The Gazette on January 2 and 3